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This millennial mom built a $1 million business—her top 3 productivity hacks for starting a side hustle

Julie Berninger.
Photo by Sisino Photography

Julie Berninger has always had a side hustle. Even as she worked in tech by day, the now Massachusetts-based 33-year-old kept a blog, was producing a podcast and started an Etsy shop where she sold printable items like bachelorette party scavenger hunts.

"I always was doing a million different things and even before the side hustles I was getting my master's online while working," she says.

In 2019, Berninger founded Gold City Ventures with her partner, Cody Berman, a business of online courses focused on side gigs. Their most popular is a course about starting an Etsy store for printable items like the one she herself has. In 2021, Gold City Ventures brought in $1 million in revenue. She quit her job at Amazon in July 2021 to focus full time on the business.  

Berninger knows part of her success came from getting hired for jobs that paid well enough that she could invest time and resources into these projects. Still, after years of balancing the many activities she took on in her day-to-day, and now as a mom of one with far less time on her hands, she's picked up a few productivity hacks.

For anyone looking to dive into gigs outside of work, here are some of Berninger's tips to do so.

Do the strategic thinking throughout your day

Since the birth of her daughter in 2019, Berninger has had a lot less time to devote solely to building her businesses. But she's found that some of that work doesn't need to be done in front of a computer. Instead, she can move her projects forward even as she's engaged in other activities.

"There was a lot of time where I was just up really late at night with [my daughter] and even during the day where I couldn't sit down on a desktop computer," she says. "But I could think." And that time to think allowed her to solve problems and make plans, even if only mentally.

She'd use whatever minutes she could during or between activities to consider what might add value to her businesses and write those thoughts down in her Notes app. Whenever she finally had a spare moment, she would implement.

"You can be doing the thinking part when you're out and about your day," she says. You don't necessarily need to be glued to your computer having allotted a several-hour slot to just doing that.

Give yourself 'little rewards'

Another productivity hack Berninger uses: "little rewards."

"When I'd go to the coffee shop, I would order the dessert or whatever I actually wanted," she says. That would fill her with a sense of momentary pride and joy and help inspire her to keep moving forward.

"People can set little rewards for themselves if they reach certain milestones," she says. "I think that motivates" them.

There's proof that that's true. A 2018 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that getting an immediate reward led to a 20% increase in people sticking to a task.  

Hire outside help to scale

Regardless of project, Berninger has often leaned into contractors and freelancers to do some of the work those projects required.

When it came to her blog, for example, "I would have them do an initial outline in writing of articles and then I would kind of pretty it up and finish the articles," she says. This could cost $100 per 500-word article, for example, and would cut some of the time she would've had to spend writing.

She's also hired people to do social media marketing, video editing and administrative work like answering emails. The thinking is, "if I can scale myself, then I can get all of this done" more quickly and really grow her various businesses, she says.

"Not everyone can do that," she says, because not everyone has discretionary cash to spend on hiring help. But if you do, she recommends considering the investment.

Social media managers on Fiverr charge as little as $5 per project.

Check out:

This 34-year-old mom's Etsy store brought in nearly $160,000 in 2021: How she built her side hustle while working full time

This 26-year-old turned her side hustle into a $170,000-per-year business: '4 things I wish I knew sooner'

4 side hustles for recent college graduates: One can pay as much as $85 per hour

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I quit my $35K job to grow my side hustle — now it brings in $141 million a year
I quit my $35K job to grow my side hustle — now it brings in $141 million a year