How to turn your side hustle into a career that pays the bills

How to turn your side hustle into a career that pays the bills

These are uncertain financial times we find ourselves in – but maybe your hobby could be the key to your professional freedom? Elli Jacobs gets the expert intel needed to know how to find the best business idea, and then how to go about turning your dreams into reality. Minus the stress. 

Being laid off unexpectedly and with no future plan in place can lead to high degrees of financial anxiety, which can trickle down into all areas of your life making it hard to function. It’s also life-crippling to be searching for a new role in uncertain times.

But it’s also an opportunity to become your own boss.

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Here’s an upside to the pandemic, according to stats

Unemployment in Australia is at its highest since 2015. A recent report from the Australian Bureau of Statistics says that 2.7 million people, or one in every five people employed in March, either left employment or had their hours reduced between March and April. Unemployment is currently at 6.2 per cent and it’s forecast to peak at 10 per cent within the next few months.

On the bright side, a recent survey by 99designs found that more than half of 1200 business owners said they were launching a new side hustle or venture during the COVID-19 pandemic.

New research by GoDaddy further reveals that 30 per cent of Australians have grown or started a business during lockdown – 38 per cent of whom say they began their online venture to make money. A staggering 93 per cent said their new online venture would continue well beyond lockdown. So it seems that Australians are being proactive in getting back on their feet by creating side hustles and as a way to recession-proof their income in case of a future pandemic.

What becomes vital when you start a new business is to tackle the right idea, because when you do, not only do the levels of anxiety you’re experiencing due to uncertainty transform into levels of enthusiasm, but it also ensures you are future-proofing the business.

And what better way to do that, than to turn your hobby or life-long passion into a career? It’s something many of us have always wanted to do but never really had the time or courage to try, sticking to our office structure and regular schedule.

As you take the leap of faith and find yourself staring down your kitchen table covered in sticky notes it can be daunting trying to figure out where to start, and how to create a structure and schedule that will bring that idea to life.

But, first thing’s first…

Which passion will equal success?

Louise Watts, co-founder of Transition Hub says creating a career canvas can help you realise and narrow down your idea.

“It all boils down to knowing yourself really well so begin mind-mapping your career canvas by firstly identifying your values or, in other words, your needs that will form the basis around which you’ll develop your business,” says Watts.

“Pinpoint what’s crucial to you in terms of flexibility and freedom; for example, your work hours may need to revolve around family or other personal commitments, including how you want to work – think from home, a brick-and-mortar shop, or as a digital nomad.”

Follow this by noting down your unique talents and strengths.

“Consider what you’re good at, what people turn to you for advice and you want to keep on doing,” says Samantha Hurst founder of Click Start Digital.

“A glimpse of your credit card statement will also reveal where you spend most of your money. That’s a good indication of how passionate you are about that product or service and likely worth transforming into a career,” notes Hurst.

“If you can also identify a gap in the market in relation to it and innovate around it then you’re positioning it as a sustainable long-term viable business.”

Watts boils it down to essentially asking yourself: What am I good at and what does the world need?

“At the end of this process you’ll be able to see what all these components add up to and what potentially is your best choice because ideally you want to laser focus on just one idea and make it happen,” Watts notes.

But if you get caught up in “shiny ball syndrome” where you’re distracted by too many ideas and can’t focus on completing one project, either have a chat with acquaintances who can provide some objective insight as to how they see your strengths, or train the mind to take a step back rather than keep latching on to the next shiny thing.

“Because if your pattern is to start one thing and then find other ideas to be equally important you won’t create anything,” notes Hurst.

Alex Kingsmill, career coach and founder of Upstairs coaching, adds that you will know that you have a viable business option when you feel comfortable saying it out loud.

“That means you have clarity around your business story, you get excited thinking about it and can imagine yourself putting in some serious effort in executing it,” she says.

Put simply, Hurst adds, if you have three seconds to make a choice, what will it be?

“Trust your instincts with the first answer that comes up and follow that one,” she says.

Nikki Hamilton from Seedling Digital concurs. When her contract wasn’t renewed when she was four months pregnant, she made the life-changing decision to take that uncertain energy and channel it into something positive.

“I took the skills that I’d been honing over the last five years of my career as a corporate marketer, and focused them into building something for myself,” says Hamilton.

“At first, I was between two minds on what route to choose – a product or a service-based business – but I followed my gut and built my business around offering digital services and, based on the results I’m getting, I can see that I made the right choice. Your gut is always telling you the truth and it always knows the right direction to go in.”

Jamie Lee co-founder of The Other Straw offers some more real-life advice, saying that if you struggle to get things done or to take your business to the next level it’s important to look for a mentor, find an accountability buddy, and network with people who can help transform your idea into reality.

Ease the financial stress as you start

“If you’re currently under a heightened level of financial anxiety due to job loss the best thing you can do is increase your daily practice of mindfulness to at least twice a day,” says Andrew Fleming, founder and CEO of the new app Financial Mindfulness.

Watts adds to also ease anxiety while you work towards your long-term vision you may need to take a casual job. “We need to be realistic of our immediate needs not only to feel secure again but to also to earn money that covers family expenses,” he says.

Fleming suggests the below mindfulness practice:

  • Connect with your breath and stay present with the current sensations in your body.
  • Next, bring awareness to your finances, noticing how it makes you feel.
  • Create some distance between you and any anxiety by accepting the current situation in your life without judgement.
  • Now you can begin to move forward and approach your finances in a new way.
  • Consider one new action you can take to help you improve or manage your financial situation and visualise yourself taking this new action. Feel the anxiety falling away.

“By doing this practice, you’re creating more space in your mind for new ideas and ways to improve your situation to come into your conscious thinking, and gradually take all necessary steps to bring about desirable change,” says Fleming.

Self-care tips for long-term success

Ranking not only your job tasks but scheduling “me time” into your daily routine is vital towards the outcomes and growth of your business. “To bring the best out of you comes back to how you think and how you treat yourself, so get up from your chair and move your body as often as possible,” says Watts.

“Re-energise and spark your creativity by exercising your mind-body as you take walks in nature to feel grounded, find balance through yoga, and create some quiet time and stillness through meditation, but above all make sure you get enough sleep,” she says.

“When you cull the stories that are holding you back from success and growth through meditation and replace the negative inner-critic with the positive inner-coach, the more room you have to focus, build more confidence, let go of fear and procrastination, and to celebrate the small wins which are important to keep you motivated and for making strides for the big wins,” she adds.

In turn, research supports the notion that sleep and mental health go hand-in-hand and, linked to business, sleep enhances job performance and also supports the cognitive skills required to identify and evaluate an idea.

Jarrod Partridge, founder of Idea Guru, says because it’s easy to spend 12 to 15 hours a day on your business, you must look after yourself. “Business can be lonely, and my outlet became playing basketball where I was able to combine fitness with socialising which was also a great way to clear my head and let new ideas come in,” he says.

A WFH schedule that boosts productivity

When working from home, the more structure you put into your day, the less anxiety you feel and the more you get done.

Partridge says transitioning from his hobby as a blog writer to a career as a content creator, he made every mistake in the book. “I’d spend time during the day going for coffee with friends, then end up working late into the night or getting up at 5am to catch up,” he says.

“A business will eat as much time as you give it, so it’s crucially important to set boundaries around your work time for you and your friends and family to respect as well.”

Watts suggests you set your work hours and stick to them, including creating a dedicated workspace in your home free from clutter. “This will allow you to do some deep thinking, feel quite creative, plus discipline you to get things done by keeping distractions to a minimum,” she says.

“What kept me sane when working from home,” says Dimitra Grehl creator of vegan bars KOJA, “was having a spare room where I only kept work-related items… I didn’t let it spread across the living room and kitchen, so I could easily compartmentalise work versus home time.”

Kingsmill says it’s important to get clear on how you operate best and identify the key factors that allow you to perform at your peak. “To avoid overwhelm, get a big-picture sense of what you want to create – a theme you are working towards – and chunk that ultimate goal down into smaller goals and then those into actionable tasks.”

Also, find a way to track your progress, says Kingsmill. “It can be as simple as a list stuck on your wall and don’t forget to build in rewards and reinforcements to encourage your efforts and of course celebrate the big wins.”

Elli Jacobs is a freelance health, profile, and business journalist. To connect visit

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