Want to get ahead? Why everyone needs a side hustle

Launching your own start-up alongside a full-time job is the smart way to follow your dreams. Lizzie Pook meets the new-style entrepreneurs who’ve perfected the art of the side hustle.

How do you spend your evenings? Perhaps you get a fix from your latest Netflix addiction, or wind down with a sweaty spin class. What if, instead, you changed into your ‘comfy clothes’ then settled down to another six hours of work? Well, that’s what the growing number of women launching their own so-called ‘side hustles’ – where you draw income from something that isn’t your full-time job – are doing. And, research shows, it’s making them happier, more successful and more fulfilled.

Research carried out by web-hosting company GoDaddy found that a fifth of UK workers are considering starting a side hustle, whether it’s to generate extra cash, ignite a passion project or explore the feasibility of changing careers. The same study also found that those who did successfully launch a business while holding down another job made between £500 and £5,000 in extra income each year. Emily Bain, co-founder of boutique recruitment company Bain and Gray, believes the growing popularity of side hustles is down to our increasingly digital lives. ‘We now have so much direct access to the consumer through Instagram, Etsy and Facebook that individuals can launch their product and reach a huge audience with just the click of a button and little or no cost.’

According to author and entrepreneur Chris Guillebeau, a hustle isn’t just about putting extra cash in your pocket. ‘It’s the new job security,’ he says. ‘When you receive multiple pay cheques from different sources, you are no longer dependent on the whims of a single employer.’ For blogger Emma Gannon, whose book The Multi-Hyphen Method focuses on channelling entrepreneurial spirit, having a side hustle is a way to feel in control. ‘Allowing yourself time for something that sits outside work is empowering and confidence-building. If it can be monetised too then that is a bonus.’

Twenty-seven-year-old twins Rosie, a food production editor, and Jess Conroy, a primary school teacher, set up their wedding prop hire and floristry business Lavender and Rose last year. Rosie is based in London; Jess lives in Glasgow.

Rosie: When Jess married her husband Cab last year, they couldn’t find a company that rented out a full range of wedding props and decorations, so I suggested buying them then setting up a website to rent them out afterwards to recoup some of the costs. At the same time I thought I would brush up on some of my skills. I love gardening, so I did a floristry course at Flower School Glasgow. Then we realised there was a gap in the market for a company offering wedding prop hire along with floristry, so we decided to give it a go.

As we live in different cities we’ve had to be clear on who does what. Jess does the practical bits – chatting to brides, making up their moodboards and managing prop orders – while I work on the website and financial admin. The real hard work – early morning market trips, delivering flowers at dawn – kicks in on the big day. Despite the distance, working together is easy – we’re constantly chatting on WhatsApp. My full-time hours are 8am to 4pm and Jess finishes early as a teacher, so as soon as we get in from work we have an ‘admin power hour’. With no colleagues to distract us, we get a lot done.

Right now we’re working hard for very little money. We’ve learnt to surround ourselves with people who have the skills we lack, and have called in favours along the way. Jess’s husband is an engineer, so he’s made us some amazing concrete and copper candlesticks and trestle tables out of scaffolding boards. Our dad used to own an antique shop, so we’ll often get a phone call from an auction room, asking if we want him to pick up some old champagne buckets. Not everyone has been supportive, though: I tried to source some flowers from a wholesaler recently but she wouldn’t sell to me as I didn’t have a ‘proper qualification’.

We’ll do this for a couple of years, then see if it’s financially feasible for us to go full time: if so, we will. Weddings are seasonal, so we may need to find a side hustle to our side hustle to make it work!

Jess: Because we’re sisters, Rosie and I can easily bounce ideas off each other, and if we think something is rubbish, we can be honest. I love teaching, so my ideal situation would be for Rosie to work full time on the hustle and me to work on it three days a week while spending the other two teaching. That’s the dream.


Antonia Edwards, 30, who is based in London, set up online retail business Hamamingo with her boyfriend Firat last year.

Firat is from Istanbul and on my first trip to Turkey his mum introduced me to the hamam towel – lightweight, super-absorbent and it can also be used on the beach or as a scarf. I fell in love with the product – and Firat! – on that holiday.

We started using the towels at home and buying them as gifts. People kept asking where they could get hold of more but we couldn’t find anywhere that sold them in the UK. We spotted a gap in the market and decided to try to fill it. Our online retail shop Hamamingo has just launched. Because Firat is from Turkey and we’ve both travelled there a lot, we have great connections and have been able to import and sell our stock fairly easily. We decided to trial things first with a pop-up shop in Usk, South Wales – where I’m from – towards the end of last year and had an incredible response, which gave us the confidence to set up our website.

Juggling the shop with our full-time jobs – Firat works in finance – is hard work. It requires determination and lots of late nights. If you come home at 7pm each evening and work until midnight, as well as weekends, you’re almost doing another full-time job. It’s not easy, but it’s not impossible either. The biggest lesson we’ve learnt is never to assume anything in business. In our last bulk order, some of the labels we’d asked for had been sewn on wrongly so we had to scrap everything. We thought it was obvious, so hadn’t left clear instructions, but it taught us that communication is key. We’ve certainly had to sacrifice our social lives, and we’ve been furiously saving our own money to plough into the business. But my day job is client-facing and very social anyway, so it’s worth it. It can be tiring at times and that can put a strain on relationships – we can get very frustrated with one another – but working on this side hustle with my boyfriend means he’s always there. We don’t miss each other!

Our goal now is to spread the word, become a recognisable brand and perhaps dabble in other products. Fingers crossed that, with all our hard work, it will soon pay off.


A buzz beyond the 9-5

Photo by: Brian O’Sullivan

Zaffrin O’Sullivan, 40, from London, is in the process of setting up her social-impact beauty business Five Dot Botanics.

I got into urban beekeeping because I have a stressful job as a solicitor. I also have two kids and felt that I lost my identity when I became a mum. I was either at work or commuting, and my domestic life was fraught with chores. I desperately wanted to try something new. I’m addicted to my phone so I also wanted to take up a hobby that would get me out of that mindset. I’d been writing a blog about honey [honeyhunter.uk] for a while, so I approached a man in South London who keeps bees and asked if he would mentor me. It was a bit like The Karate Kid: an old guy giving me guidance. I loved it! If you’re confronted with 60,000 bees, you’re not going to think, ‘Oh, I’ll just check what’s going on with Facebook.’

Although I don’t have my own bees, through beekeeping I became interested in botanicals and started an online diploma in organic skincare. I’d always wanted to be an entrepreneur, but the risk and lack of financial security was something that scared me. Plus, in the past you needed a lot of capital to set something up, but in recent years it’s become easier to launch an online business fairly cheaply. Eventually, I asked myself, ‘Am I really happy and fulfilled?’

I knew if I didn’t go for it with some sort of side business I would regret it. Five Dot Botanicals is based on minimal, natural ingredients using British plant extracts. I’m working with a cosmetic chemist because people want to look at the science behind the skincare. Together we pick the best products that will give high-performance results. It’s hard to juggle things alongside my job, but I don’t watch any TV or have time to go to the gym.

Instead, I work into the night on the website, branding or packaging design. But it’s not as though I’m taking huge risks financially; I haven’t remortgaged the house or taken out a bank loan. At no cost, I’ve taught myself WordPress, SEO and targeted Facebook ads. It just takes time and patience. My side hustle is a phenomenal part of my happiness – not just workwise, though I feel happier in my job. My friendships are flourishing and my marriage is better than ever. That said, things do go wrong, but I’ve learnt new skills and, in a few months’ time, I’ll be looking for a big investment and pitching to retailers. Ultimately, the past year has been about resilience. Nothing feels like a failure any more.


Your bit on the side: How to make it work

Test your ideas. ‘Give yourself permission to try something out and see what happens, even if you don’t see it as a long-term thing,’ says Nick Loper, founder of online community Side Hustle Nation (sidehustlenation.com). ‘Picking what’s next doesn’t mean picking what’s for ever.’

Write down your aims. ‘Be clear on why you’re doing your side project and what you’re not prepared to negotiate on,’ says Ben Keene, director at career-change forum Escape the City (escapethecity.org). ‘Tell yourself, “I will be able to spend a maximum of three hours a week and I’m looking to build something that could contribute to 15 per cent of my income within 12 months. If it’s not fun most of the time I’ll change it.”’

Choose an idea that solves a problem. Rather than trying to persuade people to buy something they’re not sure they want, ‘it’s much easier to help people find solutions to existing problems’, says Keene.

Find an accountability group. ‘Entrepreneurship can be a lonely road and the journey is better together,’ says Loper. ‘Over the past four years, being able to tap into the collective brain power, resources and connections of a group of like-minded entrepreneurs has been invaluable to me.’

Don’t spend much on the first version of your idea. ‘That’s no longer than two weeks and for less than £100,’ says Keene. You don’t need to spend money on web developers or designers to start selling.