Just days before the pandemic hit in March 2020, I started my first full-time job as a marketing coordinator at a dental office in Columbus, Ohio, where I had an annual salary of $34,500.
Every day, the office was booked with clients looking to get teeth whitening and veneers. But as the pandemic intensified and mask mandates were enforced, I remember thinking: Why are all these people scheduling cosmetic work for their teeth, when their smiles are now hidden behind masks?
It became clear how significant of an impact the upper part of our faces have on our expressions. I found myself fixed on reading people’s emotions, particularly through their eyes and brows.
So I began researching microblading, a semi-permanent brow-enhancement procedure where small strokes — in the shape of individual hairs — are tattooed in the eyebrow areas.
When I wasn’t working a dentistry shift, I attended microblading classes. For months, I practiced for several hours each day.
Eventually, what started as a hobby turned into a lucrative side hustle. I was seeing roughly five clients a week, and making at least $7,200 per month.
In June this year, after three months of juggling both jobs, I decided to quit my day job and turn my microblading side hustle into a full-time business. I named it Columbus Cosmetic Ink.
Today, I bring in about $8,750 per month in sales, including tips — triple what I earned at the dental office job.
Of course, there are challenges that come with running your own company. But at 25, I know there’s so much more to learn as I grow my business. The most important thing is that I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.
Here are my top tips for anyone looking to start a side hustle:
1. Create a business plan first
Before building a website and registering Columbus Cosmetic Ink with my county, I created a business plan.
You don’t need a business degree to make one. Mine wasn’t perfect, but it was a way for me to stay on top of crucial components such as customer demand, start-up expenses, financial projections and marketing strategies.
I also kept track of my competitors and trends. Taking my side hustle full-time was a risk, but having that business plan helped me feel more confident and prepared.
I currently work on my clients out of a small suite in a salon, which is much cheaper than leasing an entire storefront. It also gives my business exposure to other clients who come to the salon.
Rent for a suite in my area can range anywhere from $200 to $300 per week. As my business grows, I plan to rent a much larger space of my own.
2. Consider temporarily working for free
One of the hardest parts about getting a side hustle rolling is attracting clients. I knew I was a talented microblading artist, but other people didn’t know that. So to earn their trust in my craft, I needed to build a portfolio.
I used Nextdoor, an app for neighborhoods where you can share local tips, to start marketing my services. I posted “Models Wanted: Free Microblading,” and ended up getting a lot of attention and interest.
I helped people achieve the eyebrows of their dreams in exchange for getting the word out, and gave each person a $100 gift certificate to give to a friend.
Temporarily working for free was something I had anticipated, so I also saved as much money as I could prior to quitting my job. If you can’t afford to work for free, consider charging a small fee to cover part of the supply costs.
Once I had enough clients to post pictures of on my website and social media, more customer bookings poured in. That’s when I began charging the full prices, which vary depending on specific procedures.
The biggest seller is my signature “Coco Brow,” which costs $450. It includes a complimentary touch-up and lasts about 1.5 to 2 years.
3. Love what you do, and keep mastering your craft
I’ve always been enthusiastic about all things beauty-related. Even when I was in college, I freelanced as a makeup artist.
I also had experience working at Ulta Beauty, a cosmetic retailer, where I learned to color-match clients, as well as how to complement different skin types and facial structures by using different shapes, colors and techniques.
My clients are the main reason I’m excited to go to work every day. Believe it or not, good eyebrows can give you confidence and change your life.
Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to work on a breast cancer survivor who lost all her eyebrow hair due to chemotherapy treatments. After I completed her brows, I handed her the mirror and she burst into tears.
Emotional moments like that make my job even more rewarding.
4. Prepare to work hard and make sacrifices
Creating your own work hours offers plenty of freedom, but it doesn’t necessarily mean working less.
When I had my full-time dental office job — and Columbus Cosmetic Ink was still a side hustle — I was working 60 to 70 hours per week. At times, I had to sacrifice my social life, sleep, lunch breaks and leisure time.
More importantly, I had to cut back on groceries, shopping and dining out. I needed to know that I’d have enough money in my savings to cover expenses such as supplies, taxes and my suite rental.
I don’t regret any of the risks or sacrifices it took to get here. Starting my own business had long been a pipe dream, yet there was always a lingering voice in my mind telling me it was unrealistic.
For me, the silver lining of the pandemic was that it made me realize that life is too short to not do something just because it “sounds like a lot of work.” Sometimes, you can’t just wait for an opportunity to arise — you have to create it.
Emily Jump is the founder of Columbus Cosmetic Ink. Follow her on Instagram @columbusmeticink.