I’ve been consistently freelance writing on top of a full-time ghostwriting job for eight years. My first freelance writing gig and I found each other in 2011, the same year I started my full-time ghostwriting position.
Eight years is a long time to commit to a side hustle. My social media accounts get the best snippets of that life — the photos from the entertainment red carpet reporting days in my early twenties to shots with the brand mascots I write about in advertising now. However, what nobody sees is the actual day in my side hustle’s life. There aren’t photos of me staying up late on a deadline. I don’t save any of my stream of consciousness barf writing. Nobody has video footage of me taking an exhaustion nap as I try to recharge from spending eight hours at my full-time job for the evening’s assignments. The only evidence anyone has of my eight years spent side hustling is the finished product — usually a published article or an evening out at an event.
How have I not burned out yet? Easy — I keep burnout at bay with the help of a few “secrets” to side hustle success. Whether you do it for months or years at a time, these secrets can be used to anyone’s advantage in keeping up with your side gig.
1. Focus on revenue-generating tasks first.
It takes a little time to get a side hustle going in the beginning. That’s kind of why it’s referred to as a side hustle. You focus on the gig when you have extra time and work a full-time job for a primary source of reliable income. As time progresses, and the side gig grows and receives more recognition, it can become its own full-time line of work.
Putting a steady paycheck first, even if it’s not in the field you’re dreaming of being in, is smart. Erin Shea, North America Marketing Director at Vistaprint, says it’s also key to avoiding burnout. In a recent survey of individuals that run side hustles in addition to working full-time, Vistaprint discovered that many individuals dedicate 16 hours average each week on their side gigs.
That’s a lot of time to spend on a hustle, especially if it’s not generating revenue. Rather than continue to burn the candle on both ends, Shea says that side hustlers have to identify priority tasks that have the most significant impact on their business. This ensures you spend less time on work that has less impact on your bottom line, and more time creating value during the workday.
2. Learn how to say "no."
In my early days as a freelancer, I was fresh out of college with a scanty portfolio. I said yes to as many writing opportunities as I could, even though several were underpaid or didn’t pay at all. I needed the experience, but didn’t always receive pay for it.
However, I was lucky in that I had a full-time, paid job. As time progressed and my body of work grew, I developed confidence in knowing my limitations and my worth. Now, I politely say no whenever I do not have the bandwidth for an assignment.
The best part of saying no, especially when you do it nicely, is that it’s not an “all is lost” moment. Sometimes the timing isn’t right in the moment, but it might be a better fit later on. Hang on to those contacts and circle back in the future for collaboration opportunities.
3. Invest in yourself.
I’ve had a lot of moments over the years where I’ve eaten JELL-O for dinner or cancelled a dinner outing with a friend so I could do my work. It’s not a great feeling and as time has progressed, I have leaned into — gasp! — creating a personal life for myself.
Granted, my personal life is still a work in progress, but I am slowly learning how to invest in myself more and more. Set aside a little bit of time each day to unplug from laptops and smartphones. Indulge in a bit of self-care, like grabbing a smoothie or taking a bubble bath, which allows you to unwind. It makes it a lot easier to hit play on your side hustle once you get back in the groove again.
4. You have to love your side hustle like crazy.
Over the last eight years, I’ve had my fair share of late nights spent huddled over my laptop, trying to get sentence to turn out right. Yet, the occasional bout of writer’s block aside, nothing has ever made me want to quit or give up writing.
The secret to how I make my side hustle work is love. I love what I do too much to let it go. That love has also done a lot more than keep me committed to finishing an assignment. It has paved a road for me to explore new verticals and rise to new writing challenges. I also get to pick the minds of my brilliant editors and fellow writers, all of whom I feel lucky to work alongside.
That’s the big secret to side hustle success: you gotta love it. No matter what the hustle is, you have to love it so much that you’re willing to go all in and pull out all the stops. The passion you have for your side hustle ultimately makes both you and the business stronger, so give it your all.