In 2017, after I graduated from college, I started working as an engineer at an oil company. I was 23 and making $98.300 a year.
At first, I thought I had my dream job. But after seeing senior leaders work 60-hour weeks with routine travel, I realized that it wasn’t the lifestyle I wanted. My father passed away when I was three years old, so having family time was always very valuable to me.
In 2018, I started experimenting with side hustles. I set a goal to make $3,450 monthly (after taxes) from my scams to support my lifestyle. As soon as I achieved that, I decided to quit my full-time job. Today, I’ve accomplished my goal of being my boss and more. I left my engineering job in February 2021 to work on my side hustles full-time.
Last year, I made a little over $189,000 from my seven income streams: YouTube (Google AdSense): $82,349; Amazon Fulfillment: $13,886; Patreon (coaching): $33,114; Fiverr (product research): $29,014; Affiliate Marketing: $29,496; Rental Property: $1,272; Taxable Dividends: $639.
Now I work just 22 hours a week. I take off Thursdays, Friday afternoons, and weekends. Whether golfing with my grandpa, cooking family dinners, or starting new business projects in my community, I have plenty of time to invest in the people and things I care about most.
Here’s my best advice for turning your side hustle into your full-time gig, all while working fewer hours:
1. Don’t be afraid of trial and error.
Early on, I tried buying rental properties, putting ads in the backseats of Ubers, and renting out my three-wheeled Polaris Slingshot motorcycle on Turo, an online car-sharing platform. But none of these businesses was successful. It wasn’t until I began selling products on Amazon, using the Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) service, that I started making real passive income.
I had to find a generic product in demand and ship it to Amazon. My first product was $1,000 worth of headphones; then I moved on to iPhone cases and sports equipment. I grossed more than $25,000 in 2019 through my Amazon store.
I wanted to share what I learned from my trials and errors, so I started a new project, which would later turn into my most considerable income stream: starting my own YouTube channel.
2. Build a community around your expertise.
I launched my YouTube channel, Debt to Dollars, in February 2020. I committed to posting at least two videos per week at first. Over the next eight months, I gained 14,000 subscribers and 871,000 channel views.
While growing my audience, I realized I wanted to connect more with my subscribers and build a real community. So in October 2020, I began mentoring students one-on-one for $50 a month on how to make money selling products on Amazon.
I host my coaching sessions on Patreon, which is a platform that gives content creators the tools they need to run a subscription service. In February 2021, I started my product research service on Fiverr. Customers would pay me to find high-demand, low-competition products — trending toys, pet supplies, or travel accessories — that they could sell on Amazon. These community-based businesses helped me reach my long-awaited income goal of $3,450 per month.
3. Prioritize tackling debt.
I was able to quit my full-time job when I was making less than $4,000 per month because I had paid off all of my debts except for my house and car. There are plenty of methods to pay down debt, but I like the “Debt Snowball” method because it helps you see your progress.
Here’s how it works: List all your debts, from the most minor to the most significant the most significant. Make the most required payment on your smallest debt and the minimum payment on the rest. Repeat until you pay off the smallest debt, then continue with your next smallest debt.
4. Set up the legal side of your business early.
It is important to incorporate your business in your state for practical reasons like protecting your assets and getting tax breaks. But I also believe there’s a psychological benefit. I attribute some of my past failures to treating my side hustles like hobbies instead of businesses.
Once I formed a Limited Liability Company (LLC) in Texas in 2019, I took everything more seriously and professionally. It’s not a coincidence that all of my businesses failed until then.
An LLC has some of the best features of a corporation or partnership. Companies in the U.S. also use these two other business structures. LLCs protect their owners from being held personally responsible for the business’s debts or liabilities, like a corporation. But like a partnership, an LLC’s income “passes through” the business and is taxed as the owner’s personal income, which simplifies filing taxes.
You can form your LLC by filing a certificate of organization with your state, which usually costs anywhere from $50 to $300. Many states list filing information on their Secretary of State website.
5. Find a schedule that works for you and stick with it.
While working my full-time job, I lacked the motivation to work on my side hustles. But once I put pen to paper and committed to a schedule, working on my business was part of my weekly routine. I chose to focus on my side hustles each weekday evening after work and every Saturday morning.
I still stick to a weekly schedule. I work Monday through Wednesday and a half day on Friday. I’ll work four to six hours each day, with each hour blocked for a specific task. If you don’t set aside specific times to work on your side hustle, it may get lost in your daily priorities.
6. Set up systems that will save you time in the future.
I invest in business models that require as little of my time as possible. It is the only way I can work 22 hours per week and still grow multiple income streams. But remember that automating things and creating the most effective systems can take time at first.
Every month, I reflect on where I spend most of my work hours and find ways to make those processes more efficient. For example, I spent four to eight hours per week editing videos.
I decided to outsource my video editing, but that also required some time up front to run the numbers to see where it fit into my budget and find a great editor to do the work. But now that I have already put time into doing that, I spend those hours growing my business in other ways or working less.
7. Identify what makes you different.
Marketing is more than just advertising your product or service—it’s separating yourself from your competition by making your customers feel something. They’ll come back or, even better, tell their friends about you. When I started selling on Amazon in 2018, I used stock photos that my supplier gave me for my product listings.
Unsurprisingly, they blended in with every other product. And if someone did buy it, they got their product in a boring, transparent bag. There was nothing that made my customer experience special.
Once I learned the importance of providing something special, I started taking product photos and designing custom packaging. My sales spiked. Regardless of your business, decide what makes you memorable and invest in it. Josh Ellwood is the founder of Debt to Dollars.