man sitting at desk

What it takes to make money on the side (aka side hustle)

By day, I’m at full-time graphic designer; designing promotional material and proposals for an architecture and engineering firm. By night, I’m an illustrator; drawing and designing digital pieces to sell in my online shops.

With hours like that, you’d think I was some design super hero. Well, I’m not. I’m just your average side hustler.

It’s a part-time side gig really.

After a full day of work, I come home and sketch, research, execute ideas, refine them, publish, promote, network, and do the admins tasks required to get that all done. I could just do the fun parts but then it would just be a hobby – and I want more than that. It’s fun to think that this could be a full-time gig one day so I put in a little extra in order to (hopefully) take it there.

make money on the side - side hustle - woman drinking coffee

So how much time do I actually spend side hustling?

At first it was 1-2 hours every few days – which you could say is more of a hobby – but I enjoyed it so much that it became 2-4 hours every evening and 10+ hours on weekends.

It’s not all ‘pedal to the metal’ though. I need to recharge just like any other hard working person so that’s when you’ll find me watching the latest Netflix series, hitting the gym to do a little lifting, or having some outdoor adventures with my dog.

Those breaks are essential to preventing burn out.

In the beginning I used to get burned out a lot and would try to force ideas happen. Like army-crawling through the mud it was tough, slow, and sometimes, messy.

Nowadays, I recognize the signs before burn-out happens and I take a breather. If I feel fatigued, lack motivation, feel that I don’t have any ideas, or my execution is just plain sucking, I stop.

As hard as it is to walk away for a minute or a day, I force that break and I always come back with a fresh perspective and a new-found excitement.

With all of this hard work on my side jobs, you think I’d be rolling in it.

I get a few bucks at the end of each month but right now, I mostly get paid in smiles, compliments, and opportunity – and that’s perfectly ok with me. Of course, it would be nice to ‘roll in it’ one day or at least make a decent living off it but I can’t expect it right away or I’d be sadly disappointed.

That’s what’s nice about having a full time job unrelated to my side hustle. It takes the pressure off. I don’t have to worry where my next meal is going to come from or how I’m going to pay my bills which, in turn, gives me the space I need to think, create, and have fun.

All of this knowledge didn’t just hit me overnight though. Some previous failed attempts were a big part of learning some pretty critical lessons. (And those lessons never stop, BTW)

They would all start the same; I would tinker, dabble, research, and find something fun that I dreamed of turning into a full time thing. Only problem was I never fully committed to it “just in case” it didn’t work. You know what? It never did.

The last one I tried, that was similar to this latest one, managed to get a 30-second spot on ETalk (a Canadian version of Entertainment Tonight) and one of the shirts I designed, made it into grab bags at Toronto Fashion Week. Huge wins! Right?

I definitely basked in that glory but I also sat back waiting for something bigger to happen. When it didn’t, I lost all motivation. I felt that if it didn’t ‘take off’ after all of that, it’s never going to so I closed up shop.

It’s not because my idea sucked that it didn’t work. It’s because I was expecting it all to come to me without much effort. I wanted to hide behind the curtain and wait for people to tell me it was good enough to be out in the world.

Well, news flash. That doesn’t happen.

So get out from behind the curtain and share what you’re doing with your side hustle.

You have to be willing to put yourself out there and share, share, share in order for anyone to take notice and take you seriously. Be proud and play up those small successes. Once that success is yesterday’s news, keep working toward the next one so you can build off that momentum. Try to find more opportunities.

Even if people aren’t into what you’re doing, keep plugging away and do what you do best. Eventually you’ll find your stride and your audience. 

This takes commitment. 100% of it. Whether you’re feeling great about it or not.

You’ll essentially be taking on a part-time job that pays little to nothing and one that will chew up your evenings and most of your weekends so you better really believe in what you’re doing and commit to it. This will help you sell it and give you that confidence you need to shout it from the rooftops.

What does commitment look like exactly?

It’s buying what you need to buy without hesitation, investing the time or the space required to get it up and running, losing money for the first bit but pushing forward anyways, sharing regardless of any rejection fears or whether you think it’s ‘good enough’, learning and growing so you can continue to improve, and not being afraid to fail.

Committing, though, doesn’t guarantee you’ll not want to throw in the towel now and then.

I still have moments where I want to give up. Everyone has a bad day. To be honest, I don’t think that feeling ever goes away completely but if I’ve learned anything from my past, it’s that you can’t give that thought so much air time. Instead of agreeing with it, challenge it with curiosity. “What if it succeeds? Let’s see! What if I do this?”

There will be parts of it that you’ll just never like – and that’s ok.

Those for me would be accounting and taxes but even those seem to feel more like a speed bump than a mountain to climb because I know it’s going to further me along in something that I love.

And loving it, is really important.

Or at least 90% of it.

That will help bring you through the times where you may feel discouraged, be a little fearful, or feel a bit rejected. Loving it will make walking away, more difficult. I feel that’s how you know you’re on the right track too; If you come back to it despite the challenges and adversities.

When I’m just not feeling the love though, I find adjusting my focus for a moment helps. Instead of being creative, I research, connect with other artists, or find events I can participate in. New opportunities tend to come from making connections – which in turn inspires you to push on.

So how do you know you’ve found the right side hustle?

You’ll have to check in with yourself and see how you feel about it. Are you feeling drained? Feeling dread? Feeling depressed? If any of those feelings are lasting, it might be time to consider something else. 

Wait though…don’t give up yet.

If Forrest Gump taught us anything, it’s that you’ve come this far, you might as well keep going! Double-down on your efforts and see what comes of it before you completely give it all up. Sounds a bit counter-intuitive but progress can be slow so give it some time to blossom.

But failure is always a reality.

Even though I have a positive outlook for my latest side hustle, that doesn’t mean it won’t fail. Hard work is no guarantee you’ll come out winning but please don’t let that thought stop you from trying.

The time you put into a side hustle is not wasted (or shouldn’t be). I feel that’s a good perspective to have. You’re learning, bettering yourself in your profession, and hopefully making some new connections because of it and who knows where THAT will take you. More importantly you’re having fun! That’s what really matters.