It seems like everyone these days is talking about side hustling, or earning money outside of a regular job. It has been the subject of numerous articles, and for good reason; as of last year, almost half of all American workers had a side hustle.
It is also a topic of fierce debate, with some seeing a side hustle as others see it as a way to set their own schedule, make their own income, and grow their business.
In all honesty, they are both right — to some extent.
It is true that side hustlers are almost always classified as independent contractors, meaning they are not entitled to any benefits. It’s also true, however, that it can be exciting getting a pay bump, so to speak, without even getting a raise at work or that big promotion you’ve been wanting. It’s also exciting that, unlike a traditional job, the sky is the limit. There are a lot of people that started businesses on the side and grew them into a full-time living, and even far-surpassed the salary they would have ever gotten from working for someone else.
Take for example, the founder of Spanx, Sarah Blakely. I heard an interview with her on the radio once and she described the development and sale of her product in the early days, when everyone thought she would fail. By day, she sold fax machines, and by night, she designed, patented, and sold her product in spite of all odds. She is now a billionaire from what you could initially call her “side hustle.”
My experience with side hustling has been somewhat in-between what she did and a little extra cash on the side. I started medical writing as a side hustle in 2016, then decided to work on growing the business in 2018, and by the middle of 2019, I was earning enough revenue to go part-time at the hospital, where I am working as a pharmacist. Throughout this journey, I have learned a lot about what it really is like to side hustle.
Here are my experiences, good and bad:
- Extra Income: Haven’t maxed out your savings? Want to take a trip to Europe? Need to save for the kids’ college? Even bringing in $500 per month, which is a very doable goal (note I didn’t say easy, I said doable), is $6,000 per year extra (excluding taxes).
- Job Skills: Developing additional skills is talked about a lot, but is probably overrated. Sometimes it’s true – my writing, for example, might make it easier for me to get a job in academia, if I wanted to – but other times it might not be related to your day job.
In my opinion, it’s not worth spending your precious time outside of working starting a side hustle if it is only for additional job skills and it won’t lead to much real revenue. That’s just a great way to burn out. If it does add job skills, though, that’s just icing on the cake.
- The Mindset: Entrepreneurs have an entirely different mindset than most employees, who often will ‘punch the clock’ and receive a paycheck. Having a side hustle helps you develop the entrepreneur frame of mind, where you take full ownership for the return on investment (ROI) of your position and salary. Treating your day job as if you were the business owner will get you noticed quickly, and you might actually get a promotion in your day job as the company sees this change happening.
- Flexibility: I now work whenever I want for two days of the week. As I’m writing this, it’s a Wednesday and I just had lunch at home with my wife. I can take my son to the park in the morning if I want, when everyone else is at work. For me, this flexibility was one of the biggest reasons to start my business, and I love having it. It’s not necessarily fewer hours, but you call the shots and not someone else.
- Security: Financial advisors often tout the importance of an emergency fund, and it is true you should have six months’ expenses in case of a job loss. But guess what? If you have a side hustle bringing in $500 per month, for example, and you lose your day job, your income doesn’t go to zero anymore.
In addition, you have a starting point to build on if you need it and as you earn more and more from a side hustle, it brings a big sense of relief. I feel confident that if I were laid off tomorrow I could cover about 75 percent of my monthly expenses with writing income by picking up more work. Now, that emergency fund goes a lot farther. I rarely read others talking about this point, but for me, it has been one of the biggest pluses.
- It drains your time at first: Before my business got to the point I felt comfortable going part-time, I was writing every weekend for at least several hours and oftentimes writing at night too. As the business grew and I added new clients I had to put even more time into it to make it happen. These growing pains can be some of the toughest days of the side hustle, so it is important to be prepared for it (and for your family to be prepared) if you choose to pursue your own business.
- You will face a ton of rejection: Before I had a portfolio to show clients, I often tell people I wrote about 50 emails to get one response. Whether it was that exact number or not it sure felt like it, and you will very likely go through the same with your business. You will have no experience or background for someone to trust you in your new venture, so it’s going to be hard at first. I always tell people that getting from $0 to $500 is just as hard as $500 to going part-time at your day job. So when you get to $500, that is definitely cause for celebration!
- Risk and responsibility: You might start your hustle, work extremely hard, and get very little money for it. That’s the risk of being a business owner, and it’s no different from the company that pays you your regular wage. Also, you are solely responsible for your customers being happy, so you should be prepared to work hard to make them happy. In my business, for example, missing editors’ deadlines or submitting low-quality work would have been two great ways for me to never get my business off the ground.
Overall, you and your family will need to take the above items into consideration before you really go full force in launching your business. It is important to fully understand the risks and the rewards.
Here are the two most important questions to ask yourself before starting:
1) Are there aspects of your current job (or career) it would fix, if successful?
If you are very happy in your career, and get ample time with your family as well as the chance to do interesting work you enjoy, what would you gain by launching your business? In that case, it might be best to enjoy where you are in life and in career.
On the flip side, you might not like certain aspects about your current role and feel that your own business could really help fix that. In my case, I wanted a little more flexibility (after all, pharmacy and much of healthcare is shift-based, not project-based, work). I wanted to step down from management and be responsible for only my work and not that of others, and I wanted to continue to build both job skills and new avenues for earning money as retail pharmacy becomes more and more automated and suffers from job losses.
2)Are those aspects related to your current job, or are they related to your career?
This one is obvious – if it’s just because of your current job, it’s almost always easier to switch employers than it is to build a business on the side.
One great place to start is by considering becoming a travel clinician: the flexibility in schedule can leave you with more time to pursue a side hustle, and if you can work with your BHS recruiter to get even a few weeks between assignments you can have the chance to go after it full-time for short bursts without losing the job security of a ‘regular’ job. Talk about a win-win!