(Podcast) Shanika Hillocks: How to Monetize Your Side Hustle + Balance It All

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Our Open House is back! With our very first special guest - sister friend & professional multi-tasker - SHANIKA HILLOCKS. We’ve proudly watched her navigate a successful corporate AND freelance career over the years, while somehow still having time for a skin-care routine, buzzing social life on and offline, learning song lyrics and workouts that take her from Harlem to Brooklyn (How sway?). Tune in for a few gems, and let us know your thoughts in the comments below . And pro tip - sharing is caring :)


Hey! I'm Leanna and I’m Leah. We’re are the founders of Planfully, an online marketplace to find and book event pros. And this is our Open House, a podcast that highlights event experts and changemakers on a mission to transform the communities around them. On this episode, we’re inviting you in to meet our longtime friend, food + beverage PR veteran and freelance culture writer, SHANIKA HILLOCKS. She’ll be sharing how she monetized her side hustle, when doing too much is doing tew much, and how to balance personal pursuits and a 9-to-5.

Shanika: I am, as you say, a food and beverage veteran, but currently wearing a number of hats under the food and beverage umbrella. My 9-to-5... I work as an Influencer Marketing Manager at an agency that has clients in the restaurant and hotel space. On the side, I am a freelance food and beverage writer. So I started doing that kind of as a result of a blog that really turned into a passion project and then when I realized I could get paid for it, I decided to pitch to a couple of outlets, so doing that. And then in addition, also consulting for a couple of food and beverage brands that are brick-and-mortar spaces in the city.

Leanna: So a lot of people want to start side gigs, are thinking about starting their own thing. When did decide to start your own thing and when did you know you could charge?

Shanika: In my early years as a publicist in the wine and spirits space, I had to subscribe to a lot of publications, really consume any form of media across the board. But as I was consuming and reading the feature stories, and stories that people were really raving about, I found that many of the individuals who were focused as subjects weren’t really people that looked like me, weren’t stories that I could resonate with. And so as an attempt to fill that void, I created a specific series on my blog, on my dotcom, called  GASTRONOIR. And that series touched on profiles that highlighted individuals in the space, specifically people of color - sommeliers, bartenders, chefs, etcetera. As a publicist, you know, especially in the very beginning stages, you’re constantly pitching journalists. So whether that means looking for someone to kind of come in and feature your restaurant or profile an individual. And being on that back end made me realize that, “hey this actually a relationship that ends up being transactional on the journalists’ end.” And so, you know, after I got very comfortable with some of those relationships with the journalists, and recognizing, “alright like well if this writer is covering this for this publication, then there’s someone out there that could pitch this editor for a specific story.” And I found myself, interestingly enough, learning not to compromise those relationships. And then from there just reaching out honestly from my gmail, not my work-affiliated email, and showcasing those stories that were on my blog as examples to say, “hey I can write about this specific topic and I can do it in a way that is going to resonate with your audience.”

Leah: I think you’ve also done a really good job about building community around that whole mission so-to-speak. What does that mean to you in terms of...you know, I know you now focus on this as a side a gig, where it’s monetized, but it’s probably a bigger picture for you outside of the money. So what does community mean to you and the impact that you think you have, or that you actually have, or how do you view that?

Shanika: You know the blog was the vehicle that really allowed me to build this community. I was very upfront in my mission stating, “Of course, you’re a person of interest but this is the reason why. It’s because ‘hey, like I know you’re probably reading these publications too, and I think there needs to be more representation, inclusivity equity here.’” And so I think when we go outside of just the pitch element of it with the personalization that’s when I really noticed that making that extra effort was something that was a common thread that really allowed me to be more connected with these individuals. And so from there, I really just took that piece of learning and applied that to so many of the other arenas that I was touching. Like I mentioned I was in the wine and spirits space, and so again, when I was occupying a tasting or something of that nature, instead of looking at a program and saying “hey this person is in the room” and just kind of acknowledging it that way, I would make an effort to be like hi, shake hands, this is my name, I love what you do in this space. Or you know an example of a recent presentation or article or something. And always ensuring that I not only passed my card, but took their card and made the first effort to start that dialogue. I think that’s something that’s such a small thing that we often can forget. But we often are exposed to so many people, and I think that’s the first step in building a relationship, which ultimately builds your community.

Leanna: In-real-life relationships. Get off the phone, lol. Get off the DMs.

Shanika: Totally. Absolutely. Yeah, I hang my hat on this phrase, “Turning URL into IRL,” and I really kind of hung my hat, not only on that as like a junior publicist in those early days, but now as someone who understands that value of a relationship. Understands that it just goes beyond. While the dotcom is the platform and where this all lives, it’s really about that connective tissue.

Leah: In all that you’ve done, has there ever been a moment when you felt like you might have failed at something, but it turned into being a huge lesson for you that you take with you now? Or is there anything that you wish you knew sooner?

Shanika: I would definitely say when you're young and coming up, this narrative of staying hungry is often kind of pushed in your face. And I certainly kind of took that to heart early on and really just honestly spreading myself too thin. I was constantly the first person to raise my hand and volunteer something. And so something that I learned early on and something I wished I would’ve just put into action is to understand that it’s ok to say no. Understand that no is complete sentence and it really helps establish necessary boundaries. You can only service your clients, your community at your best when you are feeling your best. So that’s certainly something that I wish I would’ve just put into practice early on in my career.

Leanna: Good advice. Thank you for saying yes to us though, lol. We appreciate it.

Leah: And one other thing, because we’ve always known you to be the person that’s always on the ‘gram, always at events, writing articles, always so busy. How do you manage it all? What are some tips? ‘Cause we are, at the moment, tired.

Leanna: And our Instagram is saaaad.

Shanika: Absolutely. They’re, of course, some resources that I utilize, but also it’s just recognition of who you are. You know, I for me, I’m my best self in the morning. I will mark out specific times on my calendar that are dedicated to like hey I’m going to writing this article from 6:45 to 7:45, then hopping in the shower and getting myself situated for work. So I think, making the calendar your friend and marking out that time specifically for you and your side projects is important. I also have an outlet of some sort. When I’m feeling a little overwhelmed or stressed, I’m gonna to take it out on a yoga mat or in a workout class. It just allows me to kind of release that and then, of course, be able to take care myself. But also it’s a nice break up in between, ‘cause often times there have been days where it’s straight from the desk at the office to the desk at home to the coffee shop, or where ever you might be working.

Leah: That’s our daily lives.

Leanna: Last question. I believe, last question. What impact do you want to have on your community slash the world slash us?

Shanika: Sure. Being in hospitality can often be positioned as a very sexy space. With food, I’m presumed to be like dining out all the time or enjoying cocktails or what have you. But I’ve also learned how political food can be. And I really…

Leah: Wait, can you just expound on that? What do you mean by political?

Shanika: Sure. Especially living in New York and in Harlem. And I’ve just seen crazy transition when it comes to gentrification and a lot of pockets in Harlem are food deserts. And so, how does that impact the residents that live there? That’s just one example of how it has political aire to it. So that’s something that I would encourage people to take a deeper look at. So just really taking the time to educate my family members about that how their dollar and what they consume can impact that bigger ecosystem that is food.

Leanna: How do we throw in Thotiana though, lol?

Shanika: Right after the intro…

Thanks for listening to Planfully’s Open House. Let us know what you think and subscribe. If you have any recommendations, questions, or need some event planning help, hit us up at team@planfullyevents.com. And we’re on the ‘gram at @planfully.events. Special thanks to Shanika Hillocks, you can find her just about anywhere under the byline Shanika Hillocks. This is Planfully, reminding you to celebrate life. Til next time.