I started a side hustle and this is what happened.

12 Oct 2021
By Hazel M., Freelance writer, journalist and total bookworm at Unite Students

Side hustles are big right now – nearly everyone has one and, chances are, you probably do, too.

In fact, it’s thought two thirds of Brits are now juggling one alongside their studies or full-time job, largely down to the fact that, thanks to numerous lockdowns and changes to our social lives during Covid, we suddenly have a lot more free time.

But, if you haven’t done one before, it’s not always as easy as you think. And I would know.

Having started my candle-making business a couple of years ago, I’ve learnt a lot about the nuances of running a side hustle, and, far from those over-night success stories that always seem to grace the press, it takes a lot more dedication – and time – than you realise.

Here’s my experience of what starting a side hustle is really like.

Getting started

If you’re anything like me, the idea of starting a new project is always super exciting. In fact, a careers’ coach once told me it’s called ‘shiny object’ syndrome (and I happen to have it in spades).

From jumping around jobs to learning new skills, I always start things off with a great enthusiasm that quickly withers away once whatever said new skill/job/project flows into the humdrum of daily life. My side hustle… was no exception.

So, when I decided that I wanted to make and sell candles, there’s no doubt that I had great dreams of creating a massive brand that would one day be taken to factory-level; the in-demand candle brand that every house must have.

And, honestly, my brand was pretty nice. I invested in decent fragrance oils, glass jars and the very best ethical wax – all to fit in with my luxury, eco-friendly brand values – and set up accounts across various social media sites.

I spent a long time creating the perfect website and even booked myself into numerous arts and crafts fairs, where I knew my target audience were likely to be shopping.

For any outside spectators, it really was the dream luxury candle brand. The reality, however, was a little different.

Keeping things going

What I didn’t think about too much in my business planning was the initial costs of setting up a side hustle; you know, before anyone can actually even buy anything.

As a freelance writer, I don’t often have to pay out a lot to keep my business running. Sure, I have to pay taxes, but as a general rule, all I need is my laptop and I’m good to go.

Running a candle business, however, was a very different story. From finding decent suppliers and buying all the things I would need to make the candles, to paying for hosting my website on Squarespace and insurance cover, the small fees were quickly adding up.

And, the thing is, at that point I needed to sell candles to pay back all the money I spent. Not selling simply wasn’t an option.

This meant I had to spend a lot of time on social media promoting my business, reaching out to influencers to send them free products for promotion or even paying for space with local media outlets.

But online sales just didn’t really work for me; I only ever seemed to make real money when I was at a craft show at Christmas.

So, in the meantime, the monthly costs started adding up and I was barely breaking even. It was a case of spending even more time on my side hustle and working harder to make it my main job… or admit defeat and let all the hard work go to waste.

Alongside this, I was already getting bored of having to work my normal job all day, only to have to work on promoting and making candles in the evenings and weekends. Really, I just wanted my life back.

Moving on

Now, I’m a typical Capricorn and giving up just isn’t usually an option. But this was a drain on my bank and my emotions. So, I had to have a real conversation with myself about whether this was the right thing for me.

Eventually, I decided to take a break – and it’s a break I’ve been on since January this year (Brexit also didn’t help when a lot of costs of supplies also tripled due to shipping).

I closed down my website but kept my social media profiles and, one day, I may go back to it. However, the relief of not having an extra job to do at the end of the day was something I probably appreciate more than I thought I ever would.

And it didn’t feel like a fail, either. I pretty much broke even, I still have people asking if I’ll ever make them again and I enjoyed the process (mostly) while I did it. More than anything, though, I learnt more about business than I ever would have if I hadn’t given it a go.

So, while I may host some craft stalls at Christmas, for now, it’s just one less thing on my to-do list.

Don’t worry, though, I’ve started up several new projects since then. Keep your eyes peeled for my next big thing.

Want to read more about The World According to Hazel? Head to The Common Room now.

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When not stringing words together, can usually be found on the local beach with her cocker spaniel pup, Huey.