Side hustles love them or hate them they are a thing. There are pretty much just as many reasons to have one as options for what to do. For many these days it’s hard to find that perfect job that gives you all the hours you need, pays enough, fulfills you and provides benefits all in one place. Because of that many young people especially, turn to the side hustle for better or worse. It’s something I have literally always done but when I click on a link that’s supposed to help me out I never really find it very helpful. I decided to put what I’ve learned together in the hopes that someone out there finds it useful.
Before the economy tanked this year side hustles were already pretty common but I imagine in the coming months and maybe even years they will become even more important. The social justice side of me is bothered by the fact that so many people always need to rely on such insecure work to get by. However, it can be really empowering to rely totally on yourself to get through tough times or just make some extra cash from your skills. Having a side hustle is something I actually really like to do and have had quite a few over the years.
My side hustles
Don’t get me wrong I certainly needed the money most of the time I had a side hustle but lots came up organically and were super fun too. It’s kind of funny, almost every single person in my extended family has a business degree and lots of them have advanced degrees like CAs, CMAs and MBAs. I do think though I might be the most entrepreneurial in the bunch over here with my science degree though. Most of my income for my past 20 working life came from my small businesses though most of the things I did or do just provide a few bucks here and there. It seems whatever I start up doing I end up monetizing it. For reference all of these things make me well over $1000 a year when I’m active, most a lot more.
The big one though has been tutoring, I started tutoring my struggling classmates in the 11th grade and I still do it now 20 years later. I charged $15 an hour when I first started and $35 now. That led me into consulting grad students on their projects and editing thesis for masters and PhD students. I sell time in chunks for consulting in 10 hour increments and charge a few hundred dollars to edit a thesis. For many years tutoring was how I supported myself pretty much entirely outside scholarships. This work has made me well into the 6 figures over the years.
But wait there’s more! Seven years ago I made honey a special buggy cover for one of his RC’s so he would play with it outside instead of in the kitchen while I was making supper. His friends saw it and wanted one. It got to the point that driving around delivering them was too time consuming so I started selling them for $25-$30 each in a local hobby shop and then three more. I still make them and sell them to this day. I love photography and have a pretty basic dSLR. I have over the years done about 40 paid photo gigs including one small wedding which was a bucket list thing for me. That’s what drove me to hone my skills and that means I get tapped to take stellar family photos and I love that. I’ve done some modeling work mostly for artists in the distant past. I love to thrift and if I see a wicked deal that’s just not for me I snap it up and sell it on eBay for a big profit. I do some freelance writing for a few sites too. Each article nets me about $130 for about 2000 words.
In the last two years I’ve done some ‘heavy’ gardening for people. Some of our regular clients needed some help and It’s something I really enjoy doing. I love to spend my evenings gardening anyway, might as well get paid right? I don’t really do regular maintenance type stuff but rather tame a wild space or create gardens from nothing which allows me to charge more for that type of work (about $25 an hour plus a premium on some materials). Plus my main source of income 9-5 is hourly from a small family business too.
Why have a side hustle
Side hustles are classically work you do yourself and charge for outside of a company established by someone else. Usually this work is done in addition to your 9-5 job. But not all side hustles have to take that form. I’ve known people to keep a menial job one shift a week well past when they needed to in order to maintain a sweet benefits package or run a day camp in the summers while they aren’t teaching. It could even be work you do outside your job description where you already work for extra pay. You might even consider the overtime you put in to be your side hustle. For some the goal is to establish a small business and eventually leave their day job. Really a side hustle can be anything you want to make it.
I’ve had a few side hustles in my day and that’s for a variety of reasons over the years. I think at one point or another it’s been for most of these reasons.
- In case you lose your job
- Make ends meet
- Start a business you hope to eventually make your only job in a low risk way
- Capitalize on a markup your regular employer is charging for your time already
- Afford life’s extras
- Monetize something you would be doing anyway
- Social contact or alone time
- Gain or maintain your independence
- Learn a new skill
- Keep a benefits package
- Just because it’s something you love to do
- Fill your time when you’re bored
How to price your product or service
It can seem almost impossible to decide what to charge. That might also be what’s mostly keeping you from getting started. Depending on whether you are selling a product or a service you’re going to go about this a bit differently but there are some overlaps too so let’s start there. A great place to start is to think about what you make right now and potentially establish that as a minimum for how much your side hustle should pay. If you make $20 per hour now and there are extra hours available at your regular job then it’s way easier to just do that. In that scenario you probably don’t want to walk away with any less than $20 an hour because it would be a loss however for some personal reason you may want to accept less. For example I make $10 less per hour gardening than tutoring but I like the work more, I drive a shorter distance to do the work and there is less unpaid time between hours worked commuting from house to house. I’m also not as skilled or qualified in that field. After considering everything in my life I’ve pretty much decided that my time is worth at least $25 an hour in general. Less than that and I’d much rather have the hour to myself. No matter what sort of side hustle you are establishing how much you want to walk away with each hour is a great way to start figuring out what to charge.
For some side hustles not charging enough can even cause you to lose money. For example if you crochet hats for people and charge less than the yarn costs you’re not only not making money you’re actually giving yours away. So let’s figure out how to charge for a physical product you’re making. For me this is what I had to do when I started selling buggy covers. I can easily make $35-40 per hour tutoring but I have to commute almost an hour each way to do it and sometimes people do cancel. Since I can work from home in my pj’s when I feel like it I decided that I would be happy to get $25 an hour doing this work. After making a dozen or so covers I realized that I can make about three in an hour. The next step is to establish a material cost per item based on sources and prices that will always be available. For me that was the local fabric store. Sometimes I do a bit better with sales or online bulk purchases but I always price my products with the material prices that I know I can always get. You may also want to pad the per unit price to compensate for selling your product wholesale to a potential reseller.
For a lot of side hustles what you’re selling is your time. So how much do you charge for that? Think honestly about your skill level. If you have some skills and only plan to take on simple jobs for now you’ll have to undercut the average rate at least slightly. However you may be specializing in a niche you know really well. Say you are a graphic designer doing some work on the side with a mind to starting your own company. Maybe you’re the one who’s always assigned the most complex projects at work and that’s what has made you think about starting out on your own. If that’s the case then feel free to price yourself above the going rate. When I tutor I am able to charge a premium rate because I go to students homes. For parents that means no driving them to me, waiting and then driving them home again. So I charge about an additional $10 an hour for that. For three students a night 5 days a week that premium alone comes to $150 dollars or roughly 80% of my mortgage payment in grad school. Don’t be afraid to charge more for more if you’re worth it.
No matter what you’re selling don’t be afraid to charge at least what you determine your time is worth because at least some time you spend working for yourself will not be paid at all. That could include shopping for supplies, driving between clients, sales calls, making invoices, tracking expenses, placing ads, answering emails or all sorts of other things too. At a regular job usually that time is paid or part of the work you do within your salary. When you do those sorts of tasks for yourself they are still work but they won’t be paid. With that in mind make sure you’re charging enough for the time you will be paid for. The bad news is you spend a lot of this time working for free at first but you get a lot more efficient pretty fast and spend less time working for free in short order.
How to grow your company
How to get clients is something you’ll spend a lot of time thinking about especially of you need that cash to live or eventually want to leave your day job. The best thing you can do is just do a really great job and get word of mouth advertising. That’s how I’ve always done my thing. Also trust that one customer turns into 2 and then 6 pretty organically. When I was tutoring I got in with one family within a tight knit group in our city, they referred me to their friends and for four years after, those clients were over half my business. Last year I got one gardening customer on one street and now I work at 4 of the 7 homes on the street.
If the nature of your business allows you to offer a referral discount to your existing customers it can be a really great option. When I was actively growing my tutoring business when it came up I let existing customers know that if they referred me out and I got a new student they would get a free session. Just letting people know you’re looking for more work is often enough to get those referrals too. I also had a lot of success with placing free online ads when there were time slots I wanted to fill. With the gardening that came up organically last year. I really wanted the work but I was really unsure of what to charge. The first lady that approached me only wanted a few hours at the start of the season but I knew she was really well connected to friends in a similar situation. I wasn’t sure what people were willing to pay but I knew I wanted the work. It also helped me to know that in general I already had a value of $25 an hour on my time. I decided on the spot that I would do this for $20 for now. So I let people know when they hired me that since this was new for me this year I would be offering introductory pricing of $20 temporarily. At the end of the year I didn’t get any complaints on price, people were thrilled with my work and this year I’m charging $5 more for my time. Truthfully for those repeat customers I’m sticking with last year’s rate for them but the key is I don’t really have to. If they drop off I now have a list of people to replace them and I’ve noticed when you’re in someone’s yard making it look better their neighbors approach you all the time!
Try to work with companies where you already have a relationship
I don’t have a lot to say on this one but if you can, try to work with companies and customers you already know and like. When making and delivering buggy covers started to get to be too much for me I approached the hobby shop where honey shops all the time. Maybe there was a bit of an obligation to say yes but also since we had an ongoing relationship it made the initial approach a little bit less stressful. I even looked to them to ask what an appropriate wholesale price would be and they were way less likely to give me a raw deal. I’m still selling there 5 years later! If appropriate, it’s way easier to deal with someone you already know initially.
How to keep organized even if you’re not.
I’m not useless at organization but lets just say if someone gave me a label maker I would label that ‘label maker’ and probably never touch it again. One of the major pitfalls of working for yourself is not tracking your time and expenses and then not charging for it. You’d be surprised how quickly when you’re tired, a bit stressed and over scheduled you start to forget the time you even worked for someone yesterday. Then you err on the side of caution and end up giving some time away for free. So you’ll need a system. This happened to me a bit with gardening last year. When that happens and it will, you’ll need to come up with a better system. All you really need to do is have a place set up with an easy way to track what you did and spent each day.
This year I made a pretty basic spread sheet to keep track of what I was doing on what day and that made me want to write this post. So I could share it with you! Below the image caption you’ll find a link to download a basic spread sheet that lets you track what you did each day, what you spent and an example of how I use it. The cool thing is with the cloud I can update it from my phone no matter whether I’m at home or not. PS all the names are made up in that example. I struggle with the fact some people pay me each time and I invoice others. But this is a good place to start no matter what your side hustle is. Plus it will also show you if you’re actually making any money! In the past I’ve used a GPS tracking app on my phone which records my location and the times I spent there. If I lose track of what work I did I can sift through the GPS data and see where I was, for how long and when. Honestly I think the one I used for this was designed to catch cheating spouses but it worked well for tracking my own movements too!
If all else fails head to the dollar store and grab a paper journal with a closure. You can jot down a series of notes as you go, shove receipts in there and figure it all out later. However the figuring it out part can be harder than you’d think, trust me! I know that you might think you’ll just take notes on your phone but that never seems to work out the way you planned. Just this week I realized you can get back a note you accidentally deleted and that saved me almost $300, paper is better!
Beware of these common pitfalls
I’ve known a few people with side hustles along the way and I’ve made some mistakes too. I even helped a couple of people set up their own! There are some common mistakes people make and I’ve learned a lot from the way honey runs his business too. Most of them can be summed up with the idea ‘it takes money to make money.’ That can be true if your side hustle is real estate investing but usually that’s not what we’re talking about. It also goes hand in hand with the idea that you should reinvest the profits into the business. This usually or at least for a long time often isn’t true.
One pitfall is having a lot of inventory on hand. Sure it might be a sale on a supply you need all the time but with a side hustle the goal is to generate cash flow more than anything else. Do you really want to have thousands invested in yarn for hats you don’t have orders for yet? I once saw a lady, admittedly with a shopping problem, with her entire 1200 sq ft basement filled with expensive craft supplies to the ceiling who was working on her 10th order for something that fits on the passenger seat of a car! I hope it worked out for her but there is no way she could even know the color scheme for her very next client so she might still have to head back to the store.
The next thing is tools. Sure you need them to do your work and some do double or even triple your output, but they are expensive and they break all the time. Think hard about buying tools that will make your life easier unless they really will make you a lot of money right away. Even then could you rent them or buy used? You might find this post I wrote for new contractors to be of help too. But you have to work a tool constantly to make it worth it. Take our work truck for example, we own it, insure it, gas it up and fix it all the time so it needs to be working and making us money all the time too. It is a tool like any other and we don’t need that ongoing expense if we aren’t making money off of it. That truck is used, it isn’t pretty and it’s on the road constantly usually with a load on it! Trust me we thought long and hard about how much truck we needed, what it was worth to us as a tool and how we would get a return on the investment before we upgraded and made do with out and with an old one for a long time first. The point is don’t get sucked into spending money if you don’t have too.
Lastly, it’s never been a problem for me, but your day job might have with it a non-competition agreement. If you plan to do the same sort of work as your day job make very sure you aren’t in violation of any competition agreements because even if you try to hide it your boss will probably find out about your side hustle eventually. Are you really in a position to lose your day job? I saw this happen once when a restaurant manager tried to clandestinely open a competing restaurant in the same small town. In what I thought was a classy move the owner of the established restaurant was quiet until the new restaurant was open and then fired his day manager for violating his competition agreement. The new restaurant failed quickly and he was left with no income at all.
So it turns out I had a whole lot to say on side hustles, who knew? Are you thinking about starting one or do you already have one? What is your side hustle? Got any tips or tricks? Leave it in the comments below!