That sound you hear? It’s actually not jingle bells — it’s extra money pouring into Michael Stone’s bank account each month.
More Americans are taking on a side hustle to combat persistent inflation, according to a survey of 2,100 US consumers conducted by LendingTree. The survey found that 44% of Americans reported having have a side hustle, up from 39% in 2020, and that 71% of those who do aren’t sure they’d be able to pay their bills on time if that income suddenly went away. For some side hustlers, the holiday season is game time.
Stone and his wife Diana own Viola Grace Shop, a wrapping paper side hustle that has turned into a substantial income stream for them and their three children. The business, which licenses different patterns, then prints them onto rolls of paper on demand, has generated $150,000 in revenue so far in 2022, up from $97,000 in 2021, thanks to smart, sharp paper designs appropriate for holidays and special occasions throughout the year.
More importantly, the couple built up systems and outsourced along the way so that the side hustle wouldn’t take over their lives.
“We’re really happy with our current lifestyle and don’t want to grow it so much that we have to compromise on quality time with our kids or any of our other interests,” says Michael. “We’ve already outsourced our production and order fulfillment, and might outsource other stuff in the future. But for now, we’re happy with the progress and money our business is making.” The Stones now say they put in about an hour of effort a day to keep the business running.
If you’re curious about starting a side hustle, but need an approach that will produce mostly passive income, here’s how one family did it.
They Stumbled Upon the Idea by Accident
Back in 2016, Diana was working at her dad’s printing company and trying out different side hustles, none of which had panned out. A client of the printing company asked her father if customized wrapping paper was an option. Diana took the request and ran with it, and the client loved the results. The praise was a lightbulb moment for Diana, who noticed that the quality of the designs were what made the client feel taken care of.
The couple went on to test her idea as an Etsy shop for the next three years. They tested not only which designs were popular, but also how to position the bestsellers on their virtual storefront and in listings to increase overall sales.
“You want to have a variety of wrapping paper designs in your store, but you don’t want to clutter your website and prevent the designs that make the most money from being seen,” says Michael. Instead, he suggests that entrepreneurs give their designs a test run on marketplaces like Etsy and Amazon to see what designs are popular during different times of the year. He says the shop’s top design has earned over $30,000, and that the second best “is no slouch either” with $5,000 in sales.
“In May 2020, we decided to take the plunge and go full force with the business,” he says. The couple used this time to pivot off of Etsy, build a standalone website, and automate more of the production and shipping processes. Once the standalone store was up and running, Diana stepped back to become a full-time stay-at-home mom and work on the business part-time, while Michael focused on using his digital skills to manage the business’ daily operations.
Cast a Wide Net to Test Different Products
The Stones say their secret sauce during the Etsy days was to produce and test new designs as inexpensively as possible.
“Scoring design licenses on the cheap can give you an edge in this industry,” says Michael. “The more designs you offer customers, the better your chances of hitting it big with a design and getting repeat business.” He also says producing the product on-demand helps tremendously with inventory management, since they only stock and print paper when a customer orders it. “Even if we only get one sale, we still make enough to pay for the design rights.”
It’s unlikely that you’ll nail your side hustle or business idea on the first try. Set yourself up to test different options, then measure the results and see what performs best for you.
Viola Grace Shop made $97,000 in revenue in 2021, and has processed over $150,000 in transactions from January through November 2022, according to financial documents reviewed by NextAdvisor. Stone says if you’re into arts and crafts, this side hustle is perfect for you because you’ll get to consider and comb through lots of design options.
His top tips include:
- Figure out how to get good designs at low cost. You can hire in-house designers, buy from marketplaces, or build a relationship with a design shop.
- Remember that, in a print-on-demand business, product is secondary to the design. “A great design can sell any product,” says Michael.
- Study successful businesses in your industry. Look at what’s working for them, then try to replicate it — with your own perspective and personality, of course.
- Invest in social media ads and SEO to grow the business as fast as possible. You can’t passively wait for customers to come calling.
- Talk to your customers to learn more about their decision-making process. Your customers will give you feedback and answers you can see in an analytics panel or dashboard.
Launch Your Side Hustle Idea Today
Stone says the bigger your business grows, the more money you make. But you also have to do more. The family decided that their goal is to keep the business going at a rate where they only need to work on it for one to two hours a day maximum.
“Entrepreneurs often get too attached to their product and don’t prioritize design, but that’s a mistake,” says Michael. “If you want your business to take off, make sure you have awesome designs that customers dig.”
If you have an eye for design, a print-on-demand business might be the perfect side hustle to help you get closer to your financial independence goals.