I helped plan a regional youth gathering as part of an internship with the provincial government, where we invited Social Media Strategist and videographer Dave Culligan to share how he got Halifax buzzing about social media. When he started his 365 day videography project, he hoped to convince local businesses that social media mattered in Nova Scotia. Now on day 287, he’s in such high demand for video production that he has to turn down jobs. By the time I spoke to him on Sunday about the presentation he gave on Friday, he had quit his other jobs, made his side hustle his main hustle, and became a full-time videographer.
A recent CBC article reported that ‘The millennial side hustle,’ not stable job, is the new reality for university grads’. I saw a connection between that and your presentation. Can you explain the millennial side hustle?
If you have a job that isn’t what you want to be doing, like if you’re working as a bartender but you want to work in public relations, or if you’re working a labour job but you want to work in marketing, you can’t just go home and have a beer and watch TV and think that’s gonna happen. It might suck, you might have to sleep four hours a night for a couple months, and you might have to work really hard, you might have to sacrifice your social life, but no one’s gonna give it to you. You have to figure out a way to get it done.
When you get a contract, what exactly is the job?
I’m completing two contracts right now. One for a construction company, so I documented a video series on some of their big projects in Halifax, and I’m working on a contract for Dalhousie documenting their residences.
You mentioned that you also work with BeHuman clothing?
I’m done with them now. I was running that company, but I stepped down on Friday.
I’m curious, you were doing too much work for BeHuman so you had to walk away?
I was running a clothing company, making my 365 videos every day, running an organization called StartUp Grind as the chapter director, consulting for startups and digital strategy, and I was also taking large scale video contracts where I was traveling to sites to film and edit. It was all too much. I got to a point where I was getting so many offers to do video production that I couldn’t say yes to because I didn’t have the time, and then I decided I would rather say yes to those offers than running the clothing company. It was a great opportunity, but it wasn’t exactly what I wanted to be doing. I’d spent long enough generating interest and business that I was able to leave and feel safe in the video world.
It seems like the side hustle can also be like creating a job that maybe didn’t exist before?
Yeah, in many cases. That’s just the way things are now. Traditional jobs other than accounting or law — and even sometimes in those cases — are disappearing because people want more efficiency. The market is changing.
You said that doing the 365 was sort of a way to prove that your other services were worth paying for. You were doing social media management?
I don’t really do social media management anymore, but I have. It’s not my focus, but I’ve done it.
Is it part of your ‘grand game plan’?
No, it’s something I know how to do and it’s something I think I do better than a lot of people around here, but it’s not necessarily what I love doing.
What’s your ideal, as far as making a living?
I like making video content, and I like doing it for brands that align with my values. Brands that I’m into and have money to pay well, and that give me projects where I have some creative freedoms, but also the ability to have fun making it. As of a few days ago, I’m 100% a freelance videographer.
You mentioned someone in San Francisco was doing a similar project, but no one was doing it here?
It’s funny, because around here I had to convince people that social media was important and that building their brand was a real thing. But everywhere else, people know the value of social media, they know the value of bloggers and influencers. Nova Scotia and Halifax are behind the times in a lot of senses, but you can complain about that or you can look at what people are doing in bigger cities, learn how to do it and bring it here. People might be resistant, people might not understand the value, but you can’t just complain about it. It’s up to you to demonstrate the value. Whether that takes time or money of your own, you don’t really have a choice.
I’ve noticed an opportunity for great impact with a small population like in Halifax, because a trend can be started with just a few hundred people. Have you noticed that?
In the city there’s a bit of a glass ceiling because there are only so many people. So you’re not going to become a billionaire here, but in terms of reaching the masses and hitting a critical mass where everyone knows what you’re working on or has heard about your project, it’s so do-able. It’s do-able within weeks or months, as opposed to somewhere else where it might take years, or it might never happen.
Working for free is pretty straight forward, but can you give examples of ways to work for free and how it pays off for you?
If you say “hey, I’m a social media strategist” and no one wants to pay you to do it, then you can go to a company, literally show up at their door with a resume and a little business plan and say “I’d love to take over your social media and do some consulting for you. If you see value in it after a month, then you could either pay me or refer me to a friend”. I think people get caught up in saying “I’m not going to do free work” but who is anyone to say that when no one is offering them money?
But you don’t want to overwork yourself either, right?
Well, there are very few people who are actually there. It’s frustrating and it can get difficult, but the only way you’ll figure out what’s too much, and what being overworked feels like, is to get there and then pull back. You’re better off going a bit overboard and then dialing it down, than living your life in fear of working too hard.
You told us that you once randomly reached out to a professional you read about in a magazine and made a connection that way. How does that work?
The important thing about reaching out is that you’re reaching out to someone who’s busy and ambitious and has a lot going on. You can’t just say “can we talk” or “can we get coffee”. You’ve got to have some kind of value proposition, like “I’d like to help you with this project that I see you’re working on”. I’m at the point now where I get a lot of invitations to coffee, and I hardly have enough time to grab a coffee with my best friends! Unless there’s something that’s gonna move a needle forward, it doesn’t make sense. I sound like a know-it-all, but I didn’t know any of this 8 months ago, or a year ago. But that’s why I’m so passionate about saying it, because I’d rather save people from doing all the dumb stuff that I did.
I think it’s important for students to know that they can’t just get their degree and graduate if they want to start a sustainable career.
In fact, I think you’re much better off with no degree and having done this work, than getting a degree and not having done the side work.
Follow @dave.culligan on Instagram
*Correction: “In the city there’s a bit of a class ceiling” was changed to “In the city there’s a bit of a glass ceiling”.