The cost of living in Madison has risen over the past 11 years, while the minimum wage has stayed the same. Over the past decade, the minimum wage has stayed at a steady and low 7.25/hour, the living wage has increased by 21%. This pay gap can create large issues for people trying to improve their lives economically. While voting and pushing legislation to raise the minimum wage is critical, we also have to find ways to prosper with what we have now. The sad reality is, working low wage jobs is nothing new within our communities - but neither is creativity. This is where community and creativity creates: the side hustle.
An article on Marriam-Webster.com stated that the word Side hustle “appears to be centering on ‘work performed for income supplementary to one’s primary job.” Side hustles can come in many forms. Some start as passion projects, some are a gateway to entrepreneurship. No matter what the driving cause is, your side hustle has the potential to break generational curses of financial turmoil. With the rise of platforms such as Etsy, Facebook Marketplace, and Let Go, people are able to get their products to customers not only locally but nationwide as well.
Creating my own source of income was my way of breaking a generational curse of debt. My grandparents moved from rural Mississippi to Madison Wisconsin during the second Great Migration. My grandpa work at Oscar Myers’ and my grandma worked at General Motors. Their factory experiences molded how my family would view economic stability. Working tirelessly with a high output was celebrated. Working through illness and mental breakdowns was expected to get by. I remember thinking, “If I have to work this hard just to live, I don’t even want to think about what it takes to be successful”. This strenuous work ethic resulted in financial stability being the main focus of life and the cause of stress for generations following. I want that stress, and all of the mental and physical health effects that follow, to end with me.
I was working fulltime as a server when I decided to dive into my first side business. Prior to that moment, I was working multiple jobs to pay bills and debt. With the main job I had, it was hard for me to fit another job in my schedule. That’s how I ended up working for myself. My first two Booker Botanical products were body butter and house plants. My mom uses to send me back to the dorms with containers of body butter. I learned from her, after receiving requests from friends, how to blend oils and choose the right essential oils for the blend. I mainly sold butter sporadically but I always kept the skill in my back pocket when I was in a bind or needed to buy Christmas gifts. The plant portion of Booker Botanicals came from me diving deeper into my urban agriculture hobby. I would give rooted cuttings to close friends as gifts and everyone loved them. This is how I narrowed down the products I would start selling. Having a physical product to sell was appealing because I could work on mixing jars of butter or repotting plants when I got home from work at 10:00 pm. Utilizing my time to start creating and selling items online I was completely in control of my life, my hours, and my hustle. Before this, I had the mindset that I needed more hours working for someone else but in actuality, that was never going to get me to the financial place I wanted to be. And I'm not the only one who realized you can make a living hustling for yourself. I got the chance to talk to Madison local, Kaylahn, about her side hustlin'.
Kaylahn, one-half of the Keys with Caution, gave me a lot of insight on her journey. Kaylahn works as a clinical lab scientist as her day job. When asked how she got the urge to create a side business she credited it to her time at Hampton University. “Everyone was selling something there. From clothes to hair and more. And they all supported each other. It changed how I viewed income.” The comradery of hustling while in school had a lasting impact on her and when she got back to Madison she started her protective keychains. Kaylahn spent time as a DJ while in college and knew how unnerving it could be to be in the bar scene and wanted to find a way for women to have a self-defense item readily available if needed.
Speaking on balancing her day job and side hustle Kaylahn said, “ I have worn myself thin at times. I wasn’t available for my family and friends like I wanted to be. I had to set time aside for myself and stop working around the clock. I stopped responding to people making orders at 2 am and realized that the money will still be there tomorrow.” Those changes made it so she could be present in her daily life. She also stressed sticking to her schedule and how working in the lab set days a week encourages her to be as productive as possible when she is working on Keys with Caution.
Lastly, I asked Kaylahn about the level of support the community is giving her. She was exuding joy as she said, “ There is so much support here in Madison right now. Some of it is from the Madison community, but a lot of it is from other Black business owners. I have gotten help creating websites from business owners that have already gone through those obstacles. I’ve also been collaborating and buying products in bulk from a local Black business and adding that to the sets instead of ordering online.” When looking at the age of the business owners she is working with she said they are mostly young and starting up. They are supporting each other and growing together.
Are you looking to start a side hustle? When starting your own side hustle it is easy to feel discouraged, but don’t be! There are side hustle communities all around us. Some are right here in Madison, while others can be found online. A podcast that helped me get started was Side Hustle Pro, hosted by Nicaila Matthews Okome. There are episodes focusing on different aspects of having a side hustle and she interviews a lot of successful hustlers. Her podcast was so important to me when I started my hustle and still is. Through her interviews, she debunks the narrative that things have to be perfect to get started. That is the main obstacle I see holding people back. If you are interested in any of her work you can follow her @sidehustlepro on all social media or go to her website www.sidehustlepro.co. There are a lot of tools on her site to get your business going. With community support and access to resources, there is no limit to the economic freedom our imaginations can create.