CNBC make it 2024-04-13 02:00:55


26-year-old works 20 minutes a day—and brings in $462,000 a year from his Etsy side hustle

This story is part of CNBC Make It’s Six-Figure Side Hustle series, where people with lucrative side hustles break down the routines and habits they’ve used to make money on top of their full-time jobs. Got a story to tell? Let us know! Email us at AskMakeIt@cnbc.com.

Francisco Rivera doesn’t even like candles — but he brings in six figures per year selling them on Etsy.

In February 2023, Rivera was living in Orlando, Florida and working part-time for online tutoring company Outschool. Demand dropped when after-school activities resumed post-Covid, so he started looking for more income elsewhere.

He found a YouTube video about print-on-demand side hustles, where sellers create designs for products like T-shirts or mugs. They list their designs on marketplaces like Etsy or Amazon, and when a customer places an order, a manufacturer prints the design onto the product and ships it out.

For his product, Rivera chose neutral-colored organic candles with “witty” labels, he says. He creates his designs on Canva, lists them on Etsy and uses a service called Printify to connect with manufacturers.

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His Etsy shop brought in approximately $462,000 in sales last year, according to documents reviewed by CNBC Make It — enough for him to quit his tutoring job in December 2023. (Rivera says he’d prefer not to name his shop, to prevent potential copycats.)

About 30% to 50% of each sale is profit, Rivera estimates. His expenses include Etsy fees, nearly $55,000 last year, and money he spends on marketing and Printify’s services.

Often, he works only 20 minutes per day, he says. Some days, he works extra: up to two hours, researching trends and designing new candle labels. With the rest of his time, he’s pursuing a music career, he adds.

“I’m making more than I ever have, doing less than I ever have,” says Rivera, 26.

Here, Rivera discusses the side hustle advice he thinks actually works, the biggest downside to his print-on-demand gig and why — despite his distaste for them — he chose to sell candles.

CNBC Make It: Do you think your side hustle is replicable?

Rivera: Absolutely. The beauty of the [print-on-demand] model is it’s so low-risk. It’s $0.20 to list something on Etsy. I borrow someone else’s Canva account, but the Pro version costs $120.

I don’t think I’m special — I just work hard. There’s value in time and value in flexibility. I would take a pay cut if it still allowed me to do what I’m doing [outside of my Etsy shop].

There are so many people I know who are interested in this, but just can’t start. I always say: If you have a 9-to-5, you’re putting in work and you already are consistent. You just have to channel that consistency toward something else.

A lot of print-on-demand businesses sell items like T-shirts or mugs. Why did you choose candles?

I’m not super passionate about selling candles. I’m actually allergic to them.

But at the time, candles were a newer category in print-on-demand. After scouring YouTube and Printify’s product catalog, I liked the idea of coming up with witty phrases to put on a product, and I noticed a lot of people were already selling apparel and mugs.

It felt like there was more opportunity with candles. They make great gifts, a lot of people buy candles on Etsy and people who had funny candle shops typically went viral within a year.

What’s the biggest downside to your side hustle?

The biggest downside of this side hustle is copycats — people who use the exact same phrases or very similar designs. They see bestselling candles, replicate them and then skip [to the top of search results]. I have to file copyright infringement, and it’s a mess.

Etsy is very secretive about its algorithm [for search results]. You can revise things, like the images on your listing or use different words on your product descriptions.

I don’t find a huge amount of success changing those things, so I would rather focus on pushing out new candles.

Can you share a piece of side hustle advice that you think is overrated?  

A lot of people recommend sales analytic tools that show you demand versus competition [customer searches for your product versus similar products].

I’m not fully convinced they help. Instead, I’d tell people it’s important to not be married to your creativity. If there’s a design in your shop you really like, but it’s not really getting the results you want, cut it.

Research what other products are selling well. Put your own spin on it.

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62-year-old started her business with $1,000—now it brings in $25M/year: ‘I just had to do this’

Deryl McKissack’s career is a culmination of effort from five generations.

The 62-year-old is the president and CEO of McKissack & McKissack, the Washington, D.C.-based construction management and design firm behind some of today’s most recognizable buildings — from building the Smithsonian African American Museum of History and Culture to repairing the Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson memorials.

The firm’s legacy dates back to her great-great grandfather Moses, a skilled brick maker who originally came to the U.S. as a slave in 1790. His skills were passed down and cultivated from generation to generation, prompting two of his grandsons to create a construction company in Tennessee, also called McKissack & McKissack.

That company remains in the family, now based in New York and run by McKissack’s twin sister Cheryl. “My father always took us [to] job sites, took us to the office. We talked about it around the table,” says McKissack. “It was always a very integral part of our family.”

Motivated by a desire to strike out on her own, and to see more Black women CEOs in the construction industry, McKissack withdrew $1,000 from her savings account and launched her company in 1990. Today, it brings in between $25 million and $30 million per year, according to documents reviewed by CNBC Make It, and manages $15 billion in projects with offices in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles and Baltimore.

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“I remember in college, there were probably three women in my class, and my twin sister was one of them. So it’s very rare that women are in this industry, but we’re excelling,” McKissack says.

‘I had this burning passion … that I just had to do this’

McKissack left an engineering job with a six-figure salary to launch her company, and quickly learned that even with a Howard University civil engineering degree and relevant work experience, attracting clients was difficult.

Lugging an old projector around, she presented slides of work she’d done for family members to help “sell my wares.” She placed a job ad in the Washington Post, and hired an employee.

“It was touch and go because I didn’t have a bank that believed in me,” says McKissack. “It took me five years to get my first $10,000 line of credit. I probably went to 11 banks that told me ‘no’ … [but] I had this burning passion on the inside that I just had to do this, and it was going to work out for me.”

She used her networking skills to land her company’s first project: doing interior work at her alma mater. She and her lone employee did all the work themselves, with McKissack putting in 80 hours of labor per week, she says.

One successful job led to another, and McKissack built a portfolio of work to show prospective clients. She applied for jobs as a federal contractor, getting her foot in the door to work on construction projects at the White House and U.S. Treasury building. Larger federal projects followed.

McKissack only paid herself $7,200 her first year in business, she says. Her second, $18,000. She finally paid herself a $100,000 salary after roughly ten years, she adds, prioritizing paying her employees over herself along the way.

“I’m extremely proud of where we are and the projects that we’ve done … the impact that we’ve had in people’s lives,” says McKissack.

‘I haven’t made it until more Black [people] have made it’

The global construction industry is projected to be worth $13.9 trillion by 2037, according to a 2023 report from market research firm Oxford Economics. Yet women still make up only 1.4% of construction CEOs worldwide, and Black women account for a fraction of that.

Despite the identical company names, McKissack and her sister do run separate businesses — but they’ve collaborated on several projects, and often “trade notes” with each other, she says.

“We lean on each other in challenging times. And it’s great to have an identical twin that is doing the same thing that I’m doing in a bigger city like New York,” she says. “The challenges that she faces are different from mine, but they’re similar. So it’s good to have someone to talk to.”

A healthy support system is rare for most Black and women construction executives, largely because so few of them exist, McKissack says. Last year, she founded AEC Unites, a nonprofit that provides professional opportunities for Black talent in the architecture, engineering and construction industry.

“I haven’t made it until more Blacks and more women have made it,” she says, adding: “Once more people that look like me are in the industry and they’re dominating in parts of this industry, then I can sit back and say, ‘We’ve made it.’”

One of them, she hopes, will be her daughter — a bioengineering student at New York University who could become the sixth generation of McKissacks in the construction industry.

“I tell her all the time that all roads lead to McKissack,” she says. “And I don’t care how she gets there.”

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The No. 1 tip for communicating well over email, according to a language expert

Love it or hate it, communicating well over email is key to succeeding in an office setting.

And if you want to get better at mastering the email game, you should prioritize one thing, says a language expert: timeliness.

“A top tip for communicating well over email would be to prioritize responsiveness,” says Esteban Touma, a cultural and linguistics expert at Babbel, the language learning platform. “There is nothing worse than getting a delayed response after two weeks of waiting.”

Touma stresses the courtesy of responding to emails quickly, even if it comes with the caveat that you’ll return to the message with greater attention later on.

“Even a simple confirmation email acknowledging you have received the message and will get back with more detail in due course is common courtesy, not only demonstrating professionalism but also fostering a sense of trust with your correspondent,” he says.

That’s easier said than done for most: 60% of people say the volume of work emails they get adds stress to their day, according to a survey of 2,000 U.S. office workers from Babbel.

What’s more, 18% of people reported having 1,000 unread emails in their inbox, and 6% have more than 5,000 unread messages.

3 tips to manage your email inbox

For those who get hundreds, if not thousands, of, emails every day, Touma says it’s essential to try out effective inbox management strategies.

First, prioritize emails using filters and labels to categorize them based on urgency and importance. These filters can also automatically sort incoming emails into relevant folders to reduce clutter and streamline your inbox. Then, make sure to address critical matters right away.

Second, set specific times to check and respond to emails to prevent constant interruptions throughout the day, Touma says.

Finally, unsubscribe from any irrelevant email lists and newsletters.

He also offers a bonus tip for getting better at email, especially if you work with colleagues around the world. “If you’re emailing somebody from another country or culture, it’s important to be considerate of different email etiquettes,” Touma says.

Some languages have rules around formal and informal ways to address people in the introduction or in your signoff, he adds.

For example, Touma says, “in Spanish you might start your email with ‘Estimado/a’ meaning ‘Dear’ in a formal context, but opt for ‘Querido/a’, also meaning ‘Dear’, in a more informal one.”

Meanwhile, “the common French sign off ‘Bisous’ (kisses) would be totally appropriate for close friends, but usually in a work setting you’d opt for ‘Cordialement’ (cordially).”

Want to land your dream job in 2024? Take CNBC’s new online course How to Ace Your Job Interview to learn what hiring managers are really looking for, body language techniques, what to say and not to say, and the best way to talk about pay.

Accounting jobs are in high demand—many pay over $100,000 and can be done from home

With only a few days to go before the April 15 filing deadline, tax season is almost over — but for many accountants in the U.S., work is hardly slowing down. 

Between a wave of retirees and a drop in the number of people pursuing accounting degrees, the entire industry is struggling to staff up, putting additional strain on the professionals who remain. 

In the past two years, more than 300,000 U.S. accountants and auditors have left their jobs, a 17% decline, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The mass departure is driven by more than just baby-boomer retirements. As the Journal reports, younger accountants between the ages of 25 and 34 and mid-career professionals in the 45-to-54 age range are also leaving the profession in high numbers. 

Many accountants resign due to inadequate pay and limited opportunities for career advancement, according to a recent report from The Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) and Robert Half, which surveyed over 1,200 current and former accounting and finance professionals.

Accounting’s long hours — 70-and 80-hour weeks are common at some of the biggest firms ahead of tax and audit deadlines — are another deterrent, says Brandi Britton, a finance and accounting expert at Robert Half.

Britton says accountants leaving the field are often moving into jobs in finance and technology.

To alleviate the talent shortage, more companies are increasing entry-level salaries for finance and accounting roles, offering referral bonuses and hiring temporary workers, the IMA and Robert Half report found.

In a tough job market, the accounting crisis presents a unique opportunity for mathematically inclined professionals to secure stable, six-figure jobs — many of which are hybrid or remote.

While the average mean salary for accountants in the U.S. is about $68,000, according to ZipRecruiter data, more experienced accountants stand to earn anywhere from $150,000 to upwards of $200,000 a year. 

Increased demand for accountants means that even entry-level candidates can command higher salaries, says Britton, who notes that at some firms, even those new to accounting can expect to earn at least $85,000. 

Here are some of the top in-demand accounting roles companies are hiring for right now, according to data from Robert Half

1. Corporate controller

Salary range: $111,000 – $210,750

2. Director of finance

Salary range: $121,750 – $178,500

3. Tax manager

Salary range: $133,000 – $207,500

4. Accounting manager

Salary range: $82,250 – $117,750

5. Senior accountant

Salary range: $71,500 – $101,750

Most jobs require a bachelor’s degree in accounting or a related field, as well as a certification in a specific field of accounting, like becoming a licensed Certified Public Accountant, according to the BLS. 

Many of these jobs offer remote or hybrid options, Robert Half found. Britton anticipates that the percentage of accounting jobs that are remote or hybrid will likely grow in the coming months as employers adjust their recruitment strategies to attract more talent.

Even with higher salaries and more options for flexibility, to retain accountants, employers still have to figure out ways to reduce overtime hours and workloads during busy seasons, Britton says, and outline clear paths for advancement. 

“It’s not because managers don’t want to support their accountants’ career growth,” Britton explains. “More often than not, they’re just busy and they don’t even think about it. But you’ve got to make sure you’re fulfilling the needs of your employees just as much as you’re filling the needs of the role that you hired them for.”

What that could look like is setting up regular check-ins with accountants, introducing them to different teams within the organization and encouraging them to take on projects that interest them outside of their normal job responsibilities — all retention strategies IMA and Robert Half recommend in their report.

Accountants claimed the top spot in FlexJobs’ 2024 ranking of the top remote jobs in the U.S., thanks to increasing demand for these skilled professionals across several industries, including finance, health care and government.

Although Bloomberg reports that the Big Four accounting firms —KPMG, PWC, EY and Deloitte — collectively shed thousands of jobs in 2023, such layoffs are rare, ZipRecruiter chief economist Julia Pollak recently told CNBC Make It.

“As an accountant, you are a highly valued employee, so the risk of getting laid off is pretty low,” she said. “You’re a trusted member of the inner circle, you see all of the dirt and get the company out of trouble — it’s a very important, stable job.“

Want to land your dream job in 2024? Take CNBC’s new online course How to Ace Your Job Interview to learn what hiring managers are really looking for, body language techniques, what to say and not to say, and the best way to talk about pay.

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43-year-old started a side hustle in college—now it brings in $200M/yr: It took ‘everything that I had’

Two decades ago, Seth Berkowitz was a college student with a late-night craving for a “warm, delicious treat.”

Today, he’s the CEO of Insomnia Cookies, the company he co-founded as a college junior and grew into a chain with more than 260 locations by satisfying that very craving for customers around the world. Krispy Kreme purchased a majority stake in 2018, paying roughly $139.5 million for 74.5% of the company, according to a 2021 SEC filing.

CNBC previously reported that at the time of the sale Insomnia was valued at less than $500 million.

Insomnia brought in over $200 million in revenue last year, according to the company. “I just thought a warm cookie worked,” Berkowitz, 43, tells CNBC Make It. “It was a craving that I was looking for, and it was clear that it was something that resonated with others.”

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Berkowitz started Insomnia at the University of Pennsylvania in 2002, baking cookies in his college house and personally delivering them around campus in the early hours of the morning. In one semester, he made roughly $10,000 in profit, he says.

By the time he graduated in 2004, Berkowitz signed a lease to open Insomnia’s first brick-and-mortar location, near another college campus in Syracuse, New York. Stores in Champaign, Illinois and College Park, Maryland soon followed.

Now, with Krispy Kreme looking to sell Insomnia, Berkowitz says he’s “grateful for the journey.”

“That warm, delicious moment is really working for us,” he says. “So, the goal is to just keep going.”

School by day, cookies by night

In the days before Grubhub and Uber Eats, college students had limited options for after-hours food delivery — and Berkowitz got tired of eating the same Papa John’s pizza “every night,” he says.

The economics and history major estimates he spent roughly $150 on ingredients to start baking cookies in the “really small kitchen” he shared with eight friends in college housing. Taking orders on his cellphone, Berkowitz drove deliveries around campus as late as 4 a.m. some nights.

Running a late-night business while attending classes during the day was predictably difficult. “I was going to give myself a semester or two to see if Insomnia Cookies was going to be a success or not,” says Berkowitz.

His marketing efforts — putting flyers in dorms, handing out free cookies — didn’t gain much traction, until a campus newspaper wrote an article about Insomnia. The business went from averaging three cookie orders per night to as many as 80, Berkowitz says.

“They put me on the front page,” he says. “It was me, and this backwards baseball cap, and a hand mixer.”

Looking to expand, he brought in a partner — co-founder Jared Barnett — and hired a handful of employees to grow Insomnia’s operations. He reinvested all of the business’ profits, building a website for online ordering and renting a commissary kitchen off-campus to increase cookie production.

They took the concept to other cities, starting in Syracuse. But from there, Insomnia’s path to national success was anything but smooth, says Berkowitz.

The difference between a side hustle and a startup

Managing the growth and expansion of an aspiring national business was much harder than running a college side hustle, Berkowitz quickly learned.

As Insomnia’s sole employee, he made money. Paying employees and renting space eliminated those profit margins. “Professionalizing a business [is] expensive … It was a much different setup and it required investing ahead of growth,” Berkowitz says.

The first-time entrepreneur spent years experimenting with different business models to reach profitability again, staying funded through angel investors. He tried ghost kitchens, licensed frozen yogurt shops and even launched vending trucks.

Barnett left the company during that period, selling his equity stake to Berkowitz. “At that time, my vision for the company was no longer aligned with Seth’s, and we agreed to part ways,” Barnett says.

Insomnia topped $1 million in annual revenue for the first time in 2008, according to Berkowitz, but it still wasn’t profitable. The following year, the CEO made a drastic cost-cutting decision, downsizing Insomnia’s corporate team to two people: himself and a finance associate.

Once again, he took on much of the work of running Insomnia himself — driving from New York to Philadelphia to fix a vending truck’s broken generator, personally delivering cookie dough to the Syracuse store every week, visiting college towns across the country to scout new potential locations.

“2009 and 2010 [were] some of the hardest years ever at Insomnia Cookies,” says Berkowitz, adding: “There wasn’t anyone else to do it. So, if I was going to grow the business … it was going to take everything that I [had].”

‘Insomnia Cookies is a perseverance story’

After nearly a decade of experimentation, Berkowitz returned to a brick-and-mortar model. A “really huge sign” in the window would create buzz, he theorized, and quick deliveries would encourage repeat customers.

Coupled with a mobile ordering app, the strategy worked. In 2012, Insomnia funded a new location with its own internal cash flow for the first time ever, says Berkowitz — its 22nd store, in Kent, Ohio.

“That was a huge milestone,” he says. “It created a situation where we were self-sufficient. We controlled our destiny.”

Over the next six years, Insomnia opened 125 new stores, Berkowitz says. Then, the Krispy Kreme acquisition ushered Insomnia through the Covid era, creating some co-founder drama along the way: Barnett sued Insomnia over the sale, claiming he was due a share of the proceeds.

In January, Berkowitz reportedly agreed to pay Barnett $3.5 million to settle the case. Both men declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Last year, Krispy Kreme announced plans to explore a sale of Insomnia, creating uncertainty over the future of the business. Berkowitz says he’s still focused on growing the brand, which recently announced plans to open dozens of new locations across the U.S. in 2024.

“When I talk about the brand and our journey, [I often say] that Insomnia Cookies is a perseverance story, right?” says Berkowitz. “Like, there’s so many reasons why we shouldn’t be here. And they very much outweigh the fact that we are.”

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Insomnia Cookies was most recently reportedly valued at less than $500 million, following a 2018 majority-stake acquisition by Krispy Kreme.

Want to make extra money outside of your day job? Sign up for CNBC’s new online course How to Earn Passive Income Online to learn about common passive income streams, tips to get started and real-life success stories. Register today and save 50% with discount code EARLYBIRD.

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