How We Built a Six-Figure Side Hustle In 12 Months (and The Lessons I Learned)

Austin Dixon
18 min readAug 28, 2017

“Can I please get a Chicken Sandwich combo with a Coke, please?”

Never did I think that those would be the words that proceeded a “business meeting” that would turn out to be the foundation for a six-figure side hustle business.

It was April of 2016 and that “business meeting” was a suppose to be a casual dinner at Chik-fil-a with my good friend Shane.

At the time, Snapchat had just released their Geofilter product to the market and I had a few friends tell me that I should start designing some Geofilters for weddings, birthdays, and the likes.

Being a guy that’s been side hustlin’ since his youth, I figured it’d be a nice way to make some money while I slaved away at my office job in Los Angeles.

As I was telling Shane that I was going to start designing these for people, we quickly had an epiphany moment:

“What if we used Geofilters as marketing tools to help brands reach their audience?”

It was at that moment when the idea clicked.

Geofilters, a fun little graphic that Snapchat users already loved, were new to the market and a lot of marketers had no clue how to use Snapchat (let alone use Geofilters effectively).

If we could find a way to prove to them that Geofilters were effective marketing tools, we could spearhead the wave of a niche marketing product.

Before getting started, we established two important things:

  1. Geofilter Marketing, like any marketing, was going to have a life span. (Us marketers ruin everything because we saturate markets with our ads)
  2. Let’s not let this business ever get between our friendship, but let’s try to level up as young professionals with this opportunity.

With those two things established, we got started.

Here are the steps we took and lessons I learned while building a six-figure side hustle in just under 12 months.

Please keep in mind that this was our unique journey to a six-figure side hustle.

While I wish this was a roadmap to success for you, don’t assume that you can just follow this and find success.

But, my hope is that you take what you learn from our journey and use it to guide your own side hustle journey!

How We Built a Six-Figure Side Hustle In 12 Months (and The Lessons I Learned)

1. Have A Good Idea

This should go without saying, but in order to succeed in business you have to provide a product that’s unique and solves a problem for your audience.

In this case, Geofilter Marketing was brand new to the market (some bigger brands had run some campaigns directly through Snapchat) and no one really knew how to use them effectively.

Shane and I figured that if we jumped on early, we could learn anything and everything about the intricacies of Geofilters so that we could be the early adopters that all-to-often find success in the work they do.

We knew our idea was good, but we needed to just get started.

Lesson 1: If you never get started on an idea, then it’ll never be a good idea.

2. Get A Website Up

To this day, I truly believe that Filter Haus was the first Geofilter Marketing agency in the world.

While there’s been many other agencies that make this claim, no one in this niche was running their Geofilter product as a means to help brands reach their audience. They were all focused on the short-term game of doing weddings, birthdays, and the likes.

The very night Shane and I birthed the idea of Filter Haus, I stayed up until 4am in order to establish our Internet presence.

I bought our domain through Namecheap and worked a few hours to get our website up and running.

While at this time in my marketing career I knew nothing about sales funnels, I’d say we did a pretty good job with Version 1 of our website as we “funneled” people into requesting a quote for a Geofilter.

The reason we did this was simple: For every Geofilter we ran, we had to pay Snapchat depending on the date, time, and geographical area that the design covered.

So, each campaign costed us a different amount.

We wanted to mitigate the risk of overcharging or undercharging clients with a quote upfront, so we wanted to get their information in order to provide an accurate cost.

Now that we had a functioning website up, it was time to test* our Minimum Viable Product (MVP).

Lesson 2: If you want to build a successful company, always think about the long-term and never focus on just the quick money.

*Many people will tell you to sell your product before you ever waste time and money on a website. I agree, but in this case we knew we would be able to sell our product with ease and wanted to get ahead of the game.

3. Test The Market With Your MVP

In this instance, Shane and I really only had one product and, to be honest, it wasn’t even ours (it was Snapchat’s).

This was both a blessing and a curse.

A blessing because we leveraged the credibility of Snapchat to sell our product with ease.

A curse because we were limited in what we could offer to clients when it came to reporting how a campaign performed.

So, before we started pitching to brands we knew we needed to get our feet wet to really understand how Geofilters worked and to prove that they were cool, effective marketing tools.

Our first few sales went as follows:

  • Texmoji Stagecoach Campaign / Expense: $86.50 / Revenue: $100 / Profit: $13.20
  • Sean Stagecoach Campaign / Expense: $15/ Revenue: $30 / Profit: $15
  • Dalton Domino Drinko Music Fest Expense: $30 / Revenue: $175 / Profit: $139.62 (after PayPal fees)

Some key insights from these first few campaigns we ran:

  • We weren’t concerned about the money to begin with. We wanted to throw some Geofilters out and see how they performed.
  • All 3 of these came from one relationship we had with a fraternity brother of ours (Sean). Texmoji was his company and we thought that Stagecoach would be a fun event to test Geofilters out at.
  • Since we couldn’t target the Stagecoach venue (Snapchat blocked it off for that weekend), we decided to place Geofilters at local hotels where festival-goers were staying. This was us trying to adapt to Snapchat’s product and putting our marketing boots on to figure out where we could get Geofilters in front of Texmoji’s audience at.
  • The first two campaigns led to the third campaign at Dalton Domino’s Drinko Music Fest (yes, this is a real event…). This was the first campaign where we said, “Hey…We can make some good side money from this!” $140 ($70 each) for about an hour of work, not bad for a pair of 23 year olds.
  • As we started to test the market, we tried to learn anything and everything about the Geofilter product, how people were using them, and anything that would give us a leg up on pitching this to brands.

Just at the Drinko Music Fest alone, we garnered over 63,000 views on our Geofilters which equated to a $2.75 CPM (a gold mine for marketers).

It was this point where we knew we were truly onto something.

Lesson 3: You’re not always going to make a huge profit upfront with a side hustle, but always use the initial work you do to refine your product so that you can start charging more.

4. Find Your Unique Selling Point

Sometimes, it takes testing the market a little to figure out your unique selling proposition.

As I like to teach my Side Hustle University students: You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but you do have to find a way to innovate it.

Were Geofilters a product that only Filter Haus had? No.

But, Shane and I realized that our vision for how to use them was unique and now we had results to prove it.

While taking on smaller clients (weddings, birthdays, etc) to generate some cash flow, we started to figure out how we could transition into pitching this to bigger brands.

It had been a few weeks since we started, and Shane and I started to realize that the reason Geofilters were powerful marketing tools was because they’re pretty non-intrusive.

Not only that, but being as cheap as they were (under a $5 CPM for most campaigns we ran), we knew we’d have wiggle room to make some good margins on these Geofilter campaigns.

If we could find a way to show brands that Geofilter Marketing is a safe, inexpensive, and effective ad spend, then we had a chance to land some bigger clients.

Lesson 4: Your only goal as an entrepreneur and marketer is to move people from a “before” state to a desired “after” state. If you can find a unique way to do this and keep your clients happy, you’ll be on the road to success.

5. Work Your Ass Off To Get Testimonials & Reviews

This should go without saying, but it’s something that many young entrepreneurs miss out on (and something that Shane and I definitely could’ve done a better job with ourselves).

At the end of the day, the most powerful (and cheap free) form of marketing you can have is your customers telling other people to buy your products and services.

This process looks pretty simple:

  • Get paying customers
  • Blow the work you do for them out of the water
  • Have a feedback loop implemented (or manually ask for an honest review)

If you truly provide value for a customer or client, then you should feel no shame in asking them for an honest review of your services.

At the end of the day, our customers are the ones that put money in our pocket and it’s of the utmost importance to take good care of them.

In turn, you’ll find that they don’t mind spending an extra two minutes out of their day to pay credit where credit is due.

Testimonials and reviews allow us to add social proof to our business.

Good social proof means more leads, more customers, and more growth for your company.

Lesson 5: Take care of your tribe and your tribe will take care of you!

6. Leverage Your Network

If you want to succeed in business, work hard to become known for one single thing.

At this point in my life, a lot of my friends and social media network knew me as the “Geofilter guy.”

And from the day we started Filter Haus, that’s exactly what I wanted. Check out this post:

There’s something completely unique about social media that I’ve discovered over the past few years, and it’s that our social media networks love to share in our success and support our dreams.

In my opinion, the low-level commitment of a “like” is an easy way for people to show support and, at the end of the day, I like to believe people are inherently good and want to see people succeed.

Should you take advantage of this for your side hustle? Absolutely.

Just find a way to do it without looking like an egotistical asshole, meaning the goal of your posts should always be to provide value to people and not to brag.

Without going back and auditing all of our campaigns, I can safely say that roughly 70% of our new business came through the power of our network.

I’d regularly get emails (and sometimes still do) from people that were a friend of a friend and they were in need of a Geofilter for an event.

Piggybacking off of that, I vividly remember going to a friend’s tailgate at the University of Washington in which I’d done a Geofilter for him a few weeks prior.

When I showed up, I had kids I’d never met before come up to me so they could high-five the “Geofilter dude.”

I was a “celebrity” to them and I didn’t even know it until then!

Leveraging your network is the quickest and easiest way to source leads early on in a business venture.

Lesson 6: Get known by others for one thing and continue to do that one thing really well.

7. Take Calculated Risks & Don’t Look Back

Shane and I have had a lot of fun pushing the boundaries of Geofilter Marketing.

Since the cost of them is so minimal, we went through a phase of testing out different creatives, venues, event types, and more in order to gather data and learn more about our product.

The best example of this happened a year ago in August 2016 when I had the random idea to throw some Geofilters up for Macklemore’s The Camping Trip tour.

This tour took place leading up to a bigger festival in Seattle, and was geared towards providing a more intimate tour around Washington that focused on smaller venues.

I knew that this would be a cheap ad spend for us and wanted to test how our Geofilters would perform at concerts (as well as if we could measure any sort of ROI*).

After designing a simple Geofilter and implementing them at the tour venues, we waited.

That Saturday night, I was out at the lake and got a text from a buddy who made a remark about Macklemore using our Geofilter.

With limited service and a nearly dead phone battery, I jumped on Snapchat quickly to add Macklemore’s account only to see that he had posted a Snap using our Geofilter.

I was excited, immediately texted Shane, and couldn’t wait to see what type of numbers we would get from this.

When I got back into town after the weekend, I was pleased to see the results we got as they showed what could happen if we’re target our campaigns strategically.

That specific campaign only costed $5 and amounted to over 430,000 views for us.

I’ve written all about the specific results of this campaign here if you’re interested in diving in a bit further.

This campaign showed me the value in not being afraid to take calculated risks.

Lesson 7: As side hustlers, it’s important for us to always be looking for unique opportunities to grow our business.

*I wanted to see if we could test the ROI of a campaign because Geofilters don’t allow any specific call-to-action. You can’t include a website or social media handle and users can’t “swipe up” on them to be taken elsewhere. Being able to measure ROI would be huge for us when pitching to bigger brands.

8. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

If you have a hustle that’s more than a sole proprietorship (just you), then my biggest piece of advice is to communicate with your partner(s) and communicate often.

One thing I’ve loved about building this business with Shane is that we’re complete opposites in the business world.

Shane, a financial wiz who works as a credit analyst for JP Morgan in Minneapolis, is a genius when it comes everything that I get bored with — keeping track of our finances, doing the legal work, crunching numbers and data for our clients, etc.

Shane is the ultimate team player and he (somehow) perfectly balances his overly-long work days with this side hustle of ours.

I, on the other hand, get to do the fun work (in my opinion) by focusing on the creative side of the business and being the point of contact for new business opportunities.

Both of us use our own unique skills, and I think that this is essential in business.

From the very beginning, Shane and I have always put communication at the forefront of our partnership because we work in different locations, in different time zones, and on two different schedules.

We play to our strengths and fully trust each other in making decisions that fall under our “expertise.”

It’s also necessary for us to over-communicate so that we don’t let anything slip through the cracks, so we’re constantly talking to make sure that our work gets done and it gets done well.

Lesson 8: Communication is the key to making sure your business functions like a well-oiled machine. If you can’t communicate well internally, you’re not going to be able to communicate well externally (to your clients and customers).

9. Figure Out A Marketing Channel

Up to this point, Shane and I had made some decent side hustle money and were having a lot of fun growing Filter Haus.

But, this is a business and we wanted it to grow.

So, we knew that we couldn’t keep relying on just word-of-mouth to get our name out there.

As a side hustler who’s middle name is “Frugal,” I was pretty reluctant to say, “This is exactly where and how we need to spend our money.”

So, we started small with an email marketing campaign.

Since we had some time, we decided that our first email marketing campaign we would try manually.

DO NOT DO THIS.

I’ve done this for two businesses now, and I’ve regretted it both times.

I was young, naive, and had no clue what “providing upfront value” really meant in the business realm.

At the end of the day, there’s no perfect answer I can give you to market your business. It’s up to you to find out.

But, the one thing you need to understand is that you can’t sell a t-shirt (your product) to a nudist (your cold market) without showing them the value in a t-shirt to begin with.

After our manual outreach campaign which was messy, confusing, and left us with 1 new client out of over 1,000 contacts, we decided it may be time to do things the “right” way.

Up to this point, I was still a young entrepreneur that knew nothing about online sales funnels.

If I were to go back and do things again, setting up a sales funnel would be the first thing I’d do so that when it came time to marketing our services we would have a remarketing strategy in place.

However, we decided to try our hand with a company that helps automate outbound lead generation.

While I’m still not sure if it was the lack of our ability to create compelling email campaigns (quite possibly) or the newness and buggy nature of the platform (definitely), our $2,000 invested in a month-long contract turned out to be a waste and equated to a whopping $0 in new business for us.

Lesson 9: Every business needs a strong marketing strategy in order to grow. If you’re not a marketer yourself, find someone who is and pay them to do the work for you. Contact me if you’re not sure where to begin.

10. Capitalize On Trending Events

In the always-on world we live in, it’s important for side hustlers like you and me to get crafty and put ourselves in a position to grow our business with limited resources.

Similar to taking calculated risks, one of the best things I’ve ever done for our business is capitalizing on one of the world’s largest events — the Super Bowl.

Admittedly, I’ve never been a huge football fan.

I enjoy the game, but don’t follow it closely enough to know who’s on what teams and if Deflategate was actually real (while I love to study Tom Brady for his success, he seems like a weasel that probably had something to do with balls being deflated).

So, when Super Bowl LI rolled around I was more focused on the marketing than I was the game.

Instead of going out and partying, I decided it’d be a cool opportunity to establish myself as an up-and-coming digital marketer by writing about the advertisements.

Initially, I didn’t know how I was going to craft an article until I saw a commercial from Avocados from Mexico during the first half of the game.

Immediately, I knew that they were the brand I wanted to write about so I ended up creating this piece on the digital marketing strategy they used during the Super Bowl.

I also noticed that they were super active on Twitter during the game giving #AvoSecrets, so I decided to tweet my article at their account:

Little did I know at the time that the woman who tweeted back at me was their Digital Marketing Director.

A few days later, I received an email for her and setup a phone call in which she wanted to learn more about me and was also interested in the work we do at Filter Haus.

I was also flattered to learn that the President of their company enjoyed the article so much that he forwarded it out to the entire company. A big win for an article that took me 30 minutes to write!

The wins didn’t stop there, however.

During my call with Ivonne, she candidly gave me (and our team at Filter Haus) an opportunity to pitch them on a campaign for Geofilter Marketing.

The AFM brand wanted to get into Snapchat Marketing, but didn’t have the time or resources to develop original content for their own account. So, they figured they’d see what Geofilter Marketing was all about and how our team could help them reach their marketing goals.

With the challenge of pitching them a campaign that met their goals and kept it within their budget, our team worked hard to create a pitch deck that would blow them away.

This deck took a lot of hard work and a few late nights, but ultimately led to us signing an $85,000 contract with the brand and was well-worth the “hustle mode” we went into for a few weeks.

Too many entrepreneurs focus on landing as many clients as they can, when in reality all it really takes to find success is landing a few high-ticket clients.

Lesson 10: The Internet allows us to reach anyone in the world with the click of a few buttons, so work hard to give yourself opportunities to get noticed. If you’re not thinking “How can I go viral?” then you’re thinking too small.

11. Have Fun With Your Hustle And Enjoy The Journey

At the end of the day, none of the lessons I’ve learned or the successes we’ve had would mean an ounce if I didn’t find meaning in the work we do.

Shane and I could’ve easily quit our jobs for a year to focus on Filter Haus and Filter Haus alone, and I’m confident that had we done so we would’ve made A LOT more money.

But at the end of the day, the work we do isn’t about the money. It’s about helping brands who are struggling to find a way to stand out in a crowded market place.

Filter Haus has been a business we’ve built as young hustler’s who don’t mind working an extra 30 minutes after our normal work days.

It’s been a business that we can run with minimal time & capital and see some awesome results from it.

And it’s a business that’s made us more well-rounded businessmen, hungrier entrepreneurs, and closer friends.

We had one goal when we started Filter Haus and that was to create a successful company that makes us some extra money, helps us grow both personally and professionally, and gives us something to look forward to each day.

Filter Haus, I can proudly say, is a six-figure side hustle that is a stepping stone for Shane and I to build more businesses, help more clients, and impact more people in whatever we do.

Lesson 11: If you’re not enjoying the journey, get out. There are going to be good times and bad, but the most important thing in business is pursuing the work you’re passionate about because the kinks will always work themselves out if you are.

So, where are things at now with Filter Haus as of this writing?

With Shane’s plans to go to grad school shortly and my “let’s build things and see where they go” mentality, we’re currently being selective with any new business we take on.

We’ve come to a point where we want to focus primarily on serving our existing clients and putting our time & efforts towards making their campaigns the best we can.

With that said, we’re always open to consulting business owners on how Geofilter Marketing could fit into their marketing strategy. If that sounds like you, please get in touch with me by clicking here.

Also, we’ve built our six-figure hustle on the backs of a tech company that could be gone in a moments notice (we’ll see if Facebook can do more damage and, if so, how quickly).

I think I speak for both of us in saying that we’re excited for what’s ahead in our careers because we’ve seen what we’re capable of.

The best part? We’re two ordinary guys who had an idea that we believed in and a vision of how to make it happen.

We merely took action and didn’t take “No” for an answer along the way.

I want to leave you with this:

If you’re at a point in your life where you feel “stuck,” take a moment to figure out why.

Are you in a job that you hate and aren’t being challenged enough at?

Are you in a relationship that’s toxic and is taking away from who you truly are?

Do you think you’re capable of more in your life but not sure you have the resources to succeed?

Wherever you’re feeling “stuck” with, my biggest piece of advice is to simply make a change.

Go start that side hustle that you’ve wanted to start

Get out of the relationship that’s not making you a better person.

Find a way to share your skills and knowledge with the world.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”

Make a change, be confident in yourself, and go kick some ass.

Want to learn more about building an online side hustle? Download my free guide on the 4 types of online side hustles that you can start today!

Have an idea for a hustle but don’t know where to start? Download my free checklist on what you need to create an online business overnight!

Need a coach who will help you build a successful online business? Join Side Hustle University and get access to a community of likeminded entrepreneurs working towards success together!

Want to read more on marketing & entrepreneurship?

Jump on over to my blog 👉 www.ayeeedixon.com/blog

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Austin Dixon

I like to build brands. Currently making hair loss history @adegen >> Get my free “A-List Emails” course at AListMarketer.com