Last month, we hit the lowest online business income total since May 2011, which was before I even went self-employed. We made $4000.
But I didn’t have a heart attack or even get too worried. We had a solid August online ($7800) and we knew a bunch of September payments were going to clear in October instead. We also bring in rental income ($1800), pet sitting income ($1000+), and sports officiating income currently ($1000). So we just sighed a big sigh and moved along.
As of yesterday, we hit $4400 online in October 2014. That’s more than we made in all of September in the first week of October. Does that mean that this will be a $16,000 month? No. But it does mean that we are guaranteed to have made more than in the previous month. We take a win when we can.
Yep, self-employment is weird.
This is Liberty (aka, Princess), one of my pet sitting clients. She cracks me up!
Handling Unstable Income
I will admit, the unstable income of self-employment bothered me quite a bit for the first couple of years. I’ve learned to cope and even thrive. Here is what helps us:
- Live based on your lowest income month. If you base your living expenses on your worst months, then you can save/invest a ton during your best months.
- Cash savings is key for the self-employed. Having a few months of online income set aside keeps us from hyperventilating during bad months.
- Diversify your income. The more income streams you have, the less a bad month in one niche will hurt you overall.
- Have a backup plan. We keep in mind other employment options, bills that we could cut, we have about 30% equity in our current home, and our rental property is paid off.
- Know your priorities. We know that we are happier self-employed than when we weren’t. That helps us feel better even when we have a slow month.
Are you self-employed or have you been before? What helped you handle the unstable income?
I’m a full-time blogger and blog ad manager, but I’m also a full-time professional pet sitter now. I’m great at marketing myself for my online life, but I am slowly learning to market myself for the pet sitting.
I did have business cards made for Crystal’s Cozy Care nearly as soon as I started. But I keep forgetting to put them out in restaurants and other facilities that wouldn’t mind. I also have been meaning to go door-to-door in my neighborhood and deliver them like the lawn guys and maid services do all of the time. Yesterday, I solved this issue!
A couple of maid service ladies handed me their business card while I was walking back from picking up my mail, and then they headed off to continue going door-to-door. I had a light bulb moment. I asked them to wait, ran inside and grabbed my business cards, and then asked them in my broken Spanish if I could pay them to deliver all of my cards throughout my neighborhood and the one next to it. It took about 5 minutes to work out the details, hand over my cards and $80, and then they headed off.
I knew there was a chance that they would just throw away my cards. I took a calculated risk. Later that night though, I received an email from someone several streets over who had my card in the their door! Woot! I love it when my ideas pan out!!!
Thinking Outside of the Box
I know that hiring someone else to do the labor that you aren’t doing isn’t really thinking outside of the box. But I felt like a freaking genius as those ladies hustled away! My neighborhood has 300+ homes and I have just not found the time to walk the entire thing. I also procrastinated at finding hired help to do it for me since that takes effort too. This was just good luck and good thinking at the same time. And those ladies probably think they stole the $80 since they were walking the same path either way. WIN-WIN!
Have you ever had an A-HA moment that you’d like to share? Please do!
I mention my pet sitting side hustle frequently, but haven’t written a thorough update post lately about Crystal’s Cozy Care. I saw this question left in my newsletter post this month from Leilani (thank you for subscribing and commenting!) and thought it would make a good lead in, LOL:
I also have a pet care hobby business and so far have to limit the jobs I accept because of my day job. I’m hoping to grow this hustle. Right now, I only accept cash and checks, but would eventually like to accept credit cards. So, my question: What type of payments do you accept for your pet sitting gigs?
I started at the very end of February 2013 by accepting just cash and checks. But then I was asked about other methods in April 2014 so I started accepting Paypal. Finally, about 3 months after I started, I came across a photographer client who highly suggest the Square payment system. It’s fees are less than Paypal, so I use that now exclusively for credit card payments (although only one client uses it regularly). I still have two ongoing clients that prefer Paypal. The vast majority, more than 95%, still leave me cash and checks.
I still advertise my services mainly through Craigslist, word of mouth, and Nextdoor.com. Craigslist has led to the most jobs. I also apply to gigs on Care.com and Sittercity.com, but that has only amounted to a few positions.
In super happy news, most of my monthly income now comes from repeat customers. A couple of neighbors and families near me use me for every weekend trip or major vacation that they take. Two mommies have such odd work hours that I pet sit for their pups for at least a few days if not more of every month since they met me.
One proud papa of a 10 1/2 lavender reticulated python has hired me for one visit a week pretty consistently since the end of May 2014. Her name is Sephoria and here she is under a black light:
Sephoria is gorgeous and has grown to be nearly 11 feet long in less than 18 months.
The drama behind Sephoria is that for about 3 weeks, I was replaced with a “snake specialist” only because her owner wasn’t comfortable with her size and me mixing when she was hungry (every 4-8 weeks depending). Well, that specialist ended up being truly dumb and unethical…he stole Sephoria. Within 5 days, her owner had posted a want ad for Sephoria on Craigslist that explained the whole situation and asked for help. The stupid guy’s cousin saw the post, the guy freaked out, and he returned her. Yay!
Needless to say, I have my job back since I can be completely trusted not to steal her. Her owner has now requested to be allowed to go home from his trucking job at least once every 2-3 weeks so I won’t even need to feed her myself (her giant frozen rabbits take more than a day to thaw properly and the feeding process is too complex for my schedule).
For my non-snake loving readers, here are some of the cute mammals (mostly dogs and cats) that have become regulars:
Unless I start taking on more employees, other than my close friend and roommate, Mandy, then I think I am pretty much around the most business that I can take on right now. School is back in session, so there will be a slow down. I’m totally okay with that since I was working 30 hours a week just for pet sitting in August 2014. Here have been my total income numbers so far (not taking into account my driving deductions and stuff like that):
- March 2014 – $1100
- April 2014 – $400
- May 2014 – $580
- June 2014 – $1640
- July 2014 – $785
- August 2014 – $1680
I have put more than 5000 miles on my new car. I am slowly making sure to stay within a 15 mile radius from my house so that those driving numbers should decrease each month from now on while my income stays above $500. The more popular I become, the pickier I can choose to be on the locations of the jobs that I accept.
Along those lines, I have increased my pricing as I’ve developed my reputation as well. I used to be $15 a visit or $50 for overnight care. Now I’m $20-$30 per visit depending on location and $70-$90 for overnight care. Yet, my business is growing. I also still charge a little less for my returning clients since I grandfather in their rates unless I was being simply unrealistic (like $60 a night for more than 5 pets that are all high maintenance or $50 a night for locations about an hour away…I’ve changed those and informed those families of my actual rates with a slight discount just for them).
Overall, I’m enjoying myself and am honestly trying to keep myself to 30 hours or less per week of total time towards pet sitting. That only became difficult during the craziest parts of the summer so far. I expect the holidays will be packed too.
Did I miss anything that you wanted to know about? Please let me know!
Have you heard about Uber yet? I read an article about a drunk guy using them exclusively in a classy part of Houston and keep seeing mentions about them around the web (like this guest post about being a driver at Budgets Are Sexy). It’s a virtual taxi service that connects drivers with passengers, handles the bills with the passengers, and then pays the drivers 80%. It’s super easy although a little pricey for the passengers. For the drivers, there is a bit more to handle…
Why I’m Interested
My ears perked up a little because:
- It’s a pricey service and 80% seems like a great commission.
- My nearly new car is in great shape (see below).
- You only “go online” (log in to the app) when you want to work. I can’t find minimum requirements.
- They only keep drivers that stay well-rated overall.
- I already drive more than I generally would like to thanks to pet sitting – it would be great to make some real money off of the driving itself…
- I live in a suburb outside of Houston by enough that I doubt I will actually be very busy. I just want to test the waters.
Applying to be an Uber Driver
Here are the basic things that stuck out to me while applying:
- Your car has to be a 2005 model or newer that is in Excellent condition. No body damage, interior problems, or missing hubcaps.
- They verify that you have current insurance.
- They verify that your car is properly registered.
- You submit pictures of all of the above stuff including interior and exterior photos of your car from lots of requested angles.
- They do a surprisingly thorough two-step background check.
Early Planning Stage
They said it would take 2-3 days for my application to be looked at and approved or not. I’ve already received the results of my background check – all clear as expected. I paid attention to their make-more suggestions and am planning to be a great car service that offers:
- Getting the door for them.
- Cool water bottles.
- An android phone charging station.
- Great company.
- A clean vehicle.
- Fast service.
I doubt this will become a big part of my life, but I am looking forward to trying this out and seeing if I’d like to add yet another side hustle to my growing list, LOL.
Have you heard of Uber? Would you want to be a driver?
If you hadn’t seen it, I posted an “Ask Crystal Anything” article yesterday that received some great questions. One of them was from Debs at http://debtdebs.com/:
Q: How did you get your clients when you first started dog sitting? We’re thinking of doing this but don’t know how to get started.
I answered pretty quickly with:
I sold myself hard on Craigslist. I also posted 2-3 ads on Craigslist for about 7 days straight (one each in several categories like pet services, community, etc.) and set my phone alarm to remind me to renew them every 3-5 days.
In those placements, I listed out my experience from personal pet sitting, my volunteer work with animal groups, and put emphasis on my dependability and professionalism. I also priced myself slightly lower than my competition in the beginning month to grab my first jobs and earn my awesome references. Now I charge more than most of my competition but am busier than ever because I’ve built a reputation for amazing customer service for my human and animal clients.
I still create a new Craigslist post once or twice a week and renew my old ones or repost when they expire.
Other Ways I Reached Out
Here’s one of the signs on my car door…
It skipped my mind that I did other stuff to market myself too:
- Magnetic signs on my car door
- Printed business cards and hand them out frequently (I also leave little stacks at local restaurants when they have a spot for it)
- Created a profile at Care.com
- Created a profile at Sittercity.com
- Posted about my new service on my home owner’s association website
- Posted my services on Nextdoor.com
- Let all of my friends and family know about it and they help spread the word
- Leave summaries of my longer visits and all of my contact info is only every page
- My contact info is automatically added to every email and I make sure to make it obvious on all Craigslist posts.
I am also considering other types of small business marketing like placing my business cards in every neighbor’s door possible, taping them to the group mailboxes like the lawn guys do, and maybe even making small leaflets. Craigslist has just been my biggest draw so far – I know because my pre-care checklist has a question about how they found me.
There you go for anybody looking to start a service-oriented side hustle! Good luck!
Can you think of any other great personal marketing methods for small businesses and hobby jobs?
I love what I do professionally right now. I run my online business in the hours I have between pet sitting jobs. I also get to see my friends regularly to hang out and have a good time. In general, this is the life for me. BUT, what if I hadn’t found my spot yet? Here are the career options I had thought about pursuing before I discovered my niche.
Before I started college, I thought about getting a masters degree in accounting and finance since the field seemed up my alley. I love managing money and enjoy the geeky side of finance. But record keeping is tedious to me, and I only do it to make my husband’s job easier each April for filing our taxes. As much as I’d love one part of being an accountant, I decided that the job as a whole was not a perfect fit for me.
During college, I chose to major in “Marketing” in the business college and to concentrate specifically on advertising classes. Creating ad campaigns for large companies would be fun to me. Just try to mentally picture the commercials or billboards that I would come up with for products like toilet paper, fast food, or clothing stores.
To give you an example, I thought a great toilet tissue commercial could be a quick showing of everything we put our butts through. Try to imagine a montage of sitting in traffic, sitting at work, bumping into furniture, cautiously lowering yourself onto a hemorrhoids ring in a chair, a person leaving a colonoscopy appointment, etc. Then it would cut to someone doing an exuberant butt-shaking dance when they see that their spouse started stocking their bathroom with the specific brand of toilet tissue that I am in charge of promoting. I think that would sell toilet paper.
Despite my enthusiasm, I quickly figured out from advertising interviews that the field is EXTREMELY competitive, and the horror stories of back-stabbing and people clawing their way to the top just put me off.
I enjoy people. I love promoting the happy things in life. Dealing with a constant demand for better and the negativity of crazy coworkers just sounded like a mini-hell for me. So I kept looking for other career ideas despite graduating with that Marketing degree anyway.
This was a short-lived idea. My husband started pursuing teaching about 6 months after we graduated from college. It looked like something I could be good at, so I took the pre-certification tests and aced them shortly after he started teaching 8th grade science. But I then saw what he was going through regularly with unsupportive administrations, teenagers and pre-teens that hated the world, parents blind to their children’s insanity, and even the back-stabbing actions of fellow teachers that would gladly throw someone else under the bus to cover their own short-comings. I started looking for other ideas again.
Pet Boarding Facility
I actually wrote about my idea for Crystal’s Cozy Kennels here in September 2010! My idea was to buy an acre or two of land in an acceptable area and build an air-conditioned pet boarding facility. I sort of forgot about it after my online business took over my time.
Then my oldest dog passed away this past February, and I pushed myself into my new side hustle – Crystal’s Cozy Care. It didn’t require any start-up costs other than gas and time. As it grew in March, I invested more money into it and got myself insured, bought business cards, and even have magnetic signs for my car now. It still has low costs, makes about $1000 a month, and is a lot of fun for me. As side hustles/hobby jobs go, this is definitely the one for me.
I don’t regret my path taken so far in my work life. My online business fulfills my marketing background and my pet sitting gets me close to animals nearly every day. I have unintentionally covered my bases. Yay for the subconscious pushing us to where we need to be!
Do you enjoy your current job? Have any others in mind?
There are opportunity costs for everything in life. Every choice made means there were paths not taken. Nothing defines “opportunity costs” like a small business though. My pet sitting business only has one of me and when I take a job, I am limiting my options for other jobs. I’ve been working this out the hard way.
Not So Bad in the Beginning
When I first started Crystal’s Cozy Care in February, I took any job that I could get. I craved to grow quickly and word of mouth is gold to service businesses. Since I wasn’t being offered many positions, it’s not like taking one across town would mean I’d need to skip a job around my home. It just meant that I needed to stay around their home to conserve gas and bring my own food to conserve money. My opportunity costs were low no matter what job I accepted since there weren’t many options.
Now, I shoot myself in the foot if I stray from a 10 mile radius of my house. I still have a few days here and there that are open, but in general, I am pet sitting at 2+ places per day. My top so far has been 4 different jobs in one day. That’s TOO MUCH driving if they aren’t close to home.
My opportunity costs for taking the “wrong” job have skyrocketed. Just last week, I worked a 1 week job about an hour away from my home. It was also for less than my normal rate because $350 sounded like a fortune to me when I booked it in late April. Now, I would get $420-$560 for a week of overnights. I ended up having to drive back three different days simply not to skip jobs near my home that I am hoping to turn into regulars. That was entirely too much driving, which ate into my profit. I spent $85 on gasoline over those 7-8 days.
I obviously wouldn’t back out of the gig though since my word is gold. I follow through on my agreements. But I did let the family know of my new rates at the end of the job so that they could replace me if necessary in the future.
Think It Out
Don’t ignore the opportunity costs in the decisions you make either. Any time you agree to something even though you really didn’t want to do it/go/attend/etc, you are giving up that opportunity for enjoying something else. If money is involved, one decision means that you skipped others. Think carefully about the choices that you make every day to ensure that you don’t regret a missed opportunity elsewhere.
What do you think? Have you regretted some of your roads not taken?