The side hustle: it’s so often the seed for entrepreneurial success. It’s the grind you take on in your personal time, outside of your “normal job.” It’s the project that is born from passion and motivation.
Today’s interview with Kali Hawlk from Common Sense Millennial really gives us a inside look at how someone makes the journey from a side hustle to a full-time business. With Kali, it all began with a less-than-ideal job situation after graduating college. It’s a problem so many graduates face: they spend all the time and money obtaining a college degree, only to find that they can’t get a well-paying job (or any job in some cases).
Kali explains how she made the leap from a job she really disliked to a passion-fueled side hustle that transformed into something she could do on a full-time basis (and she was able to quit her job this past May). In addition to sharing her challenges, she also discusses how people with no experience can still build a side hustle and find success, and what it really takes to build an audience.
Enjoy the interview!
Kali, I’ve read a bit through your blog, Common Sense Millennial, and it’s been really interesting learning about not only your personal finance tips, but also your experience with “side hustles.” Tell us a bit about yourself and your journey. What’s your background like, and what gave you the idea to create Common Sense Millennial? What are the (other) side hustles you’re involved with?
I graduated in 2011 with a Bachelor of Arts in History and a minor in professional writing. I worked part-time as an administrative assistant in college and took more than a full load of coursework every semester — including summers — in order to finish school as quickly as possible. (That left little time for an unpaid internship.)
While I was passionate about my degree and what I was learning, this didn’t really set me up for success after college. With no experience, no advanced degree, and no degree period in something “practical,” I had a tough time finding a job.
When I finally did something, it was working as an order processor for a small business. The work wasn’t challenging, fulfilling, or rewarding in any way. After two years of continuing to search on-and-off for something better with no luck, I decided I would have to create my own opportunities if I wanted to better my financial and professional situations.
My dream was to be a professional writer. In the past, I had managed to score side gigs at content mills, but with no published work to my own name beyond academic research papers (that largely covered philosophical or scientific ideas of Europe in the 1400’s to 1700’s) I couldn’t seem to move beyond that level of paid writing work.
I had also tried — and failed — to start a blog or two. My problem was that I hadn’t figured out what I was passionate about, beyond writing (and it never occurred to me to write about writing — maybe that will be my next blog…).
Things started coming together one day after wondering if there was anything about me that set me apart in the slightest from my peers. I never believed that I was that “special snowflake,” but I knew I had to find something unique about my situation that I could write about if I wanted to create a blog that wouldn’t collapse in on itself after a handful of posts with no substance.
It hit me that with personal finance, I was very different from most of the people I knew who were my age (or even older): I was really good with money, even though I didn’t make a whole lot of it. It seemed like other Millennials were struggling to figure out their finances once they left home and were on their own… but to me, it seemed, well, like common sense. Thus the idea for a personal finance blog — one centered around common-sense ideas and advice — was born.
After a few months of blogging to an audience that consisted of maybe 10 people a day (including my parents), I started writing better content. I started getting active on social media. I made connections with fellow personal finance bloggers. I started guest posting on their sites. Before I realized it, I had created a neat little portfolio of content. That’s when I started trying to find paying writing gigs again. And this time, I actually succeeded in landing a few.
From there, things took off, and I developed a side business as a freelance writer and content manager. My blog, and my business, have really been the only side hustles I’ve been immersed in so far — but I’ve been brainstorming of new hustles I want to try soon. I want to write an eBook and I think it’d be fun to create some sort of product to offer; maybe something like a budgeting guide.
What do you consider to be your greatest success (or successes) so far with your blog/business?
So far I’m just so proud that I was able to grow a side hustle into a full-time business. What put me on track to my greatest success with that was in realizing when I wasn’t successful, and being brave enough to change course.
Originally, I wanted to side hustle as a blogger. I wanted to blog for other sites; I wanted my blog to grow to my main source of income. But that did not happen (or at least, it hasn’t yet!).
When I started out with the intention of being only a blogger, I made $300 to $600 per month. It was a nice chunk of change, but if I ever wanted my side hustle to become my main source of income that wasn’t going to fly. When I started working with businesses as a content and social media manager, my client base exponentially increased within three months — and my earnings did, too.
My income from my side work in April and May far exceeded my income from my day job. I put in my notice at that day job at the end of May, and moving forward I’ll be able to focus on my own work full-time. That’s been my greatest success — creating my own opportunity and building a sustainable, legitimate business from there.
When starting out with your side hustle(s), what was the single most difficult challenge you had to overcome? How did you finally overcome it, and what did you learn from the experience?
I had a really hard time figuring out how on Earth I was supposed to find clients. I could see that personal finance sites all over the blogosphere had staff writers, and those writers talked about making a living as bloggers on their own blogs. But when I reached out to fellow bloggers to inquire about staff writing, I was shot down nearly every time. They’d be happy to take a guest post from me and not pay me for it, but I got nowhere with actually getting paid for my writing.
It was difficult for me to push past that and continue to pitch myself and my services to prospective clients. I had to overcome the frustration and the disappointment that anyone feels when they’re constantly told, “no.”
Part of what helped was reaching out and asking others I admired who were freelancing full-time for advice. They encouraged me to keep trying, and bolstered my confidence when I was feeling low.
I did keep trying, and finally landed my first content management client. From there, word-of-mouth marketing took over and I started having clients approach me (which is the best feeling in the world). I learned that you truly do have to be resilient, determined, and dedicated to fighting for what you want. For me, that was a growing side business. The experience just reiterated to me that you have to be tenacious. You can’t give up.
I think many people don’t find success with their side hustles because they find too many excuses to not even begin. Sometimes, all it takes is seeing how someone else was able to do it, or simply understanding what step #1 is.
Let’s take a common side hustle – freelance writing. If you were starting from the beginning, with no connections whatsoever, what would your first few steps be toward landing your first paying gig?
Create your own platform. Start a blog and devote yourself to creating the best content on the web. Don’t just halfheartedly bang something out and call it good. Make yourself proud with whatever it is you’re writing — even if no one else is reading yet.
Don’t wait for someone else to give you permission to build a side hustle, a career, or a business. Make your own opportunity and dive straight in. Be prepared for a long hard slog to success — but know it’s waiting for those who are willing to work to claim it.
Keep in mind you want to write on a fairly specific subject, or at least have a unifying theme (like personal finance; under this umbrella I can reasonably write about a slew of different topics, but they’re all somehow connected to money).
Then create profiles on social media accounts — LinkedIn and Twitter are musts. Pinterest is good if your target market or client is female (over 80% of users on Pinterest are women). Use social media to start connecting with important leaders, clients, and peers in the field you’re interested in. And connect in a genuine way.
I have a whole series going on side hustles that you’re more than welcome to check out. Here are the posts that are live so far:
Given that Common Sense Millennial was started less than a year ago, and has already built a nice sized audience (and an engaging one too), I have to ask: What were some of the more effective tactics you used to build this audience?
All of the keys I outlined in this post have helped me build an engaged audience of readers.
I believe my most effective “tactic” is simply using your own voice. That’s why I put tactic in quotation marks… it’s not a tactic at all. It’s being you in all your you-ness.
You don’t have to be a professional or the world’s foremost expert to talk about a subject in a way that is engaging, entertaining, and honest. We’re all experts of our own experience. Let that shine through in whatever it is you’re writing about.
People want to connect with other people, and I’ve tried to make sure the content of my blog posts always reflect that I am someone who has real live human thoughts and emotions. I’m honest and I’m open. I don’t hide who I am.
For example, I was born and raised in the American South. My tendency is to be a little bit ashamed of that when I’m on a national or international platform (doesn’t get more global than the Internet). There are some nasty connotations with being a Southerner, and unfortunately, some of the stereotypes are spot-on.
But instead of not admitting, “yes, I’m from Georgia born and raised.” I try to embrace that as part of who I am. I’m from Atlanta and I love the city. I say y’all. I have a slight twang. I’ve never lived outside the Peach State. I have a knee-jerk reaction to say, “ma’am” to any female I speak with even if she’s an eight year old kid.
That’s just me and I let that come through in my blog posts. Being yourself is going to engage readers far more than any strategy or tactic.
Looking generally at building a successful side hustle: If you had to take your best advice or inspirational thought and put it into one sentence or phrase, what would that be?
My mantra for this year has been a quote by Franz Kafta:
By believing passionately in something that still does not exist, we create it. [Click here to tweet this]
What are your favorite online resources – ones that you can’t live without?
- Feedly is a must for keeping track of all the bloggers I love to connect with and read.
- Twitter is excellent for networking, building connections, and being a part of conversations (and Buffer helps you manage your tweets).
- All things Google is a requirement for me. Because I switch between devices all the time, Drive is really helpful.
- Trello keeps me organized and helps me ensure no work slips through the cracks (Asana is another option; same idea, different setup).
- Pocket allows me to save and organize all the awesome articles I find on the web.
Beyond that, I’m not much of a “tools” person. I keep it pretty simple.
My biggest resource has been networking communities and private clubs. For me, Carrie Smith’s Careful Cents Club has been an invaluable source of support, information, job leads, community, and resources. (Full disclaimer — I am the project manager for Carrie’s business, but I was a member of her community well before we started working together!) [Also, a note from Eric: We interviewed Carrie Smith here a couple months ago.]
Finally, where can people find you online?
Business Website: http://KaliHawlk.com — no products to promote, but anyone who is interested in having me join their team as a content manager, social media manager, or writer can head here if they’d like.
Thanks so much for sharing your story with us Kali!
What’d you think of this interview? Have you successfully taken turned your side hustle into a full time business? Leave a comment below!
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