- Jannese Torres-Rodriguez worked hard to achieve her dreams of a steady corporate job, only to realize she felt creatively unfulfilled.
- She started a food blog as a side passion project, but it eventually became so successful that she was able to leave her corporate job.
- Learning new skills, finding the right niche, getting support, and laying careful financial groundwork have helped her find success in the gig economy.
Jannese Torres-Rodriguez never imagined she would become an entrepreneur.
Encouraged by her Puerto Rican parents, she'd excelled at her education—earning undergraduate and graduate degrees in biology and biotech—and landed a corporate engineering job with benefits and a retirement plan.
"The plan was to go to college, get a degree, hopefully get a pension, retire at 65," she says.
Everything was going according to plan. But the more achievements she checked off her list, the more she started to question whether it was really the right plan for her.
"I found myself around the age of 27 feeling like, 'Is this all there is to life?'" she says. "I did all the things, and I felt really unsatisfied."
She felt that she needed a creative outlet. "Part of me always thought I wanted to do something around the culinary arts," she says. So in 2013 she started a food blog, Delish D'Lites, to share recipes in her spare time.
Fast forward to 2021, and Delish D'Lites is a profitable business and a main part of her career. The corporate job is only a memory (she quit for good in 2021). In total, Torres-Rodriguez has 10 different "side hustle" income streams, including coaching other Latinx entrepreneurs. And all told, she earns a 6-figure income from her various hustles—more than she was making in the corporate world.
But that transition didn't happen overnight. It took years of hard work, occasional failures, and learning new skills—plus one big final leap of faith.
Recipe for success
Torres-Rodriguez credits a few key ingredients with helping her cook up a satisfying gig life.
First, was building out a new skill set. She took a class in food blogging at New York's Institute of Culinary Education. She learned about affiliate marketing, sponsored content, and managing display ads. She got a crash course in food photography and styling by studying magazines. "I started to really focus in on honing my content in a way that was going to make me stand out," she says.
Next, was finding the right niche—which for Torres-Rodriguez was the Puerto Rican food she grew up with. "I realized that there's not a lot of Puerto Rican food bloggers," she says. Once she narrowed her blog's focus, "my traffic went crazy," she says.
As Delish D'Lites grew, she also began to diversify her lines of income. She started coaching other Latinx aspiring entrepreneurs in translating their dreams into income streams. That in turn became its own business. And soon she was such an expert on gig finances, she decided to start her own personal finance podcast, called Yo Quiero Dinero (I want money).
Over time her various businesses continued to grow, and leaving her day job started to look more and more like a real possibility. So she added 2 more key ingredients to the mix: financial planning, and support from family and professionals.
She worked with a financial professional to develop a "transition plan" for her finances. She paid off all her debt. She built up an emergency fund with 1 year's worth of expenses, and even went a step further, relocating with her husband from New Jersey to Florida, in order to dramatically cut their living expenses. She worked with an accountant to make sure her tax planning was in order. And she joined her husband's health insurance plan.
Finally, in 2021 her gigs were profitable enough and stable enough that she felt ready to quit her corporate job.
"When you wake up in the morning and you're more excited to work on your side hustle than you are to check in for work, that's an indication that you might be ready to take that full leap," she says.
Taming the fear factor
It took a while for Torres-Rodriguez to convince her parents that the gig economy could provide a "real" living.
"A generation ago, the internet didn't exist, so these jobs didn't exist," she says. "So it's OK if people don't get what you're doing. It's not really about them at the end of the day."
Torres-Rodriguez says she's very risk-averse, which is part of why she was so conservative in waiting to take her gigs full time. Even so, leaving her day job has taken her out of her comfort zone.
"Entrepreneurship is an exercise in confronting fear," she says. "You will have failures, you will have setbacks, but if you know that those are not a reflection of you and your value as a person, and it's just a learning lesson, you get a lot more comfortable taking risks."
She also reminds gig workers that making the transition may require burning the candle at both ends for several years. For that reason, Torres-Rodriguez counsels side hustlers to consider keeping some personal passions separate from their money-making gigs.
"For me, it's travel," she says. "Give yourself permission to not have to monetize everything that you do. There is a time and place for it, but you also need an outlet for rest and relaxation."
Her top advice for those just getting started? Don't overthink it, says Torres-Rodriguez, whose most popular food post is a recipe for Puerto Rico's simple national dish: arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas).
"You need to get out of your head at some point and just really start experimenting," she says. "You can think, you can plan, you can do all the things. But eventually, you just have to start."