Times are tough. Between inflation, increasing mortgage rates, increases in rental costs, a seemingly sleepy job market — I highly recommend finding a side hustle to mitigate the financial challenges that plague our working class. Even if you’re doing alright at the moment, I still recommend considering additional income streams because, quite frankly, you never know what’s on the horizon in terms of your money.
Why Side Hustle? The Benefits of Side Hustling
In my life, having side hustles has protected me from panicking during corporate lay-offs, unexpected home repairs, medical bill pressure and more. Recently, a freelance gig paycheck was the difference between charging vehicle repairs to my credit card versus having the cold hard cash to foot the bill with confidence.
When I was a bit younger, I fell in love with side hustling when my first “dream job” didn’t pay as much as I’d expected. Side hustling helped me afford nice clothes, gave me the ability to live without roommates and, most importantly, boosted my resume and professional network.
All in all, it’s never a bad time to start side hustling.
Freelancing Pros for Employees
You Can Take Control of Your Schedule:
Freelancing and consulting both allow individuals the autonomy and freedom to not only become their own boss in theory, but also in practice, meaning scheduling/time commitment is usually up to the consultant — especially if you’re working as an independent versus a consultant through an agency.You’re Usually Making Slightly More per Hour:
Compared to salaried employees, consultants are often paid at a higher hourly rate due to the exclusion of benefits and health insurance costs for the employer.You Don’t Have to Do All of the Corporate Crap:
While working as both an independent freelancer and an agency consultant, I’ve usually been exempt from a lot of the corporate things that I would’ve typically cringed at as a full-time employee. This includes team building exercises, goal setting documents, internal fluff meetings, etc. Most freelancers and consultants are able to just get the job done and leave. No corporate euphemisms required.You’ll Get Hired Quickly and More Easily:
In a traditional salaried role, you typically run through an interview process for one to three months. Then, expect to wait up to another month for your background check and/or drug test results to come through. Finally, assuming you’ve passed, you’ll wait another two weeks to two months to start at your new role. Freelance consultants often get hired within just days as an independent. Working with an agency? You’ll usually get hired within a month.Hiring Freelancers: The Benefits for Employers
Get Headcount Without Paying for Headcount:
It costs much less money and energy to get a freelancer or consultant on staff than it does hiring full time talent almost 10/10 times. Paying benefits are not required for consultants, nor is the approval process nearly as costly. Did you know that on average, consultants and freelancers cost just around 15% of what a full-time employee does to reach full productivity? That’s an average of $6,250 for consultant work versus $39,107 for full time work. Companies are well aware of this, plus the fact that freelancers contribute over $1 trillion to the United States economy each year.Your Talent Can Start ASAP:
Circumvent approval processes, drug testing and other HR-regulated time sinks by hiring a freelancer.Explore Niche Skill without Commitment:
As any manager knows, letting go of a full time employee isn’t as easy as it used to be. That’s why it’s difficult to branch out and explore new types of talent and projects in fear that the business need might decrease in the future. Getting a freelancer on board to, for instance, create an animated video or an eBook for your business means that you can get the work done, then evaluate business need. This saves time and money while you innovate. Compare this to hiring full time for a new role. This will entail making an enigmatic value proposition, then risking a large proportion of your budget and headcount.Freelancers Proliferate as a Crummy Market Increases Financial Stress on the Working Class
I hear a lot of young professionals gripe about their pay and justifiably so. Jared is a Reddit user who responded to my request for an interview:
“I got laid off after an internship turned [into a] full time role. They gave me just a few weeks’ notice. I wasn’t too worried about finding another job as a pretty good programmer. Then sh*t got real. Any job that I was qualified for was offering about half of what I made beforehand. This wouldn’t work because I was already living paycheck to paycheck. That’s why I just freelance and I’m honestly making more money than I did full-time.”
Combat Bizarre Qualification Expectations
Others note ridiculous qualification expectations. Many jobs that pay well below six figures require a master’s degree. Others expect applicants to have 3-5 years of experience for an entry-level position. At a higher level, it’s no better. During my own recent job search, I can’t tell you how many recruiters reached out with roles that required VP-level workloads with low salaries. Most of them were onsite as well.
Megan*, a lab tech from Minnesota says that she has had 2 offers rescinded in the past year — both at no fault of her own. “They pretty much just said they couldn’t afford it anymore which is funny to me because one of the companies has one of those billionaire CEOs,” she said. “I’m pretty much done with corporate life because right now I’m getting by with doing consulting gigs and I can’t say I’m broke anymore, lol.”
If They Don’t Pay a Livable Wage, What do They Expect?
Finally, there’s Hugo*, a marketer from Palo Alto, California. “I have a full time job but they’re not paying me [much of anything at the moment], so I always sell skills to other companies on the side. My current company doesn’t know, but if they find out and ask about it, I’m happy to tell them why.”
Side Hustling like a Pro
It’s Not Passive Income
Repeat after me; “freelancing is for everybody*!”
*Everybody with the drive and ambition to make it happen, that is.
If you have a skill or a talent outside of the scope of your normal professional career (or even just well-developed professional skills), freelancing and consulting is likely a great choice to beef up your cash flow. Don’t get it twisted, however. Don’t expect passive income. One thing you need to keep in mind while working as an independent or freelance consultant is that you are your own boss. While “being your own boss” might sound like sunshines and rainbows, it’s not.
Challenges You Might Face While Freelancing and How to Mitigate Them:
Multi-Level Marketing (MLMs) Don’t Count! Stay Away!:
I’ll say what many of us were already thinking: nobody likes getting direct sales social media messages from an ex-acquaintance who got roped into Mary Kay, Scentsy, whole life insurance sales… don’t be that person either! While MLMs might look like great side hustle ventures at face value, remember that you’re worth more than any job that requires you to self-pay for merchandise or niche licensing upfront. For more information on deciding whether or not a client is trying to draw you into their MLM disaster, read this article.Be Flexible But Honest:
While freelancing and consulting, never shiloh yourself into too niche of a market. Don’t try to get too specific with clients at first. You might set a goal for yourself to be the best freelance web developer for tech startups, but I promise that you won’t regret building yourself up in other industries too before specializing just in tech startups. That said, if you lack a certain skill or don’t have experience with a certain industry, you need to be wholly transparent about that. I’ve had clients that have still greatly enjoyed working with me after I’d made it clear that it was my first time working on X type of project.Learn to Say “No!”:
Don’t let your hunger for cash rule you. I’ve definitely joined some weird projects out of desperation. Then I’d realize that I wasn’t cut out for the time commitment or the work involved. Some clients might also ask you to do things against your core values. (ie. skipping important legal compliance or making political statements.) Say no! (This Forbes article might help you learn how to say “no” more effectively if this is something you struggle with).Some Gigs Just… Suck:
A few years back, I joined a company whose ambiguous mission statement pulled me in. I soon realized that I had committed to a very difficult-to-work-with person’s passion project. I also realized it came with very little pay. The client would whine about staff turnover and insult current employees. He’d also make contradictory yet pivotal decisions on the fly. I left before I could get paid. I ultimately wasted over 150 hrs of work on something that meant absolutely nothing. If the vibe is weird, leave before you waste your time.Get Ready to Take on Multiple Gigs and Get Serious with Your Savings:
I’ve taken single jobs that have made me $12k-$18k in under two months. I’ve also had stretches of time where I’m barely getting by freelancing. Because it’s often unpredictable and inconsistent, prepare yourself. This means aggressively networking, scheduling gigs out a few months in advance and budgeting like you’ve never budgeted before.Network, Network, Network:
LinkedIn, BNI groups (which I couldn’t recommend more) and professional networking events are great places to get clients. As an introvert, networking used to make me insanely uncomfortable, but I had to get over it in order to make freelance deals happen. The need for your skills is greater than you think, you just have to do the actual work to meet the people willing to pay. This article from the Harvard Business Review has many tips to help you overcome social anxiety while you network.No Matter How “Cool” Your Employer Seems, They Don’t Have Your Back:
If you thought you could get the best of both worlds while consulting with a Fortune 50, Fortune 500 company, think again. Freelancers usually cannot file HR complaints. Taking legal action is also challenging should something goes awry. When I consulted for a large company under abusive leadership, I had to keep my mouth shut and deal with it until I found something else. It was dehumanizing. Full-time employees have the luxury of leaning on HR, consultants usually do not. See below for a great book. It includes a hefty section on why HR usually doesn’t even have full-time employees’ backs:Single Person or Single Parent Looking For Health Insurance? You Might Want to Look Elsewhere:
Because you legally must report freelance or independent contractor wages to the IRS, you won’t be able to get on Medicaid while you freelance in most situations. (Check if you’re eligible for Medicaid in your state and at your income level here). Your employer also likely won’t offer health insurance. If they do, it’ll cost you more than you probably want to spend. Make sure you have pre-arranged health insurance instead of relying on a consultant gig to offer it to you.If It’s Your Side Hustle, Your Employer Might Not be Thrilled:
“Moonlighting” is when you work a second job without notifying the employer who pays you a salary. Many employment agreements include moonlighting clauses or even non-compete agreements. This makes any work you do outside of your full-time role grounds for discipline or termination. Even if your company doesn’t have either of these clauses, it’s important to have a candid discussion with your HR department or manager about your intentions to start a side hustle. I had one manager tell me that I could freelance as long as I didn’t post it on social media. On the upside, some managers and companies are less uptight about it. I’ve had managers who supported my freelancing. Believe it or not, some managers actually mind their business when it comes to what you do outside of work hours.It’s Time to Get Real About Organization and Time Management:
Your skills are only worth something if you’re organized. This is a lesson I learned exclusively from freelancing and side hustling. Start with one gig at a time until you get to a point where you’re genuinely bored more often than you’re not. That way, you can ensure you aren’t overcommitting. Burnout is the most common way to fail as a freelancer.More on Burnout and Overcommitment:
Factor in everything! The last thing you need is to ruin your credibility in the freelance market by dropping tasks and therefore clients left and right because you can’t handle your commitments. You also can risk harming your relationships, your marriage and your health if you don’t carve out time for yourself. Even if a $15k, $20k, $150k gig comes your way, you genuinely might not have time; be wise about what you’re committing to and be honest with yourself about what you can and can’t handle. If you don’t know yet, under commit, again, until you’re bored.Get Clients into Contracts to Cover Pivots and Unexpected Costs:
When I was freelancing, I would use Docusign to draw up contracts that explicitly define the scope of my work, the terms of the agreement and who was paying for what. I usually asked for a retainer upfront, lined out in the contract, plus added a clause that would hold the client liable for additional costs incurred for agreed upon work. It’s also important to clarify who “owns” what work. For my business, I’d give the client full ownership of any work I did, plus the expectation that I could use all work for my portfolio in perpetuity. You don’t need to be a lawyer or know one to write a decent contract to protect yourself, but this article has some great resources for those of you who would feel more comfortable working with an inexpensive attorney.Final Words
The economy sucks and some employers suck more, and given you’ve made it to this point in the article, I assume you’re considering taking on a side hustle or freelance gig. My advice? Do it! Even if you aren’t making much money from it at first, stick with it, learn from it, and eventually you will.
Looking into creative or digital freelance ventures? Look no further than 3BX, a gamified ecosystem of digital marketing, collaboration and networking for side hustling independent artists. The best part? 3BX will never force you into harmful policies and agreements like other platforms, and even includes Know Your Customer (KYC) authentication and validation, mitigating the concern for scams, phishing and Craigslist Killer-era predation.
About The Author
Kathryn Litton is the Chief Marketing Officer at 3BX and is based out of the DC-Baltimore area. Outside of work, Litton enjoys building and maintaining aquariums, running, camping and playing outdoor sports like snowboarding with her family. Litton is also an amateur animator on Blender in her free time, although she wants to underline the “amateur” part: “I’m still at the ‘donut stage‘ with Blender,” says the executive.