“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 watching senior executives work 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 having family time was always very valuable to me.

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

Photo: Danny Mizicko for CNBC Make It

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

Today I have achieved my goal of being my own boss, and more. I left my engineering job in February 2021 to work full time.

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

  1. YouTube (Google AdSense): $82,349
  2. Fulfilled by Amazon: $13,886
  3. Patreon (coaching): $33,114
  4. Fiverr (product research): $29,014
  5. Affiliate marketing: $29,496
  6. Rental property: $1272
  7. Taxable dividends: $639

Now I only work 22 hours a week. I take Thursdays, Friday afternoons and weekends off. Whether it’s playing golf with my grandfather, 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 best advice for turning your side hustle into a full-time job, all while working fewer hours:

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

With my early side hustles, I tried to acquire rental properties, then I started placing ads in the backseat of Ubers and rented out my three-wheeled Polaris Slingshot motorcycle on Turo, an online car-sharing platform.

But none of these ventures 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 made 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, which 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. I committed to posting at least two videos per week at first. 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 Mizicko 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 run a subscription service, to host my coaching sessions.

In February 2021, I started my product research service on Fiverr, where clients would pay me to find high-demand, low-competition products—trendy toys, pet supplies, or travel accessories—to sell on Amazon.

These community-based businesses helped me reach my long-awaited income goal $3,450 per month.

3. Prioritize tackling debt.

I was able to quit my full time job when I was making less than $4,000 per month because I had paid off all my debt except for 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.

This is how it works:

  1. List all 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 continue with your next smallest debt.

4. Set up the legal side of your business early.

Incorporating your business with your state is important for practical reasons, such as asset protection and tax benefits. But I also think there is a psychological benefit.

I attribute some of my past mistakes to treating my side hustles as hobbies instead of businesses. When I formed a Limited Liability Company (LLC) in Texas in 2019, I took everything more seriously and professionally. It is not a coincidence that all my businesses have failed until then.

An LLC has some of the best features of a corporation or partnership, two other business structures that are also used by corporations in the U.S. LLCs protect their owners from being held personally liable for the business’s debts or liabilities, like a corporation.

But like a partnership, the LLC’s income “passes through” the business and is taxed on 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 normally costs anywhere from $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 my full-time job, I lacked motivation to work on my side.

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

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

One of the benefits of setting your own schedule is getting to play golf with your grandfather on Thursday mornings.

Photo: Danny Mizicko for CNBC Make It

If you don’t set aside specific times to work on your side hustle, your business can get lost in daily 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 per week and still grow multiple streams of income. But remember that automating things, and creating the most efficient systems, can take time in the beginning.

Every 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 it also required some time upfront to run the numbers to see where it fit into my budget, and find a good editor to do the job. But now that I’ve already spent time doing that, I use those hours to grow my business in other ways, or work less.

7. Identify what makes you different.

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

When I first started selling on Amazon in 2018, I used stock photos from my supplier for my product listings. Not surprisingly, they mixed with all other products. And if someone bought, they got the product in a boring, see-through bag. There was nothing that made my customer experience special.

Once I learned the importance of giving something special, I started taking my own product photos and I designed custom packaging. My sales increased.

Whatever your business is, decide what makes you memorable and invest in it.

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

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“I only work 3.5 days a week”

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