F-M entrepreneurs are taking passion projects and turning them into paying side hustles
About a third of Americans have a side hustle, and more are looking to harness the skills they have or learn new ones to feed their souls and pad their bank accounts.
MOORHEAD - By day, Chris Stenson is a business intelligence cost analyst for Sanford Health, figuring out the dollars and cents for transplants and other medical procedures.
But his side hustle is a Walter Mitty life, writing about werewolves and whatever else strikes his fancy.
Ben Myhre used to be a full-time software engineer for Sundog in Fargo.
Then his side hustle became an all-consuming passion.
Now the man who helped write the parody “Fifty Shades of Bacon” is a food blogger with Ramshackle Pantry, while also doing website support for other food bloggers.
Then there’s Emma Vatnsdal, a marketing services coordinator for RDO Equipment Co.
Vatnsdal is the queen of the hustle, taking on side jobs in social media marketing, freelance writing, and working at a pet salon. It’s a workload that would make some say, “Woof!”
The trio are part of a sea of faces in side hustle nation.
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According to a Zapier survey , just over a third of Americans in the workforce have taken on a second, third, or even a fourth job to pay their bills, stash some cash, and indulge their personal passions.
The Zapier survey, conducted by The Harris Poll and released in January, also found that about one in four Americans intended to take up a side hustle in 2021, with another 27% still deciding to add a side gig or not.
The Zapier data also showed that many side hustles are relatively new. Two thirds of Americans with a side hustle started it within the past three years and about three in 10 had started their side job in 2020.
In the books
Stenson has been an accountant for about 30 years, working as a cost accountant and financial analyst for 15 years for John Deere before sliding over to Sanford.
But he also showed promise as a writer early on, winning contests as a youth, and going to conferences. He had a creative writing minor in college.
“Then I got married, got a job, had a child. Life got in the way. So I stopped writing for 20-plus years,” Stenson said Tuesday, Sept. 7.
Their family was packing to move when his daughter found a manuscript.
She “bugged me and bugged me” and “told me I should finish what I started. She convinced me to start writing again.”
The literary work helps round out his life, though it's not making him rich, he said.
And it requires discipline.
“I get up early in the morning. I watch very, very little television. And whenever I have 15 or 20 minutes, I’m writing or thinking of writing. Most mornings I’m up before 5:30. I take the dog for a walk, then I write for an hour before going to work,” Stenson said.
So far this year, the leader of the Moorhead Friends Writing Group has seen two of his short stories published, including the werewolf story “Roadkill Surprise” for a horror magazine.
He’s got two short stories due before the end of the month and a winter-themed story to finish, so he’s busy.
A happy hustle has to have some passion, Stenson says.
“I had a passion for accounting growing up. But you know after 30 years, it’s kind of waned a bit. Everyone needs to find their passion. Either their main job has to be a passion or their side hustle has to be a passion. Most of us work more than 40 hours a week and you gotta love what you’re doing, whether it’s your main job or it’s your hustle,” he said.
He’s also working to sell a novel.
“Hopefully, my side hustle becomes my main hustle someday,” Stenson said.
Eyes on the prize
According to a Zapier survey, 46% percent of Americans polled who have a side hustle said they were motivated to start it by the prospect of creating passive income (for example, rental income, a limited partnership, or some other business where they didn’t have to be actively involved).
Those polled had other financial goals, too. Diversifying income was cited by 33%, saving for a specific financial goal by 25%, and for a specific purchase, 23%.
There are also non-financial reasons for starting a side hustle, according to those polled:
- 38% want to do something fun or that they enjoy.
- 28% want to develop new skills
- 16% want to test a business idea.
The seventh annual Freelance Forward study, produced in mid-2020 for Upwork, estimates that 59 million Americans had done part-time or full-time freelance work in 2019.
The work they did freelancing produced about $1.2 trillion in earnings..
‘I just like being busy’
Vatnsdal has developed multiple revenue streams, learning skills along the way that eventually landed her a job at RDO in Fargo.
It’s been a change for the former reporter and digital producer at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead.
“It’s very fun. It’s different for sure … really interesting and really eye-opening,” Vatnsdal said.
She started her first side hustle in fall 2019, working for a media company doing social media marketing, writing captions and scheduling social media posts for clients.
After she left The Forum, she missed writing, so she took up freelancing for Fargo’s Urban Toad Media, writing articles for The Good Life Magazine.
She also works one day a week as a “front-of-the-house” person for Hotdog! Pet Salon in Moorhead . It was a job she did before the pandemic shutdowns, and returned to when the shop reopened.
The payoff for Vatnsdal? It’s paying down school loans, and house and car payments, and making “life just a little bit easier.”
“I don’t ever like feeling like I’m getting stretched too thin,” she said. “I’m able to live a little bit more comfortably than I would be able to otherwise. And it just so happens that everything I chose to do is in my wheelhouse. …. The social media marketing and the freelance articles, things like that, I mean it worked out perfectly.”
To be successful at dancing from one hustle to another requires being careful not to overschedule. You won’t get to see family and friends as often as you’d like “because you have to get your stuff done,” she said.
“Organization is key. I live by my planner now,” Vatnsdal said. “Make sure you have enough time to do everything. While it’s not hard to do everything, it sometimes can get to be that way. So … keep everything in perspective. Be sure you have your ducks in a row. And get ready not to sleep as much as you’d like to.”
She recommends the side hustle life.
“There’s a lot of benefits to it, living comfortably being the main one,” Vatnsdal said.
Trending on TikTok
For many, the definition of a perfect job is one that doesn’t feel like work.
For those who’ve grown up as digital natives, having a recognized social media presence or being a social media “influencer” is a natural way to hustle.
Siwei Zhu, an assistant professor of entrepreneurship at Minnesota State University Moorhead’s Paseka School of Business , said he regularly sees students who are working to create a passive stream of income on TikTok or YouTube.
“They have a whole new idea about part-time jobs,” he said.
Top social media influencers can earn tens of thousands of dollars per post, and the top bankable stars in the entertainment industry may earn $1 million a post.
That’s not likely to happen for Joe or Jill Average. But earning even a small fraction of that sort of cash may be attractive as a passive income, Zhu said.
“For the new generation, they aren’t expecting a lot of money, but there is a possibility that they can earn a lot,” Zhu said Wednesday, Sept. 8.
With the power of a cell phone and apps, it’s easy to start a part-time job, Zhu said.
“Students don’t treat it as a part time job. They’ve started a part time job and don’t realize it’s a part time job,” Zhu said.
Biting into a new career
Myhre turned his side hustle into a full-time job.
The former software engineer at Sundog now runs ramshacklepantry.com , a food blog he started in 2017. It’s there he shares recipes and explores food history.
He jumped into food writing with a parody recipe book, written with a friend and published in 2012, named “ Fifty Shades of Bacon .”
“What ‘50 Shades of Bacon’ did for me was kind of lit ideas up. You can do interesting things and make a living that way, if you can figure out how to make that happen,” Myhre said.
The Ramshackle Pantry takes up about half of his work time. Much of the rest of his efforts are given over to working with NerdPress, a California-based firm that provides website support to other online content creators, primarily food bloggers.
He also manages a rental duplex that he and his wife, Ashley, own.
“I got a few irons in the stove,” he said with a chuckle.
Ashley, who also has a full-time job, does photography and video work for Ramshackle Pantry, Myhre said.
“It’s also her side hustle,” he said. “She’s had a camera for a while and she enjoys doing that. … She volunteered to help, thank goodness, because she has a way better creative eye than I do in terms of images and video.”
Myhre’s tips for side hustling success?
“First, manage your risk. Don’t spend too much, stay within your means and try to make that work,” he said. “When I did ‘Fifty Shades of Bacon,’ I could have spent a lot of money on it. Well you kind of have to pick and choose what you want to spend money on, because there are a million people out there who will take your money for not very much value. And then it becomes a very unprofitable thing.
“Second piece of advice: Find what you want to do and do it. Life’s too short not to do the stuff you want to do,” Myhre said. It just takes some persistence and willingness to take a risk on something new.
Managing expectations and resilience are important, too.
“Things don’t always work out as planned. You have to kind of roll with the punches and figure it out along the way,” Myhre said. “(At) 10 o’clock at night, the website breaks, you have to figure it out. … Who knows what’s going to happen tomorrow? Hopefully everything runs smoothly, but you just kind of work your way through that. “I enjoy that. I enjoy that a lot. I enjoy that I created the lifestyle that I want to live. It’s not for everybody but I enjoy it.”