Passion into Profit

From gift baskets to disc golf, side hustles allow us to express ourselves and make money, too.

Passion into profit - Douglas Magazine Feb/Mar 2024
Ann Chisholm was a personal trainer; her “unintentional” entrepreneurial journey blossomed into Fettle + Food, a nutritional coaching company. Photo By: Jeffrey Bosdet.

Ann Chisholm liked going to work. A business graduate from Halifax’s Mount Saint Vincent University, she started her advertising and marketing career in 2012 in Saint John, New Brunswick. Then she headed west. Her first stop was the mountain adventure paradise of Jasper. Eventually Chisholm landed in Victoria working full time at Hot House Marketing.

“I enjoyed what I was doing and the people I was working with. But it felt like there were two Anns, the working Ann and the non-working Ann,” explains Chisholm.

By the “non-working Ann” she means the athletic former varsity basketball player with a passionate interest in fitness and health.

“I asked myself, would I be fulfilled in my 30s and 40s if I kept doing what I was doing?” she says.

The answer was, probably not. 

So began Chisholm’s unintentional entrepreneurial journey. In 2017, she made a 180-degree life shift and joined Innovation Fitness Victoria (now Tropos Fitness Club) as a sales manager and personal trainer. Not long into her tenure, the proverbial lightbulb flashed on for Chisholm. She noticed a lot of her clients working hard in the gym but falling short of fitness goals. The big missing piece, Chisholm concluded, was nutrition. This realization crystalized her career shift.

While working full time, she studied online courses in nutrition to upgrade her skills. Then Chisholm started offering nutrition consulting off the side of her desk at the fitness club. Demand was strong; she was busy. 

So busy that her boss and Tropos Fitness Club owner Jeff Dallin saw it as a great business opportunity for Chisholm.

“Jeff asked me if I thought nutrition could be a stand-alone business for me,” Chisholm says, referring to Dallin’s timely nudge. “To be honest, I didn’t start out thinking about business ownership.”

Dallin’s challenge prompted Chisholm to launch Fettle + Food, a nutrition coaching company. The consultancy is now a small but going concern, more than full time for Chisholm and two other contract nutrition consultants. The hours are long, and with a toddler now in the mix, life is busy for Chisholm. But she’s exactly where she wants to be.

“For me it was really about aligning the two Anns,” Chisholm says.

What started as a side hustle proved to be a life changer for this entrepreneur and others. There’s a big buzz about the side hustle these days. Several recent surveys and reports indicate a growing number of British Columbians and Canadians are turning bright ideas into money-making ventures. 

A survey by H&R Block found a whopping 28 per cent, or around 8,746,000 Canadian adults, have taken on a side job in the gig economy, up from 13 per cent in 2022.

In another survey, Interac Corp. canvassed 500 Canadian entrepreneurs, among them what the Canadian interbank network refers to as 362 side hustlers, 82 small business owners and 56 freelancers. According to the results, two in 10 were planning “to go all in” and turn their passion into a full-time career. The most popular side hustle? Freelancing. It’s a tried-and-true way to earn extra money and the work can be scheduled during spare time or on weekends.

But the motivations are many. For some, like Chisholm at Fettle + Food, personal fulfillment was the main goal at the start. Others want to pad their incomes in this time of high inflation and soaring cost of living. For people like MeepMeep co-founder Eve Bennett, an intrinsic entrepreneurial drive and a wish to be in charge of her own financial destiny are what get her out of bed early every morning.

Growing a business was part of Bennett’s life plan. She studied entrepreneurship at the University of Victoria and after graduation in 2017 was already searching for a prize. As an avid disc golf player, she had watched many errant discs getting lost in the underbrush. It was a problem looking for a solution and proved to be the genesis in 2020 of Bennett’s first venture, MeepMeep, a startup that made Douglas magazine’s 10 To Watch list in 2022 and was a finalist in VIATEC’s 2022 Startup of the Year award. 

MeepMeep’s flagship product is dead simple: a stick-on tracker that allows users to use an app on their phone to quickly locate lost discs. Since incorporating in 2020, Bennett has been on a fast-moving escalator of financial bootstrapping and 80-hour work weeks. To help get to product launch, she leveraged in-kind support from UVic’s Innovation Centre in the form of office space at KWENCH, R&D funding from the National Research Council and a $20,000 line of credit through Vancity’s Unity Women Entrepreneurs Program. 

Presales in 2021 enabled Bennett to finance MeepMeep’s first production run, which shipped to retailers and direct to consumers the following year. 

“I think there’s a lot of potential in the snow-sports sector, and in Europe.”

Up until this fall, she was juggling her startup while working as a marketing consultant, a talent development manager at VIATEC and most recently as a Salesforce business analyst. Now she is all-in on MeepMeep, with a team of three full-timers and five part-timers, as the company seeks angel investment to finance growth and explores new opportunities for its wireless tech, particularly in the snow-sports sector.

“I needed a creative outlet. If you have an idea, even if it’s a dumb idea, then just start,” Bennett says , with can-do spirit. “And if you fail, oh well, you still have a day job.”

Creating More Side Hustlers

For such a young entrepreneur, Bennett comes across as business-wise beyond her years. She told Douglas that she gets almost as much satisfaction from turning her side hustle into a promising startup as she does from encouraging and inspiring others to monetize their own passions. The fact that four current or former MeepMeep staffers have started their own side hustles is a point of pride for Bennett.

One of these side hustlers is Masami Teramachi, now a full-time account manager with Victoria public relations company tartanbond. Teramachi is founder of a unique one-person side hustle called Walk With Masami. During the depths of the pandemic lockdown, Teramachi took to taking long walks through Victoria’s many colourful and character-filled neighbourhoods. It was a personal form of pandemic therapy that sparked an idea. Leaning into her creative talents, Teramachi started creating maps rendered with pencil and watercolour paint to serve as custom guides to Victoria’s neighbourhoods. Whimsical and intimate, her maps are the antithesis of utilitarian Google Maps, meant to uncover the oddities and curiosities of a neighbourhood, like a striking mural on the side of an old heritage building, a funky local business, an ancient sequoia tree with sweeping branches or a tiny sidewalk library with an quirky collection.

“I worked for a tour agency back in Japan and I always wanted to show people the authentic side of a place. I’m addicted to paper and these maps show people how Masami sees a neighborhood,” Teramachi says.

In a fast-paced digital world, it seems like an anachronistic endeavour, but Walk With Masami is gaining a small but loyal following. She calls it “a low-key project” that she’s content to keep as a side hustle that adds anywhere from two to 10 hours to her week depending on whether she has any custom mapping projects on the go.

Passion into profit - Douglas Magazine Feb/Mar 2024
An avid disc golfer, Eve Bennett saw errant discs as a problem waiting to be solved. She founded MeepMeep, whose flagship product is a stick-on tracker that links to a user’s phone. Photo By: Jeffrey Bosdet.

For the Love of Local

Modern Baskets is another Victoria small business with no ambitions to take over the world. However, owner and founder Shannon Cavaghan has carved out a tidy niche in the gift-basket market. The business also gave her a new purpose and focus following a serious car accident in 2010 that left her injured, unable to hold down a 9-to-5 job and on an ICBC disability income. But she still wanted to work and make her own money. She had customer service experience from her days working at Three Point Motors in Victoria with her husband, who has since switched into mortgage brokering. Cavaghan also had a creative flare and an affection for small-scale, local businesses. She saw an opportunity in the gift-basket market to do something beyond the generic gifts that real-estate agents traditionally give their clients as a token thanks for the commission. So, in 2017, she started Modern Baskets, a business based in a home garage that her husband renovated into a workshop. It’s a side hustle that dovetails well with her husband’s career in the mortgage business. It also meshes well with her limitations as a brain injury survivor still suffering from migraines and fatigue.

“I had never run my own business but I wanted to be able to set my own hours and work from home,” Cavaghan says, adding that she typically puts in 20 hours a week arranging baskets and delivering them to clients.

However, in the run-up to Christmas, she sometimes logs 80 hours a week while managing two contract delivery drivers.

But what fills Cavaghan’s cup is showcasing products from local like Martha’s Delectables Bakery, Pickle and Ponder, Treat Yourself Chocolates and Moonset Candles.

“I love local and I’m always collecting things that catch my eye,” Cavaghan says.

In many ways, the side hustle is about the eye catch. For Chisholm, it was about personal fulfilment and the opportunity to pair nutrition with fitness training to maximize the benefits that caught her eye. For Bennett, it was a keen entrepreneurial eye and the frustration of losing one too many golf discs to the bushes. For Teramachi, it was the soul-satisfying walks through Victoriaʼs endearing and unique neighbourhoods that she wanted to share with others. And for Cavaghan, it was the love of local and the desire to fill a gap left by a devastating car accident that sparked her entrepreneurial spirit.

They say small business is the backbone of the economy. If so, then side hustles are the nerves that crackle and spark with creativity through this backbone. 

Thinking of A side hustle? then dive in with eyes wide open

Goals – Do you want to keep your side hustle on the side of your desk or turn it into a full-time gig? Establishing goals will help you allocate time and resources. If your side hustle takes on unexpected life, you can always adjust your goals.

Time – If 40 hours a week at your day job feels like a grind, then imagine tacking on another 40 hours. If you want to want to turn a side hustle into a startup and full-time business, it takes next-level energy and time commitment to get there.

Skills – It’s one thing having a bright idea, it’s another to turn that bright idea into a business. Running a business means juggling tasks like managing people, dealing with finance and accounting, understanding patent law and many other details. Know what skills you have and what skills you need to acquire or access.

Transparency – Some employers will support your entrepreneurial endeavours, others will want your undivided attention. Either way, being upfront and transparent with your boss about your side-hustle ambitions will go a long way in avoiding uncomfortable conversations down the road.

Taxes – As a recent H&R Block survey revealed, many Canadians with a side-hustle are pondering not declaring their side hustle income, but few understand the tax implications of doing so. Take the time to consult a tax accountant so you know how to maximize tax writeoffs while keeping everything above board.