Lucas Beattie

My Side Hustle Experiment

It was late 2021, and I was still used to being cooped up at home all the time from Covid. I was mid-stride in my kick with personal finance and financial independence, and at my job, work was steady, but feeling routine. I decided I wanted to try starting a side hustle.

If you’ve ready any of my other articles, you probably won’t be surprised that I decided to do some Microsoft Excel consulting in my evenings and weekends to take action on this idea. Even though this side hustle only lasted about 6 months and I don’t plan to start it again, I would say it turned out to be a success. Here’s the story of my foray into freelance Excel consulting and what I learned along the way.


First Steps: The Application

Naturally, I Googled around to see what I could find about the world of Excel consulting opportunities. I came across this interview with Jen Portland, who had founded a company called Excel Rain Man. They seemed to hire part-time freelancers, and I really liked what I heard about Jen and her company from her interview, so I decided I should try and contact them and see what kind of skills I would need for them to want me to do some work for them.

As I’ve discussed a lot in past articles on this website, I have always really enjoyed working in Excel and with VBA, and I was pretty confident in my skills. I almost never came across problems that I wanted to solve in Excel that I couldn’t figure out how to do in some way. But still, I knew my design would take some leveling up, as I was used to making sheets for myself or other engineers, using minimal formatting and gray, stock buttons. I also didn’t know if other VBA programmers just knew better ways to do things. But I supposed I might as well find out.

They sent me a test problem that involved analyzing and graphing sales data, which I managed to knock out in a long evening in a hotel room while traveling for an engineering conference. I solved it using dynamic arrays, which are a bit tedious to use in Excel VBA, but extremely useful. In retrospect this is funny, because making a dashboard using PivotTables would be a much easier way to solve this problem, but at the time, I didn’t know it.


They loved seeing that I knew so much VBA, though, and brought me on at $30/hr. I was elated. It was fun and gratifying seeing my skills outside my industry of training were good enough to make decent money. A few months later, I got bumped up to $40/hr and was really happy to put in extra hours doing work I found fun.

I worked on several interesting project for them, including a tax template for buying and selling cryptocurrency, a Superbowl and March Madness bracket competition sheet (which they give away on their website for marketing purposes), and other small projects for clients. My favorite project, however was clone of the game Wordle, made in Excel. I showed this sheet off in my previous article Excel VBA for the Fun of It: My Favorite Projects.

I had an excellent time working with everyone at Excel Rain Man during my short time doing so. I highly recommend checking them out if you have any Excel consulting needs. I greatly appreciate them letting me work for them on so many interesting projects.

The Wild West of Fiverr Freelancing


Around the same time I was applying to Excel Rain Man, I initiated the second prong of my side hustle strategy: freelancing on Fiverr. I decided I needed to make a few cool sheets on my own to use for promotion when I made my seller profile, so I put a couple of weekend afternoons in on that.

I knew my design skills needed to look good, so I spent a little bit of time watching videos on how to make sheets look nice, and on how to make dashboards. Dashboards may be the flashiest and nicest looking things in Excel, but they aren’t really that difficult. I learned the process of making them using PivotTables and it made intuitive sense to me. I researched some good color themes, made some sample sales data to use, and finally made my first dashboard.

Next, I thought a Sudoku solver would look fun and flashy, and it isn’t as hard as it might sound. I had seen someone on a YouTube video mention this project and the general brute-force strategy of backtracking that can be used to solve it, and I thought it would be a fun challenge to see how long it would take me to make one without looking anything up. It only ended up taking a couple of hours and was a lot of fun.

A fun anecdote about this sheet is that, even though backtracking is a pretty inefficient algorithm (it’s basically just guess and check), the Sudoku puzzle would solve nearly instantaneously. I thought that looked a little lame, and had to look up how to make Excel delay a few milliseconds between actions in order to produce a cool solving animation.

With these out of the way, I made a little video advertisement for my profile, which you can see below.

It’s probably obvious I’m no video editing expert, but I think it came across well and was proud of it. Now it was just time to wait for my first client. I had heard stories of this process taking a long time, but the video and slick looking dashboard must have done the trick, because it took about two weeks for me to get my first bite.

I knew I wanted to track my time thoroughly for my Fiverr jobs, since they are typically done on a lump-sum, per-job basis, rather than by the hour. Theoretically this is great, because if you can get fast and efficient enough, the sky’s the limit for your dollars per hour. However, I knew there would likely be some learning pains with estimating job durations, factoring in revisions, factoring in creating offers/proposals etc.

I ended up doing 14 jobs on Fiverr. On the first four, I earned less than $20/hr after all was said and done, but I was getting better at pricing and at delivering at speed. On my last four jobs, I averaged $50/hr, and felt my Fiverr potential was just starting to take off.

An Early End

I was working this side hustle on weekends and evenings while working my full-time 40 hour per week engineering job, and with a new first baby. My desire to experiment with new things in my work, my personal finance obsession, and my patient wife made this possible. But it wasn’t meant to last. Not because I wizened up and wanted more free time, but because I bought my first rental house, and any time I was using on this side hustle suddenly disappeared.

I talked with Excel Rain Man (and of course took the time to finish markups and revisions on my recent jobs) and I stopped accepting new clients on Fiverr. I planned to come back to it after finishing the rental (which took much longer than I hoped). However, around the same time, I got a promotion at Palmer and was suddenly doing work I found a lot more engaging, and a lot of it was in Excel. I no longer felt the need to find interesting work to do in my free time, as that itch was being scratched at work.

Review and Conclusions


In the end, I grossed about $3,000 total from this short-lived side hustle. This is before taxes though, and when you’re working a full time job, all of your side income is in your highest marginal tax bracket, so I took home much less. Even though I did not end up sticking with this side hustle and the earnings weren’t life changing, I found it to be a really valuable experience and consider it a huge success. Here are a few of my takeaways.

First, it was just extremely gratifying to learn I can make fair money outside my industry in a relatively short period of time. I don’t know if it provides some kind of mental security blanket, or if I’m just proud of it. Second, side hustles are a great way to experiment with work you might like to do, and I recommend it for people with free time and any ideas they’d like to try out. However…

I was ultimately able to take this momentum and move my primary career in a direction I enjoyed, first with my promotion at Palmer, and later with new position as a software developer at Eriksson. I found these two moves paid off much more than the side hustle in terms of both life satisfaction and money.

I now I think of a side hustle as more of an exploration phase that helped lead me to something new, rather than a way to make more money or get more satisfaction outside of my day job. So while it was a fantastic experience, I don’t plan to do anything similar in the future. I expect it to pay off much more to put that energy into my career, and see what I can do with it.