The Coronavirus pandemic has changed a lot of things in our daily life but one enduring legacy will be our relationship with work.
When I was a kid, I was taught that the way towards prosperity was through work. I go to school, get good grades, get into a good college, graduate, and then start working for a good company. I might switch companies but the expectation is that I'd get promotions and raises, move my way up the ladder, and the company would support me.
The Great Recession changed that calculus for a lot of Americans. I believe the Coronavirus pandemic will set that change in stone.
There are plenty of good companies where you can have a very long career. I know half a dozen people who started working at Northrop Grumman the same year I did (2003) and are still there. I know many who left for other companies but I don't know a single person who was laid off. It's still possible to work somewhere your entire career – but it's rare.
And you never know what will happen. Lord and Taylor, which has been around nearly 200 years, is bankrupt and will be liquidating all of their stores. The pandemic did a number on many companies and for the massive ones, layoffs are inevitable. Survival trumps everything else.
This highlights one key idea that everyone needs to understand – you need a side hustle.
It doesn't matter if it makes $50 a month or $500. Big or small, having a side hustle is crucial and I'll give you several reasons why.
1. Diversify Your Income
This first one is the most obvious reason – but it's still worth talking about.
When people talk about diversifying, they're often talking about diversifying your investments. You can reduce your overall risk by diversifying your holdings without sacrificing any potential gains. It's a well-understood concept and repeated often enough that most people get the gist.
But what is riskier than relying on a single company for all of your income?
When we think about someone taking on two jobs, it's usually because he or she needs more income. Perhaps they're working a low paying job and need supplemental income, so they take on a second job. I'd argue that a second job is just a “side hustle” and having two sources of income is better than one. It's about diversifying your risk.
If, however, you have a well paying “first” job, it's risky to take on a significantly lower-paying second job. That second job will take time and energy away from you and it may not be “worth it” from a financial perspective. If you work in an office during the day for $60,000 a year, it may not be financially wise to take on a second job working as a bartender at night. That's because the bartending job takes time and energy away from you at night, when you may need to rest for the next day.
But side hustles don't have to be second jobs. They can be something you do on the side that doesn't conflict with your day job or draw too much time and energy. The key is to find something that doesn't distract you from the primary income engine, your day job, but still offers you an opportunity to earn more. For example, here are some crazy things I did to earn extra money in college.
2. It's A Machine You Can Crank Up
When you are working a typical job, you can't “make more” by simply “working more.” Even if you are an hourly employee, it's not like you can consistently and reliably ask for more hours and get them all the time. It may be possible for a little bit if you are friendly with the person who schedules hours, but it's not something you can rely on.
This is especially true if you paid on a salary. More work may result in a higher bonus at the end of the year, an increased chance of promotion, or something similar. It doesn't directly translate to more money.
When you have a side hustle, you can add and subtract hours based on how you feel or what you need.
If your side job is driving for a rideshare company or delivering food for DoorDash, you can take on jobs on an a la carte basis. If you have some downtime, open up the apps to see what jobs you can do and pick up a little extra cash. You can't do that with a regular job but you can do that with a side hustle.
If your side hustle is something more entrepreneurial, such as making stuff to sell on Etsy, you can use that time to make more things, research what might sell better, and “work on” the business. It may not translate directly into money, like driving for Uber, but it has an indirect benefit. Much like working more at your day job for a higher chance at a raise or promotion, the difference is that you get more control with your side hustle.
3. It Can Become Passive
If you choose the right side hustle, it can be entirely or partially passive. Your job is active – you don't get paid if you don't show up.
An example of a partially passive side hustle is starting a blog. You could spend your time building up a blog that generates ad revenue or sales commissions while you are at work.
My first blog, Bargaineering, started as a money journal. I didn't start it with the intent of it becoming a business but the more time I spent, the more I saw those opportunities.
First, earned a trickle of advertising revenue from Google Adsense. Then it turned into affiliate revenue from people signing up for credit cards and bank accounts. The best part was that I did most of the work on the blog at night after work but the site earned the most while I was at work (people surfing while they were working!). The site would eventually make more than I did at my full-time job!
Not all blogs make money and very few lead to seven-figure acquisitions – but you never know!
The key here is that you only have a limited amount of time and if you choose to build something with some passive potential, it's like hiring your own workers. My blog was earning money while I was doing something completely different. I had to pay that “worker” with my time at night… but it was worth it.
4. It's Important to Continually Build and Grow
One of the difficult parts about working for someone else is that you aren't in complete control of your future. If you work at a big company, you need to wait until annual reviews to get a promotion or a raise. If you want to gain new skills and take a class, you can pay for it out of pocket or wait for company approval to reimburse you. In some cases, this is a good thing. It can, however, lead to stagnation if you aren't careful. (another positive aspect of the side hustle is that greater sense of control, which is a big contributor to happiness)
A side hustle is great because it's a project that you can tinker with, build on, and grow. It's that continual learning and growth that can give you a sense of accomplishment, especially if you're feeling like you're in a rut at work.
When I was started Bargaineering, my day job was fine. I was working at a large company and the work was a boring but it wasn't bad. I didn't hate my job and I enjoyed the people I worked with. Building a blog, writing posts, seeing traffic, and getting featured in the New York Times was exciting. It was fresh and new and I was learning a ton – so I had a lot of fun even if it didn't translate into more money. That growth kept me going and the little wins were exhilerating.
It's not unlike learning a new hobby or sport except this one has the potentially to earn you extra income.
5. You Need Something That's Yours
I first read this idea in Polina Marinova's newsletter, The Profile, in which she shared what she's learned in the first 90 days of running her own company. The tenth thing she learned was that “You are most powerful when your identity is tied to your name.”
When I was working in the defense industry, I'd always say that I was a software engineer working for Northrop Grumman or Booz Allen Hamilton. I didn't feel like I had enough credibility on my own so I “borrowed” some from the companies I worked for. I was a “good” engineer because I was employed by big corporations that make billions and work on very exciting cutting edge stuff.
This happens with a lot of people – you tie your identity to your work and who you work for.
It also has the reverse effect of impacting how you behave. When you are employed by someone else, you can be fired by someone else so you better behave. This is especially hard with social media and the internet. Before social media, you could be yourself in private and if it would've upset your boss, he or she would have no idea. Today, all your business is out there and you can't be yourself publicly or put your career at risk.
Having something that yours means you can tie your identity to something that no one can take away. If you have a side hustle selling something you make on Etsy, that's your thing. When someone asks what you do, you can lead with your side hustle because let us be honest, it's probably more interesting anyway. 🙂
6. It's Fun
There are side hustles that are strictly about the money, like driving for Uber or Lyft, and then there are those which marry your passions with a way to make money. That's not to say driving for Uber or Lyft isn't fun, you may certainly enjoy it, but the test is whether you'd do it for free. If you'd drive around strangers for free, then you can claim you are marrying your passion (driving strangers around) with a way to make money. 🙂
I've met quite a few professionals who drive for Uber because they enjoy it. They make a little extra cash, usually as part of their commutes home, and get a chance to chat with other people. I've met all kinds of interesting people from university-level dance instructors to Master Electricians to full-time drivers and retirees. They all told me they enjoyed the flexibility of driving, of earning a few bucks, and the a la carte nature of the work.
That's an example of a more transactional “do an hour of work, earn a payment” type of work. But there are some others where it's as “side hustle” as you can get.
There's a guy in a local Facebook group who does woodworking on the side. He makes everything from dining room tables to picture frames and sells them on Facebook and a few other marketplaces. I don't know him personally but I can tell that he enjoys it and it provides a little side income. I think he does work on commission but most of the time it's just him working the wood and selling what he makes after the fact.
For him, it appears to be a hobby that helps fund itself. He's making functional art and then selling it to folks who appreciate it. His tables look magnificent and it is what I consider the perfect side hustle.
It marries his love of working with wood, a chance to stretch his creative muscles, and he sells the art to pay for his costs plus a little extra. Not bad!
Side hustles are a great way to both protect your income and enjoy some personal fulfillment. If you find something you enjoy working on you'll be learning new skills and building something in your own name that you can feel good about. In this case, the extra money is simply a bonus.
What do you think of these reasons for having a side hustle?
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While I don’t argue side hustles aren’t a great idea for many, I don’t think they have a place for someone on the fast track up the corporate ladder. There was never a single time in my career when I couldn’t pick up the phone and have another job for more pay in less than a week. I still get job offers in retirement. If you are in demand I think it’s a better idea to focus on your career and not dilute your time and energy on something with insignificant monetary potential. Somebody is going to get those multi-million dollar a year C-suite jobs after all.
Jim Wang says
I can see your argument and I’d agree that a side hustle driving an Uber (trading time for dollars) while you have a high paying job could be a distraction.
Impersonal Finances says
Enjoyed the post and appreciated the comment by Steve. I agree that it’s good to have a side hustle–even in the corporate fast track scenario, as you may not always control your fate with a particular company. But totally get focusing on your main hustle!