Independent Contractor Spotlight — Yogi & Gig Worker

Erika Porter talks about stacking together various side-hustles to pursue her creative passions and pay the bills

Erika Porter makes a living via multiple revenue streams, including working for an independent yarn company, grabbing shifts at a local food truck, dog sitting, nannying, cleaning Airbnb homes, and one of her biggest passions, teaching yoga. After college, she came to Nashville by way of Chicago, following in the footsteps of her brother, Derek. Both Porters hail from Decatur, Illinois, where they, along with pals, started an Americana-style band, Pageant. The cash made from music gigs typically goes back to boosting the band, so Erika gleans most of her income from her other ventures. She took an interesting path, starting out as an independent contractor, then taking a nine-to-five job, and then returning to the gig world. She says she is grateful for the jumpstart that job gave her, with a savings and 401K, but she loves the freelance lifestyle.

What factors made you leave your salaried position in customer service?

Erika Porter: Cubicle life is just not for me. I gained a lot of perspective and respect for people who work nine-to-five jobs. I appreciated my time there, and I learned a lot, but it’s so bad physically on people. That’s why, right now, I’m trying to push teaching yoga in the workplace. I just think sitting down all day is so bad for your body. I also kind of thrive on inconsistency. It’s way more exciting for me to have different things to do every day. I just got so bored. I’m a pretty creative person, and it made me feel a little trapped because I felt like I was wasting my time.

Describe are all the different hats you wear now?

EP: My friend and my next door neighbor, Meg Anderson, owns Nutmeg Fibers. And that’s turned into a pretty cool, creative, exciting thing for me to be a part of. She gets all local fibers, from alpaca and Merino wool, and hand dyes them. For about 10 hours a week, I go over there and help her fill orders or help her dye the yarn. And I have just a couple of people who, randomly when they need someone, they’ll reach out, and I’ll go clean their Airbnb. I’ve made connections all over town for little odds-and-ends jobs. Sometimes I’ll even hem things for people. I’m also working for a food truck. I got on their email list, and the owner will send out a schedule every month. I just tell him when I can pick up. So it works out really well with my lifestyle.

Yoga is your main focus, and you’re approaching it as a business rather than a side-hustle. How does the Patreon platform factor in and what other techniques are you using?

EP: As a yoga instructor, you’re a freelancer, and you’re teaching at all these different studios. It’s hard to really develop a following, because people typically are loyal to the studio, not necessarily to you as a teacher. Sometimes you have students who follow you around, but mostly it’s that they’re loyal to the studio. So I was trying to develop Erika Porter Yoga as my business and thinking about it in that way.

Patreon is a way that I can have a personal relationship with people because you can become my patron, and I can interact with you. Right now, I have all these different challenges set, and I’m putting out little yoga series and alignment videos.But the most exciting thing to me is that I get to personalize it to what my patrons want and need. Plus, it creates this sort of loyalty.

Another thing I’m doing is yoga retreats. My sister-in-law’s brother bought their family farm out in Kentucky, right in Bourbon County. It’s Greenhaven Farmhouse Yoga Retreat, and we’ll be doing yoga and tasting bourbon. And we’re doing it in the old tobacco barn.

Yoga is a hard field to make profitable because you’re working at the studios for an hourly rate. At one point I was teaching 15 yoga classes a week, and I was so burnt out physically. So it’s hard to figure out, How can I still teach yoga but not kill myself physically?

You’ve got a lot going on! How do you stay organized and keep it all straight?

EP: I have to always put every single thing in my calendar and set several alarms. At least several times a week I need to sit down with my computer. I use an app called Asana. It’s convenient to use to keep yourself organized with projects. I have a Pageant project. I have a Nutmeg Fibers project. I have a yoga project . . . It helps me sort of set goals in those areas and stick to it and not forget about it. Because if I’m trying to set a goal for the band or for yoga, I could get so caught up in my day-to-day craziness that I just forget where I’m at with that. It helps me stay focused on moving towards the goal—while also running around like a chicken with my head cut off. But again, that’s the lifestyle I prefer.

What are your biggest challenges as an independent contractor?

EP: The biggest challenge is financial stability, for sure. Over the years I’ve had to chase around paychecks. Even though sometimes it’s like a $50 paycheck, and to someone that might not seem significant, for me that fills up my gas tank twice. And, especially in a job where I’m running around town, that’s huge for me. I think sometimes people have a difficult time understanding that every single little paycheck counts for me as a freelancer. For private yoga now, one of my stipulations is that I have a cancellation policy.

I’m still building, and I’m definitely hoping to get to a point where those little paychecks aren’t going to matter as much, but it’s a struggle to build. And I think one of the things that I’m currently working on is understanding that you do have to take the time to build. I’ve been teaching yoga for nine years. And you look back at where you started, and you do see that you have progressed, and you do see that you have created a reputation. So you just have to stick with it and have the confidence to know what you’re worth. And that’s really where the struggle is, is understanding your worth. Because when you’re doing something and asking people to pay you, you have to know. I’ve spent nine years doing this at this point. Teaching one yoga class is no big deal, but that’s nine years of experience that the students are getting, and that is worth something.

What are the rewards of working in this way?

EP: The inconsistency usually gives me energy, and I get really excited about it.There are definitely days where it’s exhausting . . . Monday I taught a yoga class, worked with the yarn place for a couple hours, and taught two other yoga classes after that. By the end of the day I was exhausted, but I was emotionally invigorated. I was physically exhausted, but I felt good about what I was doing. Whereas before, I didn’t feel like I was using all the potential that I had, and that made me feel frustrated.

What advice do you have for aspiring or new independent contractors?

EP: Understand that you will have to work hard. I’m hoping to get to a point where I just get to do the things that I excel at, but to fill the gap you do have to sacrifice, and work jobs that you wouldn’t necessarily first choose. It’s amazing how things just work for you. When you put the work in, and you work hard, things come together. I just think that you can do it if it’s something that you want. And you deserve to pursue what you want. I guess if it’s something that you’re curious about trying, you can try it and see how you do. And you can always go back to the nine-to-five—because there are always jobs like that.

(photo by @theotherchrissscruggs)