How I Plan to Shift My Side Hustle into a Full-Time Career in 1 Year

This post is from new contributor Kali Hawlk who’s documenting her journey to quitting her day job and starting her freelance business.

When people ask what I do for a living, I usually respond with something along the lines of, “I’m a living Dilbert cartoon.” It’s my attempt to be funny, but it’s also pretty accurate.

I work in an office, Monday through Friday, from early morning to mid-afternoon. I didn’t get to choose my coworkers and my supervisors definitely have their…quirks.

It’s a secure job and it’s an easy one; essentially, everything I do boils down to some form of data entry. I don’t make many decisions and while I do have responsibility to ensure deadlines are met and information is correct, there’s not a whole lot of brainpower involved.

I do the same thing, day-in-and-day-out, 5 days a week in someone else’s business. And I’m ready to find a better way.

How I Got Started as a Freelance Writer

Last year, I decided to start a personal finance blog to serve as an outlet for my love of writing. Writing has always been my passion — and personal finance is a huge interest of mine — so it seemed like the perfect way to fill in some of those inevitably empty hours that crop up in the traditional 40-hour workweek.

In the back of my mind, I hoped that my blog might eventually take me into a new career one day. I knew other people had been able to make a living as bloggers, so I thought I might be able to pick up a few writing gigs, here and there, to supplement my income and create something more meaningful on the side, than my day job would ever be.

Little did I know that after a few quiet months of blogging to an audience that mostly consisted of my mom, my potential to be a full-time freelance writer and fully-fledged solopreneur (with my own business) would explode.

Growing Fast and Racing to Keep Up

In November of 2013, I casually applied to a few writing gigs that I found on sites like Problogger. I was shocked when I not only got responses, but I started getting hired.

My blog was doing it’s job; it was serving as a living, breathing, constantly up-to-date and fresh portfolio of writing samples.

By December of the same year, I was getting nibbles from almost every line I cast. It became necessary to drop the outlets I was volunteering for, where I was writing for free. In January 2014, I started dropping lower-paying gigs to make room for better opportunities and higher-paying offers.

I don’t explain all this to brag. I’m still a little bemused that everything happened so quickly, and in three months I went from making $0 off my writing skills to making over $2,000 (my side income total from January).

Everything has happened so suddenly, which is presenting me with a brand-new challenge: figuring out what I want to build my business to look like, and how to do it.

Building a Smart, Sustainable Business that Helps Others

Getting started was difficult, but the momentum I built from my first few gigs has propelled me forward faster than I ever thought possible.

My next difficult transition is going to be transitioning from a freelance writer who hustles on the side of her “real job” to a freelance writer who turns her passion into her living. In other words, I’ve got to make it from employee to entrepreneur.

I’m looking forward to bringing you on this solopreneurial journey with me.

Over the next few months, I’ll share my ups and downs, what I’ve learned about what works (and what most certainly does not), and how my business is shaping up.

I know my eventually goal is to quit my job as a Dilbert impersonator in order to run my own business full time. But I haven’t set any definitive, concrete goals for that business — until now.

So if I could have a drumroll, please…….

I’d like to reveal my Super-Awesome and Kinda-Super-Scary-To-Say-Out-Loud-And-Put-It-Out-There business goal that I’ll be working on, while documenting the journey for you on Careful Cents: I want to have the ability to make the switch from side hustler to full-time, successful business owner by March 2015.

Okay, I said it. Now are you ready to follow along with me?

Why March 2015? Because I expect to need an extra month tacked on to the deadline of 1 year to successfully transition out of my current job. It’s a small company, and if I suddenly departed it would severely, and negatively, impact my coworkers. Part of my goal is to be able to help train my replacement, thus, the 1 year plus a month timeline!

If you want to start your own freelance business, you can follow in my freelancing footsteps and get going with your own blog.

A blog is an awesome tool for building your portfolio, solidifying your reputation as a knowledgeable expert in your field, and growing your network.

Even if you don’t have much relevant experience in the industry you want to freelance in, with a blog you always have something to refer potential clients to, and a place to showcase your expertise. When you apply to a job ad, simply point the company in the direction of your site.

Here are a few quick tips for starting your own blog for business purposes:

  • Use the appropriate tools. There are lots of blogging platforms out there. I use and recommend WordPress. Whether or not you want to use WordPress.com (which means WordPress will host your site) or WordPress.org (which means you will need to get separate hosting and set up your website yourself) is up to you. You can always switch over from .com to .org later, but if you’re sure you want to be in the blogging game long-term and for business, I recommend starting with WordPress.org.
  • Get specific. You’ll want to find a niche that you’re both passionate and relatively knowledgeable about. You don’t have to be the world’s foremost expert, but you do need to know enough to clearly explain concepts to others. It also helps if you have real-life experience.
  • Create content for your audience. Remember, even though you’re the founder and writer of your blog, it’s really all about your readers. Publish content that will either increase their happiness or will help take away a negative like stress (for example, explain how to solve a specific problem).
  • But stay true to yourself! In other words, write naturally and in your own, unique voice. Write about topics that matter to your audience, but do so in a style all your own.
  • Engage with others. Don’t be shy! Comment on other similar blogs, follow industry leaders on Twitter (and don’t be afraid to tweet at people), and build relationships. Don’t hesitate to email people, especially if you have something of value to offer (maybe you have an answer to a question they asked, a suggestion for a solution to a problem, or you’d like to volunteer to help with a project of theirs). There are lots of awesome small business owners out there, so reach out and connect with them.

Feel like you need to know more about blogging or finding your own freelancing feet? Remember that last point, and engage!

Don’t hesitate to ask questions in the comments or reach out on Twitter @CSmillennial, I’m happy to help if I can.

The Economy of You by Kimberly Palmer: Book Review
How to Actually Look Forward to Filing Your Taxes
About the author: Kali Hawlk is a content marketing manager who launched her own business as a solopreneur in less than a year. She’s passionate about helping others with their own blogs and businesses, and loves to chat about personal finance, careers, and travel.

10 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own

  • Michelle February 20, 2014, 10:02 am

    Very awesome Kali! Congrats on setting a switch date as well, I’m sure you will do great. I feel like I see you all over the place so I’m sure you will rock it as a full-time freelancer/business owner.

    • Kali Hawlk February 20, 2014, 5:12 pm

      Thanks Michelle! It’s definitely a little scary to set something definitive, even something that “far” in the future. It makes the whole thing seem very much more real – but on the flip side, it’s also made me realize how possible it is to get it done!

  • Alicia Rades February 20, 2014, 10:35 am

    Awesome article, Kali! You’re a great writer. I’m sure you’ll go a long way in your freelance writing career.

    • Kali Hawlk February 20, 2014, 5:12 pm

      Thanks, Alicia! That means a lot to me :)

  • Adam Kamerer February 20, 2014, 11:57 am

    I love that you’ve set a deadline! If I could add one more bullet point to your list, I think it’d be “Adapt quickly.” Unexpected events will get in your way, but if you stay alert and adapt to them quickly, they won’t disrupt your plans too much. Expect the unexpected!

    • Kali Hawlk February 20, 2014, 5:13 pm

      Adam, great idea! I couldn’t agree more that it’s so important to be flexible and calm in the face of change. Life does have a funny way of flipping the script on us, for sure. Adapt or die, right?

  • Cat@BudgetBlonde February 20, 2014, 2:09 pm

    I am a HUGE fan of Kali’s work and sooooooo excited to see this!! Rooting for you all the way girl!

    • Kali Hawlk February 20, 2014, 5:15 pm

      Aw Cat, thank you!! That means a tremendous amount coming from you! Your story on Careful Cents was one of the first things I came across when I first started blogging and considering trying to make my way as a freelancer, and I’ve always been incredibly appreciative of how helpful you’ve been whenever I’ve reached out to you in the past. You rock, lady, and it means a lot to have you in my corner!

  • Charlotte March 22, 2014, 9:48 am

    Way to go, Kali! You’re on an absolute ROLL lately and I have no doubt you’ll surprise yourself and be able to transition earlier than expected. Can’t wait to follow along!

  • Gina May 17, 2014, 9:54 am

    Awesome progress & goal; I love that you are worried about training your replacement…I would be as well & think that’s very conscientious of you!!

Leave a Comment