May 29, 2018

How To Be Smart and Find a Side Gig

Working outside your day job can be rewarding if you do it right

No matter what you call it – a side gig, a side hustle, or a second job – people with an extra project on the side are everywhere.

Side gigs have become more and more common, and most likely you know someone who has one. That’s because 44 million American adults have a side gig, according to Bankrate’s recent survey. And millennials are leading the charge, with 28% of 18-26 year olds having a side gig.

This isn’t a new phenomenon. People have always found creative ways to make money when they needed to, or to pursue their dream job while working one that pays the bills. But it has become an easier and more streamlined process to work on the side today with social media, technology, and changes in work culture and expectations.  

If you’re thinking about finding a side gig for yourself, this post will get you started.

What is a side gig?

The “side” in side gig means just that. It’s work you do on the side, in addition to your day job.

It’s not your full time job and it won’t provide you with your sole source of income. You might put as much time into your side gig as you do your full time job, because it is what you make of it, but that’s not typical. There are only so many hours in a day and week.

A side gig might be work you find on your own, as if you worked for yourself in your own business, but it can also be work you perform through or for one or more entities. For example, you could provide hair and makeup services to clients you book yourself, or you might work as a sole proprietor in a salon.

Some basic terms to be familiar with:

  • Freelance work = freelancer: Someone who sells work to clients by the hour or by the project, rather than working on a regular basis for one employer.
  • Contract work = contractor: A job, work, or project assigned by contract to someone outside of a company. It could be full or part time.
  • Consultant: A person who provides expert, professional advice. You could be a freelance consultant, or do consulting as part of a larger firm.
  • Independent contractor: For IRS purposes, it is someone who is self-employed and provides services that are not controlled by an employer (what and how something will be done).

The upside of having a side gig

  • You generate extra income, on top of what you make in your day job, which can supplement goals such as paying off school loans or credit cards, saving for a home/home improvements, starting your own business, building a college fund, or paying for a long awaited trip.
  • You could choose to work on something you’re truly passionate about, but may not want to, have the ability, or the opportunity to pursue full time. For example, you might love a hair and makeup side gig, but there aren’t enough opportunities in your area to pursue it full time or it wouldn’t generate a steady enough stream of income for you/your family. Or a side gig can be a way to learn a new skill (one that you’re passionate about) that keeps you active and diversifies your knowledge and skill set.
  • And another huge upside for some side gigs is that they can be done remotely, working when and wherever is convenient for you! These side gigs satisfy your desire to pursue something different without significant conflict on other commitments, and allowing for greater flexibility.

The downside of having a side gig…

  • Less free time. How much do you value your free time and what do you do during your free time? This is personal to everyone. If it’s binge-watching your favorite TV shows, the pros of a side gig probably outweigh this con. But if you have family commitments, a day job that requires frequent travel, or that requires many more than 40 hours a week, having less free time makes meeting the demands of a side gig impractical and potentially detrimental to family happiness or career growth.
  • Scheduling conflicts. Not only will you have a more hectic schedule, but you’ll also probably have, at some point, conflict between your day job and your side gig. Conflict could be direct, like when you have to turn down a side project or client because of constraints or travel for your day job. Or it could be indirect conflict, like if you stayed up late to complete a side project and you were less rested for your day job.
  • Taxes. Paying taxes isn’t a con, but if you don’t plan ahead, you could be hit with a shockingly big tax bill. If you’re freelancing, you’ll be expected to pay estimated quarterly taxes since you aren’t receiving paychecks with taxes withheld throughout the year. If you don’t pay your estimates, not only will you have a huge bill at the end of the year, but there will be penalties too.
  • No employer benefits. Most likely, your full time job offers benefits such as healthcare and retirement or pension accounts. Be aware that these won’t be available through your side gig, even if you’re working for a company. You’re basically a consultant or independent contractor with no benefits, so you’ll need to make sure you’re covered through your day job, or set them up for yourself.

Why do you want to have a side gig?

Now that we’ve got a sense of the terminology and the pros and cons, let’s dive in to why you want to have a side gig. Everyone’s “why” is different. So before you embark on your side gig path, you should make sure you have one, if not many, whys.

For example, you want a side gig because you want to:

  • Generate extra income
  • Diversifying your sources of income and/or create job stability by having a backup skill/career
  • Gain experience or develop skills that you need because you’re new to a field
  • Continue a passion you had to put on hold because of your day job or embark on one that you’ve always wanted to pursue. Maybe now the timing is right!

No matter why you want to have a side gig, knowing it and reminding yourself of it throughout the process of identifying, finding, and working your side gig will keep you focused and undeterred from the hurdles along the way. What’s your why?

Figuring out your side gig

What’s your motivation?

Getting to and finding my current and favorite side gigs took time. Knowing what you are working your side gig for will help you find the best possible fit.

It’s time to thoughtfully articulate and answer the questions below and time spent working in different roles and with different employers. If you aren’t clear on your why, it will be hard to stick with your side gig. A side job is still a job — it will take up your time, so you should see it as valuable. Otherwise, you’re not likely to last very long or do a good job.

For me, my side work led me to the realization that I loved the challenge of researching an unknown or confusing issue, writing about what I learned, and editing my work to fit the desired audience.

If you’re certain that a side gig is missing from your life and you’ve thought about why you want to have one, ask yourself these questions:

  • What am I good at? It could be something intangible like strong communication skills or tangible like knitting beautiful scarves.
  • What do people compliment me on? For example, “you’re so good with kids” or maybe family and friends always come to you with their computer/IT issues.
  • What am I passionate about? It could be a hobby, but it can also be an issue or idea you want to throw your whole weight behind.
  • What are my hobbies? Start with a list of activities you already do with your free time and then try turning them on their head. You love and are passionate about animals, but that doesn’t mean your side gig options are limited to pet sitting or dog walking. For example, animal awareness nonprofits need grant writers to support their mission.
  • What are my strongest skills or talents? What do you know you are great at? What have you been paid to do before?

In answering these questions, now consider how your answers can translate into a side gig; what would turning your ideas and hobbies into a side gig look like?

  • Strong communication skills → tutoring, fitness instructor, marketing
  • Make things with your hands, e.g. knitting, calligraphy, woodwork → create an online store
  • Love of fashion and beauty → hair and/or makeup artist, fashion blog, personal shopper
  • Great at writing/editing → copywriter, ghostwriter, editor
What will you need?

After you’ve gotten two to three realistic side gig ideas formulated, what will you need to make them a reality? You want to stand out from others providing the same service or work.

You might need additional training or certification to become a hair and makeup artist, for example. Compare program costs, resources and reputation, time commitments or scheduling availability, and training. If you can talk to others who are in the program or completed it before you sign up, even better. You want to get insight into how successful those that have completed the training or certification are now.

Programs that are self-paced and have evening/weekend sessions available are ideal, but also be aware if you need to provide your own supplies, products, or tools.

If your goal is primarily to get some extra cash and you don’t have a strong desire or preference to do anything specific, more generic/less specialized side gigs are out there. You’re options might include driving your car for Lyft or Uber, selling items online or having your own online “store,” delivering for Postmates, or performing tasks through TaskRabbit. These side gigs won’t require professional experience, additional certification or training, or a significant investment in time or money upfront, but as a result, are likely to be lower paid than skilled work.

Do your research

Can your passion or hobby become a side gig? After you’ve answered the questions above and come up with a few side gig ideas for each, whittle down the list further by considering some practicalities. Not all of your ideas will automatically translate into a side gig. For each potential gig, look at:

  • Available work opportunities. Are there enough potential clients in your area that need or want what you have to offer? If you’re considering a side gig that isn’t specialized, how will you stand out from others? Does the supply of people providing that side gig exceed  the demand?
  • Scheduling. If you want to provide a service or something that must be done in person, reliable transportation and a pool of nearby clients are a must. If you have to travel long distances to reach clients, is that practical considering travel time and expenses, or your full time job and family commitments?
  • Conflicts of interest. If you work for an entity and have certain inside information or knowledge, but also want a side gig that might overlap with the same clients, it’s not going to work. Pursuing your side gig would put your day job at risk. For example, grading for a professional exam and offering exam preparation assistance to people taking that exam creates a conflict of interest.

In part two of this post…

We’ll cover how to start and grow your side gig, and turn it into a worthwhile endeavor, as well as cover time management skills and planning. Until next time!

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