Surviving the Side Hustle: Tales from Neil Fraser & Helen K on Managing (And Maintaining) a Side Hustle



It can be difficult to make a living doing what you love — doubly so in the creative field. Many people juggle a stable job that foots the bills with a second job that lets them follow their passions (and make extra money, of course).

Remote work has made side hustles more feasible for many, but don’t be fooled: it’s still a lot of work. For this article, I’ve talked to two creatives who successfully run a business parallel to a day job. Both have quite a bit to say about work-life balance, the upside of COVID lockdowns, and the importance of fan communities.

Neil Fraser (London, UK)

Website: https://neilfrasergraphics.com/
Socials: https://twitter.com/neilfraser78 https://www.instagram.com/neilfrasergraphics/

What is your day job and what is your side hustle?

By day I’m a brand specialist at a large life science company. By night I am a poster and key artist, primarily in the horror space.

How, when and why did you start your side hustle?

I wanted to be a poster artist for so long but I just never found a way to break into the scene. I spent a couple of years making fake posters and trying to develop a style that would get noticed, but it wasn’t until the first COVID lockdown that things really took off.

I was in a dark place at the time and threw myself into work to stop dwelling on things. I was saving 3 hours a day by not commuting, and being quarantined on my own meant I could stay up until 4 a.m. practicing and networking without risking the fury of my wife. 

I decided to try a more direct approach to getting known and started reaching out to filmmakers on social media. They were also in lockdown and therefore reachable. I shared my portfolio, asked for tips on what they look for and whether they minded if I did fanart of their films.

This led me to Jed Shepherd, who was about to launch a film called HOST on Shudder. We discussed me doing fanart and he shared some stills with me. The film premiered on Friday, I spent the weekend working on the art and by Tuesday both the film and my artwork had gone viral. It was crazy and I have not stopped since.

If you could, would you do your side hustle full-time?

100%, although I suffer from imposter syndrome and am convinced that my work will dry up and I’ll never work again. I have a set of goals that I need to hit for me to go part time, then another set for me to go full time.  

How much time do you spend on your side hustle?

I work 9 to 5 at my day job, but before work and at lunchtime I tend to prep for my second job. My wife is a nurse and works late when on shift, so on those days I work until she comes home. I try to have a cut off time of 9–10 p.m., and I take the evening off if I’m not feeling it. 

On weekends I work 6–7 hours max, never both days. As long as I get a couple of hours in I feel like I have accomplished something.

It’s the passion and love for doing it that makes it feel not so much of a chore. On the whole it’s easy to keep going, but burnout is a real issue and when it hits, it hurts. I am still learning the best way to manage it but everyone needs to find their own sweet spot of work, fun and rest. 

Any fun stories or facts you’d like to share?

The first time I had a Zoom call, I didn’t realise it was a video. So I had a meeting with a director who was showing me the view from his Hollywood Hills mansion while I sat without pants on. Keeping it real Neil, keeping it real!

What advice do you have for people starting their side hustle?

Don’t start by expecting instant recognition. Do it for fun, practice, develop a style, start building a following. It will be frustrating —you’ll spend 20 hours on something that gets 2 likes — but don’t get disheartened. It literally can happen overnight: in 2 days I went from nothing to nonstop work.

Reach out to other artists for advice and critique, connect with filmmakers, dig into the community and you will start to get known. Keep doing your thing, experiment and have fun, you are good enough and will get there.

Helen K. (Moscow, Russia)

Website: https://railwaytag.com/
Socials: https://instagram.com/railwaytagcom
https://instagram.com/railwaytagshop

What is your day job and what is your side hustle?

I’m a marketing analyst in IT and my husband is an executive director at a major Russian bank. The two of us run a business making railway-themed pins and keychains and selling them through our online store and a couple of offline locations.

How, when and why did you start your side hustle?

I love drawing and all things creative, and my husband is a die-hard railfan, very active in the trainspotting community. 

Our store has over 150 designs, but we started our business one year ago with just 10. At first I only helped with packing orders and administrative tasks, but then things really took off. 

I noticed that people would always have one favorite train or locomotive among hundreds, and they wanted these models represented. This inspired me to come up with more designs and see them come to life. It’s fun to touch what I myself have drawn!

How much time do you spend on your side hustle?

We devote all our evenings and sometimes nights to this project. Right now it’s 11:30 p.m., I’ve just finished taking photos of our new stock for Instagram and my husband is typesetting a catalog for corporate sales. 

Sometimes we take a day off from our day jobs to settle some business. For example, once we had to travel from Moscow to Saint Petersburg and back (A/N: a distance of 1,400 km) in a day to negotiate a big sale to a museum. We are lucky to have more or less flexible schedules, and without a year of working remotely, none of this would have been possible.

If you could, would you do your side hustle full-time?

I would if it brought in at least 60% of my main income. But I would still have some anxiety because railways are not my area of expertise. If it was a different topic that I knew more about, I would feel more confident.

Any fun stories you’d like to share?

We took exactly one week-long vacation this year. We’d warned our customers about delays in delivery, but the day we came back, we had to pack dozens of orders. We did all of this while singing, and our apartment looked like The Big Bang Theory episode about Penny’s flower barrette business!

What advice do you have for people starting their side hustle?

Don’t be afraid to try, even if people think you will fail. I’m still amazed at the number of orders and positive reviews we get, at how many designs we’ve made and how many ideas for future products we still have.

A year ago, I joked that this was a good way to have a midlife crisis, and now I’m thinking about quitting my day job to dedicate all of my time to this.

Share this article

Share your thoughts

PosterSpy