Career transition: from side hustle to full-time small business

22 June 2024

  • Michelle Mok’s side business is growing exponentially, but she is worried about leaving the security of full-time paid work
  • CommBank personal finance expert Jess Irvine shares her tips to help Michelle gain financial freedom and grow her business
  • Jess’ top tips for anyone looking to move from side hustle to small business owner are: make a business plan that clearly defines your vision, build your safety net with an emergency fund, and keep your personal and business finances separate

Michelle Mok knows how to hustle. When she moved from Malaysia to Australia with her husband and two children, she had no support network. She needed to carve out a new life for her family and gave up paid work to do it. Then when her marriage broke down, Michelle had to hustle again. “I took a massive financial hit and had to rebuild from scratch with two young kids and no savings,” she says. “I began doing anything I could to earn extra cash, including cutting friends’ kids’ hair.”

That was how Michelle found her passion. “Someone asked me to help put on a kids’ birthday party,” she says. “From there, someone asked me to do a hen’s party, then a wedding, and I was hooked; my side business started blossoming.”

Video: Jess Irvine discusses how to grow a side hustle while keeping the security of a full-time job on The Brighter Side

Starting a part-time events business on the side

Michelle’s business, Michelle Mok Creates, has grown quickly. The event planner, stylist and florist stays busy on weekends and after work planning weddings, parties and PR events. She believes the success of her business lies in clearly understanding her customers’ goals. “I focus on drawing out my clients’ objectives for their event,” she says. “Is it to spoil guests? To throw an epic party? Or to express themselves in a perfect Instagram moment?” She then creates moments that inspire joy and will be remembered forever.

Assessing the full financial picture

While Michelle would love to grow her side hustle into her main income stream, she’s nervous to let go of her full-time job. “My side hustle is still not enough because it’s not consistent pay,” she says. “It would be great to have a financial strategy so that I can grow my finances more and I don’t need to worry every single month when the bills come in. The dream is to finally have my own home again.”

Home ownership seems like a distant reality though. While Michelle is great at managing event budgets, she admits her own finances pose more of a challenge. “I’m a creative person and my strength is being creative – finance is definitely not my strength at all,” she says. “I often find myself wondering if I can afford to take the leap and build out my side hustle into a business to support my kids, but I also love my current job and enjoy the security it brings.”

Annette living life on their road trip around Australia

Expert tips for taking your side hustle full time

CommBank personal finance expert Jess Irvine says it pays to get your finances and business goals in order before leaving full-time work for side-hustle glory. Here are her tips:

Build out a clear business plan

Before doing anything else, Jess says you need to write a business plan. This is a document that outlines your company’s goals and how you plan to achieve them. It helps you prioritise the direction of the business and sets the market and the opportunity. “Every thriving business has a clear vision of their mission: they know why they’re doing what they do and how they’re helping their customers,” says Jess. She suggests asking yourself these questions: What’s my business? What’s my value proposition? Who are my competitors? What’s my marketing strategy?

Know your financial safety net

Before taking on any financial risk, Jess says you need to make sure your personal finances are in a good place. “Do you have enough saved up as an emergency fund if things go wrong and income dries up?” she says. “I generally recommend having three to six months’ salary in an account that you don’t touch unless you have to.” She also suggests making a plan for all the extra bills that will come your way. “Small business owners have to pay for their own superannuation, sick leave and annual leave, so it’s important that the income from the business is enough to cover these,” she says.

Separate your personal and business funds

It can be tempting to dip into your personal funds to help a new business, but this can lead to confusion when it comes to managing your cash flow and paying your tax bills. “We know for small business owners, the line is often blurred,” says Jess. Open a separate business account and regularly check in on your cash flow in the CommBank app. “Making the time to check where the money flows is going to help build confidence,” adds Jess.

For support on how to start, run or grow your small business, visit Small business or talk to one of CommBank’s small business bankers.

Jess Irvine is a finance expert, author of Money with Jess and a respected journalist with nearly two decades of financial reporting experience. Her personal passion is helping people with their money.

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