Pay Dirt

My Side Gig Is Booming. Now I’m Rethinking Everything.

I can’t manage the demand.

A hand piping icing on a cake.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by LightFieldStudios/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Pay Dirt,

About a year and a half ago, I started a small side gig baking and decorating cakes and cupcakes. I’ve always loved baking and I made a small, decorated cake for my sister’s baby shower. A few people loved it and asked me if I’d be willing to make them one for an event or another for a small fee. I figured it would be a fun way to make some extra spending money on top of my income from my full-time job. However, it’s absolutely blown up.

I started an Instagram with pictures of my desserts and business exploded. I really, really love doing this and I’m so happy that my hobby is generating real income and making people happy during special occasions in their lives. But it’s getting to the point where I have to turn people away because I just can’t manage the demand plus my full-time job. My question is, should I transition to baking being my full-time job? I wouldn’t need to outsource accounting or marketing (I’ve spent six-plus years as a full-time accountant and my partner works in marketing and is happy to help). I know we could make it work financially, but there is a part of me that’s very nervous about taking the risk and leaving a stable/”boring” career to run my own little business. However, I also really do not like being an accountant—I just like the stable paycheck. When do people know that their side gigs are actually stable enough to become full-time jobs?

—Cakes, Cupcakes, and Cookies!

Dear Cakes,

Congrats on your side hustle success! Choosing to take your side business full-time is always a big decision. There are a few pieces to consider: 1) Do you want to be doing the work of the business full-time? 2) Can you handle the ups and downs of variable business income, financially and emotionally? 3) Is there enough profit potential to support your living expenses?

If you don’t love accounting but appreciate its stability, it’s worth considering how your mental health would be affected by the ups and downs of working on your cake business full-time. Your relationship with cake decorating might change if you need to hit a certain number of orders to pay your living expenses. For some people, once the side hustle becomes a full-time hustle and their financial well-being becomes tied to their creativity, the luster is lost. Consider if the contrast of a “boring” day job is what makes cake decorating fun.

Once you’ve thought that through, start considering logistics. Since you are an accountant, make a spreadsheet and figure out how many orders you need each week to make enough to pay your living and business expenses. Don’t forget to account for your operating costs and COGS. Would upping the orders you take require you to rent more commercial kitchen space? Would you need to increase your liability insurance? Would you be able to get enough orders to hit that number from your existing client list, or would you need to rent booth space at wedding shows or farmers markets? Because cake decorating is repetitive physical work, think about if your wrists can handle enough cakes to hit that goal.

If you don’t want the pressure of your decorating business as your sole income right away, consider reducing your hours at your accounting job. A part-time number cruncher position might give you the best of both worlds: stability and more time for cupcakes. If you decide to leap to a full-time business owner, aim to have six months of living expenses in savings. Don’t forget about the cost of replacing benefits you may get from your day job, such as health insurance. Good luck with building your frosted empire!

—Lillian

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