In 2017, after I graduated from college, I started working as an engineer at an oil company. I was 23 and making $98,500 a year.
At first, I thought I had my dream job. But after seeing senior leaders work 60-hour weeks with routine travel, I realized that it wasn’t the lifestyle I wanted. My father passed away when I was three years old, so having family time was always very valuable to me.
Josh works less than four days a week and spends his much of his free time with his family.
Photo: Danny Mizicko for CNBC Make It
In 2018, I started experimenting with side hustles. I set a goal to make $3,450 a month (after taxes) from my hustles in order to support my lifestyle. As soon as I’d achieved that, I decided, I would quit my full-time job.
Today, I’ve accomplished my goal of being my own boss, and more. I left my engineering job in February 2021 to work on my side hustles full-time.
Last year, I made a little over $189,000 from my seven income streams:
Now I work just 22 hours a week. I take off Thursdays, Friday afternoons, and weekends. Whether it’s golfing with my grandpa, cooking family dinners or starting new business projects in my community, I have plenty of time to invest in the people and things that I care about most.
Here’s my best advice for turning your side hustle into your full-time gig, all while working less hours:
1. Don’t be afraid of trial and error.
With my early side hustles, I tried acquiring rental properties, then started placing ads in the backseat of Ubers and renting out my three-wheeled Polaris Slingshot motorcycle on Turo, an online car-sharing platform.
But none of those businesses were successful. It wasn’t until I began selling products on Amazon, using the Fulfillment By Amazon (FBA) service, that I started making real passive income.
All I had to do was find a generic product that was in demand and ship it to Amazon. My first product was $1,000 worth of headphones, then I moved to iPhone cases and sports equipment.
I grossed more than $25,000 in 2019 through my Amazon store. I wanted to share with others what I learned from my trial and errors, so I started a new project, which would later turn into my biggest income stream: starting my own YouTube channel.
2. Build a community around your expertise.
I launched my YouTube channel, Debt To Dollars, in February 2020. I committed to posting at least two videos per week at first. Over the next eight months, I gained 14,000 subscribers and 871,000 channel views.
Josh’s most lucrative income stream in 2021 was his YouTube account, where he made almost $83,000 from advertisements.
Danny Mizicko for CNBC Make It
While growing my audience, I realized that I wanted to connect more with my subscribers and build a real community. So in October 2020, I began mentoring students one-on-one for $50 a month on how to make money selling products on Amazon.
I currently use Patreon, a platform that provides business tools for content creators to run a subscription service, to host my coaching sessions.
In February 2021, I started my product research service on Fiverr, in which customers would pay me to find high-demand, low-competition products — trending toys, pet supplies or travel accessories — that they could sell on Amazon.
These community-based businesses helped me reach my long-awaited income goal of $3,450 per month.
3. Prioritize tackling debt.
I was able to quit my full-time job when I was making less than $4,000 per month because I had paid off all of my debts, except for my house and car.
There are plenty of methods you can use to pay down debt, but I personally like the “Debt Snowball” method because it helps you see your progress.
Here’s how it works:
4. Set up the legal side of your business early.
It’s important to incorporate your business with your state for practical reasons, like asset protection and tax advantages. But I also believe there’s a psychological benefit.
I attribute some of my past failures to treating my side hustles like hobbies instead of businesses. Once I formed a Limited Liability Company (LLC) in Texas in 2019, I took everything more seriously and professionally. It’s not a coincidence that all of my businesses failed until then.
An LLC has some of the best features of a corporation or partnership, two other business structures that are also used by companies in the U.S. LLCs protect their owners from being held personally responsible for the business’ debts or liability, like a corporation.
But like a partnership, LLCs income “pass through” the business and are taxed the owner’s personal income, which makes filing taxes simpler.
You can form your own LLC by filing a certificate of organization in your state, which normally costs anywhere from $50 to $300. Many states list filing information on their Secretary of State website.
5. Find a schedule that works for you and stick with it.
When I was working my full-time job, I lacked motivation to work on my side hustles.
But once I put pen to paper and committed to a schedule, working on my business was part of my weekly routine. I chose to focus on my side hustles each weekday evening after work and every Saturday morning.
I still stick with a weekly schedule. I work Monday through Wednesday and a half day on Friday. Each day I’ll work four to six hours, with each hour blocked for a specific task.
One of the benefits of setting his own schedule is getting to play golf with his grandfather on Thursday mornings.
Photo: Danny Mizicko for CNBC Make It
If you don’t set aside specific times to work on your side hustle, your business may get lost in daily priorities.
6. Set up systems that will save you time in the future.
I invest in business models that require as little of my time as possible. It is the only way I am able to work 22 hours per week and still grow multiple income streams. But remember that automating things, and creating the most effective systems, can take time at first.
Every month, I reflect on where I spent most of my work hours and find ways to make those processes more efficient. For example, I used to spend four to eight hours per week editing videos.
I decided to outsource my video editing, but that also required some time up front to run the numbers to see where it fit into my budget, and find a great editor to do the work. But now that I already put time into doing that, I spend those hours growing my business in other ways, or working less.
7. Identify what makes you different.
Marketing is more than just advertising your product or service; it’s separating yourself from your competition by making your customer feel something. They’ll come back or, even better, tell their friends about you.
When I first started selling on Amazon in 2018, I used stock photos my supplier gave me for my product listings. Unsurprisingly, they blended in with every other product. And if someone did buy, they got their product in a boring, clear bag. There was nothing that made my customer experience special.
Once I learned the importance of providing something special, I started to take my own product photos, and I designed custom packaging. My sales spiked.
No matter what your business is, decide what makes you memorable and invest in it.
Josh Ellwood is the founder of Debt To Dollars. Follow him on Instagram and YouTube.