(Guest post by Jason of Live Real, Now – as part of our Side Hustle series.)
On a chilly February day in 2007, I went with a friend to get a permit to carry a pistol. It was partially on a lark, and partially because a right not exercised is a right lost and I am a strong believer in the right to self-defense.
I spent the morning in an overcrowded classroom and the afternoon on an outdoor shooting range when it was -9 degrees Fahrenheit. I was cold numb, but I had the paperwork I needed. As my friend and I slowly thawed out on the drive home, we looked at each other and said “We can do better than that.”
After picking up teaching certifications from the NRA, the Minnesota Dept of Natural Resources, the Minnesota Association of Defensive Firearms Instructors and finally, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, we started teaching as Metro Defense Training, LLC.
We’ve been doing this for 3 1/2 years, holding one class per month. In the first two and a half years, we taught about 80 people what they needed to know to legally carry a gun. Last year, it exploded. By March, we had made more money than we made in all of 2009. The rest of the year rocked just as hard. We turned ourselves into one of the top 10 training organizations by volume, among a field of 200 competing agencies.
This isn’t a huge market, and it will never make us rich, but it is bringing us a decent chunk of extra cash. It’s made a huge difference on my debt repayment. I don’t include this money on my budget, so every penny I take as pay goes straight to my debt. This has pushed me two whole years ahead of my debt repayment schedule.
What did we do right?
The most important thing we did was to partner with each other. We make a good team. My partner is a natural-born salesman, while I’m an introvert. I couldn’t have built this without him. I am a super-geek, so our technical costs have been nonexistent, aside from a domain and hosting. I’m also a bit obsessive about my passions, so I keep us up to date on any legal issues and developments. He’s working on an MBA and has run small businesses before, giving us valuable knowledge and experience.
We’ve never cut any corners. We give the best possible class we can, no matter what. No extra fees, or sardine-packed students.
We answer questions for our students for years after class. If a student wants a refresher, they can come back for free as often as they’d like.
Word of mouth has been a godsend. The local sheriff–in the most populous county in the state–recommends us when people call. You can’t buy ads like that.
What did we mess up?
Marketing. If a tree falls falls in the business district, does anyone care? If you run a business, put up some ads or fliers and get the word out. No matter how good your business is, you’ll never make a cent if nobody knows about it.
Scheduling. The nice thing about a business like this is the flexibility. We can run a class whenever we’d like. Unfortunately, we forget to schedule the next class until the end of the current class. We could do better. That still leaves a full month’s notice, but some people have to request time off from work far in advance, or do things like going on vacation.
Would I do it again?
Absolutely. We found an accessible niche that serves a need in the community. We’ve turned a passion into a healthy side income, without having to devout full-time labor to it. The buy-in cost was low. It only cost about $1000 and a few weekends to get the equipment and make our training presentation.
It has been an excellent learning experience. I’ve learned a lot about running a business, and I’ve become something of an expert on the related laws. It’s led to my involvement with a non-profit, which has put me in contact with a number of lobbyists and politicians. I’m learning more about how our legal system works than you’ll ever learn watching C-Span and sending letters. Even if the business failed, I’d still be ahead of the game when you count the skills and knowledge I’ve acquired.
The most important thing I’ve learned is that, when you are looking for a side-hustle, you should find something you care about and chase that until it turns into money. Not every hobby or interest can turn into a paycheck, but many can. Ultimately, you have to do something you care about and care about what you do.