Skip to main content
Welcome to
super saver spring
offer ends april 20
save over $140
save over 85%
$0.99
per week for 24 weeks
Welcome to
super saver spring
$0.99
per week
for 24 weeks
// //

Thienly Azim started making crafts in quarantine, and has since turned it into a thriving side business.

Thienly Azim/Handout

When Riley Knudsen was laid off from her job as a restaurant manager in Vancouver in the early days of the pandemic, she filled her spare time with her hobby in the fibre arts.

Ms. Knudsen had been perfecting her macrame knotting skills for a few years. But it wasn’t until the pandemic began that she was motivated to turn her hobby into a business. “I just felt like I never really had the time or the expertise to create a legitimate business,” she explains. “But when the pandemic started, I lost my job like a lot of other Canadians, and then I had so much time on my hands. I thought, ‘Why don’t I just give this a try and just see how it goes?’”

In May, Ms. Knudsen launched her Etsy shop, BeachMacrameCo, and had her first sale two days later: a blue and white macrame wall hanging that she sold for $79.99. She grew her business by researching successful Etsy shops and learning how to market her business through platforms such as Instagram, using popular hashtags including #fiberartfamily and #inspiredmacrame. Ms. Knudsen now makes 10 to 15 sales a week.

Story continues below advertisement

Micro-ecommerce operations have flourished during the pandemic with an increase in first-time sellers. Etsy Canada reported a 252-per-cent year-over-year increase in new shop openings from July 1, 2020, to September 30, 2020, compared with the same period the year prior.

In May 2020, Ms. Knudsen launched her Etsy shop, BeachMacrameCo, and had her first sale two days later: a blue and white macrame wall hanging that she sold for $79.99.

Riley Knudsen/Handout

And a survey conducted in January 2021 by Angus Reid for the car-sharing company Turo reported that 34 per cent of respondents have taken on a “side hustle” since the pandemic started or plan to do so in the coming year. Forty-three per cent of respondents that have started or plan to start a side hustle have an income of less than $50,000, while 42 per cent have an income of $50,000 to $100,000. Twenty-eight per cent say they started their new business because they had more spare time on their hands. These numbers suggest that people who are starting side businesses aren’t doing so just for the money.

“This spare time does not necessarily mean work hours have been cut,” says Dr. Seung Hwan Mark Lee, an associate professor of retail management and marketing at Ryerson’s Ted Rogers School of Management. Instead, he attributes it to cancelled vacations and limited entertainment opportunities. “So now, people are utilizing [spare time] to set up their own businesses.”

For Calgary stay-at-home-mom Thienly Azim, cancelled vacations left her with a surplus of cash to spend on her crafting hobby. She purchased a laser engraver and cutter for $7,600 in May 2020. While she started off making crafts for her four kids and to give as gifts, she opened an Etsy shop to see whether she could pay off the cost of the machine. She did so after four months. Azim’s shop grew so busy that she says she was able to cover the cost of “groceries and more” for her family of five with her earnings between mid-November and mid-January.

The increase in popularity of supporting small, local businesses has also given micro-ecommerce a boost. These days, there’s more appeal in purchasing a homemade scrunchie than buying it online from Amazon – and people are willing to pay more for it. “We invest in the businesses that are important to us,” says Marie Josée Lamothe, academic director of McGill’s Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurship. On TikTok, the hashtag #SmallBiz generated 40.5 million video views in January.

Ms. Lamothe says that small-scale creators are taking advantage of social media platforms to not only market their products but to gauge interest. “I can develop one prototype of a T-shirt, take a beautiful picture, post it and take orders ahead of time. And once I have orders, I’ll go and produce them and tell my customers they’ll get them in three months. This is completely flipping around the business model where you produce, make it visible, then hope that people will come and buy it.” Pre-order business models decrease the financial risk for new business owners, making it easier for hobbyists to get involved.

Despite the growth in micro-ecommerce operations, only one per cent of side-hustle starters say they plan to quit their full-time job to pursue their new business venture full-time, according to the Angus Reid survey for Turo. Dr. Lee says the uncertainty of starting a small business makes it unrealistic for most to go all-in. “People who are unemployed are still going to look for stability,” Dr. Lee explains. “Setting up your own shop still requires capital, a lot of labour and time.”

Story continues below advertisement

Such was the case for Ms. Knudsen, who continued to search for full-time work. By August, she secured a position as a service manager at a different restaurant, working five days a week. But she still spends 12 to 20 hours over her two days off creating coasters, wall hangings, jewellery and car charms for her business.

Since she enjoys macrame so much, she doesn’t mind completing projects in her spare time. “I really like doing it,” she says. “So it doesn’t really feel like work.”

Thienly Azim/Handout

Stay ahead in your career. We have a weekly Careers newsletter to give you guidance and tips on career management, leadership, business education and more. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies