There are several questions people ask me when they meet me for the first time and learn my story. One of them is “How many times do I have to tell you that you don’t look like Denzel Washington?”
Real talk, though.
Maybe you have a good thing going for yourself. You work great hours, like your colleagues, and earn a decent salary. But, you live in an expensive city, and you certainly wouldn’t mind some extra cash. Or, you have a lot of creative energy bottled up at the end of your 9-5 job, and you don’t know how to put it to good use and turn it into something lucrative.
I was there too.
I had a six-figure day job, but also an avid interest in making videos. I started filming and documenting my experiences out of passion, but soon enough I was making $100 per hour, working only on weekends or after my 9-to-5 job. After two years, I was able to make $2,000 on a slow month and $7,000 during my busiest periods, all without leaving my day job.
So, one of the most common questions people ask me when they learn about how much money I earn on the side is “How did you do it?”
In this guide, I am going to share my secrets with you (although, I’m not sure you could call them secrets; rather, laser sharp focus, smart planning, and, determination.) The good news is that you could start implementing some of these tips right away.
Without further ado, here’s how you can turn your hobby into a profitable side hustle.
Start with a Hobby
Most people believe that everybody arrives on this planet with a unique gift and talent and your job is to discover that one thing you are exceptionally good at and nurture it. If you are so lucky to find it, put blood, sweat, and tears into growing it, then money will eventually come because of your extraordinary passion and drive. And, even if that doesn’t happen, you’ll be so fulfilled by what you’re doing that you won’t even notice most of the shortcomings.
In my opinion, this belief is BS.
Most people are not exceptionally good at just one thing. Instead, they are pretty good at a couple of things and can become better if they perfect themselves. More than that, most people have multiple interests that they can monetize on the side without having to invest all their energy into just one thing.
I, for example, have worked for large companies like Deloitte and IBM, which paid well. But I also had various other passions that I followed in my spare time.
Christ the Redeemer Statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Making videos was one of my hobbies. I started making videos because I got into being a travel video blogger (vlogger) for about two years. I loved documenting my journeys around the world and soon realized I liked the creative process of editing videos and adding my personality to them. So, I decided to take this hobby and turn it into a professional side hustle.
What I’m trying to say is that you should pick a hobby that you would like to earn some money from on the side. Don’t just dive head first into this and choose the first passion that comes to your mind. Take your time and think about how you would like to spend your evenings and weekends. Is that hobby you’ve picked something that you want to invest your creative energy into after your day job? Or, is it just a fad – like the time you swore that you are going to learn how to code but gave up after the first three classes?
If you need some inspiration trying to pick a side hustle or just trying to get the imagination juices flowing Millennial Money published an incredible guide of 20+ Easy Side Hustles Millennials Can Start Today
Make sure that this hobby or side hustle of yours is something you are passionate about and determined to turn into a professional hustle. Even if you are not going to commit full-time to this, you are still going to spend most of your free time working on it. That’s a lot of energy, and it would be a pity to waste it and give up on everything the second things get rough (and they will believe me.)
OK, so you’ve asked yourself all the hard questions and decided which passion you would like to pursue and turn it into a hustle. How do you go about doing it?
Invest in the Right Tools
You’ve heard it a million times: you have to work hard if you want to succeed. So, that’s what you do. You dedicate every second of your spare time to turning your hobby into a side hustle. You shed a lot of sweat trying to create a product or service that people would want to pay for (and that you’ll feel good about putting it on the market.)
But, in spite of your hard work, you always fall just short by a few inches. The products you’re creating or the services you offer are good to share with your friends but not good enough to show them to the world. Or, even if you are pleased with the result, people don’t seem to care too much about it.
Should you give up on your passion and move on?
Of course, not!
The problem in most cases is that you are working hard, but you’re not being smart about the way you’re going about it.
Here’s the thing: if you want to earn an extra income from your hobby, you need to start to see it as a business and invest in professional tools. You won’t make too much progress if you don’t change your mentality and continue to see your passion just as a nice way to pass the time. You need to get serious about it and think about the tools you will need to advance.
Get the Right Tools for the Job
Invested in Panasonic GH4 and GH3 Cameras
Do your homework and find out what equipment professionals in the industry use. You don’t have to purchase top of the line tools; just figure out what’s the bare minimum you need and start from there.
For example, I had my heart set on $3,500 camera equipment, including a 4K camera, but I couldn’t get myself to spend so much money for something that I was doing for fun. After all, I was only a YouTube vlogger, not a professional video maker. But I was very keen to graduate from filming with my iPhone and turn the footage into quality video for my YouTube channel.
It was difficult, to say the least.
I mentally convinced myself that purchasing $3,500 camera equipment is not spending money but rather an investment. I told myself, if I can freelance as a videographer on the side, it could be possible to earn back the money I spent on the professional equipment. With that logic, I jumped all in and purchased the equipment.
Maybe you don’t have thousands of dollars just laying around, waiting to be spent on tools, software programs, or online courses. There are a few solutions in this case. You could ask your friends or family for help and promise to give them the money back as soon as you start generating income from your hobby. Or, you could get a credit card with no interest for the first 9-12 months and use the money to finance some of the purchase.
It might seem like a significant investment now, but it will all be worth it once you start making $100 an hour from your side hustle.
Build a Website
You might think that a Facebook page or word of mouth are enough to generate calls and earn some gigs. But, the truth is, one of the best ways to start promoting your side hustle is building a professional website.
Think about it: your website acts as a brochure for potential clients. When people hear about you, the first thing they’ll do is Google your name to research your work and determine if they want to do business with you. So, a website isn’t a luxury, but a fundamental tool you need to invest in if you want to earn extra cash from your hobby.
A website is also an excellent way to connect with local businesses. Most customers use search engines to find local businesses. As a result, Google often ranks results according to location. So, if someone searches for “video filming Washington DC,” your website should appear among the results, if you’ve optimized your site for local SEO, of course.
Don’t worry; you don’t need to hire a professional web designer to build your site. You can do it yourself with free tools available online. I, for instance, got a domain and setup a WordPress website. It wasn’t anything fancy, but it got the job done. I used it to share my portfolio, which was very limited at that time, and but it was a virtual business card I could share with potential clients. I also included a contact page in case someone would be interested in hiring me.
Learn Something New Every Day
You’ve probably picked up a few tips and tricks about your hobby. Don’t be too content with what you already know. If you want to reach your maximum potential and turn your passion into a lucrative hustle, you need to strive to deepen your knowledge.
There are always new skills you can learn and new techniques to adapt that could help you reach your goal faster. Some of the most successful entrepreneurs seem to understand that. Warren Buffet, for example, spends a lot of his time reading. And, Bill Gates, the richest man in the world attributes his success not to his intelligence but to his desire to improve himself and never stop learning.
I had two years of experience filming and editing videos using my iPhone. I was aware of my limitations, and I knew there was so much I wanted to learn. I hadn’t studied anything about filming video, so I decided to take advantage of the resources available to improve my knowledge.
Here’s what I did (and what you can do too.)
Watch YouTube Tutorials
I’ve learned most of the skills I use to make a living on my own. In fact, most of the things I know I’ve picked up outside of any formal education, despite having Bachelors and Masters in Computer Engineering. Don’t get the wrong idea: traditional education is still crucial, but it’s not the only factor that dictates your success.
So, when I decided that I wanted to improve my filming and editing skills, I subscribed to numerous YouTube channels about film making and watched at least one video a day for an entire year. It might seem daunting, but it was the best thing I ever did, that sped up my learning. That’s how vast the information available is. Not to mention, it should be a pleasure to learn more about your hobby.
Take Online Classes
Another great way to improve your skills is to take online classes using sites like Lynda.com or Creative Live. There are close to 6,000 courses on Lynda.com and about over 1,500 on Creative Live, so you don’t have to worry about not finding sufficient information on your hobby. I got a couple of film making courses from Lynda.com, and I can honestly say that the courses played a huge role in helping me connect all the information I was learning together.
Build Your Portfolio While Practicing What You Learned Every Week
You watch online videos, take classes, read books, and keep up with the latest news in the industry. That’s the easy part. You now need to start putting into practice all this knowledge.
Knowing something on a theoretical level is not going to help you that much if you’re not able to put that information to action.
Since practice makes perfect, here’s how you can put your knowledge into action.
Fake It ‘Till You Make It
I know, it’s such a cliché, right? But, it’s the truth. Sure, you’ll feel like a fraud, in the beginning, mimicking the experts in your industry, but as you gain more experience and start feeling confident about your skills, you’ll soon get over it.
Filming Washington D.C. Mayoral Debates
Try and get outside of your comfort zone. For example, I would find events in the Washington DC metro area and use them to practice my skills. I filmed one or two events every week for about six months. I used these opportunities to practice some of the tips I’ve learned during my online classes and experiment with different lenses, angles, and so on. Then, after filming the event, I would practice editing the video. I paid close attention to how different camera settings affected my footage, which angles told the story better, and so on.
After I finished editing the videos, I would share them with the event organizers and on social media. It was terrifying – putting your work out there and waiting for others to judge it – but I knew it was a step that I had to take if I ever wanted to justify buying professional video equipment.
So, yes, I’ve faked it, I faked it hard in the beginning, and it felt uncomfortable, but without this step, I would have never transitioned from a hobby to a side hustle.
Share Your Knowledge with Others
By discussing the topic with someone, you can discover if you truly understand some of the concepts or if there are questions that you never thought asking. That way, when it comes time to put your knowledge into action, you’ll feel more confident about your ability to succeed.
Build Social Proof
Interviewing NBA All-Star, John Wall of the Washington Wizards w/Mrs. DC
You might not be aware of this, but a lot of your behavior is influenced by the desire not to feel left out and do what other people are doing. This psychological phenomenon is known as social proof. It’s what convinces you to choose one restaurant over the other (because it had better Yelp reviews) or to buy something that is “limited edition.” Social proof can also persuade potential clients to choose you instead of other companies who offer similar services.
If you want to succeed in turning your hobby into a lucrative hustle, you need to understand the difference between real value and perceived value.
As the name suggests, the real value is the actual value you offer to clients. It means that you put enough effort into your work to help them achieve the results they want.
Perceived value is what potential clients feel you are worth before hiring you for the job and it can influence how much you earn. The problem is that clients can’t know the value of your work until they’ve commissioned you for a job. However, you can influence their perception by building social proof.
One of the best ways to create social proof from scratch is to work with big names and brands. Here’s how you can do it.
Research the Market
Firs thing first, you should look for big events or companies in your local area that you think might be interested in your work or services. Don’t be afraid to aim big and offer your services to top businesses, even if just the idea of reaching out to them makes your heart drop to your stomach.
Once you have your list of events and companies, reach out directly via email, asking to help them for free. Don’t send blunt, generic messages; instead, try to personalize your emails. Learn as much as you can about the company or the person organizing the event and use this information to connect with them and grab their attention. Make sure to keep your emails short and to the point.
Working with Miss DC to Film Washington Redskins Charity Event
Using this method, I was able to get access to numerous important events in my metro area, such as Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi’s talk, Washington DC Mayoral debates, and Yelp’s Annual Elite Party. I was even granted access to Washington Redskins Charity Fundraisers, where I got interviews with Kirk Cousins, Robert Griffin III, and John Wall of the Washington Wizards. I also filmed a documentary film for DC Fashion Week for free, which is now available on Amazon Video and Vimeo On-demand. Last but not least, I got permission to shoot at the Washington DC, Maryland, and Virginia beauty pageants, and I eventually became the official videographer of Miss DC. All work I did for free to build my portfolio and get social proof.
With these big names in my portfolio, I was ready to start charging for my work.
After 3-6 Months, Start Charging for Work
When your side hustle is still in its infancy, and you’re unsure whether you can even call yourself a “professional,” it can be difficult to know how much you should charge for your work. A lot of creative people who work on the side, such as illustrators, photographers or filmmakers spend a few years working for free, putting blood, sweat, and tears into their hobby with the ambition of one day gaining some profit out of it.
But, they wait too long.
If you already started working with some big names in the industry and have built a strong portfolio, then you can start charging for your work. Be careful, though; you must know how to ask for the right price if you want to stay competitive. Ask too much, and you might turn potential clients off; ask too little, and they’ll see you as an amateur, and you’ll end up doing only the boring stuff.
Do Some Research
The first thing you should do when deciding how much you should charge for your work is to find out how much professionals in your industry are getting paid for their work. I called and emailed local video companies in my area pretending to be a client, and found out what prices they were charging. The big professional companies were charging $5,000+ per hour while freelancers were charging between $25 and $50 per hour. Professional freelancers were charging $75 or more per hour.
Hourly rates can vary depending on the area you’re in, the types of clients you work with, the competition, and so on. Make sure to research the market carefully before you determine how much you’re worth.
Charge the Lowest Price
Your goal at the beginning of your side hustle isn’t to get the best price but to get some traction and get some paying clients and experience working with their demands. Your best option, in this case, is to market yourself as one of the most affordable options on the market.
For example, I decided to start out at $25 per hour, the lowest price range in the market, and I did that for a couple of months. Sure, I wasn’t making that much money, but it was fantastic getting paid to learn the job.
If you’re still uncertain about charging the lowest price on the market, think about it this way: you’re still new, and you are bound to make a lot of mistakes. By keeping your rates low, you’ll remain competitive and have enough time to learn the ropes. When you work for free, you don’t get much feedback from your clients. But, when they start investing money in you, even if we’re talking about a small amount, they’ll start paying more attention to what you do and become more honest and critical of your work.
Not to mention, you will start to devote more attention to details and discover errors that you might not have noticed when you were working for free.
Start Promoting Yourself
Receiving Award for Volunteering to Film DC Pageants
The next step you will need to take is getting your name out. Start promoting your website on directories like Yelp, Angie’s List, and even Google Plus (an active Google+ business page might not get you too much engagement with potential clients, but it will help significantly with your local SEO efforts.)
Be sure to get friends and family, and anyone you have ever filmed, that has a favorable opinion of your work, to leave you positive reviews.
I submitted my website to local directories, had friends and people I helped for free leave reviews, and surprisingly, job inquiries started to come in. As a local videographer, Yelp was the best site for generating leads for me, but it might be different for you, depending what your niche is. Experiment with various platforms to determine which one produces the most inquiries for your side hustle.
Start to Get Picky
Filming Former CEO of Eloqua, purchased by Oracle for $800 million
Filming Former CEO of Eloqua, purchased by Oracle for $800 million
Asking for a low price is an excellent way to gain some traction and get your first paying clients. But, try to take the next step as soon as possible. Otherwise, you risk becoming comfortable with the steady cash flow and get stuck at this level.
After working with about 5-10 clients for a flat rate and becoming confident in your ability to please their demands, you can increase your rates.
Here’s how to calculate what your time is worth:
Calculate Your Overheads
It’s time to start considering your business expenses. For example, if you make clothing on the side, calculate how much you’re paying for supplies and what your time is worth. Your rate should cover your costs, so you need to increase it to a reasonable yet realistic number.
Consider Lost Time
As with any business, there will always be lost time taking care of administrative tasks, such as talking with clients, invoicing, and so on. Don’t forget to take into consideration these non-billable hours too when increasing your rates.
Now, that you have a strong portfolio and are confident in your skills and ability to meet client’s demands, you can start negotiating before accepting a new gig. When you’re meeting with a new client, try to find out their budget before you reveal your rates. That way, you can determine if they’re only looking for discounts or whether your prices are too low. On numerous occasions when starting out, client’s budgets where twice the amount I was about to quote them. I was shrewd enough to increase my rates on the spot, but still stay slightly below their budget.
Using these techniques, I calculated my time as being worth $50. It also helped me get better clients and avoid those who were only looking to get bargain prices.
Double Down on the Promotional Channels That Are Working
Online marketing should become a crucial component of your effort to grow your hustle. The problem is that the number of available channels can be daunting. Even if you narrow it down to the most popular ones, you will remain with a dozen platforms. Since you don’t have too much money to invest in online marketing and you’re a one-person show, you can’t possibly maintain a constant presence on all these channels.
So, you need to pick the ones that are working and focus your resources and energy on them. But, how do you do that?
Consider Audience and Levels of Engagement
Should audience size play a significant role when deciding what channel to choose? Giving a definite answer is difficult. There’s no question about the fact that audience size matters. Attention is the name of the game. The more users a promotional channel has, the greater the chances of getting exposure. But, audience size can also be tricky. For example, while Twitter has more users than Pinterest, some people receive more engagement from Pinterest than Twitter.
Hang Out Where Your Audience Hangs Out
The size of the channels you’re using is important, but they will be of no use to you if your audience is not there. More than anything else, consider your audience and ensure they are active on the platforms you’re using to promote yourself. For example, Twitter might be one of the biggest networks, but it would make no sense to focus on it if you sell handmade pottery. Instead, you should concentrate on promoting your products on Pinterest where you are more likely to find people interested in your offers.
Volunteering to Film Yelp Elite Party
In my case, most of my leads came from my free Yelp listing. And, it made sense. People wanted to ensure that the service they’ll get is of high quality, so they were looking on review sites like Yelp to find the best deals.
So, I took a chance, doubled down and paid for three months of Yelp advertising. That ended up being the best decision I ever made. I was able to get three to four time the number of leads I was getting initially.
Pay close attention to the channels you’re using to ensure you’re getting the most out of your efforts. Study the numbers, check your demographics and ask yourself all the important questions before doubling down on a promotional channel.
Increase Your Rates Again
You’ve started this hustle out of passion. So, you’re not aware of the psychology that goes into setting profitable prices for your work. You might think that keeping your rates competitive is a smart strategy. But it’s a lot better to let the market let you know how much they are willing to pay for your services.
For example, I kept increasing my rates until I stopped getting clients. Once people stopped hiring me, I got back to the last price I quoted that brought in a steady stream of customers.
I got this idea as I was watching a video by Grant Cardone, saying that most business owners should double their prices because most of them undercharge for their services. So, I doubled my rate and increased it to $100 per hour. To my surprise, people still hired me. I made the same amount of money, or more, with half the clients and in half the time. An ideal situation for me, since I still had a day job to attend to.
I also did an 80/20 analysis (Pareto’s Law), I noticed that I made most of my money working with corporations and non-profits. I acted on this insight, and pivoted to exclusively focusing on filming corporate video.
Another technique you can use to get people to pay the price you are asking for your product or services. It’s called tiered pricing, and it works something like this:
Imagine you’re passionate about web design and decide to help companies build their online presence. You charge around $250 per project. After working for a few months and gaining experience, you decide to make your services more comprehensive and charge $500 per project. Almost instantly, you get an increase in the number of clients inquiring your $250 services.
The more expensive option acts as an anchor price, making the second alternative look like a better deal. So, how can you fix that? By introducing a third, more expensive option than the first two – say, charging $1,000 for your web design service. Now, clients will trade off the most expensive option for the second most expensive one. They will feel like the basic package will not cover their needs while the premium one is too pricey for their budget. So, they will opt for the mid-range option, which is what you wanted to get in the first place.
Make It Simple for Clients to Hire You
There are two main pricing strategies you can choose from: time or project-based.
In my case, I found that clients perceived time-based pricing as unpredictable. Inspired by another idea I got from Grant Cardone, I decided to stop charging by the hour and package my services.
I also put my tiered pricing knowledge into action and created packaged services for three hours, six hours and a full day of filming and editing. I charged flat rates of about $1,500, $3,000 and $4,500 for each.
Another thing that I started doing (and I would advise you to do the same) was requiring payment before filming. Some clients took a long time to pay after delivering my services and it was a major inconvenience.
Expand Your Side Hustle
Filming Conference in DC
You have a steady stream of paying customers, and you are earning a great profit working after your 9-to-5 job and on weekends. Now, you can kick back, relax, and enjoy the extra cash, right?
Now is the best time to expand your side hustle.
Be smart about it, though. The idea is to earn more by working less not the other way around.
Here’s what I did. After a year of being a one-person show and doing everything by myself, from finding clients to filming and editing, I decided to get some help. The first thing I did was bringing my brother on as a second shooter, which allowed me to charge more money and pay him as well.
I also hired some professional editors from Upwork for about $25 per hour, which freed up a lot of my time. I would film after my day job or during weekends and then send the videos to my editors via Dropbox to edit. It worked out perfectly because I would charge clients about $75 to $100 per hour to edit, so I had a decent $50 to $75 margin. The margin was even higher when I went to package pricing.
Filming Congressman on Capitol Hill
By following these tactics, I was able to turn my hobby of creating videos into a profitable side hustle, while also recouping the initial investment in purchasing professional camera equipment. I started small by being proactive and filming events in my local area for free and then posting the videos on social media. As I gained experience, I began reaching out to companies and offered my services for free. That helped me practice my skills and build a strong portfolio and social proof.
Once I was comfortable enough with my abilities to film an event and turn it into a beautiful looking video, I started to charge for my services. I asked for the lowest fare on the market, eager to see if I can meet the demands of paying clients. I gradually increased my price until I was able to charge customers up to $100 per hour. The best part about this technique is that it only took my one year to turn my hobby into a profitable side hustle.
I recall one month in the spring, which is usually my busiest season, I made $7,000 from only two clients. That was a special “a-ha!” moment for me – I had made more money from my side hustle, working two full days that month, than from my six-figure day job after taxes.
You can imagine this gave me an insane amount of confidence in my ability to turn my passion into a future business. It also made me feel secure – if anything were to happen to my day job, such as a company layoff or wanting to make a career change, I had real world evidence that I would be able to survive financially.
I didn’t turn my love for filming into a full-time business, however. I’ve now moved on to other entrepreneurial ventures, like investing, founding a tech startup, writing a book on freelancing and starting a personal blog and show focused on educating millennials on how to hustle and make money. I learned so much from my experience as a videographer that it instilled a passion for freelancing and entrepreneurship in me.
But most of all, this experience taught me one important thing. I loved filming, and I was making a lot of money, but this side hustle, was a services-based business that required me to be hands-on at all times. I wanted my next business to generate income even when I sleep. So, when I stumbled across Amazon FBA, I immediately understood how disruptive the idea was since I knew the difference between getting paid by the hour, and getting paid when you’re asleep. I was happy to discover the Startup Bros, take their webinar and learn the ins and outs of running an e-commerce business on Amazon.
Now I have an Amazon FBA business that is consistently generating $2,000 to $4,000 a month, half being profit, from only one product, and only working on it one hour a month. This while still working my 9-to-5 day job, my tech startup and my personal blog and show. Talk about a time saver! I have plans to expand into other product lines, and the Startup Bros have been a great resource for learning how to make money with Amazon FBA.
You might think that it’s too hard to do what I did and that you can’t possibly get paid $100 per hour for your hobby, or even make more money from a side hustle than from your day job.
I beg to differ.
Follow these steps, and you too can turn your hobby into a side hustle that pays you money.
Get started today!