The Side Hustle That Earned Me Almost $70,000 In One Year & How I Did It

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how to start a side hustle

If you've followed Clever Girl Finance for a while you know that I'm a huge fan of increasing your income through a small business (if you are new to this platform - welcome!) and one of the ways I've ramped up saving money is through my side hustles. 


Amongst the side hustles I've had include selling Avon to my mom's friends, starting an online retail store for bridal accessories and becoming a part-time wedding and lifestyle photographer.


My wedding photography business, called Onada Photography, was my longest running side hustle (I did it for 7 years) and it earned me the most amount of money of all my side hustles - up to the tune of almost $70,000 in one particular year.


In this post, I'm breaking down just what I did to create a successful side hustle while still working at my full-time job and I'm also sharing some tips that you can hopefully apply to your own side hustle (or even your full-time business) regardless of what industry you are in.

 


4 Key things I did in my side hustle that earned me almost $70,000 in one year:

1. I got started

 One of thousands of images I took over the course of my photography business.

One of thousands of images I took over the course of my photography business.

I would say I stumbled into wedding photography mostly by accident. I love photography and it has always been a big part of my life going back to when I was growing up. 


My dad was always taking photos and I have tons and tons of photographs that document my childhood but I never imagined myself as a wedding photographer, however that's what happened.


I was visiting Jamaica for a friend's wedding and I had just purchased a new camera (a low-cost entry level DSLR from Nikon) which I took along with me.


For whatever reason, my friend's wedding photographer was running late on the day of her wedding and she had seen my camera earlier on so she asked me to take a few photos before her photographer arrived, which I did.


I loved the photos and more importantly, so did she. This got me thinking that perhaps I had an opportunity to make some money with my photography!
 

Business tip:

I get asked a lot by folks who are interested in starting a side hustle about what they should start. Sometimes the answer is not always obvious so look around you and see if there is something you do really well that people always compliment you on and that you know you could charge for. Or perhaps you have a hobby that you could monetize. Don't be afraid to test things out.

 


2. I focused on growing my photography business

I advertised the first few weddings I did (on Craigslist back then) and shot them for free. Why free? Well I did it because, honestly, I felt that if people were not paying me they would understand that they got what they got (lol), I had so much to learn AND I really needed to build a portfolio of images to showcase on my photography website (I have since taken my photography website down but you can see my photography business profile here).


It worked - people love free and because I didn't set any expectations and I put in my best effort, my clients loved their photographs.


I tried to reach out to more established photographers in my area to ask if I could be an assistant or second photographer for them to gain experience and to help build my portfolio but I either got no responses or flat out no's and so I took it upon myself to find my own way. I bought books, watched videos, practiced on my family and friends, paid for workshops and essentially became a self-taught photographer.


Once I built a solid portfolio, I was able to confidently charge for my work and set expectations on the type of images I would be delivering.

 My photography business profile on WeddingWire.com

My photography business profile on WeddingWire.com

Business tip:

Getting help, advice, and knowledge from people who are more experienced than you is the best way to learn but if you don't have that you can still build a successful business. While I never got the opportunity to second shoot for anyone in the early stage of my business, I still managed to figure things out on my own even with a ton of trial and error. Once I made a few friends in the industry, I was able to network and gain more experience from second shooting.


Don't take a "No" as a defeat or as a reason to shut down your business (or perhaps not even start it), instead try to figure things out on your own before you decide to quit.


It might be a slower learning process to do things on your own but you can totally learn about your industry and grow your business on your own. You just have to make the time and put in the effort to do the research and more (networking is key too because it helps send referrals your way).


And in today's world, there are a ton of courses you can take in any industry to help you grow and of course, there's the incredible resource that is YouTube where you can learn how to do practically anything.

 


3. I invested back into my business

Once I started making money with my photography I knew I needed to invest in better equipment to create a better portfolio in order to attract brides willing to pay more so I could ultimately charge more.


My goal was to build a business with zero debt and so I started budgeting for my business (learn more here) and I also started a business savings account and once I paid my business taxes whatever was left over was what I used to invest back into the business.

 Another pretty bride I photographed

Another pretty bride I photographed


Over time I purchased new professional camera bodies, a variety of lens, editing software and also lighting and transportation equipment.


If you are a photographer and are interested, my core arsenal consisted of Two Nikon Professional DSLR camera bodies, the 70-200mm, the 50mm 1.4, the 24-70mm and the 60mm macro Nikon Lens. I also frequently rented the Nikon 85mm and 105mm lenses. My favorite photography book is called Understanding Exposure - I highly recommend it, it's an excellent book.

 

Business tip:

Like I mentioned above, I'm a huge fan of building a business with no debt, most especially a side hustle. If you are getting started or are already running a side hustle, take things slowly and spend money as you make it so you are not operating on a negative balance.


Also, start budgeting for your business and be sure to keep your business financial completely separate from your personal finances. I have written a number of articles on business finances here including how to pay yourself a salary. You can also check out my business finance worksheets here to help you create and track your business budget.

 


4. I put in the work

There's no substitute for hard work and I worked hard at this business. After working at my day job (where I worked on average 60 hours a week), in the evenings (and sometimes early in the morning before I went to work) I was on my computer sorting and editing photos and on the weekends I was busy photographing weddings and other events. I remember incredibly crazy summers doing back to back weddings -  Friday night,  Saturday and then on Sunday.

I was exhausted but I was happy to be making all that extra money on the side, a lot of which I put towards my long-term savings. My current favorite savings account is called Rize


I charged between $3,000 to $5,000 a wedding and $300 to $450 for my lifestyle photography sessions (e.g. baby sessions, engagement sessions, family sessions etc) and the year I made almost $70,000 (~$68k) I photographed 19 weddings and a number of lifestyle sessions.

 Some of the awards I won

Some of the awards I won

Business tip:

If you want to build a successful side hustle or full-time business, you are doing to have to put in the work and it will be hard - I won't try to downplay the effort. You will get tired and discouraged, you will get frustrated and stressed out.


But the rewards? They will trump all of that! It takes a lot of patience, an open mind and a strong willingness to learn in order to build a successful business but if you stick with it, you'll be successful.
 

***
 

That, in a nutshell, is how I built and grew my photography business. I said goodbye to it a few years ago because I was exhausted as a new mom and had pregnancy-related back issues which are not conducive to standing for hours on end with heavy equipment.
 

I sold most of my equipment for a nice sum that I reinvested elsewhere but still keep a camera and a couple key lens to take photographs of my family from time to time.
 

What is your side hustle? Has this post helped you get any ideas? Leave a comment below - I'd love to know!

 

Related: 
- How I Saved $100,000 In A Little Over 3 Years
- How I Manage My Finances As A Money Expert
- 7 Things I Did Before Quitting My Six Figure Job To Run My Business Full Time
- Earn More Money, Start A Blog


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Bola Sokunbi is the founder of Clever Girl Finance and she's passionate about helping women take control of their money so they can live life on their own terms.