Liv Hall and her dog Kona at Currumbin Creek.
Liv Hall and her dog Kona at Currumbin Creek. Jerad Williams

Making your passion pay off

More than 80 per cent of Australians are interested; one in 10 is already doing it and modern communications have made it easier than ever.

Of course we're talking about the "side hustle”, a small business venture outside a regular job to bring in some extra income or simply indulge a hobby or passion.

Statistics show about 760,000 Australians are officially earning an income outside their main employment with modern communications technology making it easier than ever to launch and run a sideline after hours.

Specialist microbusiness adviser and author of The One Minute Commute Robert Gerrish says not all side hustles necessarily set out to be money-making ventures but he's seen many transform into highly successful businesses.

"The beauty of the side hustle is it lets people do some experimenting in the world of commerce, whether they intend to or not,” he says.

"With relatively low risk, they can find out their strengths and their weaknesses in business even if they're just starting up a passion project.”

Indeed it's worth bearing in mind Apple started as a side gig with founders Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak building computers in the Jobs family garage in their spare time while each worked in tech industry jobs.

Lifeguard Liv Hall, 24, has no such plans for world domination. She launched her business Salty Pet Supply as a way of expressing her creative side.

"I love my job but I wanted to do something where I could be creative,” she says. "I looked at the bikini market but that was so cluttered.

"So I thought 'What do I love more than bikinis?' and that was my dogs.”

Liv says the idea of doggie beach accessories came to her from watching the sheer numbers of dogs and their owners strolling on the beach every day.

"I decided to come up with my own products when I couldn't find anything that I personally liked for my own dogs,” she says.

Liv's dogs, Kona the chocolate labrador and Penelope the french bulldog, were the perfect product testers for her range of collars, harnesses, leads and a lifevest.

The two are Liv's faithful companions on her stand-up paddleboard. In fact, Liv and Kona are the reigning Surfing Queensland PUPs on SUPs 500m short course champions after taking out the title in October.

"I started stand-up paddle boarding when I was training for the Maui Jim Shootout event in Hawaii,” Liv says. "One of the disciplines in the event was the SUP and I thought it would be good to involve the dogs in a bit of activity with me at weekends.

"They loved it, although sometimes they'd get distracted and they might jump off into the water.”

Enter the doggie lifejacket. Liv's distinctive design features a novelty fin, just for a bit of fun.

"I wanted my stuff to be bright and beachy, to represent where we are from,” she says. "I wanted everything to be quick drying for dogs going in and out of the water and strong, able to stand up to salt water and the beach.”

Liv spent 18 months doing her homework, designing and researching manufacturers, testing the market through her network before launching her online shop three months ago.

"The part I like is getting creative,” Liv says. "It works in well with lifeguarding and my lifestyle. For me, it really is just something on the side.”

University lecturer Susan Sullivan taught herself to make kokedamas, Japanese-inspired ornamental plants.
University lecturer Susan Sullivan taught herself to make kokedamas, Japanese-inspired ornamental plants.

University lecturer Susan Sullivan says her sideline is also her therapy. Susan taught herself to make kokedamas - Japanese-inspired ornamental plants growing in balls of soil and moss - after seeing one at a garden centre that she thought was "obscenely expensive”.

The solo mum of four went online to see if she could learn to make one for herself and that was the start of an almost accidental business.

"I'm not arty and crafty and not a green thumb so it was trial and error but I found it so therapeutic,” she says. "I hadn't had a hobby for so many years. Who's got time for a hobby when you're working and running around four kids?

"I just made them for myself and when people visited and admired them, I'd give them one and make a replacement.”

In the lead-up to last Christmas she decided to book a stall at the local weekend markets to test whether there was much interest in them - or whether her family and friends were just humouring her.

"They were very well received so I decided to set up a Facebook page and a website for them and it's really gone from there.”

Kokedamas are hardy creations, with the plants growing in a mix of soil and peat moss wrapped in sphagnum. Susan now packages and couriers them to buyers in four Australian states (Northern Territory, Tasmania and Western Australia have quarantine restrictions).

"I just find it a really relaxing thing to do. After a hard day at work, there's something therapeutic about beautiful plants and making mudballs and tying it all up with string.

"I do it after work two to three times a week and it's a real labour of love. My rule is if I don't feel like it, I don't do it.”

Susan puts the money she earns from her side hustle in a separate account and uses it for supplies and anything left over is her travel fund for holidays and weekends away. Her first big trip was, where else, but Japan.

"I don't want it to become bigger than Ben Hur,” she says. "That's not why I do it. For me, it's just lovely to be around beautiful things.”

But despite early intentions, microbusiness expert Robert Gerrish says he's seen many side hustles grow into demanding businesses.

"That's actually a good thing,” he says. "I've seen people use their side hustles to test their products or concepts and step away from their jobs to build very successful businesses, but some people can get to a point where they're just struggling to do both.

"I advise people to see what it feels like when they get 20 people wanting to buy something and they have to spend their weekends in their garage wrapping things.

"One thing I always ask is: Are you still enjoying this?”

Robert says it's also important to remember it doesn't have to be a choice between your job and your sideline.

"There are always options. See if you can work one less day a week in your job or whether it's worth paying someone to give you a hand with the routine stuff in your busy times.”

Robert urges prospective side hustlers not to be put off by the figures that get trotted out about small business failure rates.

"Those figures are taken on business registrations,” he says. "There are lots of people who register a business and simply lose interest in it and they might go on to register another business name.

"It makes the so-called 'failure rate' look much worse than it really is. My best advice is to just go ahead. It's such easy entry these days and if you can do it around what you can afford, it's a low-risk way to learn some new things and hopefully have a bit of fun.”

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