Online teacher's side hustle helping Etsy users build passive income brings in $1 million, becomes her full-time job

Julie Berninger.
Photo by Sisino Photography
Key Points
  • Julie Berninger had long dabbled in side hustles when she and a friend decided to co-launch a series of online courses about how to get started.
  • Gold City Ventures began teaching people how to freelance, blog, and build a printables shop on Etsy in 2019.
  • Last year, the company brought in $1 million in revenue.

Julie Berninger, who worked in tech for years, has been a longtime advocate for financial freedom. She and her husband worked hard to pay off their $100,000 debt in just a few years and started saving significant portions of their income to be able to retire early.

Along the way, the couple realized they loved working and so likely wouldn't ever stop completely. And Berninger experimented with what she liked doing best. She started a blog that now brings in thousands a year, an Etsy shop which brings in more than $1,000 per month in passive income, and a podcast to learn what her fellow financial freedom advocates are doing.

The podcast, FIRE Drill Podcast, led her to meet Cody Berman, a digital nomad who dabbles with multiple hustles himself, including real estate investing and working as a virtual assistant for entrepreneurs. "What if we launched a series of side hustle courses?" Berninger says they thought. "Because this is what we're uniquely good at."

That was back in 2019. Last year, Gold City Ventures, as their online course company is called, brought in $1 million in revenue.

Berninger, who is now 33 and lives in Massachusetts with her husband and daughter, quit her job in July 2021 to focus full-time on growing the business.

Beginning with 3 courses: Freelancing, blogging, and Etsy

To begin with, Berninger and Berman launched a series of three courses: One to help people start freelancing, which Berman was familiar with, one about blogging, which both had experience with, and one about how to build an Etsy shop selling printables, Berninger's forte. Printables are tools like calendars and Christmas cards which people can buy on the shop, then download and print on their own.

Berman was skeptical the latter course would be successful, but Berninger had seen, from various groups she was a part of, that "people are really excited about this," she says. So they included it.

The two built a model that charges customers $247 for a video course, as well as one month of access to a Facebook community where they can interact with subject matter experts.

Students can prolong their membership on the Facebook groups for $29 per month. Etsy students, once their store hits 100 sales, get free membership to the Facebook group.

'Like 80% of our buyers' wanted to learn about Etsy

Despite Berman's skepticism, it was immediately clear which course commanded the most attention.

"I think it was, like, 80% of our buyers were wanting to learn about Etsy," says Berninger. "Blogging was 18% and freelancing was, like, 2%." The hustle has a relatively low barrier to entry, with few upfront costs. Store owners can create their printables on the free version of Canva, for example, and it only costs 20 cents to upload each to Etsy.

How to turn your side hustle into a successful business

Video by David Fang

"When we were taking the students through the Etsy course, they were making sales really, really quickly," says Berninger. One of their students, for example, is Rachel Jones, who now makes six figures in passive income on her Etsy store.

Gold City Ventures made $70,000 worth of course sales in that first weekend alone, says Berninger.

Launching a course 'to help people turn their rentals into Airbnbs'

In part, the company's immediate success has to do with everything its founders built before. Berninger had interviewed 200 people in her podcast and had built a fanbase, and Berman had his own podcast as well.

They'd both garnered attention through their blogging, and Berninger has been going to conferences where she met like-minded individuals interested in financial freedom.

They've since phased out the freelancing and blogging courses but, going forward, they would like to draw on their network to build new lines of business. They're helping a fellow side hustler "launch a course to help people turn their rentals into Airbnbs," says Berninger, and plan to launch other joint ventures going forward. They'll be splitting the revenue with their instructors.

Berninger stresses that it took a long time to build her various ventures. The lesson, she says, is that, if you're working full time, "you need to start building your way out of it while you're still in it."

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