How a Sweet Passion Turned Into a Side Hustle

Written by Mary Luz Mejia

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2021

I could see the writing on the wall once the COVID-19 virus numbers started popping up in North America. I'm a freelance writer on the side. Overnight, most of my clients froze their content, and some publications even folded.

I still have my 9-to-5, but I felt now's the time to work towards a dream of mine. Something I called "The Chocolate Plan."

How Tough Times Brought My Goals into Focus

I got into chocolate about seven years ago when one of the founders of the International Chocolate Awards (ICA) suggested I spearhead the organization of the Canadian leg of the competition. I worked to find Canadian-based judges to taste and score the chocolates, and organizing all that goes into a competition.

The International Institute for Chocolate and Cacao Tasting (IICCT) is based out of the UK. Much like sommeliers have courses and exams, chocolate tasters do too. I took a Level 1 class in Toronto and passed. The following year, I worked behind the scenes to help organize Level II and I courses (which offset the price of the program) while also taking the three-day Level II course.

After years of organizing, tasting, reading and taking courses about chocolate for fun, I decided COVID was a good time to pursue it as a side hustle. If you're considering turning a passion into a business, here's what I learned:

  • If you need to take courses or receive some type of certification, you might be able to offset the cost of some courses by helping out. If I hadn't helped the instructor, I would have spent around $1,000 on courses, chocolates and books. If you're interested in a particular field, look into possible ways you can offset the costs of training or supplies.
  • Look around and see who's working in your area of interest. What are they doing? What do they offer? Find people willing to share their wisdom and collaborate.

Getting into the Business of Chocolate

A mutual friend connected me to the owner of online workshop business GuruCollab here in Toronto. In September, I started hosting a curated, bean-to-bar Canadian-made chocolate tasting experience and truffle "hacking" class.

When you're getting into a new line of work, you may not realize how much time it takes to become proficient at it or see any returns. I loved that these classes took less time to prepare and conduct than researching and writing an article. Some aspects of starting a side hustle to consider:

  • Before you dive into a new project, compare how much time it takes relative to how much money you hope to make. It may be a lot different than what you're used to. In my case, once the pre-production work is complete (cacao/chocolate information and tasting notes), it's just about the time spent in class.
  • Are there any operating expenses you can deduct? Because I've been a freelancer for over 20 years and still use my personal business number, I had experience with deducting expenses.

Spending on Growing My Chocolate Knowledge

To gain another point of view into the production of bean-to-bar chocolates, I recently enrolled in a program called Chocolate Theory, taught by a local chocolatier through a local college. The course costs $200.

  • I consider the knowledge I'll gain from it a good return on investment. If you're thinking of spending to increase your knowledge, think about how and when you'll be able to recoup those costs. Don't let it impact your daily expenses. For me, I can make $200 back in a single, one-hour tasting or truffle-making session depending on the size of the class (the bigger the class, the bigger my fee).

My Future Plans

I'm hoping to complete Level III of my Chocolate and Cacao Tasting course when it's possible for me to spend time on an actual cacao plantation. This will allow me to instruct classes through the IICCT in and around the Greater Toronto Area (and hopefully charge more) and be able to teach more classes once I get Level III certification.

The extra money is welcome, and in the future, my plan is to be semi-retired and continue working in chocolate after I've retired from 9-to-5 life. Right now, being able to enjoy my passion and share it with others has been the sweetest thing of all.

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