How to Turn an Email Side Hustle into Your New Business


If you’re like many email marketing professionals we know, your day doesn’t end when you clock out. Because that’s when your email side hustle begins!

There’s no denying that communication and email skills are in big demand today. Whether you’re a developer, a copywriter, or a strategist, chances are pretty good that you’re putting your specialized knowledge to work on your own time already—or you’re dreaming about the day when you can turn your email side hustle into a fulfilling, full-time gig.

Now is the right time to start your email side hustle

Plenty of people have made the jump from 9-to-5 worker to self-employed business owner. Especially at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when companies furloughed, cut back, or eliminated their in-house email teams. 

In fact, The Census Bureau says a record 4.4 million people started their own businesses in 2020—a 24.3% increase over 2019. Although many email pros turned to freelancing when their jobs disappeared, others took a chance to start something new. To advance their careers by putting their skills to work on the aspects of email marketing they love most.

After all, from specialists and directors to VP-level strategists, companies are turning to outside contractors to plug the skill gaps on their teams. Some as temporary measures, while others are doing so permanently to eliminate the investment a full-time email marketer requires.

Having the right skills and a fierce determination to make your email side hustle succeed are must-have mindsets to make this option viable. Building your business up from the occasional job for friends or family members to a thriving business of steady work takes work, organization, and a good network of connections. 

5 questions to answer before you start your email side hustle 

Moving from the security of a regular paycheck into a freelance email marketing career is like bungee jumping. That first step can be terrifying, and you’ll be in for a wild ride. But it can also be the most fun you’ll ever have.

So, if you’re looking for a few tips to help you take that crucial first step, follow these five recommendations to level up your career from moonlighting professional to full-time freelance authority!

1. DBA or LLC?

You can start a company with nothing but your brainpower, but you’ll need to formalize your business structure to pay taxes properly and protect your business from liability. 

In the United States, many solo businesses organize as limited liability companies, or LLCs. The LLC separates the business from your personal assets—hence the term’s “limited liability” designation. If your business fails or someone sues you, your personal assets such as your house and car can’t be attached to settle debts or a lawsuit.

A DBA, or “doing business as,” isn’t a formal business structure like an LLC. Instead, it’s a state filing that publicly declares your business name if it’s different from your personal name. You’ll need it to open a business bank account or to operate your business if you have an LLC with a different name. And, unlike an LLC, a DBA doesn’t offer any liability protection should a worst-case scenario arise.

If you’re a US-based email marketer, check your state’s requirements before you decide how to structure your business, and chat with a tax professional. Legal Zoom can answer basic questions, but always consult an attorney before signing off on an LLC or another business structure.

One last word of advice: Get business insurance. Some companies will require you to file an insurance certificate before starting work, so it’s good to be prepared ahead of time when someone inevitably asks.

2. What email certification(s) do I need?

Certifications can be more valuable than college degrees or industry awards because they’re impartial measures of your competence on technical platforms or with industry best practices.

The certifications that matter most for starting your successful email side hustle will vary by your area of expertise. If you’re focused on search marketing and optimization, for example, you might need to show Google Analytics or Bing Ads certification even to be considered as a contractor.

If you’re an email specialist, however, consider getting certified in major marketing platforms like Salesforce Marketing Cloud, Oracle Marketing Cloud, HubSpot, and Mailchimp. All four offer extensive training courses and certifications at little-to-no cost—making them a perfect option for accelerating the growth of your new business. 

Industry associations such as the Digital Marketing Institute and the American Marketing Association even offer joint training and certification. Something that would be suitable for any aspiring professional aiming at strategic consulting or working with big brands beyond the self-guided course offerings and platform-specific training options featured on sites like Udemy and Coursera.

3. How do I ask for referrals?

Word-of-mouth is the easiest way to build up your email side hustle’s client stable, but what do you do when you have only a few paying  customers? Ask them for referrals. That’s easy to say, but hard to do right.

Pick your references carefully. Start with clients who like you—as in really, really like you and know you well—and ask them to write a testimonial for your website, LinkedIn page, or other public-facing forums. Structure your request so it focuses on the benefit they got from your services—higher revenue, reduced churn, increased conversions, etc. 

Also, once you’ve secured their all-important referral, make sure you Include their personal and company names as well as their title for credibility. Explain the type(s) of clients you’re looking for so your referrers don’t send people who aren’t good fits for your services. Also, ask for the referral as soon as you complete the service—don’t wait months to give them a chance to forget about how much you helped.

4. How much should I charge for my email side hustle?

New freelancers often underprice their services to attract clients. But that’s not sustainable in the long run, for you, your email side hustle’s success, or your fellow freelancers. So, before you sign your first contract and start working on any projects assigned, check these two guides to start your pricing plan:

How to Calculate Hourly Rate for Freelance Marketers & Consultants

This HubSpot guide includes rate calculators for several digital marketing guides and handy info on rate variations and fluctuations. Once you get established, look at Freelancer Rates: How to set them and raise them to deal with next-level issues like your “resentment number” (how low you’re willing to go before you start hating the project or the client who’s trying to lowball you).

The Creative Group’s 2022 Salary Guide for Creative and Marketing

This is an excellent salary guide for creative and marketing professionals in the U. and Canada because it localizes pay standards by cities, reports on trends, provides salary guides for specific jobs, and lists the hottest jobs and most in-demand skills all in one place. Although it’s skewed toward salaried workers, it’s definitely a helpful resource for any freelancer struggling to set (and defend) their hourly/project rates and fees.

5. Where can I find my fellow freelancers?

Marketers are particularly sociable creatures. Here are a few places where we hang out:

  • The Email Experience Council: The oldest industry organization devoted to email marketing and technology
  • Only Influencers: Industry group focused on innovation and advancing email practices and technology with an active email discussion group, weekly member-only video calls and newsletters, study groups, educational webinars, and annual conferences
  • Email Marketing Gurus (LinkedIn): One of the few LinkedIn groups that’s more signal than noise and geared exclusively to email marketers
  • Women of Email: Private professional organization for women in email professions that hosts in-person meetups at conferences/events, a speaker’s bureau, and access to its collaborative Facebook Group
  • #emailgeeks: An active Slack community that constantly discussed email news, trends, rants, salaried and contractor job opportunities, and more

Wrapping up

Once you take that big bungee jump from corporate life to email side hustling and freelancing, it’s hard to look back. As an old US Army slogan once said, “It’s the toughest job you’ll ever love.” All the time and effort you put into getting your business off the ground, finding new clients, and expanding your skills will pay off in the satisfaction of knowing you directly helped a company achieve its email goals. Not to mention—hopefully—a pretty nice check, too.


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