3 Lessons Learned From a Wrong Side Hustle - And How to Find the One That's Right For You

Jun 02, 2022

Do you feel a bit overwhelmed trying to figure out which pastor side hustle idea is right for you? What if you pick the wrong one?

Well, in today’s episode of the More Than a Pastor Show, I’m going to share three key lessons I learned from choosing the wrong side hustle idea, and how they can help you find the one that’s right for you.  

Links from today's show

Have you ever had a great idea that turned out to be not so great after all?

I mean, as you were thinking about it, and beginning to explore it, everything sounded amazing. And you could think of all the reasons why it should work and is right for you.

But you didn't really think about all the reasons why it couldn't be or maybe you just didn't have enough information at the time to know why. So you go all-in on this idea - maybe it's for a business or a side hustle or something in your ministry area.

And later you realize it was totally the wrong idea. And you find yourself asking, "What was I thinking? Or was I even thinking at all?"

Well, that has definitely happened to me! And today I want to share three lessons I learned from choosing the wrong side hustle, and how they can help you find the one that's right for you.


Picking the Wrong Side Hustle

Back around 2002 or so, my wife and I went to an event called The Covered Bridge Festival, held every October in Rockville, Indiana and the surrounding communities of Parke County. Interestingly, in this county there are more than 30 historic covered bridges that date back as early as 1856!

But as great as the covered bridges were...at this event I discovered an amazing food item that was just about the best thing I had ever tasted.

It was like manna from heaven.

It was something called kettle corn.

I love popcorn. But I had never seen...or tasted...popcorn like this before. So when the kettle corn vendor gave me a sample taste, I was immediately hooked on this sweet and salty popcorn perfection. 

Right then and there, I decided I should buy a large bag to take home. As if it would make it that far.

Before we walked away, I took a few minutes to admire the kettle corn vendor's set-up, and watch him in action.

He had a 10x10 foot pop-up tent, a huge popping kettle that kinda reminded me of a cauldron, and a big wooden paddle that he used to to stir the oil, sugar, and popcorn, until it was fully popped. Then he dumped the popped corn into a large tub, mixed in a generous helping of salt to complete the sweet and salty taste, and scooped the corn into bags to sell.

Ever since that moment, whenever I go to a festival or event, if there's a kettle corn vendor, you can bet that I'm going to buy some kettle corn because I love it that much. In fact, I went to a farmers market here in our community yesterday, saw a kettle corn vendor, and bought a bag of kettle corn. 

Some time later, I started thinking of ways to generate extra income for my family, so we could buy more rental properties, because one of my pathways to financial freedom is generating more streams of recurring passive income. 

And I wondered if kettle corn might be a good business model for me to pursue as a young-ish pastor at the time with five kids being homeschooled by my stay-at-home wife.

From what I remembered, it seemed like an easy business to set up. And I figured the profit margins must be great, because all you have is a little oil, sugar, popcorn kernels, and a little bit of salt, right? Which are all pretty cheap in and of themselves. And I saw vendors selling small bags of kettle corn for $3-4 each, and large bags for $5-6.

Then I wondered if it's something that we could do as a family, because I've always loved the idea of a family enterprise, some kind of business that our family could be involved in, where the kids could learn entrepreneurship and we could generate income together.

It's not that my income at the church was bad, necessarily, it just wasn't adequate for a family of our size with five kids, and for our hands-on experience-based homeschool lifestyle.

So I began to look online for info on how to start a kettle corn business. The Internet was still fairly new in the early 2000's, but I found the website of a man in Florida named John, himself a kettle corn vendor, who builds and sells kettle corn machines. 

After a couple of phone conversations with him to explore the potential for a kettle corn business, and and some conversations with my wife - who was supportive of me trying to do something to provide more income for our family - I decided to buy a kettle corn popper!

A couple of weeks later, I flew down to Florida to meet John, try out my brand new kettle corn machine, and learn all the ropes of the business - including booking events, getting my foodservice permit from the county health department, setting up my booth, getting signage, buying supplies, etc.

Then I had John ship my kettle corn machine to me in Michigan, and I was in the kettle corn business! And I couldn't wait to turn kettle corn into cash.


All Pros No Cons?

To be honest, I didn't really think about many cons to this business. I was focused mostly on the income potential, based on the success that others had enjoyed. But as I quickly began to prepare for my first event, I started to discover a few cons.

Con #1: Needed a Truck and Trailer

The first problem I experienced was that the kettle corn machine barely fit in our minivan.

I had to take the second and third row seats out, lay the machine down on its side, and then jam-pack the van with my supplies, tent, signage, etc. It's not ideal, but it would work for me.

But if I always use the van for my events, my wife would be left stuck at home with our kids, since neither they nor their car seats could fit in my car.

So I decided to buy a 6x10 ft. cargo trailer, which would allow me to transport, and store, everything I'd need for my business. And...I ended up buying a used pickup truck too - one with a cap on the back - to haul the trailer.

I kinda knew we would need to get a truck and trailer at some point - because John had a truck and trailer for his business in Florida - but I hadn't planned on needing to do it before we started making money.

Con #2: Profits Were Eaten Up by Labor Costs

Another thing I didn't think a lot about was how much it would cost to pay people to work with me. 

My kids were still pretty small and not able to work with me regularly in the business. So I had to find friends to work with me, and pay them enough to make it worth their while. I needed at least one and sometimes two others to work with me. 

So I had to pay people to staff my booth at each event, and sometimes we had to travel and stay overnight in a hotel, so these labor expenses began to eat into profits pretty quickly.

Con #3: Sales and Income Were Dependent on the Event and Weather

Another thing I learned pretty quickly is that my success depended on things that were outside of my control. Outdoor events are hit and miss, depending on the weather. In Michigan, we've got 4-5 good months for outdoor events. But even in the warmer months, it could be too hot and humid, or there could be rain or thunderstorms, which would keep people away. Also, too much humidity causes the kettle corn to bunch up in big clumps, which makes it a lot harder to bag.

And so I began to think maybe this isn't quite the right business for me.

Con #4: Weekend Events Mean Working a Lot of Sundays

But there was something else that created a big problem for me. Maybe you've already thought of it...

Most festival events are on weekends, either Friday and Saturday, or Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

Oh, and did I mention that I was a pastor?

I know, I probably should have thought that it might NOT be a good idea to have a side business where I would be working a lot on Sundays.

But on the other hand, I didn't have kettle corn events every Sunday, and I also didn't have major Sunday responsibilities at church at the time (I was the congregational and community care pastor), though it was expected that I would have a presence on the weekends.

So it was OK for me to take some Sundays off for the business.

But it created some tension with the church leadership.

They began to wonder, "Okay, is Rich all-in here at the church? Or is he pursuing worldly wealth and doing things that are taking him away from his calling to the ministry?"


Rethinking my Side Hustle Choice

I ran the kettle corn business for two years, doing about 15 events. A few were actually great events where we made decent money. But most were just "so-so," barely netting a profit.

So I questioned whether this business was really worth my time. And if it was helping me achieve my goal of generating active income that I could invest into passive income streams like rental property.

In the end, I decided to quit.

I sold the trailer right away - for what I paid for it. Then I traded the truck in for a second minivan. I held onto the kettle corn machine for a few years, so I could still make kettle corn at home just for fun. But I eventually decided to sell it, and thankfully found a buyer who was interested.

So am I a failure for pursuing the wrong side hustle?

I don't think so.

Because through this experience, I learned some valuable lessons that have given me greater clarity on the kind of business or side hustles that are right for me.

And I think my experience can help you identify the ones that are right for you!


3 Lessons Learned from the Wrong Side Hustle

So here are three lessons I learned from choosing the wrong side hustle. 

1. Stop exchanging hours for dollars

The number one lesson I learned is that I want to stop exchanging my hours for dollars. The kettle corn business created linear income. I could sell all the popcorn I wanted...so long as I stood there and popped it first. My sales and income had a direct correlation to my labor. But what I wanted to pursue was residual and passive income, where I do something once and get paid for it over and over again. 

2. Leverage the skills I've developed in ministry 

I've realized that as pastors, we've developed a ton of meaningful skills that easily transfer into the marketplace, through our own business or side hustle.

Pastors are writers, speakers, content creators, coaches and mentors, leadership experts, and more. We have experience in fundraising, building campaigns, personal growth and development, counseling, spiritual growth, to name a few. 

So I begin to think, "Why not do something that taps into who I am as a pastor, and the skills I've developed in ministry, instead of just any old thing that looks interesting."

3. Pursue something I'm passionate about

Orville Redenbacher, the famous popcorn pitchman and entrepreneur from Indiana, always said in his TV commercials, "Perfect popping is my passion."

However, I learned pretty quickly that kettle corn was not my passion, or the way I wanted to show up and make a difference in the world. 

And that led me on a journey to discover what my passion actually would be. And here it is...

To help 1,000 pastors create sustainable income streams outside the church over the next five years through a business or side hustle that's right for them.

Guess what?

I'd love for you to be one of them!

Not sure if you’ve got the skills needed to launch your own business? No problem! Get my free assessment guide, “How to Know if Starting a Business is Right for You.”

In it I share the top 12 signs that you might be ready to start your own business. And the three most important things every pastor needs in order to launch and grow a successful, profitable business.

Download your free copy today at morethanapastor.com/biz. 

Let's Stay in Touch!

Sign up to receive free tips and exclusive offers to help you grow your income and build financial security.

We promise not to share your email with anyone or send you any spam!