Although she loved interior design and real estate, Erin Heilig spent most of her professional career working for a major pharmaceutical company. With a salary of nearly $200,000, she was paid well for her work.
“I thought about leaving to pursue design before, but I liked my job,” she says. “The stability of my job, my salary, and perks like a 401(k) match always held me back.”
However, that all changed when the company announced that it was shutting down Erin’s division. After 15 years with the organization, she suddenly found herself without a job. Using the layoff as an opportunity, Erin’s now running her own business as an interior designer and realtor and making serious money.
Balancing a side hustle with a full-time job
Erin has always been interested in decor and home design.
“I’ve loved design for as long as I can remember,” she says. “It really came through in my junior high years when I got to decorate my bedroom. Then, when I bought my first home, I got interested not just in design, but real estate.”
Like many, Erin indulged her interests by working on the side. She got her realtor license over a decade ago, but it was always a small side project. She worked with clients looking to buy and sell homes. As a natural extension, she started offering her services as an interior decorator.
“I had no intention to pursue real estate or interior design as a career,” she says. “It was a part-time interest and hobby.”
Erin worked with clients on nights and weekends, selling a few houses per year. With a demanding full-time job, she was limited in how much time she could dedicate to her side hustle.
“People encouraged me to pursue real estate full time, but I was only selling a couple of houses a year,” she says. “The practical side of me said to hold out and stay with my regular job.”
Facing an unexpected layoff
A few weeks before Christmas in 2016, Erin found out that her employer was shutting down her division. She and her coworkers were going to be laid off.
She immediately thought about finding another job with a similar company. But friends and family members encouraged her to explore other opportunities.
“My friends said, ‘You’ve always wanted to leave, so here’s your chance,'” she recalls.
The idea of her income dropping was scary and intimidating. It was no longer about making extra money on the side; it was about living off those earnings.
“Dropping from nearly $200,000 to a third of that was a hard pill to swallow,” she says.
However, the freedom in her new role as a realtor and interior designer encouraged her to move forward.
“My corporate life was defined by answering emails, attending meetings, and creating and revising PowerPoints,” she says. “So much of that didn’t pay to my strengths. With real estate and design, I can use my strengths, such as negotiating.”
With a goal in mind, Erin launched her business full time.
“I figured that in a worst-case scenario where I failed, I could return to the corporate world,” she says. “But I’m a hustler, I work hard, and I knew I’d figure this out.”
Turning her side hustle into a successful business
As Erin transitioned from a full-time office job to working for herself, she faced some unexpected challenges.
“At my [former] company, I enjoyed the structure of it,” she says. “There weren’t any unknowns. I knew what my mission was every day. On my own, I struggled with a lack of structure. It surprised me. I wasn’t as disciplined as I thought.”
She tackled this problem by setting up a dedicated workspace in her home and switched to a paper calendar.
“I know it sounds odd, but an old-fashioned calendar helped me see everything at once and kept me focused,” she says.
Like many new business owners, Erin worried about making her new endeavor profitable. She took on every new project she could, even when she didn’t have enough time.
“I took on far too much early on,” she says. “You don’t want to say no to anything because you need the work, but you can’t do it all. I had to force myself to say no to new clients so I could have enough time to work on each project.”
Soon, she found a system and workflow that worked for her. Her business started to become profitable.
“I made about $60,000 my first year,” she says. “I’m on target this year to make double that, and I expect to match my old salary by my third year.”
Taking a side hustle to the next level
For Erin, the layoff was an opportunity to fully dedicate herself to her business. It’s a gamble that paid off for her and has the potential to become even more lucrative going forward.
Erin knows firsthand how turning your side gig into a full-time job can be intimidating. However, she recommends taking calculated risks to reach your goal.
“My advice would be that when the transition is right for you, you’ll know,” she says. “When a change is necessary, just do it — take the opportunity. Make the decision and be fully committed.”
Ready to start your own business? Check out this list of potential side hustles for ideas.
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