Earning

My successful side hustle turned full-time job makes me $12,000 a month: Here is my best advice

"Diversify your income sources like an investment portfolio."

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Michael Dinich is the founder of Your Money Geek.
Courtesy Michael Dinich

In 2018, after working for 20 years as a financial planner, I was asked to start a finance blog as a marketing tool to get new clients. I was initially skeptical. But as I set out to learn more about the world of blogging, I was inspired. 

In the process, I discovered I actually enjoyed writing, and that people were making serious money from their blogs. I realized that if I could also make $1,000 to $2,000 a month in supplemental income from my blog, it would give me some freedom. 

I saw an opportunity to make a change, too: I could cut back at work to spend more time with my family and save a little bit of money.

I never thought that the blog would ultimately become my full-time job. But today, Your Money Geek has grown from a modest side hustle to become a small digital publisher with a team of talented writers. It earns $12,000 a month on average. Revenue fluctuates slightly based on the time of year, with the holiday season and winter trending higher in ad revenue and less in the summer. And I haven't lost my love of side hustles. I maintain a few side gigs such as freelance writing. I'm also a founding partner of the Money Mix, a blogger collective that teaches others how to achieve blogging success

Getting here hasn't been easy, but it has been tremendously rewarding. Here are some of the most valuable lessons I've learned along the way.

Diversify your income sources like an investment portfolio

As a financial advisor, I always encouraged clients to diversify their investment portfolios to spread out risk. I found that the same principle applies to side hustles. When you diversify your income sources and skill set, all your eggs aren't in one basket, and you have more flexibility. 

As the blog grew, my life started to change. With supplemental income from my site, I felt less dependent on my employer. I could turn down 9 p.m. calls from demanding clients. For the first time in my life, I could say no, and not be paralyzed with fear that doing so would cost me my livelihood, because now I had a backup. 

Once the site started making $1,000 a month in profits, I knew I could take my foot off the gas in my day job. Around that same time, my site's revenue ramped up fairly quickly as well. 

As my side hustle grew into a significant income source, I took pride in producing something on my own. I had confidence that my new skills would enable me to start another side hustle if, for some reason, this one disappeared tomorrow. 

Carve out dedicated time to build your side hustle

Even though I was essentially working two jobs simultaneously, the benefits started to roll in even when the paychecks were small. With every small milestone, a little more pressure lifted from my shoulders. It was the adrenaline I needed to fuel the early mornings and late nights working on my website. 

The first significant milestone for me was qualifying for a premium advertising network. It meant additional revenue, and validation that the site and its content had real money-making potential.

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When I launched Your Money Geek, I would wake up at 5 a.m. to answer emails and work on the site before getting ready for work. I would then head to the office and sneak in blogging between appointments and work projects. When I returned home, there were usually a few more hours of work that I needed to do. 

I also blocked off time on Saturdays to do the majority of my writing. Being able to type away in the backyard with the opportunity to take breaks to judge my kid's cannonball contest made the work much more palatable than working overtime in an office.

But it was work nonetheless. That's why I'm always suspicious of anyone who claims that you can make it big with little effort. Some people do have incredible luck and go viral or become a national news story. Even then, that kind of attention or notoriety isn't what will help sustain your business in the long run. 

For me, it helps to think of side hustles like I would a fitness goal. So much of side hustle success is making sure you carve out the time to put in that necessary work. To paraphrase eight-time Mr. Olympia title holder Ronnie Coleman, if you want to be a bodybuilder, you have to lift heavy weights. 

Focus on high-value tasks

When I officially launched Your Money Geek, I had six months to get some traction on my side hustle. I had promised my family that we'd do a trial period, and if it didn't seem like it was going to work out, I'd quit blogging.

I knew I had a small window to get some momentum, and I needed to learn the ropes quickly. When I started writing, I had connected with other bloggers on Twitter and everyone spoke highly of the site Rockstar Finance. When they announced a new blogging mastermind group, I jumped at the chance to join. I learned a lot from my fellow group members about what areas of my business would drive the most results. 

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For me, I focused on page views. I had read an article by the leader of a blogger group called ESI Money about how to build a blog that makes $25,000 a year. Early on, that piece was my operating manual as I worked toward my first big goal: qualify for an advertising network and make $2,000 a month in ad revenue from my site.

I knew that if I could grow Your Money Geek to a point where I was getting 25,000 visits to my site each month, I could apply for the Mediavine advertising program, which had been recommended to me by mastermind group, and start monetizing my posts. After I hit this milestone, as my site grew, I also began working with another advertising program for bloggers called AdThrive. 

When you're getting started, there's an endless list of things to do. Looking back, I could have better used my time, but even in hindsight, I don't see a path to where I am today with less than 10 hours of work a week. 

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Since many people start a side hustle in addition to a full-time job, they are in a time crunch. When your side hustle starts to bring in a little bit of money, if you're able, I recommend hiring a few freelancers to work with you on administrative tasks, while you devote time to more high-value ones.

Whether it's hiring someone to SEO your posts once you've written them or a Pinterest virtual assistant to handle promotion on that platform, be really intentional with your own time. I've found that it's worth it to spend money to free up time, and mind space, so that you can focus on the things that will grow your business. 

Invest in the tools that will help you grow

What often attracts people to online side hustles is the low barrier to entry. You can launch a blog, YouTube channel, podcast, or Twitch stream at very little cost. But I believe about 80% of blogging success is putting in the work, and 20% is investing in the tools that will help you reach your audience.

Before launching an online side hustle like a blog, even one that at first glance seems like an inexpensive undertaking, my best advice is to make sure you are financially prepared to spend some money on it. There are going to be set costs to launch a site, such as purchasing your URL and website hosting. There are also ongoing expenses like SEO software, content quality tools, and marketing. 

When you are putting together your side hustle budget, break it down into upfront costs and recurring costs and profit. This way you can also organize your personal finances to make sure that you don't feel squeezed as you get your idea off the ground. 

Keep the faith 

When starting a side hustle or new business, days of doubt and impostor syndrome are normal. Keep your faith through the ups and downs. It will all be worth it the day you write your resignation letter at work, become debt-free, purchase a house, or reach whatever goal you set out to achieve. 

For me, that day, in a sense, was spontaneous. I'd had a dreadful week at work and I realized that I was over it. But I was more prepared than I thought. I ran the numbers and I found that I had built Your Money Geek to the point where it could replace almost all of my salary.

I'd also been putting some of the profits aside to grow my savings and continue cutting back my hours at work. Ultimately, I felt that if I had grown my side hustle to this point, I could grow it even more. I took a leap of faith, and I haven't looked back. 

Michael Dinich is a personal finance expert, podcaster, YouTuber, and journalist. Michael is the founder of Your Money Geek, a rapidly growing personal finance and pop culture website.

Grow is published by Acorns + CNBC. Acorns helps you invest spare change automatically into diversified portfolios. Download the app today or learn more at Acorns.com.

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