Money

I made $70,000 through this side hustle at 27—while working a full-time job. Here's how I did it

Bola Sokunbi
Credit: Bola Sokunbi

Eleven years ago, when I was 27, I reached one of my proudest financial milestones: I had amassed more than $100,000 in savings — and I did it in just three years.

One of the biggest things that helped me accelerate my savings was taking on side hustles. I highly recommend everyone consider starting one at some point, even if it's just for a short period of time.

I've done just about every side hustle you can imagine, from selling Avon products to my mom's friends to starting an online retail store for bridal accessories.

But Onada Photography, the wedding photography business that I started in my early-20s, was my longest-running one. I did it for seven years, and it earned me the most amount of money of all my side hustles.

In one particular year, I made more than $70,000 total. A chunk of that money went toward my savings.

A natural interest

Growing up, my dad was always taking photos of our family. As a result, I developed an interest in photography.

But the idea to turn my hobby into a business came about during a trip to Jamaica for my friend's wedding. I had just purchased an inexpensive entry-level DSLR camera, which I took with me.

(From the author's wedding portfolio | Credit: Bola Sokunbi)

As luck would have it, the photographer was running late on the wedding day. My friend then turned to me and asked, "Would it be all right if you took a few photos while we wait for him to arrive?"

I was more than happy to do it, and photos I took turned out better than I expected. More importantly, my friend loved them. It was then and there that I decided to make some money out of my photography skills.

A self-taught photographer

Getting started was the biggest hurdle. I was nervous to put myself out there, but I knew that if I didn't try, I'd never know if it was something I could be successful doing.

I created a simple website using the photos I took at my friend's wedding, set up my first ad on Craigslist and asked everyone I knew to spread the word.

I had so much to learn, and I really needed to expand my portfolio, so I decided to shoot the first wedding for free.

(Pictured above: The author, Bola Sokunbi)

To further build on my skills and knowledge, I read books, watched videos, took workshops and practiced taking photos of my friends and family.

Once I had a solid portfolio, I felt confident in charging clients for my services. I charged $300 per wedding. But as I did more events, my client base grew and my services became increasingly in demand.

So I finally upped my rates to between $2,000 and $5,000, which was — and still is — pretty standard. Some photographers charge up to $10,000, but it really depends on factors like shoot duration and location.

Slow and steady

If you're starting a side hustle, it's important to take things slowly so you don't operate on a negative balance. It took me about two years to turn a decent profit.

My goal was to build a business with zero debt, so I opened a business savings account. Once I paid my business taxes, I invested the rest of the money back into Onada Photography (e.g. purchasing high-quality equipment, better editing software, travel expenses).

With better quality equipment and better skills, I had mastered the art of photography. My dedication earned me solid reviews and several awards.

(Recognition and awards for Onada Photography)

As my business grew more successful, I expanded my services and offered lifestyle photo sessions. (These are less time-consuming and capture day-to-day activities and normal life scenarios, such as family and engagement portraits). I charged between $300 and $450 for those.

Hustling is hard work

There is no substitute for hard work, and I worked tirelessly at my side hustle the year I made $70,000.

That year, in addition to my full-time job (where I worked an average of 60 hours per week), I photographed more than 19 weddings and countless lifestyle sessions. I won't try to downplay anything: there were times when I felt burned out, discouraged, frustrated and stressed.

(Onada Photography's business profile on WeddingWire.com)

I remember incredibly crazy summer months, where I was doing back-to-back weddings on Friday night, and then all of Saturday and Sunday. In the evenings and early mornings before I went to work, I was sorting and editing photos on my computer.

Running a side hustle takes patience, an open mind and a strong willingness to learn. But the rewards trump all of that! While I was exhausted, I was happy to be making all that extra money on the side. More importantly, I was proud of myself for not giving up when things got difficult.

Ultimately, I had to say goodbye to my business. It wouldn't have been possible for me to keep it running, especially after I became a mother.

Now, at 38, I'm doing what I've always wanted to do: I founded Clever Girl Finance, a financial education platform aimed at providing women with financial guidance through easy to digest courses.

I sold most of my equipment for a nice sum, which I invested back into my retirement savings. I still kept the camera, though, along with a few nice lenses. I may be working on a ton of other stuff, but I'll never be too busy to take photographs of my own family.

Bola Sokunbi is a certified financial education instructor, money expert and author of "Clever Girl Finance."

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