What Works: Side Hustle 101
What Works — a speaker series aimed at supporting SAIT graduates through their career journey and development — has returned with new topics and new guests.
SAIT Alumni Relations Officer Alyssa Athanasopoulos (RTBN ’09) hosted four graduates on Feb. 24, 2022, who started their small businesses while either working or going to school full-time. They shared their motivations for starting their businesses, their first steps and their biggest challenges.
What was your biggest motivator for starting your own business?
Albert Miles Mejia (ACST '10, BA '14, OYA '17), founder of Legal Hustle Clothing: Fashion has always been one of the things that really captivated me growing up. I always had a dream of wanting to start my own clothing line. In 2011, I started a small brand while working as an Aircraft Technician. After a year of owning the business, I took some of the money I made working full-time and jumped back into business at SAIT.
Cathy Provencher (RTBN '09), owner of Peridot & Poppy: During the pandemic, I ended up getting temporarily laid off in March of 2020, which was kind of a big hit. At that same time my wedding got postponed.
While working on a corporate contract role, I hit the point where I realized my mental health mattered way more than any job. I really wanted to follow my gut and my dreams. I sat down with my husband and I was like, “I have a crazy idea. I need to do my own thing.” I had to listen to my gut, and my urge to follow my own dreams. So, I did the “thing” — I left my corporate role and officially launched my business.
In March 2020 everything felt like the end, but it actually was the beginning.
Jennifer Geiger (AT '09, MWD '13), founder of Cheeky Canvas Creative Studio: I started my business Cheeky Canvas Creative about 10 years ago just to make a little bit of extra money and gain experience while I was building my design portfolio. I’m a mom to two little girls, so freelancing actually granted me the flexibility to take an extended parental leave and still provide a source of income. Today, while I work for an interior construction company headquartered in Calgary, I still freelance to broaden my skills and earn a supplemental income, because let’s be real, kids are expensive.
Luis Paulo Alves (TVT '10), owner of Luis Alves Real Estate: My biggest motivator that made me pull the plug was fear. During the pandemic, I legitimately felt like I could lose my job. I had a child on the way and no plan B — that freaked me out! In anticipation of the possibility of being laid off, I started to think about some of the other things I could do. I decided to make several different investments in myself and my family and this career in real estate was the result of one of those investments.
I find it cool in my 9 to 5 [job] I help people to experience the world, and with my side gig, I help people to find their dream home. It’s pretty rewarding to see those two things come together.
Take us through some of the first steps you took to get started with your business.
CP: Lean into your community! I chatted either virtually or went for a coffee or tea, depending on restrictions, with entrepreneurs that I knew of already.
I connected with ATB and chatted with their strategists and about some of their resources — Alberta Women Entrepreneurs, Futurepreneur for people 18-39 years old. I'm Metis, so I leaned into lots of Indigenous resources.
I also met with a bookkeeper before I officially launched and I had him talk to me about the differences between a sole proprietorship and incorporating and weighing the pros of cons because there are lots with both.
JG: It’s really important to explore what sort of liabilities your business may be subject to because it kind of dictates what type of business you’re going to register.
AMM: Pick the brains of the people that interest you before hopping into it. I’m into streetwear and there weren’t a lot of people in the industry 11 years ago. I would ask questions to people that owned stores like skate shops but found their views to be different because owning a brick and mortar was different than starting a clothing brand.
I travelled to LA and New York and took whatever seminars I could. I able to meet with some of the owners and the people that started the brands I looked up to and pick their brains a bit.
LA: Reaching out to as many people as I could within my network and outside my network. The people that did respond were super helpful and it was very beneficial.
DID YOU KNOW?
SAIT has an Alumni Business Directory. If there is a business that resonates with you or that you are curious about, consider reaching out to them — our alumni like to help each other out.
Outside the standard equipment and software required to run your business, were there any surprise costs with starting up?
AMM: Time. I didn’t know exactly what it would cost me to do certain things. The more and more I learned from diving into learning online and learning every day, that’s kind of where I developed an understanding of my process and my worth.
CP: I would second that, times a million! There are a lot of late nights. A lot of early mornings. And a lot of weekends. Sometimes being an entrepreneur seems glamorous, but there is a lot of blood, sweat and tears behind the scenes.
Knowing how to balance your time and what your time is worth. When it’s something you’re passionate about, it’s really hard to balance that time.
LA: For anyone considering a career in real estate, definitely do your research. Every province is going to be different and it can be a costly setup especially if you want to incorporate right away.
JG: There can be a lot of hidden costs that you don’t really realize at first. You’re paying to register your business, you’re website and secure those domains, the software you need, maybe even subscriptions. One of the biggest surprises for me was when I had to get going with payroll when I had an employee, sustaining that and having a membership to the software so the right amount of taxes was taken off. Before you dive in with both feet, make sure that you’ve done your research and that the risk is worth the reward.
How do you avoid burning the candle at both ends?
JG: For me, it’s about mindfulness and being aware of when you are starting to feel burnout. When you’re first starting out, you’re more inclined to just say ‘yes’ to everything. It’s important to set those boundaries to prevent burnout and just take on the projects that are actually going to help you grow.
AMM: Right now, the thing that really keeps me going is my family. You have to have a strong foundation of people that support you.
CP: Firstly, time blocking is key. I do that with my work — if I have a morning of editing photo shoots, I’ll do that because I’m in that mindset. If I have an afternoon of doing marketing plans, I’ll do that. And I’ll have days that are specific to meetings
Secondly, boundaries with yourself and boundaries with people close to you. It’s hard, but being upfront and honest about your time is really key. And then taking the time to fill your cup. Completely disconnect from work and hang out with friends and family. Prioritize yourself so you don’t burn out.
LA: If you are really dedicated to your business and you want it to succeed, you probably will burn the candle at both ends at some point. You’re going to have some sacrifices, that’s part of succeeding. I also try to make sure I carve out time for myself.
That’s not all, folks!
We just scratched the surface of the discussion. Be sure to watch the full episode from start to finish for added content, including answers to questions from our audience members.
- (31:54) What tool do you use to track your finances?
- (35:27) What path did you choose when registering your business and can you tell us why you went that path?
- (46:45) What do you think has been your biggest road block and how did you deal with it.
- (52:10) Do you have a succession plan? You’re creating amazing businesses, is the longer term plan to sell the business going into retirement?
What Works Career Speaker Series
Get caught up on all the latest episodes of What Works and register for upcoming events today.