Whether you're trying to pay down debt, save for a vacation or just have a little wiggle room in your budget, a side hustle can seem like a genius way to make extra cash — especially if you have a skill you aren't fully utilizing at your day job. And with a flourishing gig economy and online tools at the ready, it’s never been easier. Fire up your laptop, burn the midnight oil, and boom, you're in business.
Of course, it's not that easy — but how much time and money does it really take to get a side hustle off the ground and profitable?
We talked to five women who’ve started a side hustle about how much they’ve poured into their passion project — and what they wish they knew earlier.
The Freelance Writer
Business Costs: $150
Time Commitment: 10 to 15 hours a week
“My passion was always writing, but I couldn’t find a job in the field,” says Shauna Armitage, 30, of Colorado Springs, Colorado. So she waited tables to pay bills and searched for writing jobs on the side. She built a client base through sites like Upwork, networking and joining Facebook groups devoted to freelance writing. When she was ready to take her business to the next level, she had a friend build her a professional website for $150. “I was officially in business,” she says.
While initial startup costs were low, the hours required to get it off the ground were not. “Between social media and meetings with potential clients, I spent a lot of time networking, which was even more time-consuming than writing,” she says. The advantage of doing project work was being able to do it on her own time, often when her children were asleep. “I would get up at 5 every morning to fit in my writing work.”
But the initial investment paid off — within a year, Armitage netted enough clients to quit waiting tables and work as a full-time writer. Now, she’s pivoted her business to include marketing strategy, and feels her initial decision to take the leap into a side hustle wasn’t just for making extra money — it was a way to try out and build a new career.
The Clothing Line Founder
Business Costs: 10% to 20% of monthly paycheck
Time Commitment: 10 to 20 hours a week
Molly Fuller, 29, from Minneapolis, came up with an idea in college to create compression clothing for teens with autism. Some people with autism find compression soothing, allowing them to focus. But Fuller realized everything on the market looked therapeutic and not trendy.
When she graduated, Fuller got a job designing digital tools for the heath care industry. But the idea of starting a clothing line never went away. “Two years ago, I noticed things hadn’t really improved in the medicinal clothing space, and I wanted to fix that.”
Now two years into her business, Fuller has poured all of her profits back into the company and still invests a monthly portion of her paycheck into the project. “It hasn’t been cheap to start up, and I’m fortunate that I’m able to have a full-time job that is supportive of my side business,” she says. “I can invest in my business and not worry about my mortgage or putting food on the table.”
Her biggest unexpected costs come from buying materials and working with vendors. “For our first run, I had a manufacturer sew 50 shirts: 25 with white trim and 25 with black trim,” she recalls. “But I forgot to mention that I wanted the vendor to switch to white thread for the white elastic. They didn’t look good, and I had to get them all re-sewn, losing a lot of time and money.”
While the upfront costs have been steep, Fuller is proud of her growing business. It’s a project she’s passionate about, not one that she anticipated would make easy money.
The Etsy Shop Owner
Business Costs: About $200 for initial supplies and listing fees
Time Commitment: 40+ hours a week
Stephanie Miller of Livingston, New Jersey, had a talent for creating personalized presents, from necklaces to monogrammed drinkware, for friends and family. After her youngest son was born, the stay-at-home mom of three experimented with selling on Etsy. Although material costs were initially minimal, the shop took off, and her expenses grew. Additionally, each listing cost about 20 cents, and a percentage of her earnings went back to the site.
“In a matter of months, I got about 200 orders,” she says. “I was working at least eight hours every day, often well into the night after my kids were in bed.” The time-intensive project eventually led her to put the shop on hiatus, and she’s yet to go back.
For her, competition was killer. “Because everyone is setting their own prices, people are constantly undercutting one another in order to be successful,” Miller says. “To really get your business moving, you have to have the flashiest, lowest-priced item. And I was successful — the money was rolling in — but when I broke it down by the hour, I was barely breaking even,” she says. Her caution to side-giggers hoping to turn their project full-time: Consider what your time is worth and keep tabs on your actual cost per hour. If you can’t reconcile the two through changes in your business model or process, it might not be worth it.
The Online Gift Shop Creator
Business Costs: $10,000
Time Commitment: 30+ hours a week
Kelly Anne Parker wanted to build a business to eventually replace her day job in tech.
The 28-year-old drafted a business plan for an online gifting site called Send Ribbon, where a portion of the money spent on gifts would go to a specific cause. She calculated everything from the cost of printer paper to web hosting, adding up to about $10,000 in startup expenses.
She spent the next few months saving from her paychecks to launch the business. She sold clothes and accessories online, replaced her work wardrobe with a Rent the Runway subscription to cut shopping and dry cleaning fees, and used Amazon Prime for groceries. Being efficient with her time and money became a priority.
Meanwhile, she spent four to six hours each night building her business, saving Saturdays to spend with friends. “Having one free day cleared my head and allowed me to do my best work during the work week,” she says.
Within six months, Parker was able to quit her day job and launch her business. However, she still finds unexpected expenses creep up, especially from no longer having work-based benefits. “Medical and dental insurance are some of my biggest personal expenses each month now,” she says. “I would definitely advise other people to consider employee benefits, and how they will cover them in their own budget, before they take their side hustle full-time.”
The Cosmetics Consultant
Business Costs: $5,079
Time Commitment: 5 hours a week
Marissa Fayer, 39, a consultant for pharmaceutical and medical companies, became an Arbonne consultant three years ago for extra income. The initial startup cost to join the health and wellness company was $79, but Fayer spent about $5,000 on cosmetics, skin care products and supplements to have on-hand for customers.
“I’ve made back my initial investment, and I know that if I put more time into the business, I could make more money,” she says, noting other personal and professional commitments have taken priority. Committing a few hours a week is enough to pad her paycheck selling items from a company she was already a fan of before consulting.
For her, becoming a consultant was a relatively low-cost way to understand a retail business, which has helped her in her day job. “If you were to start a brick-and-mortar franchise, you may be spending hundreds of thousands of dollars,” she says. “This sort of option is much less expensive if retail is something that you’re interested in exploring.”