(Guest Post by John Shaver, as part of our Side Hustle Series)
As a graphic and web designer by trade, people often present me with “the next big online idea.” The only catch is that they want me to do all the work for free, and then take only half of the profit once it “makes millions.”
I won’t get into all the reasons I turn them down, but the good news is that hearing so many ideas over the years has opened my eyes to what I can accomplish online for myself.
Where it All Started
I used to work an 8-5 job as the sole member of the design/marketing/photography/everything department. Sound familiar? I designed, developed, and ran an e-commerce website for a retailer/wholesaler, and made what most would consider a good living. $70,000 a year was almost unbelievable for a fresh college graduate. Day after day I would check the sales reports. The numbers went up almost faster than my jealousy for the owner (or at least his bank account).
I’m embarrassed to say it, but it took me almost 2 1/2 years of working there before I realized that I was the one that built the website that was raking in millions. What was stopping me from building one for myself? Even if I made 1% of the amount that I was helping this company make, I would be quite satisfied.
Then I quit.
My Side Hustle(s):
Apart from the work I do as a freelance designer for my clients, I have my own projects.
Design Panoply – A design blog with tutorials and articles aimed at graphic designers, Photoshop and Illustrator users in particular. It also includes an online store where I sell stock design resources. The site has been in existence for over two years, but it wasn’t until about six months ago that I decided I wanted to dedicate more time to making it a legitimate business. The graphic design blog niche — if you can call something so big a niche — is extremely competitive, but I know that I can offer a higher quality resource than many of the people already out there.
MyDesignDeals – A daily deals site for graphic designers and creative professionals. Daily deals sites are admittedly not a unique idea, but I know the market extremely well, so I see potential for success. I had contemplated building this site for at least a year. I eventually got frustrated thinking about all the income I had missed out on by not taking action, so I sent my wife out of town for a week so I could design and develop the site. Ok, she may have already planned the trip to get away from me, but it makes the story more interesting. A few days later I made my first sale.
There are ups and downs to each website, but that is the beauty of having both. As primarily a blog, Design Panoply brings in a lot more traffic, but the number of sales per visitor is lower. Since MyDesignDeals is set up almost solely to sell deals, the amount of traffic the site gets is lower. Luckily, they complement one another perfectly. I can funnel very targeted traffic from one site to the other, and even run special deals on my own design resources if I am having trouble finding deal providers at any given time. Rather than always having to rely on other blog owners for traffic, I can get guaranteed exposure from my own site while still building my audience through other avenues.
How Much Do I Make?
After I tell you how much I have made from my online escapades, you might think I’m a moron leaving what I previously had. In total, I have made less than $20,000 over the life of my websites. This wouldn’t be all that bad if it weren’t for the huge amount of hours I have put into them. I still make the majority of my money through freelance design work, but that is what I am working to change.
Where others see failure, I see potential.
As I continue to build products and readership for both sites, my annual income will continue to increase. I believe that I can be making a healthy six figures from my sites in the not-too-distant future, and by that point, I will be able to step back from the day to day running of the sites. It’s worth it to start out working 40 hours a week for $10,000 a year if you can end up working 10 hours a week for $100,000+, and that is exactly what I plan on doing.
I feel like I have to make a disclaimer. For me, it’s not about making endless amounts of money, but about the freedom that having more money provides. Time with my family and friends, the ability to travel, eliminating the stress of worrying about bills, and the list goes on.
Things I Learned
Now that you know the background of what I do and how I got there, I want to share the things I learned that will hopefully help you if you are looking into online business. Like J. Money, a lot of ideas pop into my head on a daily basis. When they first hit me, I get excited. Like, Christmas Eve when you are 8-years-old and you just know Santa is going to bring you that remote control car excited.
When I designed and built MyDesignDeals, I basically had no thoughts except that I needed to get the site up as fast as possible. I didn’t consider much of the following:
- Where will I get visitors?
- Where will I find deal providers?
- How many people will buy something?
- What do people even want?
- Why is my skin so dry when I use bar soap?
My initial thought was that I needed to have deals up and running to get subscribers and traffic. As it turns out, most of my subscribers and traffic has come from freebies and blog posts used to promote the site, and a lot of deal providers told me to get back in touch when I had a bigger audience.
If I had to do it all over again, I would have spent a few months building my readership, affiliates, and connections before launching the first deal. Having a product is not enough, you need to have access to the right audience as well. No matter how many websites I build, it’s hard to resist the “if you build it they will come” attitude. I get so invested in the idea personally, that I think everyone will be just as stoked as I am. There are two problems with that mindset:
- No one will ever be as excited as you are (EDITOR’S NOTE: This is SO true!!)
- No one knows about what you are doing unless you find a way to tell them
Keep those two things in mind, and you will avoid a lot of discouragement.
Lastly, I wish I had a partner. Running a blog is hard work. Running two blogs by yourself is even harder. Running two blogs and doing client work to make enough money to pay the bills is absolutely killer. That’s why it’s called a side hustle, not a side…uh…tussle? You know what I mean.
[UPDATE: Since the writing and publishing of the article, I have relaunched MyDesignDeals WITH a partner! Making this wish a reality has been everything I had hoped for, and the site is doing amazingly well after less than 2 weeks of being reopened.]
How To Get Started
If you are looking to get into selling things online, the main thing you need to learn is how to set up your own self-hosted website. (See how my design blog comes in handy?) I use Drupal for most of my projects, but WordPress is a bit easier to set up for most newbies, and has nearly unlimited themes available. The following sequence has been essential for me:
- Come up with a product or products you can create (or hire someone else to create) and sell
- Set up a website to sell said product(s)
- Promote website in any and every way you can
There is obviously more to each step, but by breaking everything down, it all seems a little less overwhelming. Don’t get me wrong, it takes a lot of time and hard work. If you expect this going into it, you will more easily see the light at the end of the tunnel. It isn’t easy, but it is simple. In my experience, the hardest part is promotion. If I wanted to, I could set up at least 5 websites in a single day, but building readership and connecting with customers is a whole different story.
Who knows? Maybe someday soon I can turn my side hustle(s) into my primary source of income. The point is to work hard now so you won’t have to until the day you die.
Have you had a similar experience to mine? What are the great ideas you have had but never done anything about? What other questions do you have about making money online?
John Shaver is the creator of MyDesignDeals, a daily deals site for graphic designers and creative professionals. He also owns and runs the graphic design blog, Design Panoply, and is the author of “The 101 Dos and Don’ts of a Successful Graphic Designer“.
** Have a side hustle of your own? Tell us about it!