Side Hustle to Self Employment: ClosettCandyy
Jesse Whale shares her first year of self employment as a wardrobe consultant, personal stylist & shopper and explains her tips for perfecting your service and taking your side hustle full time.
"You can't just hope to learn something. Hope is not a strategy. If you want to get better at something, you need to plan and carve out time for it."
What is ClosettCandyy?
'ClosettCandyy' is the cute name I gave to my style blog, but it also became an alter-ego for me. I wanted to be someone who was comfortable and carefree in front of the camera while also being unapologetic about my style and myself. I’ve always cared what people think of me and I didn’t want to anymore. I felt awkward in my new city, so a blog with a fun name was my way to ease my way into this town - and it worked. Now that I’ve launched turned the style blog into a style business - ClosettCandyy is also the name of my biz.
For anyone wondering how I came up with the name, it was luck of the draw. I was a Marketing student at the time and my two friends were helping me pick a name. I don’t remember the name of the exercise we did, but we were taught how to brainstorm cool blog names by writing out words on little pieces of paper and drawing them from two separate piles. The first pile should include words that relate to the industry you want to write about, and the other related to your interests/what you like. When you’re ready, you pull one word from each pile and read aloud until something catches your attention.
On the third draw, my friend Mike spoke the words, “Closet Candy” and I asked him to repeat himself. I liked the sound of it. ‘Closet’ being the industry word and ‘Candy’ being something I liked of course. I don’t think it could have worked out any better because I’ve always thought of clothes as little everyday treats I get to wear but I'm not sure I would have come up with that name on my own.
ClosettCandyy started and grew as a personal blog, which turned into a business, how long did that take?
The idea of a blog came to mind in December 2010 when I was in my second year of college. I missed spending time with fashion and wanted somewhere other than Facebook to share outfits and style advice. Before moving to Kingston, I lived in Belleville and worked in retail for six years. I’d get my fashion fix through wearing creative outfits to work, help customers find the clothes they were looking for, and merchandising each store to the best of my ability. Blogs had just kind of come out and it seemed like the best avenue to share my outfits and thoughts on personal style, so I put the wheels in motion and made a plan to start a style blog.
My classmate and friend Sabrina had a love for photography, so we would take outfit photos each day between classes. Eventually I felt the urge to get more creative with the photos and we planned our first creative photoshoot where I would style multiple outfits for the season and call it a Lookbook. This was also my way of creating a collection of photos and outfits to share individually over the season, because having someone take an OOTD photo wasn’t in the cards for me. The blog was a creative outlet for me and was slowly helping me step out of my comfort zone. But it was just that - a blog. A project. A way to express myself in a positive and beautiful way, while learning about and inspiring others to put more of their personality into their dressing. I didn’t need it to become anything else. Until...
A few years later, around 2013, when I created an Instagram account. Woooof. Instagram is not a happy place for someone who cares too much about what other people think about them and consider likes/comments as a source of self worth.
As Influencers became a thing, my self esteem diminished and I was thirsty. I spent a lot of time following and engaging with accounts I thought would enjoy my content. And when I say “a lot of time” I mean ALL of my time was spent on Instagram following people to get them to follow me, which I’m not proud of. I can tell you right now that’s why my follower # doesn’t match up with my engagement. My followers are real, but I kind of cheated the system. After about a year of feeling shitty about myself and Instagram, I made my mental health a priority and changed my perspective around the social platform. I don't exactly want to die being known for my Instagram and I'm glad my priorities have shifted since then.
It's quite critical to have a healthy relationship with social media if you’re going to work in this digital space. Now when I’m spending time on Instagram, I look forward to nurturing and connecting with the amazing community I have - and if it happens to grow, that's cool too.
So, although ClosettCandyy started as a blog, I didn’t exactly turn the blogging portion into a business. I wasn’t writing and creating content for brands and being paid for it on a consistent basis, although a few opportunities did come my way that I was very grateful for. But after busting my ass to execute those campaigns and not get much self fulfilment from it, I knew that's not what I wanted to do full time. I wanted to work with people who needed help reaching their style goals. I wanted to change the perspective around style and make it accessible, practical, and affordable for everyone. It was then that I aligned my content to teach and inspire rather than sell, and my talent was starting to get noticed.
People in town were reaching out to me to take them shopping, organize their closets, build a wardrobe from scratch, and help them style clothes they don’t know how to wear. My blog ended up becoming a ‘side hustle’ not because of my Instagram following, but because of my style expertise.
When the company I was working for had to suddenly close in the summer of 2017, I was faced with a decision: find another 9 to 5 in the Marketing industry or make the leap into self employment. I chose the latter. I launched the ClosettCandyy blog in December 2010 and I turned it into a business in September 2017 when I felt comfortable enough to source my own income.
I told this story the way I did because I wanted to point out that this isn’t the typical story of a blogger who made their blog a full time gig. But rather, a creative entrepreneur who launched a niche business and built a community through sharing her knowledge and expertise in an authentic and engaging way. I speak my truth and I prioritize my wardrobe - two of my core values that have led me to succeed in both personal and professional life.
What are your top tips for others wanting to take their blog to the next level?
I'm going to answer this questions two ways. First, advice for a blogger, and second for a business owner.
My advice to a blogger who is looking to take it to the next level - and by that I assume you mean - getting paid to post about things? Is to ask yourself WHY you’re blogging in the first place. If it’s to get free products or become an influencer, sorry but you’re going to fail or burn out quick. Nothing wholesome and real ever comes from ill-intentions. It is SO important to get real, honest and vulnerable with yourself about what you want from life, how you want to spend your time, and what really gets you motivated in the morning. That’s how I realized I didn’t want to be a blogger.
I believe a lot of people are jumping into the blogging world because everyone else is doing it or because they want attention. Of course you can do whatever you want, but I’m talking to the crowd who’s just following the waves of everyone else and not thinking for themselves. You can’t just wake up one day and decide to “be an influencer” - it doesn't work that way. Certain accounts grow faster than others for a variety of different reasons, but it’s easy to spot a fake from a mile away. Remember, about 70% of full- time bloggers have rich parents or husbands, they have not built a brand and a community by being a regular Joanne who hustles and is real and talks about things that are important - they have privilege.
The best way to take your blog to the next level is through staying true to yourself and asking for help. There is so much love and support to go around, I would recommend partnering with other bloggers or businesses who align with your goals and values to bring your audience something they can relate to. And always keep it real.
Now If you're someone who runs a small business, a blog is a great way to share your knowledge and expertise around the services you provide, while also allowing you to get personal and build relationships with your clients and potential clients. One piece of advice to take your blog to the next level would be Guest Contributors. I recommend creating a list of potential guests and the type of value they would bring to your customers. This allows for potential opportunity such as: new readers or customers, increased social engagement and website traffic, and a boost in SEO rankings. The more people you have contributing, the more eyes you’ll generate to your website where you can showcase your expertise!
What were you doing before ClosettCandyy became your full-time job?
I was an Account Manager for a Content Marketing Agency, the one I mentioned above. My role was to execute a variety of tasks related to digital marketing such as: social media copywriting, website and software development, content editing, executing campaigns, building and establishing processes, etc. While I was in this role, a few of my clients voiced that they enjoyed working directly with me but didn’t enjoy the organization I worked for. After a surprisingly easy conversation with my manager, she was happy for the clients to work with me outside of regular business hours and under a new contract. This was essentially the start of my first ‘side hustle’.
In addition to that, I've always had a love for dance and was teaching Hip-Hop and Zumba lessons on weekday evenings as a creative and physical outlet. I had to stop when my I let my anxiety get out of control and couldn’t keep any weight on. I look forward to dancing again soon...
So I guess you could say I was and still very much am a creative entrepreneur because I wear so many hats in my freelance life. In addition to personal styling, I still have help small businesses with websites development and social media management.
You offer a number of different services from photoshoot styling to suitcase packing; how do you find the time to refine and perfect each of these?
I've been honing some of these skills for the past 8 years since I launched the blog, and others I’ve had naturally but have learned to perfect. At the beginning or any time I want to offer something new, I execute the service for family or friends in order to perfect the process and ask for honest feedback.
A key component to healthy success is the ability to receive, process and learn constructive feedback. I think it’s important to always be learning and growing, so I schedule two days a month to take a new course or do research into a new technology or learn something new through a book.
You can't just hope to learn something. Hope is not a strategy. If you want to get better at something, you need to plan and carve out time for it.
You're nearly at the end of your first year of self employment, what is the biggest lesson you have learnt in that time?
Oh man I have so many lessons! Can I share a few?
The first one would be: don't get too excited with your money. Hah! But seriously. Some months you’ll do better than others, so it would be in your best interest to put some into a TFSA so it can grow and you can count on that money for the quieter months. I couldn’t secure a business loan for the work I was doing, so I was going into self employment with around $4000 in savings + a line of credit from before. Before launching into self employment, I had to assess my finances. At my previous job, I wasn’t paid what I deserved because we were a startup with low income. I took the cut because I enjoyed the work and my peers, but after 5 years I had to reassess my worth and see what I really should have been making, which was exciting!
I guess that brings me to my second lesson, which is to know your worth! It is so hard to believe in yourself and the price you attach to your services as a new entrepreneur. Especially when you can’t even afford to hire yourself, you know? In order to establish an appropriate rate for both myself and the customer, I asked my professional friends what they would pay for my expertise/services and had them explain why they see the value in what I do so I could understand both sides of the equation.
And another great segway into my third lesson - don't be afraid to ask for help from friends, family, or other entrepreneurs. The to-do lists are very long and the nights can get lonely and you can’t do it all yourself without burning out. But if you’re going to ask for help, set yourself up for success by setting them up for success. For example, if your partner is going to be proofreading your website copy, let them know the tone of voice you’re going for so they can be critical of that and not just look for typos. And I mean, don’t just expect that those close to you have time or are interested in helping. Ask, first, but be clear about what you need before you ask. If you’re looking for help outside of your close circle, my best advice is to be respectful of their time and expertise. If you don’t have the budget to pay them, do not offer a coffee or exposure in return, that’s a slap in the face. Think about what you would be able to offer them in return, and be eternally grateful for their time if they lend it to you
My final lesson is the most important - take care of your mental and physical health. Real self care looks like sleeping, eating, and exercising while also building a business. No, they won’t be a priority always, but if you are anything like me, don’t let your mind prioritize work when you KNOW you need a break. There was a month where I didn’t work out and I didn’t read anything other than what I was writing. I felt so disconnected from myself and my work because I was doing nothing but that. And even though I do normally enjoy my work, I wasn’t because it’s ALL I was doing. In order to produce your best work, it’s important to be well balanced. Too much of one thing is not a good thing, and I keep learning this lesson. Any time I say, nah I’ll just work through this hour and won’t go boxing, I regret it. That hour is a chance for me to unwind, reduce stress, get the endorphins flowing, and boost my brain power - leaving me in a better position for my work than I would have been if I skipped the workout. Before I look at my phone or start work for the day, I always take an hour to myself to set intentions, read, and enjoy my coffee/breakfast. This change in my morning routine alone has done wonders for my mental health and productivity levels throughout the day. Personal growth and business growth are hard to manage at the same time, but personal growth and inner peace should always come first. You are not your work.
Self-employment can take up so much time, how do you separate work from home life?
This is still something I struggle so hard with, and having a space to work outside of the home is a critical factor in separating the two. If you work from the couch all day, eat in the same spot, and watch TV in the same spot - it can sort of feel like you did nothing all day except sit on your couch. I’ve learned to separate the two a few different ways: leaving the house to work, not bringing work into the bedroom, taking cues from my partner as to when I should put the laptop away, being more present in my day to day, and scheduling time with friends sans cell-phone.
Do you ever feel overwhelmed with how far your business has come in under a year?
I'd be lying if I said no! However, the growth hasn't been consistent. I seem to be faced with growth when I need to focus on prioritizing and saying no, and in return lack growth when I focus on the wrong things like recognition, money and success. When I simply get up each day and set my intentions to be kind, do the best I can, not compare, and challenge myself, the work comes to me at a steady pace. I had no idea what to expect, but you never do, which is why it’s so important to not let fear stop you from just going after it.
You share a lot of raw feelings and emotions over on your instagram @closettcandyy, is this something you find easy?
It's easy until I overthink it. I've always been one to speak my mind when I feel compelled to and to have a platform where people can have a conversation with me about these feelings has been positive in my personal growth because my community offers so much wisdom. better than the old days when you’d put a song lyric in your msn profile and wait for people to ask you what’s wrong). Because my writing is usually sparked by an experience or an emotion I’m feeling, writing or talking about it is actually quite therapeutic for me. I don’t always share everything I write, but when I do, there is always the thought - should I have shared that? And I try my best to shut her up by saying - FUCK IT, hitting publish, and distracting myself for a little while.
With over 14 thousand followers on Instagram alone, how has social media helped your business to grow?
Oh man, I think the real question is how has social media NOT helped my business grow! Social Media is a powerhouse of free advertising - even with the algorithm barriers - you just have to get creative but also know it’s not the only means of growing your business. Social Media has allowed me to reach an audience I otherwise couldn’t through traditional means of advertising. It allows me to build multiple online portfolios and resumes, and aids in my google search ranking if done properly. I have a love-hate relationship with social media sometimes based on my mindset. It can be a very positive or negative space, depending on who you surround yourself with and what your intentions are with the platform. I prioritize who I follow and what I post because I want to learn something from the people I follow and in return provide value to them. It’s important to be consistent with your social media to get noticed, and that’s just what I’ve done. I think it also helps that I do love being social and I enjoy creating content for my platforms so that makes it a bit easier to keep up with it all.
What is the best part of being self-employed?The freedom!! My gosh, the sweet sweet freedom of being able to set my own schedule and work whenever/wherever I want (to an extent of course).
What does the future hold for ClosettCandyy?
I want to create an all-inclusive clothing line... but you'll just have to wait and see!!!
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