How to turn your side hustle into a full-time gig

I remember the day I said to my husband, “I want to quit my full-time job and put all my energy into Hutwoods”. He was a little taken aback, it was only three months after my weekend hobby had evolved into a side hustle, but I was enjoying it more than I could ever have imagined and knew in my heart that I could make it work. I look back now, and his response was just what I needed…setting me a challenge!

He was a little more pragmatic and worried that I’d be giving up my sales job that I enjoyed and was doing really well at, so he said, “Why don’t you try and hit 50 per cent of your salary in profit and aim to be stocked in 20 shops in the next 12 months.” I love a challenge, so that gave me the motivation I needed, and I spent every evening and weekend focused on building my business. I hit the target after four months, had made my entire salary after six months and was stocked in over 50 shops. I resigned that day, and Hutwoods became my full-time job less than 12 months from when I sold my first ever candle! It was hard work, but I was determined and incredibly passionate about making it work.

That’s the first piece of advice I would give to anyone when first starting out. Put all your energy in developing a high-quality product that fits a need, delivers sales and then returning customers. That’s when you know you’re onto something. I see so many people starting out today thinking they need to spend thousands on graphic design, perfecting their packaging and web development, but before any of that (which of course will eventually become important), you need to be sure you have a product that people want to buy, with margins big enough to make it a viable business. I did this by first selling my products at a weekly local market. This was a chance to speak directly to customers and get their immediate feedback. I also visited gift and homeware stores all over Sydney, introducing myself, my brand and sharing my passion for the product. The response I received was extremely positive, which gave me the confidence that I had a product range that had widespread interest in a retail environment.

I realised early on that to gain traction I needed my brand to stand out in the market and be better than the competition. Sometimes there would be up to five other candles stalls at my local market and even more competition in shops, so I had to find and own my niche. For me, this was focused on being Australia’s leading wooden wick candle brand. When we launched back in 2013 there were very few wooden wick candles in Australia and those that were available, had been imported from the USA. I loved the crackling sound that these wicks made, reminiscent of a log fire and was captivated by the extra dimension this provided, allowing you to evoke the senses of sight, smell and sound. Yet I was shocked there was no local, Australian-made brand pioneering in this space. It was also extremely challenging to source high-quality wooden wicks. Australia had not yet caught up on this trend, so I knew this was something Hutwoods could own. After months of research and testing, we found high-quality, eco-friendly wood wicks that our customers loved and no other brand in Australia were using.

In reality, wooden wicks add far more complexity to the candle making process. They are much more sensitive in reacting with the type of wax and fragrance in the candle, therefore they require significantly more testing. On top of this, the cost of wooden wicks are approximately x15 higher compared to the more common, cotton wicks. Due to these factors, I’m not surprised why other candle makers had avoided wooden wicks. However, I saw this as a massive opportunity and am so proud that eight years on, we have remained committed to this approach, despite the additional hurdles we came up against.

This proved to be a grounding lesson that often the less followed route may have significantly more challenges and setbacks, however, if you persevere and remain resolute what you believe in, then the results will be even more rewarding.