by Kimberly Palmer
This article is an excerpt from Kimberly Palmer’s book The Economy of You: Discover Your Inner Entrepreneur and Recession-Proof Your Life. For more information about the book read our full review of The Economy of You.
Side-Gig/Side-Hustle/Micro-Business… an entrepreneurial endeavor that a person starts in addition to working a full-time job (or sometimes in combinations with other entrepreneurial endeavors as part of a portfolio career). People start side-gigs for a variety of reasons though the most common seems to be earn additional money to pay off bills gain financial independence or simply enhance savings. In the past most moonlighting was accomplished by working a second part-time job (such as working in retail or hospitality); more people today however are discovering their inner entrepreneur.
Many of the side-giggers I interviewed [for the book] found their pursuits by simply paying attention to the world around them — a single experience or combination of experiences often sparked the idea that turned into a mini-business. Tara Heuser a thirty-something with an art history degree based in Washington D.C. started pet-sitting after a friend asked her to watch her two cats while she was away. After Tara got laid off from her job at a custom framing company she put word out that she was looking for more pet-sitting clients and she also placed an ad in Craigslist. Now even though she’s back at a full-time office job she maintains six pet-sitting clients and is looking for more. That cash — she charges around $60 per night to pet sit — supplements her modest income from her nine-to-five job. Married couple Beena Katekar and Sudhansu Samal who both hold down information technology jobs outside of Boston had their aha moment at the grocery store. Their five-year-old daughter kept asking them to buy toys. “We kept saying ‘no no no’ and she asked ‘Why not?'” says Beena. To make it easier to say “no” (and to minimize the chances of a mid-aisle meltdown) Beena and Sudhansu wrote a simple program for their iPhones that compared how much their daughter had in her piggy bank to the cost of the toy. If the cost was higher than the amount she had saved the program denied her request. If she had enough then it said “Yes.” It worked so well that Beena and Sudhansu soon began wondering how they could create a “grown-up” version to sell as an app to adults. They ended up designing a program that asks users about savings expenses debt and other factors as well as the cost of the desired item and then spits out an answer: approved or denied. The answer comes with an explanation: “You don’t have enough savings” or “you need to pay off debt first.” Beena and Sudhansu say part of the benefit is simply getting people to look up their own financial -numbers. Soon after making their app Can I Buy? available through Apple’s App store for $1.99 it was featured as a top money app in Parade magazine. Beena and Sudhansu quickly sold over 1000 copies and they have plans to expand with more upgrades and features in the works. Chris Hardy’s idea came from a radio talk show. He was a repairman for school band instruments in North Carolina when he heard about Fiverr.com a website that lets people sell products and services for $5. “I started thinking ‘What can I do for $5?'” he recalls. A former voiceover actor now in his late forties Chris tried out one of his talents speaking in cartoon voices. “I will speak your message in a cartoon voice of your choosing” he posted. Within two weeks Fiverr featured his offering on the homepage which led to a burst of sales. Now he gets up to twenty orders a day and is on track to earn close to $10000 this year. He spends between two and five hours a day working on his voice recordings and editing them. “I charge $5 for a quick edit and an extra $5 for a more professional-level edit” he says. As a result Chris says “It seems like a constant stream of money is going into my PayPal account.” At first he used the money to pay for his wife’s college costs including $800 worth of textbooks. Then he and his wife decided to move to Augusta Georgia and his Fiverr income became even more important as he switched to working as an independent contractor for a family-owned music store. “Fiverr is a third of my income right now and I can set my own hours” he says in his authoritative voice. (Whenever I talk to him I feel like I’m interrupting the narrator of a movie trailer.) As Tara Beena and Sudhansu and Chris show choosing a side-gig is deeply personal; the right one fits like a favorite pair of jeans stretchy in all the right places. Side-giggers find ways to exploit their unique skills and interests along with what’s currently marketable. A side-gig offers the chance to return to a childhood hobby or long-abandoned skill. Or it can be the opportunity to quickly pull in cash from a talent that’s currently in demand from voice impersonations to clever Tweets. If you’re reading this book you might already have a budding idea of what your side-gig could be or perhaps you’ve already launched one. But if you’re still looking for that initial spark these kinds of big-picture questions can help jostle loose any latent ideas:
- What do you read about in your free time or browse on the Web?
- What topics do you most often discuss or email with friends?
- What are friends or family members most likely to ask for your advice about?
- What makes you jealous — any friends’ accomplishments or Facebook posts that make you think “I wish I was doing that?”
- How do you most enjoy helping people?
- What can only you create?
- What services do you enjoy providing for free?
- What do people you consider role models do to find new sources of income?
- What is easy for you to do that other people find difficult?
- What part of your full-time job do you most love and wish you could do more of?
Final Thoughts on Finding a Big Idea for Your Side-Gig
Asking friends to answer these [same] questions for you can also shed light on how others perceive you and may open your eyes to side-gig strengths. You might be surprised to hear that they think of you as their go-to party-planning expert or that you give the best relationship advice.
Need some ideas for a micro-business side-gig? Check out our sidebar Sample Side-Gigs Side-Hustles and Micro-Businesses.
See also our assessment Do You Have What it Takes to Moonlight With a Side-Gig? A Quintessential Careers Quiz.
Please Note: This article is excerpted from The Economy of You: Discover Your Inner Entrepreneur and Recession-Proof Your Life by Kimberly Palmer. Copyright ‘ 2014 Kimberly Palmer. Published by AMACOM Books a division of American Management Association. Used with permission. All rights reserved. Visitors to this site are granted permission to download or print out one (1) copy of the AMACOM content from the Website for personal use only and agree not to reproduce retransmit distribute disseminate sell publish broadcast or circulate this material without prior written permission of the copyright owner (AMA).
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college career and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms. Kimberly Palmer is the senior money editor and Alpha Consumer blogger at U.S. News & World Report and author of Generation Earn: The Young Professional’s Guide to Spending Investing and Giving Back (Ten Speed Press). She has appeared on NBC’s Today Show CNBC CNN and local television and radio shows across the country to talk about making smart money decisions. As a side-gig she has her own series of financial guides based on life events Palmer’s Planners sold through her shop on Etsy.com. She lives in Washington DC. You can connect with her online at bykimberlypalmer.com.