scorecardI can afford to go months without my main gig because my side hustle supports me. Here's how I set it up.
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I can afford to go months without my main gig because my side hustle supports me. Here's how I set it up.

Elle Hardy   

I can afford to go months without my main gig because my side hustle supports me. Here's how I set it up.
Careers4 min read
  • Ana Julia Gomes, a prop master in Berlin, supplements her income with freelance gigs and blogging.
  • Gomes turned to Fiverr and Upwork for graphic design and web design work during the writer's strike.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Ana Julia Gomes, a 37-year-old prop master and set dresser based in Berlin. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

I was born in Cuba, grew up in Miami, and moved to New York City to study film. For the past 12 years, I've worked in the film industry. Five years ago, I moved to Berlin to work as a prop master and set dresser with people I knew from film school.

I've worked on John Wick, Jessica Jones, and The Americans. It's not a 9-to-5 job. I could be on a three-month film set or a nine-month series set and then go months without a call. Many people in my line of work have side businesses to supplement their income between projects.

I know colleagues who do carpentry, DJ, or even run a hot sauce brand. I freelance and started a blog called The Check Stand about gifting. These side hustles get me through when I'm not working on set.

I started supplementing my income with Fiverr and Upwork

When the writer's strike was announced last May, most people initially thought it would only last a few weeks, but it lasted until September.

My last project was working on Constellation for Apple TV+, and that finished in February 2023. I'm still waiting for the phone to ring for a new series.

I'm pretty good at graphic design, so I decided to freelance. I created profiles on Fiverr and Upwork.

I started working on YouTube thumbnails and event flyers for the music industry. My most requested package was flyers plus animated visuals that could be projected during DJ sets. I make between $150 and $300 per project.

I then expanded into web design

After I had done a few graphic design jobs, a client asked me if I knew web design. I was honest and said no, but they offered me some cash, so I taught myself how to do it.

You don't need a proficient developer or UX designer to build a basic website. WordPress, Wix, and Webflow are very intuitive and offer a variety of customizable templates.

I learned about monetizing blogging through the same client. This client ran about five or six blogs, which provided their income. I had started a blog years ago, but it was just for friends and family.

I always had good ideas for gifts

For years, friends called me a 'gift guru' and messaged me to ask for ideas for anniversaries and birthdays. In 2019, I started The Check Stand to share my recommendations.

Once I learned about monetization, I began posting more frequently. My goal was to offer a gift concierge as a service.

I grouped gifts into categories, wrote a blog post, and listed recommended products with Amazon and Etsy affiliate links. Both programs have easy online application processes, and I was accepted.

Many of my gift ideas come from daily life. For example, a friend helped repair my dishwasher, so I put together "gift ideas for makers and tinkers." After picking up my teen nephew from football practice, I thought of "gifts to encourage self-grooming in young men."

It was not an overnight success and took time to build

When I started focusing on traffic, sometimes there would be just two views a day, and they were from me. I began spending a lot of time on Facebook and Reddit groups for parents and gamers.

I started posting in groups and asking for gift ideas to write blog posts about. I'm active in groups for locals, millennials, DINKS, moms, deals, and retirees. I try to carefully balance being active without being overly promotional.

My traffic increased once I started posting in these groups, and I began making around $50 daily. It's not money I would make on a film set, but it was something. I decided to step it up and learn about search engine optimization and running ads.

I now earn enough from the blog to support myself

I try to publish three blog posts a week. I spend about two days researching and writing and half a day making the covers. I spend the rest of the week on Reddit, Pinterest, Facebook, and TikTok.

It pays when people get to know you on social media sites, but it takes time to foster. It's a dance between being active and not being annoying.

I make an average of $2,000-$3,000 monthly and more during the holiday season. There was a big spike in impressions in November and December, but I only made around $1,500 in February. Keywords like Valentine's Day are hard to compete against when facing bigger blogs and sites.

One strategy I've found is that being negative brings the most traffic

I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit that I've sometimes used unconventional tactics to boost my traffic. I occasionally take a negative approach and go for more provocative topics, like asking for "passive-aggressive white elephant gift ideas for a family member or coworker you hate."

These types of questions generate a lot of engagement. I've also provoked small fights. For example, in the DINKS group, I've asked things like "Are Christmas mornings lonelier as a DINK? Isn't the joy of Christmas family, presents, and kids?" If I see fit to link to my site, I do it, but not always. I try to be as organic as possible.

I don't use this strategy often. Traffic to the site generated this way doesn't always mean conversions, and ultimately, I want to provide honest value.

I'll continue working in film for as long as I get opportunities. In the meantime, I'll be researching and suggesting gifts. I enjoy it, I'm good at it, and it's a nice gig that earns me enough money to get by.




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