In fact, maybe the number one business story of today is that innumerable side hustles are blossoming into full-time gigs. The facts are in the numbers from MBO Partners, a platform that helps businesses manage independent workforces and also helps gig workers hook up with businesses. According to MBO Partners, “the overall number of independent workers grew sharply in 2021: up 34%, to 51.1 million from 38.2 million in 2020.”
MBO’s numbers continued: “Full-time independents, those who work more than 15 hours
per week, rose 3.4 million, or 25%, from 13.6 million to 17 million.”
Who are the ones taking the plunge? Read on for fast views into a medley of side hustlers who have gone full time, from a consumer packaging designer to a luxury travel agent. Lots of different jobs now are being done by people who have successfully transformed what often had been a hobby into a full-time living. Here are their stories.
Packaging and Branding
For about 10 years, Milwaukee-based Kelley Kempel worked at Kohl's Department Stores, and then the pandemic hit. “I still had a job, but our stores were closed,” remembered Kempel. “Things looked scary.”
In a what’s there to lose moment, Kempel started hunting around a jobs board — Upwork — and, bingo, she landed a client that wanted her to design packaging for a new product. As it happened, a direct-to-consumer (DTC) revolution had started in many consumer goods categories — such as beauty and skincare, where Kempel already had a lot of know-how from her Kohl’s work.
She related what happened next: “Over the course of 2020, I built up a client roster and started getting more referrals.” Initially, this began as a side hustle, but job by job, it became something more. “In 2021, I made the leap to leave my 9-to-5 and go full time in my business. It's been one of the best decisions I've made in my career. All the innovation in retail products is happening right now with startups and small businesses. By running my own business, I'm able to share my expertise and help the real product innovators get their items seen and sold.”
She named her company Hidden Path Creative. Will she still be doing this 10 years from now? “I hope I will be,” she said.
Traveling the World
A busy university teacher, Dr. Terika Haynes, stuck a tiny toe in different waters as far back as 2008 when she opened a travel agency. “I wanted a side hustle to help me pay off my student loans,” she said.
But as the years went by, Haynes found herself putting more time into her agency, Dynamite Travel, and she liked the work, the client interactions, and of course, the travel that she took in order to better sell luxury travel products to clients. The firsthand experience helped her more persuasively recommend a resort and a destination, and it also let her give informed advice to clients about how to get the most out of their trips.
In 2017, she realized she was working too long and hard hours. “It felt as though I was working two jobs because I was. One had to go.”
She chose to put her primary focus on selling luxury travel in the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America. Her side hustle became her full-time business. As for clients, she draws them from around the US, and most find her through her social media activity.
The past two years of the pandemic, of course, have been slow for travel consultants and agencies, but now, Haynes said, activity is definitely on an upswing.
Incidentally, Haynes is something of a serial side hustler. She now also sells ebikes and mobility scooters — portable products aimed at travelers. With those products, demand has been massive — but supply chain disruptions have made sales difficult. But she says this is a business that will take off for her once the supplies are reliable because her travel clients are primed to buy these mobility devices. “I just have dived deeper into entrepreneurship,” she said.
Michael Nova launched a side hustle and recalls, “I started a side hustle while I was vice president at an event planning firm. I was tired of having my boss looking over my shoulder and really wanted the freedom to run something of my own.”
“Being in the event planning business, I felt my strength was organization. As I was also a musician, I hatched an idea to help other musicians with the business side of the music business, so they can concentrate on their art. I set up a network of people offering services to musicians and created a one-stop shop called Nova Music.”
A particular focus was on creating signage and posters to help musicians promote their shows. Then The New York Times ran a story about this business, and “I was off and running. I quit my job to concentrate on Nova Music full time.”
But the business did not stay the same. How many independent musicians today have the spare cash to pay for Nova’s services? Not many. But Nova already had an emerging business plan in play, and in a way, he replaced the side hustle that had gone full time with yet another side hustle that was ready to become the center of his business life.
“Only 10% of my work presently is for musicians,” he explained. Over time, as Nova accepted that chasing independent musicians was a tough business model, his focus shifted to doing essentially the same work — printing, signage for events, trade shows, and also t-shirts — for big companies including Google, American Express, and JP Morgan Chase. “I now offer branding and marketing solutions to businesses nationwide through my manufacturing and printing companies and can truly say that I built this from scratch.”
Maria Crider was working as a virtual business manager managing three clients plus the booking agency itself. But in April 2021, she decided she really wanted to earn more money. So, she knew she wanted a side hustle. Earlier in her work life, she had developed classroom curricula, and she liked that work. Then she happened upon an emerging business of course creation.
Nudged by the pandemic, many consultants, executive coaches, and other experts who had worked face to face and typically one on one with clients now wanted to take their show into the virtual realm, and they also wanted to broaden the reach from one person to perhaps six to ten. That meant they needed course materials. “I found a hole in the market,” said Crider.
Crider quickly targeted a niche of spiritual courses with a focus on issues such as positive thinking and how to overcome limiting beliefs. She named her company Spiritual Systems, and she explained, “I design course content — slides, presentations, graphics, and printables — to help [my clients] sell better courses.”
Her business started clicking, and in September 2021, she quit her agency job and went full-time in her business.
She finds clients on Instagram and Upwork.
Lately, she has even branched out, creating course content for an in-person training course for buyers of Goldendoodle pups, so she is open to broadening her topic focus.
“I don’t have to market hard,” said Crider. “There’s plenty of work.”
Fulltime Side Hustles Can Result in Happiness
Still wondering if your personal moment to go full time has come? An MBO Partners stat says: “Overall, 77% said they were very satisfied with independent work, up marginally from 76% in 2020, and the highest reading in the 11 years of the survey.“
Independent workers are happy workers, mainly because — like the four in this story — they are doing what they want to do and like to do.
What’s stopping you now?
About the Author
Robert McGarvey, a veteran journalist who has long covered startups and small businesses, created and hosts the CU2.0 Podcast for credit union and fintech executives which is at 120 episodes and counting.