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How to Moonlight as a Tax Guru

Kimberly Palmer

A money manager for a nonprofit organization by day, Jason Malinak takes on a different identity during his off-hours: He becomes a tax consultant to Etsy shop owners. Etsy, an online marketplace for handmade goods, hosts more than 875,000 active shops, and those shop owners, the most successful of whom sell thousands of dollars worth of merchandise a year, often need help managing their store finances.

Malinak, who lives in Colorado Springs, Colo., first noticed the need after his wife started selling baby clothes and accessories on Etsy. As he set up a system to help her track her inventory and sales, he realized, "Oh, there are other Etsy sellers who have the same questions. So I took that bookkeeping system, made it more user-friendly, and began selling it in my own Etsy shop." Today, he's expanded his product line to include pricing guides and contract guides, and he's made more than 900 sales since launching.

That steady flow of sales gives Malinak's family, which now includes two young children, extra income that can go toward savings. His guides, which are sold as PDFs, sell from between $4 and $100, and his costs are minimal since he creates and designs them himself. "Any time you can add to your financial cushion, it relieves financial pressures," says Malinak, 31. He's also working on a book for Etsy sellers, Etsy-preneurship: Everything You Need to Know to Turn Your Handmade Hobby into a Thriving Business, due out this fall. U.S. News spoke with Malinak about how he made his business successful and his advice on other aspiring Etsy sellers. Excerpts:

What kind of background do you need to build this kind of business?

I'm an accountant, a certified public accountant, and a CTP (certified treasury professional). I perform the treasury function at a nonprofit organization, so I manage the money--I do the investments, the cash management, the foreign-exchange transactions. I have an undergrad degree in accounting and got my masters in accountancy. I didn't have any other start-up costs other than my education.

How can you balance both your Etsy shop and your full-time job?

I work either in the morning or late at night. For me, it's a hobby. Everything I do, I consider fun: Building spreadsheets, writing about taxes, teaching other people stuff. It's enjoyable. I spend hours at night working, yes, but it doesn't feel like work. I spend about five to 10 hours a week on it. My boss knows about it, and he's encouraging. It's not a conflict at all. I'm doing my job when I'm at work, and then my side gig is my hobby.

How did you get word out about your products?

I started visiting Etsy forums and answering sellers' questions on bookkeeping, finances, and legal issues. A lot of my marketing now is just word-of-mouth, from being established on Etsy as a knowledgeable person on these topics.

What do you do with your earnings?

The money we make from this is kind of a financial surplus. We have two kids now, so we're saving for their college fund. We were able to do a lot of remodeling on our house with the funds, and initially saved up some of our down payment when we purchased our first home. It's money we're not relying on for our day-to-day expenses, but we're putting the money into savings.

Do you have plans to expand in the future?

I'm happy now--I don't have the goal to make it a full-time job. I love my job and consider that my career, and Etsy my hobby. When my book comes out, I'll have more exposure to new audiences, and that increases the opportunity to teach Etsy sellers, wherever that might go.

What motivates you to keep going?

I like to see something I do succeed and do well. I like to put my best work in, and also know that I can take some of this money and use it for good things for our family--to save for the kids' college, to provide a nice house to live in. Those things are also motivators.

Twitter: @alphaconsumer

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