As 2020 began, Sam Gach was ready for a change. The University of Michigan alum, now 28, had become a certified yoga instructor two years before, and his side hustle producing yoga content had earned him 136,000 followers on Instagram and nearly 25,000 on TikTok. Still, he was hesitant to quit his day job as a social media manager for Kellogg's.
"It was definitely so scary," Gach says. "I didn't have the business really going yet, but I felt like the potential was very much there."
It turns out Gach needn't have worried. A little more than a year after he quit his job, he now has 245,000 Instagram followers and 200,000 TikTok followers. He's about to launch his own fitness app. And he's been making a good living — in the low six figures — while building his brand.
"It's not been a consistent monthly income for me. It's been very all over the place," he explains. "But I will say that I've made more in the past year than I ever made at my full-time job."
As the pandemic wanes, many millennials are considering making a big career leap like Gach's. A recent study by the Society for Human Resource Management found that 50% of North American employees are planning to look for work in 2021, and 25% are ready to quit their jobs as soon as the pandemic subsides.
Here are Gach's top tips for growing a side hustle into a real career.
Gach's path to yoga influencing didn't happen overnight. He started practicing yoga as an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan in the early 2010s, earning his teaching certification in 2018.
From the time he started, it was clear Gach had a natural talent for the sport. "A lot of things I would try for the first time, and I could do [them] really fast," he says. "I would practice something and I was able to get things very quickly. ... The way that I have learned to control my body is honestly not very common."
As Gach grew his yoga practice, he wanted to document his progress. So he created a secondary Instagram account where he could meet other yogis and show off a bit, without his immediate acquaintances seeing. "I said to myself, 'I'm never gonna be that guy who posts a yoga picture on social media,'" he recalls. "But then, sure enough, I got really into the yoga."
It took about six months for Gach to accrue 1,000 Instagram followers, and years to get to the 136,000 he had pre-pandemic. But he stayed the course, aiming to post content that delivered value to his followers.
"I've had a lot of times when I had a lot of really quick growth from viral videos and things like that," Gach says. But he believes that "successful [influencers] are the ones who would think of it as more of [a] long game, rather than like a short, quick growth kind of thing."
That connection goes a lot further than simply filming yourself nailing a headstand, he says. "When you connect with people and you create a community, that's when you can have longer-term success, as opposed to just creating cool videos."
Making a living from influencing isn't easy, especially for someone who is just starting out. Gach's last week at Kellogg's turned out to be the first week the pandemic took hold, with his colleagues asked to begin working from home. His boss asked him if he wanted to reconsider his plan and stick around.
"The idea of making nothing — it was just stressful," Gach says.
Taking the leap was easier, Gach says, because he knew he could supplement his income with social-media consulting. About 50% of his revenue last year came from consulting alone. Brand partnerships from social media and his online yoga courses each made up another quarter of his income. A very small percentage came from in-person teaching or private lessons.
Gach also plans to modify the amount of time that he spends consulting as his other business endeavors begin paying more. As he continues to establish his fitness presence across social media platforms and earns more money from them, he intends to scale back the amount of consulting he does.
Another important lesson Gach has learned: the importance of investing in himself. He tries to remember that when he's spending money on his online presence, he's spending money on his business. That includes contracting developers to build his Stretch app, due to launch early this summer, and hiring a professional photographer to snap pictures of him in action.
In the past, "I probably would have just tried to scrappily create photos on my own and take pictures of myself, like I've done many times," he says. "But I worked with a professional photographer, and I felt good about it."
Getting professional pictures taken "is just one example" of how Gach has reframed his thinking about being his own boss now, but it extends far beyond that. Overall, he says, "I definitely feel more comfortable investing in myself and in my business."
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