Anatomy of a Side Hustle: How I made $18,000 at an effective rate of $100/hour

In Featured, Income Streams, Side Hustle by Gen Y Finance Guy33 Comments

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Your 9 to 5 will make you a living, but your 5 to 9 will make you alive. -Nick Loper, Side Hustle Nation

A side hustle is anything you do outside of your main hustle (your JOB) to earn money. I personally think that everyone should have a side hustle, even if only for the tax benefits. The extra income is really nice, too. Everyone has their own reason for starting a side hustle, but here are a few reasons why you might want to consider starting one:

  1. To Earn More Money
  2. To Pay Off Debt
  3. To Learn New Skills
  4. To Work On Something You’re Passionate About
  5. To Quit Your Day Job (Eventually)
  6. To Diversify Your Income Streams
  7. For the Tax Advantages of Business Income vs. Earned Income
  8. To Test the Waters of Entrepreneurship Without the Risk
  9. To Reach Financial Freedom Faster
  10. To Build Your Dream Instead of Someone Else’s
  11. Use Time More Productively

These are only a few reasons you may want to consider starting a side hustle.  You may have other reasons that are not on the list above. The list I came up with is based only on my own experience. However, I think that you will likely be able to relate to one, if not many, of the reasons on my list (but that’s just a hunch).

Now that you understand what a side hustle is and why you may want to consider starting one yourself, I want to walk you through how I made an extra $18,000 last year from one side hustle that only required me to work 15 hours a month.

How I earned $100/hour from my side hustle

I originally came up with the idea to start a digital marketing and analytics consulting service back in December of 2013. I had just moved out of Finance and onto a newly formed Global Analytics team to support a $100M e-commerce business a few months earlier. However, I had known about the position for about 6 months before I made the internal move.During that time, I spent a lot of time researching and studying digital marketing and analytics.

Typically the way I evaluate and prepare for any opportunity is to first turn to the internet. I find the top bloggers on the topic I am looking to learn more about and eventually develop a skill set in. Then I head over to Amazon and buy 1-3 books on the topic (typically spending less than $100).  In most situations,  you don’t even have to buy the books because you can find almost everything you need online for free. However, books streamline the learning process due to their more structured nature in comparison to a blog.

By the time I made the move I felt very confident stepping into the new role. I was so confident, in fact, that I decided there was no reason why I could not double dip on this newly acquired knowledge and skill set I had been building up over the past 6 months. By Christmas time, I started telling everyone I knew that I was starting a digital marketing and analytic’s consulting practice. I also created a list of some potential clients that I thought would be both willing and able to pay me for my new service. The list wasn’t very long but it was very qualified. My list was so qualified that I was able to close 3 out of the 4 on the list and make them clients.

Let’s take a quick look at each client:

Client #1: Was a previous employer of mine that I worked for off and on through high school and college. They operate an e-commerce business in the medical device space and had seen revenues decline over the past two years before contracting with me. I had always stayed in touch and set up lunches at least twice a year with the owners in order to keep the relationship alive and well.

With an upcoming launch in January of 2014, I put together a presentation and proposal. The proposal laid out a plan that suggested I could cut their online marketing expense in half, while simultaneously growing their revenue by $50,000 for the year. I ended up cutting the marketing expense from $14,000 in 2013, down to $6,000 in 2015, while increasing revenue by $57,000 or about 30% for the year.

I didn’t know exactly how I was going to do it, but I was confident enough that I  gave them a 90-day window to cancel the contract with no further obligation.

Client #2: Was a company I found on one of the blogs I was reading. They were looking for contractors to manage digital marketing and analytics for a client selling forecasting and trading services. I applied, had a 90 minute phone call, and got the gig with little to no real experience. However, I had enough attained enough knowledge to come across as someone who at the very least knew what he was talking about. It also helped that I had a deep knowledge of trading and investing and understood what the client was selling very well.

There was no pitch, just the 90 minute phone interview along with a couple emails back and forth. I started managing this client in April and I was able to generate a 300% ROI on the money we spent on marketing.

Client #3: My wife actually refereed one of her clients to me. He was a real estate agent that wanted to get a custom website designed that he could use to show off properties he was listing. He also wanted to use it as a way to generate leads, which meant setting up some online marketing to drive traffic and analytics to figure out what was working and what wasn’t. Obviously the goal was to do more of the stuff that was working and less of the stuff that wasn’t.

Now website design was not something that was in my wheelhouse, but I had a friend that did this on the side.  I subbed out the website design and tackled the marketing and analytics piece. The client had a small budget, so after we got the website set up with some basic marketing campaigns, he decided he would take over. He was very pleased with the website and has continued to send us periodic emails with how many people compliment his website. He has also mentioned how much more professional he looks compared to his peers.

How did I charge the clients?

In all honesty, this was a case by case basis. The great thing about a side hustle is that there are no rules and you can come up with whatever pricing strategy you want.

With client #1 I charged a $5,000 initial fee plus 15% of any increase in revenue over the prior year that I generated. This one client generated 75% of my side hustle income from this business. Any time you can get a piece of the action, do it. My recommendation is to ask because the worst case scenario is the client says no. When I presented this pay structure, I also included an option where they would pay me a fixed fee of $1,500/month. This was really just a tactic because they could easily calculate that their minimum spend would be $5,000 in option #1 or $18,000 in option #2. I was intentionally steering them to option #1, which was the pricing structure I favored.

Looking back I would had made the same amount of money with either option, but the reality is they would had never gone for option #2 and I knew it. So it was really just a psychology play. Plus, I wanted my upside to be unlimited in case I was really able to blow it out of the park. In option #2 I had a ceiling at $18,000 for the year long contract.

With client #2 I charged them an hourly rate of $45/hour billed monthly. At the time my annual salary was $90K/year, so I used that as a benchmark to come up with a hourly billing rate.

And finally with client #3 I charged a flat fee of $3,000 for all services rendered.

In summary

Most people don’t realize that they have a skill set that others are willing and able to pay for out there in the world. It is also not nearly as hard as you may think it is to start a side hustle. And the only rule is, well, there are no rules. You get to decide when you work, where you work, and with whom. And you get to decide how much you will charge.

It took me 30 days from the day I got the idea to start this business before I landed my first client.

It took less than $100 in educational material. But like I said above, the information could all be found online and for free. The books just helped streamline my education due to structure.

I spent 15 hours a month with 3 clients on 3 different pricing structures.

Over the course of 12 months and 180 hours, I was able to generate $18,000 in extra income. This put my effective rate at $100/hour. If I did this full time that would be approximately $200K/year.

Look, I am not special or born with some special talent. Anyone can do this. Even YOU!

So what are you waiting for? Get out there and get your hustle on!!!

– Gen Y Finance Guy

p.s. Are you looking to get your side hustle one? Here is an in-depth guide to 100 On-Demand companies people can work for on the side. (More than just Uber and Airbnb)

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  1. Great job with the side hustle GYFG! Currently my “9-5” takes up a lot more time then that right now, it’s just the nature of the biz. Between that, working out 4 times a week (stress reliever and much needed after sitting at a desk 50+ hours a week), and trying to write for my blog I really find it hard to trade off the little time I have for more “work”. Therefore if I were to create a side hustle, I would really have to enjoy it as it would be replacing my “me” time which I use to hang out with friends and family, keep up on personal finance, etc.

    1. Author

      Thanks FF!

      Good point for sure. I was not blogging at the time. There is always going to be a trade off for sure. I actually gave up the side hustle in order to spend more time with the blog. Actually the side hustle wasn’t just about making the extra money, it was also a way for me to get paid to learn how to learn the skills to grow my own platform…which has now become Gen Y Finance Guy.

      Totally with you. I try to work out 5-6 days a week, write 1-3 new posts a week (sometimes banking them instead of publishing them), work the 9-5 (that can sometimes be up to 90 hours a week), spend time with my wife, manage my investments, read enough to finish 3-5 books a month, hang with friends, etc.

      Sometimes some things get neglected. But I try to make it all balance in the end.


  2. The entire frugality movement needs to read this post. I’m a firm believer that financial stability attained, not as much by spending less, but more by increasing our overall income. Three cheers for the hustle!

    1. Author

      Thanks Simon.

      People forget that there is a floor on how much you can cut your expenses, yet no ceiling on how much you can earn.

      I tend to focus on earning more vs spending less. You can see from my financial reports that I publish every month that I would not count myself a part of the frugal movement.

      I just try not to waste money and spend less than I make. The last few months, I have been more expenses focus than I would like to be. But that is normal for this time of year.


  3. Your side hustles are brilliant GYFG. I’ve never thought of leveraging on those high level skills as a side-hustle. Hmm…but really, finding the time to do that (as in applying my work skills to create a side-hustle) is challenging for me.

    Your energy, drive and perseverance is totally admirable. Keep it going man, what a motivation for all of us here.

    1. Author

      Thanks for the kind words Josh!

      If anything I am just trying to get people’s brains turning based on things that have worked for me.


    1. Author

      Now I just need to find ways to speed up passive ways to earn that kind of money on the side 🙂

  4. I am so psyched that you were able to make this happen! I always wanted to do more side hustlin’ but had never considered doing it to learn new skills. You gave me an a-ha moment there. Thanks GYFG!

    1. Author

      Thanks for the comment Anum!

      Glad to spark some ideas. Let us know how you turn around and apply this.


  5. Great job. Many people underestimate the ability of a side hustle to generate a significant sum of money. It takes a bit of guts, and some risk, and if you have some ambition in there, all will be a success.

    1. Author

      Thanks man!

      I haven’t been in the community long, but it seems like there is an overwhelming focus on the expense side. I would much rather spend most of my time working to increase my income than cut my expenses.


  6. Great side hustle there! While side hustles are great, I am starting to get burned out and would like to ideally quit my job and live off of side hustles or slow down with the side hustles and get a less demanding job. I don’t think for me personally this is sustainable long term, especially if we’re going to have kids. I am torn between wanting money and wanting time off and relaxation.
    You are young and now it’s the perfect time for you to work hard and make money, and it’s always possible to actually work a lot less and make more, if the blog becomes really successful, which I think it will.
    Best of luck!

    1. Author

      Thanks Felix! It is really easy to suffer from burnout when in an all out pursuit of the dollar. I tend to make my side hustles project based. I also love side hustles because you get to make the rules 🙂

      I hear you on not knowing how to manage and balance everything when you throw kids into the picture. My wife and I are probably at least 2 years off from having kids ourselves and I can’t imagine how life would be then. I guess you either figure it out or you quit some things. I hope you are able to turn your real estate investments and your new business into your main hustle so you can get out of your day job.


  7. Way to go! Reminds me of a book I read last year about starting a business for $100, which you totally did! One of the hardest things is just starting and convincing yourself that you have the skills and determination to accomplish something new. Keep up the great work!

    1. Author

      Thanks Sydney!

      Was the book the $100 start up? I have it on my Amazon list, but I haven’t read it yet.

  8. You did an amazing job! I’ve always been interested in how people start their businesses, and this one is really inspiring! Something that I find quite tricky is to set the service fee… There are a lot of articles out there about it, and I’m leaning towards offering quality instead of offering low price, but I’m sometimes afraid that they will not end up use my service because of the price.

    1. Author

      Competing on price is a tough game to play. It is as they say a “race to the bottom”. I my experience, you really don’t want clients that are not willing to pay you what your worth.

      I would also advise you to remember that having a low price and the perception of a low price are two different things.

      I had a customer that I brought on and told them that my regular rate was $75/hour but that I was willing to work at a discount for the first 3-months until I proved my value. The discounted rate was $50/hour or about a 33% savings.

      When in reality, $50/hour was the actual rate that I wanted, and so this served two purposes. One the client got to feel like they were getting a deal for the first three months, and I got to build room for upside in the contract.

      However, I would caution you only use this strategy when you are very confident that you can prove the value within the “discounted” period.

      Good luck!

  9. I really need to figure out what my side hustle could be. With 2 kids under 3 years old, it seems that I may not have much time to apply to it though.

    I have thought about some things I might be able to do once retired, but would not have enough time to get them off of the ground right now.

    Great post though!

    1. Author

      Vawt, as a CFO I am sure you could find some consulting gigs. I worked with an ex-CFO early in my career who did consulting/coaching during transition of folks into the CFO role.

      But given your compensation level and career demands this may be something that makes more sense when you make it into early retirement in 7-years at your goal of 45 years old.

      You may even want to spend extra time on the blog and in the process find ways to monetize it.

      Your side hustle could very well just be writing on the blog while documenting your journey and brainstorming ways to find fulfillment in early retirement.

      Thanks for the comment.


  10. I know what you mean, Vawt! I have three kids of my own. I have been slowly trying to get a side hustle going while also reading some of the books and blogs GYFG has shared. I think the thing to remember here is, something is better than nothing. For way too long I was making excuses about why I couldn’t do this or couldn’t do that. I have been really focusing on less TV and am trying to wake up early and work on my side projects. Keep at it! It definitely gets easier once they can get up and get themselves going in the mornings.

    1. Good point Mr CEO. It should get easier in the next year as one transitions from diapers and is more independent.

    2. Author

      Great perspective Mr. CEO. For sure one I can’t relate to just yet since I have no kids.

      Thanks for adding to the conversation.

  11. First of all I would like to say wonderful blog! I had a quick question that I’d like to ask if you don’t mind. I was curious to find out how you center yourself and clear your mind before writing. I’ve had difficulty clearing my thoughts in getting my ideas out. I truly do take pleasure in writing but it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes tend to be wasted just trying to figure out how to begin. Any ideas or tips? Cheers!

    1. Author

      Thanks Carey!

      Sometimes I have the same problem. I think it just takes practice. There are some days when I can easily pump out 3,000 words and other days where I struggle to write 300. I just take what I can get.


  12. Very inspiring, gotta love the side hustles! At some point I would like to be able to walk away from corporate and focus on side hustles full time 🙂

    1. Author

      Thanks FI Fighter!

      I am right there with you. I have had some very successful side hustles (and bombs as well). But none that I have been able to grow big enough to replace my lucrative salary from the day JOB.

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