Not every successful hustler started out with a dream (or a plan) to be an entrepreneur. Sometimes, as with many other happy accidents, people stumble onto building their own business. And in the case of personal finance writer and marketer Desirae Odjick, that’s precisely what happened.
This Ottawa-based entrepreneur spends her days slinging copy at her full-time job as well as in her growing side business. She’s up to her ears in words on a daily basis.
In her nine-to-five life, she works as a Content Marketer for the Shopify Ecommerce blog, creating marketing content to help online entrepreneurs build businesses of their own. In her “free” time, she builds and maintains Half Banked, her personal finance blog, which has propelled her to become a Millennial money expert and a prolific personal finance writer.
While she didn’t necessarily set out to create a side hustle for herself, she’s learned a lot of valuable lessons along the way—and now she’s sharing them to help aspiring and newbie entrepreneurs.
Building a business from scratch (without setting out to build a business)
Desirae has long had an interest in money—how to save, spend, and maximize what you make. She spent time reading through other personal finance blogs to learn more about the basics, which inspired her to dig deeper into her own finances.
Then, just a few years ago, Desirae’s interest in budgeting and personal finance led her to challenge herself: Could she save half her income consistently every month?
It was this self-imposed challenge that sparked her to create her blog, Half Banked. Originally, her intention was to simply document her journey to save half her income and hold herself accountable as she worked to meet her financial goals.
“It was very much a passion project,” she says. “I wanted a creative outlet to write about a topic that I cared about. I wanted to build a body of work because, even if this had never made me any money, I looked at it as an investment in skill building.”
But what began as a simple method of accountability has organically evolved into a full-fledged entrepreneurial venture. Financial tech (often referred to as FinTech) and finance-related organizations began reaching out to ask Desirae if she would work with them to create similar content that’s conversational and easy to digest for the average reader.
“Finding people who can write about money in a way people actually want to read is something that companies are looking for,” she said.
Particularly in the marketing department, managers at companies both big and small are juggling a variety of tasks—and writing effective content, especially for a niche like personal finance, may not be one of their skills.
So, her blog grew from documenting her own financial trials and tribulations to acting as a portfolio.
How to juggle a career and a side business
Leverage your expertise—and grow slowly
As a content creator and seasoned marketer, Desirae uses her expertise to help companies in a variety of ways, but she didn’t offer all of those services at the beginning. Instead, she grew her list of services little by little.
For example, she’s recently taken on more marketing-focused projects. Working with smaller companies, she runs and pitches affiliate programs for organizations looking to connect with bloggers, audited their websites, and more.
“This is mostly for small companies who may not have a marketer in house, or may not have someone on their team who has a deeper understanding of what people are looking for in terms of the user experience, [like] what information to have on your website to make people say ‘Oh OK, I’ll trust you with my money.”
She says that her financial clients struggle with their own unique challenge: gaining the trust of their customers. And they’re calling on Desirae’s expertise to help build that foundation of trust with useful content and the right information.
“It’s so easy to think that you can put up a landing page and collect email signups and just go from there,” she says. “There’s a kind of a higher burden of proof that you need people to trust you. [Money] is a sensitive topic, and there certain things you can do from a marketing standpoint to move that along.”
Take on projects that are the right fit for your business
When you’re working full time and running your own business, your time is at a premium. With so little time to spare, entrepreneurs juggling both need to exercise judgement about which contracts have the best payoff—financially and otherwise.
Desirae admits that early on, she fell into the trap of saying “yes” to too many things at once, and she knows many other freelancers struggle with the same challenge.
“I started saying ‘yes’ to everything because I thought if I said ‘no,’ that nothing else would come my way. It felt like I’d be jinxing it,” she said.
At one point, Desirae was writing 10 articles a week on top of her full-time job. She worked diligently on her freelance projects every evening until she fell asleep and during her weekends until she hit a wall: she burned out.
Now, Desirae is “very cautious” about what projects she takes on, pointing out that she no longer says “yes” to every offer that comes her way. As a matter of fact, she’s had to turn away projects with well-known, well-paying companies because it just didn’t make sense for her business.
And in spite of her previous fear of “jinxing” her business, learning to say “no” when appropriate has helped her business grow.
“When you say ‘no’ to projects that just don’t make sense for you, you leave space for better things to come your way.”
Know your audience
Because she’s taken the time to grow her blog organically, Desirae has built a loyal and engaged audience on Half Banked. So, when organizations reach out to her to promote services or content on her blog, she can quickly suss out whether it would resonate with her audience.
“I would honestly be talking about some of these companies, even if they didn’t pay me,” she says. “It’s been great working with companies, like WealthSimple [and] EQ Bank, that I used before they even approached me in a way that monetizes the blog and makes it a sustainable side project.”
In her case, Half Banked boasts an engaged millennial audience that’s “ready to level up their financial lives,” according to her site. Half of her readers are between 25 and 34, and an additional 20% are between 18 to 24. Most of them live in Canada and the U.S., and 65% of them are women.
When potential clients can review this data on her site (found under the “Work With Me” tab), they can also ensure they would get sufficient value when marketing to her audience as well.
Moving forward with your own business
While Desirae’s freelance business is unique, the lessons she’s learned in her time as a writer and content marketing apply to lots of different kinds of entrepreneurs.
And now that you know a bit more about blogging and content marketing as a freelancer, you can take some of these learnings and apply them to your own side hustle.
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