LIFE
05/03/2017 02:28 pm ET Updated Jun 07, 2017

How 7 People Turned Their Passion Projects Into Successful Side Jobs

"The deeper I get, the more rewarding it becomes."
Brian Davis takes a break from filming to enjoy the view.
Courtesy of Brian Davis
Brian Davis takes a break from filming to enjoy the view.

When Le’Donne Morris began his career in graphic design and web development, he felt like something was missing. So he began to brainstorm a side job that would provide a creative outlet and a chance to channel some of his personal interests into a concrete product.

The result, Limited Time Offer, is an enamel pin design business that draws its inspiration from his long time passions: pop culture and professional wrestling.

“Personally, I started this because my day job lacks creativity, it helps fill that void,” said Morris, who prefers to go by Don.

Of course, taking more than one job is nothing new and is often a means of survival. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that in 2016, the number of multiple job-holders hit a eight-year record high with more than 5 percent of all employed adults taking on extra work, USA Today reported.

In this context, a passion project is a privileged pursuit rather than a matter of making ends meet ― a chance to flex muscles not used during a day job. For some, the goal is to transition from a day job to a full-time position in their chosen field. For others, having a creative outlet that is self-sustaining is payment enough.

And many young people seek the opportunity to express themselves while making a little extra income: A survey from Career Builder found that workers between the ages of 25 and 34 were twice as likely as those 45 to 52 to have a second job.

No matter what your goals are, it’s hard to know where to start and how to fit a new enterprise into an already full life. But if you’re considering turning your passion into a side hustle, you’d do well to heed the advice of Morris and six other creatives who have successfully made the jump: 

1. “My side job has led to more priceless, life-changing, unreal adventures than I could have ever imagined.”

Crystal Sagan posing during a trip to Alaska.
Courtesy of Crystal Sagan
Crystal Sagan posing during a trip to Alaska.

Name: Crystal Sagan

Age: 35

Location: Boulder, Colorado

Full-time job: Owner of Cocktail Caravan, a mobile bar

Side hustle: Freelance writer/photographer at Powder Magazine

Why a side hustle? Having something outside of my real job as the owner of Cocktail Caravan, forces me to use different parts of my brain I wouldn’t otherwise engage on a daily basis. I’ve found that it’s changed things with my real job for the better because creative parts of my brain are primed and ready, and I’m able to approach things within my everyday office life with a more creative approach than I otherwise would.

Other than that, the actual process of telling stories has led to more priceless, life-changing, unreal adventures than I could have ever imagined. I didn’t always know that this is where I wanted to end up, but I knew what felt exciting and made me happy.

How does the money work out? There hasn’t always been a paycheck involved, but the deeper I get, the more rewarding, financially and experience-wise it becomes.

What’s been the hardest thing and the best thing? At the end of the day I’m constantly amazed at the people and experiences that I’ve crossed paths with because I took that first step. For me, the side hustle is about following something that brings me a deep level of satisfaction.

It’s hard work, and 95 percent of the time you’re already exhausted from your real job, life, and responsibilities, so you need to have some level of passion or it’s hard to find the energy to see things through.

What advice do you have for others? Taking that first step to committing to do something is scary and exciting and you never really know what you’ll encounter along the way that can have profoundly positive influences in your life.

2. “Don’t be afraid. Just start.”

Name: Noah Jacobs

Age: 28

Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota

Full-time job: Preschool teacher

Side hustle: Writer

Describe what you do and why: I’m a full-time preschool teacher in Minneapolis and use what limited time I have during breaks of peace and quiet at work to check my phone and say connected with cultural happenings and what I can write about as a freelance writer. Still, I contribute weekly to Splitsider’s “This Week In Comedy Podcasts” feature and have begun writing longer pieces for them when I can, which translates to once a month or so. I stumbled into teaching in mid-2012, and started contributing to The A.V. Club’s podcast roundup Podmass with a one-sentence review of Julie Klausner’s podcast that posted on Aug. 19, 2013. Splitsider welcomed me late last year after I left Podmass due to some freelance cutbacks.

How does the money work out? Being a preschool teacher is my main source of income. Writing provides income but whatever I make, I use to treat myself.

What’s been the hardest thing and the best thing?: The thing about working with young children is that sometimes they respond to your love with anger and sadness. They can’t express appreciation like a grown-up can.

On the other hand, my words are everywhere on Andrea Silenzi’s press page. “Marty & Sarah Love Wrestling” did, like, a twenty minute bit about how excited they were when I named Sarah Shockey and Ryback “Cutest Couple” in 2016. As Frank Burns said on M*A*S*H, it’s nice to be nice to the nice.

What advice do you have for others? Don’t be afraid, just start your side-hustle, or ask someone if you can do it, if that’s something you need to do to begin. I had nothing to point to online when I started as a freelance writer and sent my pitches to an editor. I’m just fortunate and humbled that they responded and took a chance on me. It’s easy to be excited about what I’m doing when I’m excited about what I’m writing. I do what I know I can handle.

3. “I try to remind myself to be excited that I’m getting to do what I love.”

Brian Davis takes a break from filming to enjoy the view.
Courtesy of Brian Davis
Brian Davis takes a break from filming to enjoy the view.

Name: Brian Davis

Full time job: Coffee roaster/barista

Side hustle: Filmmaker and owner of Motion Distillery

Age: 28

Location: Oceanside, California

Describe what you do and why: I split my time between working as a coffee roaster/barista for a small coffee company called Revolution Roasters and being a filmmaker. A few years back I started a brand/portfolio of my film work under the name Motion Distillery. I help brands, artists, and companies tell their stories through short films—essentially short commercials harnessing the essence of who they are.

I’ve been making films since I was kid, really, but professionally I’ve been at it for about five years. At the same time, I’ve worked in the speciality coffee industry in one way or another and it’s always been a steady side gig for me. It allows me to keep my dream alive of getting to pursue filmmaking. I really do love roasting and serving coffee, but I see filmmaking as my longterm career path.

How does the money work out? It’s paid off in experience. I used to get really down on myself for having to work in coffee to supplement my filmmaking, but now I see it as an opportunity to support myself and the passion I have for my craft.

What’s been the hardest thing and the best thing? It’s tricky to balance it all. I feel very fortunate to get to do something on the side, like coffee, that I quite enjoy, so that’s a positive. Lately I’ve been burning at both ends. I work three to four days at the cafe making coffee then the other days I’m out shooting, editing, or working on film projects. It takes a lot of energy to balance both schedules and make it all happen and it can be super overwhelming and even stressful. I just try to remind myself to be excited that I’m getting to do what I love—in both areas.

What advice do you have for others? Follow your passion project even if it begins with baby steps. It takes a lot of patience and time but it’s worth it to be able to pursue your passion, and it doesn’t hurt to have the extra income on the side. Staying passionate is hard at times, but it’s something I truly love, and it’s my art so I find ways to create and do it. Community is really important and it helps to surround yourself with other creative people who will spur you on to keep creating.

4. “The hardest thing is feeling overwhelmed.”

Enamel pins by Limited Time Offer.
Limited Time Offer
Enamel pins by Limited Time Offer.

Name: Don Morris

Age: 29

Location: Los Angeles, California

Full time job: Graphic designer and web developer

Side hustle: Co-founder of Limited Time Offer

Describe what you do and why: For a little more than a year, my brother and I have run an online storefront selling enamel pins focused on pro wrestling. I’ve been into enamel pins for a while, even before it was a trend. Originally we started by focusing on pop culture designs, but pro wrestling was my brother’s idea. There’s a lack of decent merchandise available and we just want to make stuff for people like us.

How does the money work out? I work on my side project on top of my day job. My side hustle isn’t my main source of income but it’s financially self-sustainable.

What’s been the hardest thing and the best thing? The hardest thing is just feeling overwhelmed. I was stressing about running our social media accounts earlier this week, but I try to avoid this by staying organized. For instance, I have a notebook to help schedule stuff out and jot down notes or sketches. 

The most rewarding thing is seeing customers’ photos on social media. It’s awesome knowing people like our stuff enough to wear it or post a picture on Instagram.

What advice do you have for others? You definitely have to love whatever you’re doing to pursue a passion project. If it isn’t fun in some way it probably isn’t worth doing. I almost gave up after releasing our first designs. They were irrelevant and relied too heavily on nostalgia. It’s okay to fail though, without failing we wouldn’t have found our niche. It also helped that we were able to adapt our original ideas to fit a new theme.

5. “I’m working to one day make the transition so that my side hustle can be a full-time job.”

Brett Shumaker finding a rare break to enjoy the sun in Pittsburgh
Courtesy of Brett Shumaker
Brett Shumaker finding a rare break to enjoy the sun in Pittsburgh

Name: Brett Shumaker

Age: 30

Location: Pittsburgh, Pa

Full time job: Barista

Side hustle: Promoter/founder of Don’t Let the Scene Go Down On Me! Collective

Describe what you do and why: I kind of fell into being a promoter and show booking. I was in a band of my own ten years ago and was booking our own shows. When the band broke up, I still wanted to be involved in that process.

How does the money work out? My day job is the way I pay my bills but I’m working to one day make the transition so that my side hustle can be a full-time job.

What’s been the hardest thing and the best thing? There’s always that one show every now and then that does way worse than I imagined and I lose a lot of money and I wonder for a second why I still do this, but then I remember all the good I’ve done with this and I just keep moving right along and try harder. The most rewarding part is watching people enjoy the shows I book and the bands telling me how happy they were with the show - that really keeps me going.

What advice do you have for others? It can be hard to find the balance between your day job and your side hustle, especially when your day job is paying the bills. Making other people happy is what keeps me going. As I try to make the transition to just doing my passion project, I’m taking on more of a workload, so feeling overwhelmed is something I am learning to deal with. If it’s something you love, don’t give it up.

6. “Music is something that feels like a calling” 

Claire Morales performs during a Texas music festival known as 35 Denton
Zach Huggins
Claire Morales performs during a Texas music festival known as 35 Denton

Name: Claire Morales

Age: 27

Location: Denton, Texas

Full time job: Graphic designer

Side hustle: Musician

Describe what you do and why: I’m a graphic designer for my main job. My passion project is music. I play guitar and sing in a band that’s billed under my name. I kind of think of myself as double majoring in life, half design, half music. I was 13 when I started playing shows at coffee shops and have been writing songs and making records and performing since then.

How does the money work out? Graphic design is my main source of income. I make money from album and music merchandise sales and live shows, but pretty much all of it gets funneled back into producing new records.

What’s been the hardest thing and the best thing? There was a time when I was working and commuting about 60 hours a week all together for my day job. Finding time to book shows and write songs and have band practice was extremely difficult. I kind of woke up to just how stressed I was and how bad my quality of life was becoming. I went freelance so that I could basically stay sane and be more in control of my own time.

I love graphic design, but it never feels very personal to me. It’s always for someone else. Music is something that feels like a calling, something that’s in me that I should be doing, and it’s a great feeling.

What advice do you have for others? Find meaning and satisfaction in the process. Realize that just like a regular job, you have to put in a lot of time and effort in to get the most out of it. Try to find ways to enjoy that work and find fulfillment just in the act of doing it and doing it well. I find that keeping a mix of small, more realizable goals and also bigger more broad ones helps me to keep dreaming and also get stuff done every day. Don’t compare your progress to others. I try to be excited that there are so many great musicians around me. I think it’s better to inspire one another and think of others in your field as peers rather than competitors.

7. “When you’re ready to give up, that’s the time to dig in further into your passion”

Name: Heather Quinn Gage

Age: 26

Location: Fort Worth, Texas

Full time job: Development Manager (fundraising) for a nonprofit theater company

Side hustle: Consulting for nonprofit organizations

Describe what you do and why: My first day job definitely matched what I wanted in a job, but as I got further out into the workforce I realized that there will never be a perfect job that marries what I want to do with the right culture and meets my personal goals; I needed to create it.

The way I started my consulting was to do three things every day that led me to clients or work. That’s how I stayed motivated and felt like I was accomplishing something each day.

How does the money work out? My side hustle is funded by my full-time job. I pursue it more to pursue a location-independent lifestyle and have my time be more valued than a traditional job.

What’s been the hardest thing and the best thing? There are times when I do feel overwhelmed, especially when I am having more issues in my personal life that I feel I need to focus on. In these moments, my best advice is to focus on self-care. If you feel your business is important to your future, don’t drop it in these moments. That’s when you double down on investing in your business and taking care of your physical and mental health.

The best part is feeling like I’m using a broader set of my skills than just the ones I use in my day job. I can help people in ways that feel more authentic to me.

What advice do you have for others? When you’re ready to give up, that’s the time to dig in further into your passion, it’s not time to drop it. In the end, if it’s what fuels your fire and fulfills you, it will ultimately make you stronger in weak times. I suggest making your own checklist for what you know makes you feel the best mentally and physically and what the necessities are for doing your best work. During a hard time you can look at it and see if you’ve met your own criteria for showing up your best.

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