Starting My Business as a Side Hustle Helped Me Succeed
The origin story of my business will be familiar to so many entrepreneurs: I was tired of my full-time job and had an idea I just couldn’t let go of. At the time, I was working for a design firm and was frustrated that everything we were selling was so expensive. I had a vision for luxury-quality home goods at a more accessible price point, and the spark of Inglenook Marketplace was born.
I set up a website and started filling it with products, shipping handmade candles from my apartment in Brooklyn and drop shipping a curated selection of goods that I bought wholesale from other brands. I reached a point where I wanted to move on from my current job because they weren’t paying me enough—but I wasn’t ready to go all in on my business, so I interviewed for a new full-time role. My brand started growing on the side, and I was getting more and more orders every week that I would fulfill on nights and weekends. Once again, I left my current day job because of lack of growth opportunities, but started another one for fear of losing the stability of a salary. Meanwhile, my vision for my business was getting bigger and bigger, and I got my first storefront in a small town in upstate New York, only opening it on the weekends and commuting during the week to my full-time job in the city.
Finally, nearly five years after starting my company on the side, I opted to stop working for other people and give my business my all in 2019. And I’m so glad I did. Today, we’re doing better than ever, with a new storefront in a bigger town, a thriving e-commerce and white label wholesale business, and a brand that’s so beloved that we were recently voted the best candle maker in the Hudson Valley.
In some ways, I think this time spent slowly developing my business on the side was instrumental to today’s success. But I also often wish I had believed in my idea and taken the leap sooner. Here are a few of the ways building my business on the side helped me—and some of the ways I held myself back along the way.
How Building My Business On the Side Helped Me Succeed
I Got Revenue to a Stable Point
The biggest benefit of building my business on the side was getting my finances to a more stable place.
When I first started Inglenook Marketplace, my life (and bank account) looked very different. I was living in Brooklyn where the cost of living was extremely high, and I was relatively young in my career so didn’t have any savings to rely on. If I had gone full-time from the start, I would have either needed my business to start making meaningful money immediately (which is challenging for any business that needs to grow a customer base, but especially for one with as much overhead as a product-based business), had to compromise my vision to make more sooner, or been stressed about finances all the time and probably given up on my dream quickly.
In just a few years of growing my business on the side, all of this changed dramatically. I had moved to a smaller (cheaper) town in upstate New York and was shuffling as much of my salary into savings as possible so I’d have a nest egg to lean on in the event of financial surprises. During that time, the company also had time to grow organically to the point where I had enough sales each week for the business to pay for itself, giving me space to spend my energy building my brand instead of stressing about scraping by.
I Gained the Customers to Reinforce My Vision
If money was the biggest indicator my business was ready for my full attention, the customers were my biggest motivator to make it happen.
If I hadn’t gotten the response I did when I opened my storefront, I may still be working a full-time job to this day. Instead, hearing customers walk in and say the store smelled amazing validated that I was making a good product. Comments like “this is the cutest place I’ve ever seen” made me feel like I was bringing joy to peoples’ lives. And the repeat customers made it clear that I was filling a need in this small town where there were hardly any other stores.
Obviously, having customers who love what you do is an important aspect of a financially stable business. But, more than that, the positive reinforcement kept me going when things got tough. Not everything about running a business is fun, but even when I’m packing orders or filing my taxes, don’t mind because I know who I’m doing it for. When COVID hit and most stores had to close their doors, I pivoted our stock to provide essential goods, both so the business could survive but also so I could be there for these customers I cared so much about. If I had gone full-time on my business with no existing customers, I don’t know what would have carried me through the ups and downs.
I Had Time to Refine the Product and Customer Experience
Developing my business slowly on the side also helped me fine tune the product and customer experience so I could feel confident people would keep coming back. Sure, I could have refined the customer experience even if I had immediately gone full-time on my business. But doing so takes time, and I had time on my side thanks to my salaried jobs.
I could try things, see what the response was, and tweak my approach until I got it right without feeling too stressed about perfecting things quickly. I could start to develop relationships with my customers and get insights into what they want. I took classes and spent time researching all the business know-how I needed to get things up and running. I even gained a lot of knowledge from my full-time jobs: Working for design firms taught me so much about branding and marketing that I carried back to my business.
By the time I went all in, I really knew my customer and what they wanted, had streamlined processes in place, and was consistently sourcing and creating beautiful, great quality products.
Why I Wish I Had Gone All-In Sooner
Ultimately, all of these things were true well before I took the leap and left my full-time job. Even when I was interviewing for my last position, I had dedicated customers who loved my product, and I was bringing in enough from my business to support itself and me.
At that point, fear and lack of confidence in myself were the only barriers keeping me from investing fully in my business. There was the fear of leaving a stable salary behind; I had a hard time believing I could truly support myself with my company, even though the numbers said otherwise. There was the fear in believing in my own vision, even though so many customers had reinforced it. And there was the lack of belief that I could build a thriving business, even though I had achieved so much success already.
So I took another full-time job, which was hard on me and hard on the business. Juggling my day job and my ever-growing business caused me to miss customer calls and prevented me from getting orders out on time. Those are customers who will probably never come back because they had such a weird experience in the beginning. It was also frustrating to have such limited hours at my brick-and-mortar store, reducing the chances new customers had to discover the shop. But more than any of that, my heart was in my business, and it was emotionally taxing to deal with frustrations at my day job.
I wish I had been more pragmatic about calculating what the business needed to be making to cover my needs (with a little wiggle room), and quitting my job as soon as I hit that threshold. Instead, I had to wait until I grew my own confidence.
A few things helped me flip the script there. One was that I started dating my partner, who was my biggest fan. I’ve never had anyone support me like he does. Finding just one person to believe in you that much can really mean the whole world.
Around that time, my father also passed away at a relatively young age, and it ignited something in me. I thought about how much of their lives my parents spent being unhappy working for other people, and how I was currently stuck in the same pattern. Meanwhile, I kept facing roadblocks when I tried to advance or share my ideas in my full-time role.
Finally, one day I woke up and thought, “I’m not doing this anymore. No one is going to control my future and tell me that I can’t be something more, and put a cap on my career.” And I decided to start believing in myself.
And from that day forward, I’ve been all in.
Finally, one day I woke up and thought, “I’m not doing this anymore. No one is going to control my future and tell me that I can’t be something more, and put a cap on my career.” And I decided to start believing in myself. – Heatherlyn Nelson, Founder of Inglenook Marketplace