Tatum Ioannidis hasn’t looked back since making the decision to turn her side hustle – pet accessory store Pupstyle – into her sole source of income. Tatum (pictured above with Pupstyle co-owner and husband, Adam) shares her tips for turning a side hustle into a thriving full-time business with Prospa director of customer operations, Margot Birbeck.
Margot: What were the biggest challenges in making Pupstyle your sole source of income?
Tatum: The mental challenges were the hardest. How will we survive if we make no sales? What happens if we can’t afford the extra cost of a warehouse? How will we pay the mortgage? Do people even like our products? Fear of the unknown was real.
The whole process of going from side hustle to sole source of income was slow, thanks to those mental hurdles getting in the way. But I realised that my business would give back (in sales) exactly how much I gave it (in time) and I was limiting its success by ensuring I had my back-up income.
I went from working full-time elsewhere to part-time, then reduced to a casual retail position, then started working full-time on Pupstyle at home before moving into a warehouse. Now both my husband and I work full-time on the business with a team of employees.
Seeing the increase in sales when I invested more time in the business outside of just packing the orders was really satisfying.
Margot: Did you make any mistakes and learn big lessons along the way?
Tatum: Absolutely. And I’m glad I did, because we were able to learn from them.
The main mistake was not understanding what products I should be reordering and in what quantities. I would just look at our stock levels every second month and order anything that was low.
In hindsight, this meant I was ordering things that weren’t fast-moving and I was paying to order stock that didn’t actually need restocking.
Now, we use a forecasting tool to better predict exactly what quantities we need to meet the expected demand. This has saved us a lot of money as well as a lot of time.
Margot: What advice would you give someone who wants to turn their own side hustle into their main gig?
Tatum: Differentiate. During COVID, I saw a lot of new businesses start that were a copy of another brand. More recently, I’ve seen a lot of those businesses close down, trying to get rid of stock they can’t move. The businesses that last are the ones with a difference. Find your niche and go heavy on that niche. You can diversify later.
We started our business with one unique product – a step-in dog harness in a custom fit and design – and only offered three prints. Our business skyrocketed on that single product for almost 12 months, then we introduced another three prints of the same single product.
Now, after five years in business, we’re almost at the point of having every product you could want as a pet parent, all with their own unique differences that other brands don’t offer.
Margot: What was the role of external funding in your success?
Tatum: We’ve had external funding through Prospa, which helped make our growth happen. I applied for funding with Prospa when we were busy and found ourselves needing stock quicker than the money was coming in for it, but I wish we had applied sooner.
The Prospa Small Business Loan came in the nick of time and we were able to order all our new stock while customers were still interested. That wouldn’t have happened if we’d gone to a bank, because the application and approval process would have taken too long. Prospa helped us to take advantage of a huge growth opportunity.
The process with Prospa was so easy and I didn’t even need to think about managing the repayments – they just came out of our account automatically. If I had known how easy the whole process was, I would have applied sooner to help grow the business before the growth hit us unexpectedly.
We paid off that business loan and got a Prospa Business Line of Credit so we would have easy access to cash when we needed it.
Margot: What do you love the most about running your own business?
Tatum: I can only recently say this, but I love the freedom. We make the rules, and we work the hours we need to work and properly switch off when we’re not working. It was a long, hard slog to get to this point – it’s definitely not the dream lifestyle everyone thinks of when they are starting their own business – but we’ve recently got to the point where our business makes sales without us directly doing the work to get them. We’re hopeful that it continues this way, and our small team can grow into a bigger team soon.