Episode #40: Side Hustles

Hi everyone! This week, we are talking all things side hustles. We hope this is helpful to some who have been considering making a change or adding a side hustle due to COVID-19.

You can stream the episode here on the blog or on iTunesSpotifyGoogle PlayTuneInPocket Casts, and Stitcher. You can find the podcast posts archive here.

Show notes:

ABM print shop. In June, 100% of proceeds with go to ColorOfChange.org

How I Built This Podcast is a HUGE trove of business inspiration.

-Here is my friend Leah’s T-shirt side biz that we reference. She gives a portion of each sale to a charitable cause.

Thank you so much for supporting our podcast! We’d love to hear your listener questions or show topic suggestions at podcast AT ABeautifulMess DOT com 

xx- Elsie + Emma

Miss an episode? Get caught up!

Episode 40 Transcript

Elsie: Hi, everyone. Thanks so much for listening. I just wanted to note today that we recorded this and the past two episodes a few weeks ago, actually in May when Emma came for a visit. That said, it feels strange and wrong that we haven’t had a chance to very clearly say the words Black Lives Matter. For the rest of June, we’re donating 100 percent of proceeds from our new print shop to ColorofChange.org. You can download digital prints and print them at home. You can find the new shop at PrintShop.abeautifulmess.com. We’ll also include links to this in the show notes. OK. And now we’re going to go back to our recording, which we did in May. And this is Episode 40. Love you all!

Emma: You’re listening to A Beautiful Mess podcast, today’s episode is dedicated to side businesses. This is just one thing that we’ve heard from listeners and friends over the years, asking how to come up with side business ideas, what makes a good side business. And so we’re going to share our past experiences and perspective.

Elsie: So first two under start off by sharing our first side biz, which they’re both embarrassing, but for different reasons. So you go first Emma. I think yours deserves to go first.

Emma: So mine, I was probably 17 or 18 years old. So before you judge me too harshly…

Elsie: This is actually really cute, I feel like you had a light bulb moment and then you went for it.

Emma: Yeah. No I’m kind of proud of it. I think I was learning about business like on my own, kind of like trying to figure things out. Anyway, so what I used to do when I was 17, 18 years old, I was still in high school and we had dial up Internet. So who even knows how I got this done. But I would buy giant lots of DVD off eBay and then I would resell them individually…

Elsie: And tell them about how much money this made.

Emma: I was DVD flipping (laughs) and I would make like, I would usually close to double my money. Whatever I spent, I would probably double it, which is not enough money for the time I put into it to be worth it. But at the time, I didn’t have anything better to do. I must admit. So…

Elsie: At age 17, it was an idea that you learned from.

Emma: Yeah, I definitely learned a lot about reselling generally.

Elsie: I feel like any business you start at that age is valuable. Maybe not for the money it’s going to make you, though.

Emma: Yeah. And I used to resell them on Half.com, which I don’t even think exists anymore. It used to be kind of like a competitor with Amazon. It probably got bought and it’s something now I don’t really know. I’m sure someone out there knows. Anyway, that was my first side business that I can remember. Other than babysitting, of course I did that. But that was my first like, I had an idea and I, I don’t even remember how I did the first lot. But once I realized I could basically double my money, I just started doing a lot or two every single month for a while. And I don’t even remember how long I did it, but it was a lot of trips to the post office.

Elsie: It’s so cute.

Emma: What was yours?

Elsie: Okay, so this is my first business-business and I was 19 when I started it. It was like first time to get a business license. It was actually like an official business.

Emma: This was a real one.

Elsie: Yeah. And I was working at the mall. I was working at Victoria’s Secret, I think when I started my first business. I mean, I was 19.

Emma: Cool.

Elsie: So, OK. Whenever people ask us, like if we struggle with imposters syndrome, I always think, like, I actually struggle from overconfidence syndrome, which is the opposite. And it really is very obvious in this story. So I was 19. I had my first camera that I bought with my high school graduation money and I decided to become a wedding photographer. And so what I would do, I had, you know, my one camera and I would basically…

Emma: It was a film camera.

Elsie: It was film.

Emma: Like you put rolls of film into it. And you have to develop them.

Elsie: Yes, we shot. We shot weddings for, I think about two or three years. Emma did it with me eventually. That’s why I say we…

Emma: Second shooter!

Elsie: And we had some other people that, yeah, were working with us at a point. But yeah, I never really got over the hump of making the kind of money that made it into a really legitimate business, because I start off doing weddings for five hundred dollars, and that was like my cheapest package. But everyone picked it. And I didn’t know how to make packages apparently. I didn’t know how to make the upgrades appealing enough.

Emma: Good lesson though.

Elsie: Yeah. There were so many lessons I think back on it pretty often, but yeah. I mean obviously like I messed up some people’s wedding photos and some of them turned out really good and they got a great deal for the price. But I was learning and yeah, I was young and I think if you also hire a 19 year old to shoot your wedding, you kind of got what you bought anyway.

Emma: Yeah, probably.

Elsie: You know, like to a point I don’t feel bad. At the time, I felt like I should be a real full professional. And I had that kind of expectation.

Emma: We would wear suits.

Elsie: We wore suits we wore black suits. We had a dress code.

Emma: I would take my nose ring out.

Elsie: Right. Eventually, we each had two cameras. And then at the very last year, I also had a digital camera. I didn’t really know how to use it. When I was still shooting weddings. I only really learned photography after all of this. But I will say it was a great first business because I learned how much money you actually need to make to cover your expenses and run a business, especially if you’re going to like sometimes have people helping you…things like that other, you know, taxes, just I learned a lot of lessons in that business, so. Yeah.

Emma: Yes.

Elsie: That was my first one and it definitely was a side biz the whole way through. I don’t think I ever did it full time. I think, when I finally got to where I could do it full time, I already didn’t want to do it anymore.

Emma: Yeah, yeah, it’s a lot of dealing with customers, which is really very difficult. People who are good or who are who are great wedding photographers who’ve done it for years. It’s a special personality…

Emma: They are special.

Elsie: …that I have so much respect for.

Emma: Yes, definitely. Yes.

Elsie: So, yeah.

Emma: And it’s a long day, too, of being around people anyway. We could talk about that…

Elsie: Yeah so those were our first side businesses and through the years we’ve had dozens of other ones.

Emma: Oh yeah.

Elsie: Just like, ideas. Things we were trying to see if it would work…experiments. I mean that’s our app companies started, in fact. Is that we well, we’ll talk about it later on the episode. But we took some money that we had made on something else and we invested it to try to see if this was a good idea. And it ended up being life changing, but a lot of them ended up failing.

Emma: Right.

Elsie: A lot of them.

Emma: And actually, that’s a great segue. I love you segues. I’m the John of our our John and Sherry podcast.

Elsie: (laughs)

Emma: So that’s a great segue, because the first thing I want to talk about in our section on tips for evaluating ideas or coming up with side business ideas, if you are in the market, is considering your season of life. So here’s the thing with a side business…

Elsie: This is so important.

Emma: Yeah. It also this is the time for Grandma Emma to really pop the bubble of enthusiasm on this. (laughs) So sorry. This is a real I’m telling you the truth here. So you need to consider your season of life. Here’s a thing about side businesses or a large business, is it’s going to take one of two things and maybe both. It’s either going to take money to invest and it might be a lot. It really depends on your side business and the idea but it’s going to take some. Or it’s going to take, and it could be both a lot of time. It’s going to be, you know, your sweat equity. It’s going to be all that time that you unbox the DVDs you got off eBay and repackaged them and photograph them and list them and go to the post office. You know, it’s going to take all your time. So you really think about your season of life if you are in a season where you really don’t have any extra money. You can still start side biz, but it’s going to be mostly about your time. And if you’re in a season of life where you don’t have any extra time, then you can only really do a side business that’s going to take money and not your time. And I think it’s very difficult for people to be really honest with themselves about that.

Elsie: I agree.

Emma: Because there are just some seasons where you don’t have one or both of those things. And it’s hard, you know.

Elsie: And it’s hard to be honest with yourself in the beginning about how much time it will really take. Like I remember when we first got into AirBnBs, I think I was a little bit delusional about how much time it would take to set up a house. I mean I was very delusional (laughs) and it takes you know, it takes months.

Emma: It’s that confidence complex you have!

Elsie: Overconfidence syndrome. (laughs)

Emma: Yeah. (laughs)

Elsie: It’s gotten me into a lot of pickles.

Emma: So the first thing is to consider your season of life.

Elsie: Yeah.

Emma: And that doesn’t mean that I’m saying don’t do it…

Elsie: No it’s very practical advice. You can save yourself from a lot of stress if you take that advice. Do something that plays to the strengths that you have.

Emma: Yes. And we were kind of talking before we started recording, and one thing that we were talking about was I, and this happens for anything, not just side businesses, but there are times where, and I do this to where you see somebody else’s life and you want it. You’re like, oh, I love what that person has and I want it. And sometimes you…that means that you might be trying to start a business when it’s just not the right season for you. You need to wait another couple years. Maybe your kids are going to grow up or your husband’s job’s going to change or whatever.

Elsie: It is good advice for an Enneagram seven to ever hear.

Emma: Yeah. And, you know, so I just think make sure you are taking care of yourself and that you’re not just doing it because you’re feeling FOMO or you’re seeing somebody else and you’re excited about it.

Elsie: Like every week you’re like “Elsie. You definitely don’t need a TV show.” and I’m like “Yes, I do!”

Emma: She’s always trying to get a TV show. And I’m like, you don’t have any time for that. I don’t know why…your kids aren’t even in school all the way, but whatever.

Elsie: The next one is to consider the actual money potential. So this one is really important, especially if it’s a hobby turned business.

Emma: Right.

Elsie: So a lot of times the way that we start a business is because it’s something that we love to do, like we love to make sugar cookies or we love to make paintings or, you know, we buy a kiln and we’re making our own ceramics. And we are like, “I could do this for a job, you know?” And you someone offers to buy your first thing and you’re like, whoa, whoa, whoa.

Emma: Yeah.

Elsie: Is this a business? And yeah, the answer is maybe, maybe not. So I think that getting…this is coming from the most unpractical person ever. So you have to listen to this advice. You need to sit down and write out in the best-case scenarios. How much money can this thing make? And once you figure that out, you’ll know whether it’s worth or not. Because so many times it’s not worth it. When I’ve had just like little ideas here and there, I always have like a fun little side business idea. But a lot of time when I really get onto it, I’m like, you know, that can stay a hobby. It doesn’t need to be a business.

Emma: Yeah. And it doesn’t mean that, like…certain amounts of money mean different things to different people, and they mean different things to different people at different times in life.

Elsie: Definitely.

Emma: So there may be a time in your life when your new ceramics business makes plenty of money for you and you love it. You’re very happy with what it generates. And then you might find yourself in a new season of life where the amount of money just makes you feel like this isn’t worth it at all, and this is so much stress and it can just change based on your circumstances, especially when we’re talking about a side business. So thinking about the money potential and thinking about like, what are your real goals? Because with a side business that’s more about it was a hobby turn business. You know, you love ceramics, you love painting, you love, you know, whatever it is. Is it that you have to make money at it or is it that you just really want to keep doing this thing and you’d like to make enough to cover your supplies? Because those are two very different goals and there is no shame in either of those goals. They are both great goals. So, you know, thinking some of that stuff through and not trying to turn something that should be a precious, important hobby that you should really protect into this big, you know, business that’s just going to kind of potentially make you sad and stressed. Like just make sure you’re thinking some of that stuff through.

Elsie: Yeah. Definitely.

Emma: OK. And then, third tip for evaluating ideas. This is, in my opinion, the number one way you should think of business ideas more than what do I enjoy doing? And what do I know how to do? Those are good. Those are good places to start. But this is to me, the best is think about how to solve a problem. So anytime you have a problem in your life or if a lot of your friends are having the same problem, if you can figure out how to solve that for yourself and for others, people will part with their money for you to solve their problems.

Elsie: Absolutely, like a few of our most successful ventures through the years, have been exactly that. Like when we started A Color Story, we came at it from the perspective that there were a lot of cool photo apps out the time. But they were more focused on making your photo look moody…

Emma: And shadowy.

Elsie: …Than making photo look clean. So we made, you know, and now our, now our app has all spectrums of different styles.

Emma: Sure.

Elsie: But when it first started out, it was an app for clean photos and it filled a hole that wasn’t already filled. And another example is when we were in our early years and we were struggling to make ends meet, a thing that really helped our business thrive was E-courses because we were 10 steps ahead in our blogging career, even we were still struggling, we were ten steps ahead of someone just starting so we could teach someone how to get started and that’s something that we made lots of money doing and helped people along the way, which felt really good.

Emma: Yeah, and it could be anything. It could be something that to you might seem kind of mundane, but the truth is, it’s not if you’re having a problem, it’s very possible that other people in your community or in the world are having the same problem. So if you can find a way to solve that, a way to make, you know, dinner time with kids easier, a way to make short term rentals in Springfield, Missouri, something that can be managed. I’ve tried to convince so many people to do the side business that nobody will do it. I’m upset. (laughs) Anyway, yeah, if you have a problem, and especially if you see that your friends have the same problem or anyone you know, and a really good way to go about this is so two things. One, I think it’s great to be passionate about business. So listen to podcasts about business. I love How I Built This. That’s one of my absolute favorites. I love to hear different stories of how people started businesses. It is immensely inspiring to me, but being very curious about how others go about starting businesses. And the second thing is being very curious about life. Just…I love to when I get a chance to like talk with friends, like when we’re really connecting, we don’t just have, like, kids running around or something like that or like lately. I just haven’t seem anyone because of COVID. But when I really get to sit down, talk to people, I love to hear about the things in their life that they’re having problems with because it informs me it broadens my perspective on just their life. So being a friend, but then also if I could potentially help them in some way, that’s how you come up with business ideas, is figuring out how to solve other people’s problems. Sorry I’m getting really on a soapbox. I can feel it. I’m going to step back down, step back down off the soap box.

Elsie: No I think that’s great advice like the solving a problem is the most important part. Agree.

Emma: Yes. OK. And then this is not really a tip. This was just something that came up when Elsie and I were coming up with an outline…

Elsie: It’s a nice thought.

Emma: Yeah. So we were like, well, we want to talk about this. A little bit.

Elsie: OK. So if you want to start a side business, but you actually already have plenty of money or you already have a job you love or whatever. You know, something like that. I think it’s a fun idea to consider doing your side hobby to support a charity. It doesn’t have to be 100 percent. It could be 50 percent, you know, but I mean, you know, whatever you decide to do is fine. But I have a friend who is doing this currently. She just keeps putting out these T-shirts and they’re just like, cute. I’ll link them in the show notes. Cute, adorable T-shirts. I just bought one this morning. And then always either it’s different on different causes, like sometimes it’s one hundred percent of proceeds and sometimes it’s like twenty five percent of proceeds.

Emma: Sure.

Elsie: But there’s always some kind of charitable element to her tshirts that she keeps releasing. And I just think that it makes them more exciting to buy because it feels like you’re supporting something. And I just think it’s a really cool thing for her to do. It’s totally a side business for her. But it is, you know, filling my need for cute T-shirts and, you know, generous along the way. So.

Emma: Yeah.

Elsie: Wanted to throw that out there.

Emma: Yeah. As just an option and not a have to. It’s not everybody should do this and we should shame any business that isn’t. It’s not that, it’s just this is a really cool option. And we also just wanted to highlight that business because it’s rad. So it will also be in the show notes with a link if you want.

Elsie: We’ll close out by saying some things that we would do for side businesses if we sort of like had the capacity or the time to start one now. Just things that we think are a good opportunity for now and we’ll kind of explain why. So one of them that I’ve already mentioned a bit is teach a course. Teaching Ecourses can make a lot of money over time, especially if you’re willing to put some money or time into marketing them. It’s a very, very good product because what I love is the type of product that if you as a small business owner, you’re going to start out with out like paid sick leave and things like that that are luxuries. So to have a product where you can still make money if you have the flu for a week or if you know, you break your arm or just any number of random things that can happen in life if you decide to take a vacation, like to be able to be still earning money in those times of life or when you’re sleeping is really awesome. So if you have two ideas and one of them has that potential, choose that one. Another type of product that’s not, of course, is digital products. So all over Etsy, you’ll find cool ideas for digital products and it can be anything. There’s art prints. There’s things like light room presets. There are little chore charts that you can download for your kids that are cute, that are cuter than something, and you don’t want to spend the time design it. So you’re happy to pay five dollars and print out someone else’s cute design. It can be anything. Digital products are very…

Emma: If you’re a designer or a photographer another great place to look is Creative Market. It’s a great place just to shop because they have really rad stuff from lots of different designers. But it’ll be things like designing your own font that people could purchase and lots of other things like that. That’s just a really straightforward one to mention. And then if you’re a photographer. Another great option is stock photography, building up a great library of stock photography, which you could sell on various sites or you could have your own site. But that’s something that a lot of small businesses, especially as they’re going to be moving, pivoting to being online and more and more because we had this pandemic this past year. I think that the need for stock photography, really quality, creative, interesting stuff you can’t already find is going to go up, in my opinion. So that stuff, too. Did you have other ones? I kind of got into your space (laughs).

Elsie: No. Each of these examples, we personally know people who have made like a good income off of them. Like they all have a lot of potential. So that’s why we’re saying them.

Emma: Yeah. And I also wanted to say a couple other ideas that are not digital. They’re more, you know, services are reselling or things. So if you do have a skill, something that you’re good at. Like a couple examples. Let’s say you’ve moved a few times and you usually do your own painting and you’ve noticed that you’ve gotten really good at painting, trim and painting, you know, stuff in homes, cabinets, whatever…

Elsie: Annoying stuff that people will pay money for someone else to do.

Emma: Yeah. And having someone who’s high quality, who shows up on time, who invoices appropriately, all of those things are things that can give you an edge. So in your own community, you could start a side biz if you’re willing to do the hard work that those things take. The other one I was going to say is we were talking with our friend Ting yesterday who hopefully will be on the podcast sometime.

Elsie: Yes, he’s going to do an episode with us and I’m so excited. Yeah, hopefully that can happen.

Emma: But he recently used a service. That I thought was so interesting and it was a home stager, so they stage your home to help you sell it and you might think, well, I’m not selling a home, so. But a lot of people in your community might be.

Elsie: If I live around rich people…(laughs)

Emma: Yeah. (laughs) And also a lot of people who have very full time jobs travel a lot, maybe have young kids. They may not have the capacity because you might think, oh, well, everyone would just do that themselves. Not everyone has the capacity to do everything like that. So they want to hire high high-quality people to do services like that. You know, I used to clean apartments many, many years ago when I lived in L.A. and needed side money. And that was fun. I was seriously one of my fun jobs at the time because I love to walk into a space that’s messy and make it really clean by the time I leave. Felt great. And it was a great side income. So if you’re willing to do hard work and you have some skills like that, I think that’s a really great thing to consider because you can kind of do it on your own schedule. You can take on more or less clients depending on what’s going on in your life. So, yeah, it can be a cool option.

Elsie: Absolutely.

Emma: And then, yeah, the last one is reselling. Maybe reselling DVDs individually isn’t a great idea, but there are lots of ways. It’s a little dated of an example Emma, but there are lots of ways that you can make money at reselling. You know, one just is going through your house and decluttering, which was a few episodes ago, but you can make a lot of money taking the time to list your things and list them well. Take nice cell phone photos or DSLR photos, whatever, but just nice photos make a big difference for reselling. And we have friends too, who will resell things from thrift stores, from, you know, close out places, from places kind of like T.J. Maxx, if you’re willing to put in the time and you have a really good eye for that type of thing, then that might be an option to try for side money.

Elsie: Yeah, definitely. I think that, you know, it’s so easy to be to feel like lazy about stuff like that. I mean, for me at least.

Emma: Me too.

Elsie: But whenever I do actually take the time to patiently sell things on Facebook marketplace, it usually does make a good amount of money. And then I can spend that on something that, you know, makes us really happy.

Emma: Yeah. Something you wanted that was maybe just a little bit out a budget and then use your side money on it or, you know, there’s different levels of side money. So, yeah.

Elsie: I love that.

Emma: Cool.

Elsie: Cool. Okay, well, if you’re thinking of doing a side business, do the thing where you sit down and figure out how much money can this make if I do all these things and how much time will it take, that I think that’s the first step.

Emma: Yes, definitely.

Elsie: But we’re proud of you, especially if you’re someone who’s been affected by COVID and maybe your job is like sketchy or not available right now. We’re thinking of you. And if you want to DM us or email or actually email, don’t DM, email us any time because I actually answer almost all my emails. You can email the podcast anytime at podcast@abeautifulmess.com. We really do get them. We really do care about them. We add questions into these podcast episodes, so we love to hear from you.

Elsie: Yes. We love hearing the questions.

Emma: But if you don’t feel like writing, we’re still thinking of you. We know a lot of people are in weird situations right now, and it does matter to us. We love you and we hope you’re OK. OK. Well, thank you for listening. It means a lot if you want to share the podcast, or leave a review. But if you just want to listen and have a free moment. We hope you enjoyed it. And we are rooting for you.

Elsie: Yeah.

Read More
  • This podcast was just the push I needed to jump in and start working on creating e-courses. Thank you for the valuable advice and perspective!

  • Loved this episode! And thanks for sharing my biz ?!!! Love you!! Xo

  • Good to think about, how much do any of us need? For me ? enough to support my family, friends and community.

    Lots of good tips and things to consider, and for reminding me of digital sales and projects, particularly helpful as I was listening while racing around my studio packing up another $4 card to get to the post office on time! Thank you

  • Please read regarding appropriation regarding both the term and the concept of a “side hustle”:

    Also, please consider how much space white folks need to take up. This is what it can look like to give up power. How many endeavors does one need? How many resources must be consumed to take up more and more space and opportunities, especially when you already have more than enough in your foundation and especially when everything is so much more accessible when white?

    I also suggest investing in research regarding race and entrepreneurship, race and business ownership, and race property ownership (to consider for your bnb business). How much do you need?

    • That’s an interesting question, and it made me think for a few days afterwards, so thank you for that :). Maybe part of the answer is to help others in their endeavours, rather than simply to step back?
      I went and listened to the podcast, and realized it’s all about the advice they have for other people to ‘take up more space’, if they are so inclined. Emma and Elsie can’t go back and undo their businesses of course, but they’re using those experiences to help others, and hopefully lots of those others will be POC :).

      • They can’t undo their businesses, but they could step down or appoint a BIPOC into a position of power in their company (like the CEO of Reddit did).

        Sure, providing advice on a podcast could result in a marginalized person gleaning knowledge and actualizing a dream— but how is that quantifiable or provable? It just seems like the lazy way to make space, when they actually have a lot of power to recruit and hire people today.

        It’s also limiting to dismiss the broader conversation around this. Traditionally, side hustles were necessary for poor people because their main source of income was insufficient to live off of. Blogging is a predominantly white industry, why not explore why that is? You can be a lifestyle blog and still acknowledge privilege, injustice, and activism.

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