“I only work 3.5 days a week”

In 2017, after I graduated from college, I started working as an engineer in 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 executives working 60-hour weeks with routine travel, I realized that wasn’t the lifestyle I wanted. My father died when I was three years old, so family time has always been very precious to me.

Josh works less than four days a week and spends much of his free time with his family.

Photo: Danny Miziko for CNBC Make It

In 2018, I started experimenting with side noises. I set a goal of making $3,450 a month (after taxes) from my efforts to support my lifestyle. As soon as I achieved that, I decided I was going to quit my full-time job.

Today I achieved my goal of being my own boss and so much more. I left my engineering job in February 2021 to work full time with my side jobs.

Last year I made just over $189,000 from my seven streams of income:

  1. YouTube (Google AdSense): $82,349
  2. Fulfilled by Amazon: 13,886 dollars
  3. Patreon (tutorial): 33,114 dollars
  4. Fiverr (Product Research): $29,014
  5. Affiliate Marketing: $29,496
  6. Property for rent: 1272 dollars
  7. Taxable dividends: $639

Now I only work 22 hours a week. I leave on Thursday, Friday afternoon and weekends. Whether it’s golfing with my grandpa, cooking family dinners, or starting new business ventures in my community, I have plenty of time to invest in the people and things I care about most.

Here’s my top tip for turning your side hustle into a full-time gig while working fewer hours:

1. Don’t be afraid of trial and error.

With my early side efforts, I tried to acquire rental properties, then I started running ads on the back seat of Uber and renting out my Polaris Slingshot tricycle on Turo, an online car-sharing platform.

But none of these businesses were successful. It wasn’t until I started 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 send it to Amazon. My first product was $1,000 worth of headphones, then I moved on to iPhone cases and sports gear.

I earned more than $25,000 in 2019 through my Amazon store. I wanted to share with others what I learned from my trial and error, so I started a new project that would later become 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. At first, I committed to posting at least two videos per week. 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 earned almost $83,000 from ads.

Danny Mizzico for CNBC Make It

As I grew my audience, I realized I wanted to connect more with my subscribers and build a real community. So in October 2020, I started coaching 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 launch a subscription service to host my coaching sessions.

In February 2021, I launched my product research service on Fiverr, where clients paid me to find high-demand, low-competition products—popular toys, pet supplies, or travel accessories—that they could sell on Amazon.

These community based businesses helped me reach my long awaited goal of earning from $3450 per month.

3. Prioritize tackling debt.

I was able to quit my full time job when I was making less than $4,000 a month because I had paid off all my debt except the house and car.

There are many methods you can use to pay off debt, but I personally like the Debt Snowball method because it helps you see your progress.

Here’s how it works:

  1. List all your debts from smallest to largest.
  2. Make the largest payment on your smallest debt and the minimum payment on the rest.
  3. Repeat until you pay off the smallest debt, then move on to your next smallest debt.

4. Establish the legal side of your business early.

It is important to link your business with your country for practical reasons such as asset protection and tax benefits. But I also believe there is a psychological benefit.

I attribute some of my past failures to treating my side hustles as hobbies instead of businesses. After forming a limited liability company (LLC) in Texas in 2019, I took everything more seriously and professionally. It is no coincidence that all my businesses up until then have failed.

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 liable for the debts or obligations of the business, as a corporation.

But like a partnership, the LLC’s income “passes through” the business and is taxed with the owner’s personal income, making filing taxes easier.

You can form your own LLC by filing a certificate of organization in your state, which usually costs $50 to $300. Many states list filing information on their Secretary of State website.

5. Find a schedule that works for you and stick to it.

When I was working full time, I lacked the motivation to pursue my side duties.

But once I put pen to paper and committed to a schedule, working on my business became part of my weekly routine. I chose to focus on my side hustle every weekday evening after work and every Saturday morning.

I still stick to the weekly schedule. I work Monday through Wednesday and half day on Friday. Each day I will work four to six hours, with each hour blocked off for a specific task.

One of the perks of setting his own schedule is playing golf with his grandfather on Thursday mornings.

Photo: Danny Miziko for CNBC Make It

If you don’t set aside time to work on your side hustle, your business can get lost in the day-to-day 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’s the only way I can work 22 hours a week and still develop multiple streams of income. But remember that automating things and creating the most efficient systems can take time in the beginning.

Each month I reflect on where I spent most of my work time and find ways to make those processes more efficient. For example, I spent four to eight hours a week editing videos.

I decided to outsource my video editing, but that also required some time upfront to crunch the numbers to see where it fits in my budget and find a great editor to do the job. But now that I’m making time for it, I spend those hours growing my business in other ways or working less.

7. Define what makes you different.

Marketing is more than just advertising your product or service; it’s about setting yourself apart from your competition by making the customer feel something. They will come back or better yet tell their friends about you.

When I first started selling on Amazon in 2018, I used stock photos that my supplier gave me for my product listings. It is not surprising that they are mixed with every other product. And if someone bought, they got their product in a boring, see-through bag. There was nothing to make my customer experience special.

After learning the importance of providing something special, I started taking my own product photos and designing custom packaging. My sales soared.

No matter what your business is, decide what makes you memorable and invest in it.

Josh Ellwood is the founder of Debt in dollars. Follow him Instagram and YouTube.

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