How to Start a Side Hustle: An Overview (and My Journey to a Consulting Career)

Now that I’m working for myself full-time, people often ask me how I got into consulting in the first place. It’s kind of a funny question to answer, though, because I never actually set out to be a consultant. Those of you who know me in my professional life know that I’ve been working in nonprofits since I was in college. I was so inspired by the work and found a niche in being able to put my otherwise-unmarketable English major skills to use in writing grant proposals. Then when I graduated, people told me I should move from Richmond, Virginia to Washington, DC because that’s where all the nonprofits were. And lo and behold they were right! I decided to pursue a Master’s degree in nonprofit management and did fundraising for almost eight years. Along the way, I got really interested in leadership development due to the organizations and programs I was working with. So in 2007, I started blogging about leadership issues in my industry. And then people actually started reading my blog and inviting me to come speak at events and do workshops and all kinds of other cool stuff. Then I started telling them they should pay me because, well, I just couldn’t do that much work for free.

And that’s how I became a consultant. It was really a blog that turned into a side hustle that turned into an opportunity for a brand new career.

In 2008, I announced Thurman Consulting for the very first time, even though I was still working a full-time job and had no intentions of leaving anytime soon. I did that to let people know that I was available for speaking and consulting, but that I wasn’t going to do it for free. Even if I wanted to, I just didn’t have the time while working a 9 to 5 job. I also wanted to make some extra money to supplement my nonprofit salary at the time. At the end of that first year, I had earned an additional $10,000 to add on to my income, which said to me that consulting might be something I could really make a living at!

It wasn’t until 2010, though, that I quit my nonprofit job of almost four years to work for myself as a consultant. By all accounts, it was a “good” job. The organization had a great reputation and inspiring leadership. It paid well, I had healthcare, a monthly employer contribution to my retirement plan equivalent to 10% of my salary, five weeks paid time off, money for professional development, flexible hours, the ability to work from home, and yes, my very own parking spot. To be honest, I probably could have worked there for four more years. But I wouldn’t have been happy. I had grown too much in my own leadership journey to continue to fit myself into that one role for that one organization. I would be writing a grant proposal, but daydreaming about blogging. I couldn’t wait to get home to start writing and working on my own projects. I’ve wanted to write a book for a couple of years, but could never seem to find the time to do it. I just didn’t want to work myself to death and wait until my 60s to finally start living the life I wanted.

I didn’t want to wait any longer to become the CEO of me. Today, I’m the President of Thurman Consulting, specializing in leadership, diversity and social media initiatives to advance the work of social change. It’s been an amazing journey to be able to get to do what I love and get paid for it, too! And best of all, it’s on my own terms.

I’ve come across a lot of happy black women who are thinking about going out on their own. You may want to start small in the hopes of leaving your job one day. You may just want to make some extra money. Whatever your reason, this blog series is for you. I titled the series “How to Start a Side Hustle” because I strongly suggest hanging your own shingle while you still have the security of a full-time job. This blog series will offer some of the lessons learned from my own experiences in laying the groundwork and then branching out on my own over a two-year period.

But first, an overview.

What’s a Side Hustle?

Let me explain what I mean with that term. A side hustle is a job that you do on the side in addition to your full-time job. Whether you do consulting or bake cakes to sell at the farmer’s market on the weekend, a side hustle is when you provide products or services in order to make money on the side. Typically, you would take something you’re good at (or passionate about) and offer it to people who want it. That sweet spot of skill and demand is your side hustle, baby!

A few synonyms for a side hustle:

  • Part-time job
  • Second job
  • Small business
  • Side business
  • Slash career

Examples of side hustles:

  • Consulting
  • Catering
  • Tutoring
  • Photography
  • Blogging
  • Public speaking
  • Babysitting
  • Avon/Mary Kay
  • Ebay seller
  • Crafting/jewelry

And the list goes on and on. What are some side hustle ideas that you could try?

What’s Consulting?

As I mentioned above, consulting is just one example of a side hustle. Believe it or not, a lot of side hustles actually fall into the consulting category. When you say consulting, most people think of the common Webster definition, which is to provide professional or expert advice. In recent years, though, that definition is actually expanded to include subcontracting and project management. In other words, consulting is not just someone paying someone else for advice, but it also includes paying someone to actually implement or deliver a particular portion of the work.

A few synonyms for consulting:

  • subcontracting
  • freelancing
  • independent consulting
  • coaching
  • moonlighting

Some examples of consulting projects:

  • Website creation
  • Conference planning
  • Training and workshops
  • Strategic planning
  • Meeting and retreat facilitation
  • Executive coaching
  • Copywriting

The possibilities for consulting are endless, just like with any other side hustle!

What Do Aspiring Consultants Need to Know?

When I first started thinking about consulting two years ago, was like my electronic bible. This article alone has enough general information in it to give you a really thorough overview of what consulting looks like as a side business. I also rely heavily on Inc. Magazine for entrepreneurial advice. Other really good information networks for consultants include Freelance Switch, Freelance FolderFreelancers Union and of course Pam Slim’s Escape from Cubicle Nation. There are a TON of resources out there, including Entrepreneur Magazine’s extensive library of books to help you start your own business.

One thing I quickly learned is that you don’t really need much by way of paperwork to get started if you are going by your real name. Since I do business as Rosetta Thurman/Thurman Consulting (and not a more generic company name like Enlightened Diva Strategies or something), all I had to do was register with my state. But you should always check your local laws for sure.

Is a Side Hustle for You?

I have to be honest here in terms of my experience – consulting (or any side hustle, for that matter) is really hard to do when you already have a full-time job. But if you’re like me five years ago when I had to work part-time as a hostess at a chain restaurant to make my nonprofit paycheck stretch a little further, consulting might just be a welcome addition to your life. But it does take some serious organizational skills to hold down a regular job and then go home at night or on the weekends to do client work.

Stay tuned over the next few weeks for posts about my journey into the consulting world from side hustle to full-time, including how to get your name out there, how to get your first client or contract, and how to find extra time to do the work. In the meantime, please post any resources you know of in the comments!

Up Next: How to Start a Side Hustle: 5 Low-Cost Ways to Market Yourself

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