This Former Amazon Employee Started a Side Hustle Because She Wanted 'Lifestyle Freedom' — Now Her Business Earns $100,000 a Month

This Side Hustle Spotlight Q&A features Julie Berninger, Etsy shop owner and co-founder of Gold City Ventures with Cody Berman.

What was your 9-5 job and/or primary source of income when you started your Etsy shop?

I worked as a project manager for large tech companies. I have my masters in computer information systems and planned to work in the tech field forever.

When did you start your Etsy side hustle, and where did you find the inspiration for it?

I listened to personal finance podcasts on my lunch break and commute to and from work. I was inspired by people who started Etsy and Amazon shops as side hustles. I was also inspired by the “financial independence, early retirement” (FIRE) movement, where people traded in office jobs for jobs with more lifestyle freedom. I loved my job, but I also loved to travel and wanted a bit more flexibility with how and where I worked.

Related: His Side Hustle Solved a Common Problem for Homeowners. Now the Business Brings in $3 Million a Month During Peak Season.

What were some of the first steps you took to get your side hustle off the ground?

I picked a niche on Etsy that I knew very well: the bachelorette party niche because I was going to a bunch of bachelorette parties. I noticed how people were willing to pay for throwaway items for those events, and order quantities were high because so many people attended the event (usually groups of 15-20 women, with one person making the large purchase for the group). It seemed like a great niche for my shop. I started with temporary tattoos because I knew they would be easy to store in my tiny apartment in Silicon Valley. I didn’t have room to sell larger pieces. I didn’t have a budget for photography, but I put the tattoos on, went for neighborhood walks and took pictures in front of my neighbors’ beautiful rose bushes. There are some gorgeously landscaped lawns in Silicon Valley!

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced while building your side hustle, and how did you navigate them?

I was averaging around $15-$20 per order with the temporary tattoos, but I was stressed for time. I was squeezing in trips to the post office before and after work. I was also podcasting and interviewing eight guests per week about how they achieved financial independence. I met someone at a conference who sold printables on Etsy, and I was hooked. I switched my product line to selling bachelorette party scavenger hunts and was convinced digital products were the way to go going forward because they required less time. There is very little to no work done after the sale.

Related: She Started a Furniture-Flipping Side Hustle to Pay Off a $10,000 Dental Bill. It Surpassed Her Full-Time Job’s Income Within a Year — Earning Up to $37,000 a Month.

How long did it take you to begin seeing consistent monthly revenue, and at what point did the side hustle’s income surpass that of your full-time job (if it did)?

I made around $10,000 per year selling digital products as a side hustle on Etsy. My plan wasn’t to leave my day job, though, since I loved working in tech. I didn’t have a plan or the space in my life for selling on Etsy to become a full-time thing. Full-time entrepreneurship happened slowly over time. I was also a well-paid tech employee with a master’s degree, so it felt very scary to take a leap — and it would have taken a while to replace my income. But I did make six figures total over a few years between Etsy and blogging about my personal finance journey. I eventually left my full-time job in 2021; by then, the money from my ventures replaced my full-time job.

When and how did that side hustle lead to Gold City Ventures? How does Gold City Ventures help aspiring side hustlers?

The episodes on my podcast about my side hustles were always the favorite episodes with listeners. I recorded how I created and sold digital products on Etsy in YouTube videos first.

I had my first kid in 2019, and I launched Gold City Ventures, my online course business, soon after with a business partner using those videos as the main curriculum. We’ve improved our curriculum over the years and now have the step-by-step course to start an Etsy shop for digital products.

Over 15,000 students have bought the course, and some have achieved some amazing results. We’ve had students who make this their full-time job and have earned over $70,000 in one year on Etsy. It’s been a lot of fun to help people start small businesses.

What I love about Etsy is that it brings the customers (90 million per year) to you, and digital products are a low-risk small business since it doesn’t cost much to start, and you don’t have to buy inventory; you are just spending your time. It’s also good if someone only has a few hours extra per week and just wants a side hustle.

Related: This Former Teacher Started a Side Hustle That Made More Than $22,000 in One Month: ‘I Have Never Been More Fulfilled’

How much average monthly revenue does Gold City Ventures bring in now?

Gold City Ventures makes over $100,000 per month, and we’ve expanded to offer many additional services such as live coaching, a community and done-for-you templates.

What’s your best advice for other side hustlers who hope to find success selling online?

Don’t start a business by yourself! Pick a business partner and scale faster! Also, don’t waste time trying to piece information together on YouTube. Pay for a step-by-step program or a business consultant because your time is valuable.

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