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  • Published: 18 January 2022
  • ISBN: 9780143775089
  • Imprint: Random House NZ
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 272
  • RRP: $35.00

Your Money, Your Future

Extract

5. 

Hustle smarter, not harder

Earning extra money on the side can be an incredible way to reach your financial goals or launch your own business. But any side hustle has to be treated with caution, as it can also sabotage you.

WHILE YOU’RE WORKING TOWARDS that pay rise, there are other options for increasing your income. Your main job is well worth investing in, but there is also an argument for increasing your options through work on the side. This one is a thorny issue, but one with a lot of potential.

A side hustle can combine all of the advice on earning more, learning new skills and levelling up your career. It’s quite clear not all jobs are created equal. The peak earning power of one job can be the starting rate in another. It can be difficult to find this out, though, until you’re already on one career path. Or,frankly, you might simply have discovered that you hate the field you ended up working in and be keen to pursue something else.

A side hustle is a good way to test out other options –including how much money can be made and how much you enjoy it – while still keeping the safety of a full-time job. Even a job you hate is useful for paying the bills while you figure out what’s next.

Side hustles are also great for letting you earn more in profitable but unreliable fields. Your main job keeps the bills going, and you occasionally get a big whack of side-hustle cash that you can put straight into saving or investing – because it’s not part of your money that’s already allocated to bills and lifestyle. They can let you use skills that you don’t use in your day job. Or you can monetise a hobby that you enjoy doing and might as well earn some extra cash from.

But there’s a very real downside that I want to be upfront about. I questioned whether to even include side hustles. Because while they can be amazing – level up your career, level up your money, give you extra security – they can also sabotage you if you’re not careful.

I hate the idea that everyone should have a side hustle. In some areas of the personal finance world, you’ll find people waxing lyrical that everyone, everywhere should have a side hustle. Their point is that it makes you less reliant on your main job, giving you options as well as spare cash.

They’re wrong. Spare me from the requirement to monetise every spare second of our lives. We can’t only have things in our lives that make money. What about enjoyment, hobbies that are pointless but fun, friends who are of no benefit to our career, seeing family? What about having a rich, full life; the type of life we’re supposed to be creating by sorting out our finances?

The idea that you should work hard at your full-time job, then come home and work in a part-time job, is downright dangerous, in my eyes. You should be able to meet your needs with one job. You need something else in your life besides work.I have no interest in working myself into the ground to simply break even or, worse, just to chase a mounting pile of money that I have no spare time to spend.

So be careful of any notion that you should be working all the time, at all hours of the day. Financial independence is worth nothing if you don’t use it to build the life you want to live. Resist the cult of busy.

I’ve very deliberately chosen to opt out of ‘hustle culture’, in which you should always be doing more, earning more, and where what you have is never enough. What a miserable way to live. I plan to enjoy the fruits of my hard work, which means Ihave to know when enough really is enough. Otherwise, what’s the point?

There’s a prevalent idea in our culture right now that anyway we spend our time has to give us something back – money, self-development, something ‘productive’. But our brains need downtime, things we do for the pure joy of them. That’s the point of all of this money stuff. We’re trying to give you space for that joy again.

A side hustle can work when you see it as a way to break into a different field that you’d like to work in full-time, or you have a short-term financial goal that you’d like to meet.Or you have a passion that you’re going to be doing anyway, and you don’t mind monetising it. As a lifestyle, something that you do for the rest of your life? Nah.

Let me say this as someone who loves writing for a living and has signed up to several different jobs that involve writing: as soon as you are getting paid to produce what you love, it comes with a sense of obligation.

That’s the difference between work and a hobby. You may enjoy the work, but it is still now, first and foremost, work.Consider whether you want the thing you love to be tainted with that before you take the leap.

Side hustles can also hold you back. They can tire you out, distract you from your main job, and stop you from being a candidate for promotions where you would get paid more overall. If a promotion or three would see you earning significantly more, it may be best to focus your energies on your full-time job and use your downtime to recharge and, well, enjoy life.

Here’s what I think makes a good side hustle: you already have your main job that provides stability, and hopefully pays the bills. Side hustles are for the moon shots. Things that are too unstable to devote yourself to full-time. But if they pay off, they might pay off big time.

I could tell you lots of different, specific side hustles – the problem is that once one is popular enough for me to tell you about it, there are hundreds of other people jumping in, convinced they’re in on the next big thing. By the time you hear about it, it’s probably too late. 

I believe a better strategy is tailoring it to you and your goals. The most realistic way to make money is by taking a skill you already have and using it in your downtime to earn more money. Say, a skill that you use for work – you already know the industry, you already have experience in it, and you probably have a fair idea of the skills you have that are hard to find.

Here are a few good questions to think about when considering a side hustle.

Build on what you already have

WHAT SKILLS DO YOU have in your current job that you could use elsewhere? Which people in other industries do you know who could help you get extra work on the side? Do you have things or assets that you could sell or rent out? What do people come to you for advice about?

Write down anything and everything that you enjoy or have skill in. Don’t worry right now about whether you can see a way to make money from it. Write the list first. Then think about that list for a few days, and about how you could make money from all the things on it. You only need one.

Find problems

THERE’S A SAYING: ‘WHERE there’s muck, there’s money.’ Basically, if there’s something gross that other people don’t want to do, you can make money doing it for them. Widen it out even further to look for problems and friction points in people’s lives– you can have a good side hustle fixing it for them.

As with the skills above, the solution may be obvious to you. But maybe it’s not to everyone else. The only way you can find out is by trying it and seeing if people are interested in your solution. Always helping your friends with their clothes? Start a stylist business for evenings and weekends. Grammar fiend? Start freelancing as a proofreader.

It can be as simple as dog-walking or as complicated as building a platform like Uber. Find a problem. Solve it in return for money.

Rip someone off

NOT ACTUALLY, JUST INTELLECTUALLY. Look at other industries to see what’s working there and think about how you might make that work elsewhere.

Think about how Airbnb changed what people could do with spare rooms, or even their entire home when they’re not there. Since then, copycat companies have come along, like car-sharing services, in which you rent out your car when you’re not using it.

What’s working around you? Could you repurpose the idea to use in another way?

How to vet your side hustle ideas

  1. Does it fit around your schedule? It shouldn’t interferewith your main job or other life priorities.
  2. Does it align with any existing interests? After working a main job and trying to see friends and family, it helps if aside hustle relates to your interests so that it doesn’t suck out as much energy.
  3. Is it going to make money? Seems almost too obvious to say, but you’d be amazed by how many people are tripped up by this one. It has to make money, not cost you. This is why, for example, multi-level marketing schemes, or MLMs, are best avoided. You might be told you’ll be selling make-up, say, but the way you actually make money is by recruiting other people and taking a commission off their work. Many different studies have found that 99 per cent of people lose money when they sign up to an MLM, in part because you’re told to buy so much product up front, with the promise that you’ll find it so easy to sell to others. For any product you do sell, you’ll have to give a chunk of the profit to the person who recruited you. Despite the promises made to you, you’ll find it’s difficult, if not near impossible, to recruit enough people to make money for yourself. Just don’t do it, please.

A SIDE HUSTLE ALSO gives you a safety net if you suddenly lose your career. Look what happened when Covid-19 started sweeping the world. Apart from the terrifying health crisis, entire industries like hospitality and tourism basically shutdown. I had friends who lost their jobs in lockdown but were thankfully able to take their side hustle full-time.

You can’t be prepared for everything, ever. But you can give yourself options, through side hustles and investing, to future-proof against freak events.

With any side hustle idea, it’s a good idea to start off as specific as possible. In the business world, they talk about the need to ‘niche down’. Basically, if you start out trying to appeal to everyone, you won’t have anything to make you stand out from the crowd. You’ll also have a lot of competition, which means you probably won’t make big profits either.

So, are you a dog-walker, or a specialist in handling anxious dogs that can’t be walked in a pack? Are you a baker, or are you a French pastry specialist?

You can always expand later if you feel the need, but starting out with a clear niche or specialty is a good way to stand out from others already trying to do what you’re doing. Plus you’re able to charge a premium.

Charging a premium is important, because what I really don’t want you to do is fall into the trap of busy work. Some hear ‘side hustle’ and think it means low-paid busywork. To me, the ideal side hustle pays quite a bit but isn’t as dependable as your day job. It doesn’t have to mean driving for Uber. It can be contracting your skills, starting an online shop, starting a business, or writing a blog that you want to monetise.

There’s a cultural assumption that the harder you work,the faster you will get ahead. But think about anyone who’s working a minimum-wage job in a fast-food outlet, or collecting rubbish, and you’ll soon realise that how hard you work has little to do with how much you get paid. Still, the myth persists and it’s an easy trap to fall into.

When thinking about extra work you’re taking on, try to avoid just filling time for slightly more cash. People will always offer you little bitsy jobs for little bitsy amounts of money.

Step back and plan. What sort of work do you want in the future? What sort of side work will give you a good lifestyle, or pay more money, or lean into the skills that you enjoy using? Does this work take you in that direction? Will it help you develop valuable skills or develop an area that could be lucrative in the future? If not, does it pay enough to justify spending your precious time on something that isn’t necessarily taking you forwards?

Of course, you probably want the extra cash, and it’s a luxury to be able to step back and plan out. But still, you have to try.Otherwise you can be trapped like a hamster on the wheel and you’ll soon burn out.

Things like driving for Uber can look reasonable on the face of it. But remember, you’ll need insurance, petrol and to get your car serviced more often from the extra wear. By the time you factor in all of those costs, you’re often earning less than minimum wage.

Now, say you’re driving across town anyway and can organise to take an Uber passenger on the way. Then great, you’re doing much better. But you have to factor in costs first.

Hey, if it was easy, everyone would do it.

‘WE ALL HAVE DIFFERENT skills that we can apply to a range of things, and some might be bankable good earners, and in other areas you might just want to try some things and see how that goes earning you income.
‘It’s about spreading that risk. You look at the Covid-19 situation – certain people’s incomes just completely ceased to exist. By spreading risk and earning income through different means, people can continue earning by dialling up and down how and where they earn income, based on market factors.
‘Skills, tools, and equipment are the main things you might have. Some people already have certain equipment they use for their main source of income. So think about courier drivers, who use their van to load up electric scooters and charge them overnight for extra money. You get the most value out of the things that you’ve already got.
‘You see other people who are in permanent employment but they want something else, too. We’ve got a few people like this; for example, people who are interested in photography and they spend their weekend taking interesting photos. Or they might do a friend’s wedding and it builds into paid work. They become, essentially, apart-time freelance photographer, but it’s alongside their permanent work, which gives a certain level of security.’
James Fuller, CEO and Co-founder, Hnry

A SIDE HUSTLE HAS the potential to skyrocket your wealth, if you use it for a particular purpose. You can even use it to launch your own business.

One way to become rich is by starting a business. You don’t have to be the next Amazon; it can be something like going out on your own as an electrician. It really can be worth it: the most common way for first-generation millionaires to make their money is by starting a business. Research by Thomas J.Stanley, author of The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy, showed self-employed people made up only 20 per cent of working Americans – but they made up two thirds of millionaires. Those businesses aren’t the Amazons or Facebooks, either. He listed welding contractors, pest controllers, auctioneers and paving contractors as success stories.

The problem with starting a business is that it’s really risky. Most new businesses fail. So how do you have a crack without possibly torpedoing your life?

As a side hustle. 

A side hustle supports your quest for financial independence but your quest for financial independence also supports your side hustle. Because as you cut the ties from living pay cheque to pay cheque, you give yourself the freedom to fail. You now have the opportunity to step back, decide what you want to do for a living, and try out a few different versions until you have the successful one. The pressure is off.

When you start a business, the stakes are high – but so are the rewards.

There is the possibility that it falls over entirely. That’s true, and that’s why you want to do it carefully. But there’s also the possibility that it takes off, and you’re no longer getting paid an hourly wage no matter how hard you work. You now get to keep all of the profits from your hard work. That’s why owning a business can be so lucrative. You take away the safety net – but you also take away the ceiling on what you can earn.

Even better, it’s something the average person can do. New Zealand in particular is famous for its business scene being dominated by small- and medium-sized businesses.

The trick is: you do only have yourself to rely on. At least in the beginning, and probably for a while after, you’ll need to be a jack of all trades and learn fast if you want to be successful.

‘FOR THE MAJORITY OF side hustlers – or “accidental entrepreneurs”, as I call them – it does happen by accident. You design something, you build something, then you have a friend that wants it. By the time you realise you’ve actually got a business, you’re a little way down the track. But the sooner you can build that plan, and articulate that plan of what you’re trying to do – who your target audience is, what your branding’s going to look like, what your costs are – the sooner you can do that better. Then you’ve got a base from which to build on, to take it from step one to step two.
‘Sometimes, you can’t do that by yourself and you need to engage with other people, whether that’s a circle of friends around you who are already in business, or an accountant or business advisor. Just engage with people and talk, because the more you talk, the more input you’re going to be able to get from other people. You need to be able to engage with people to figure out is it a good idea, first off.
‘As much as you have to be a dog with a bone to make something work, you also can’t go in blind. I’ve seen so many small businesses where the idea will never scale up; it will just never work, but they haven’t spoken about it with anybody. They’ve only looked at it through their internal lens, not being willing to take feedback.
‘Your product isn’t actually about you; your product is about someone willing to pay you money for the thing you want to put out there. So you have to get out of your own lens and test your idea. The number-one killer of all business in the world, let alone here in New Zealand, is cash flow. You can’t just have outgoings – you need to have something coming in.’
Craig Hudson, Managing Director, New Zealand & Pacific Islands, Xero

THIS IS WHY MANY in the start-up world talk about starting‘lean’ or ‘boot-strapping’ – essentially the idea of running your business on as little money as possible at the beginning; getting even a small version of your product out there quickly and using revenue from it to keep building your business. You need your business running on as few resources as possible at the beginning, until you’ve built up some customers and some money coming in the door. Then you can use that profit to expand into the more costly areas that you want your business to move into.

You need to find one paying customer at first – and your mum doesn’t count. One genuine customer. Then do a really good job for them. It might take a lot longer that first time, but keep working at it, get into a rhythm, and you’ll speed up. Then ask every single early client for testimonials or to tell their friends if you did a good job for them.

Striking out on your own is the way of the future. It helps you get to financial independence because you can earn significantly more. You’re not supporting that layer of middle management above you anymore, the ones who don’t do much but take the credit for (and some of the profits of) your work. But financial independence will also help you strike out on your own with more confidence. It’s a constantly reinforcing cycle, in which one helps the other.

You’ll also need to figure out how much to charge. You’re in business now, baby, so you’ve got to work out those deeply uncomfortable money questions now more than ever. Get comfortable with friendly but firm money chats, because you’ll need them for success.

Have a look for other people offering similar services andsee what they’re charging. You probably can’t charge the same as someone with 10 years’ experience, but you don’t want to undersell yourself either. Look at a few different rates people are offering so that you can see the range. If you’re willing to be brave and polite, get in touch with someone in the industry and see if they’ll talk to you about what they do and how they charge. Many people are very generous with their time – just don’t take it for granted.

In the midst of all of this, check your employment contract at your full-time job. Some businesses will lay claim to the intellectual property of any ideas you have while working for them if it’s too closely related to the work they do. Others will have clauses preventing you from taking up secondary work without first getting their permission. You might also have a clause in your contract that says you can’t use certain skills outside of their workplace, because they have hired you in order to monopolise that skill.

For instance, I have my work’s blessing to write books. But that has to be outside of work hours – no double-dipping. And I would never dream of trying to write articles to be published by a different media company. Books are one thing, as they’re not competing. But if I did something that was working against my employer’s interests, I’m betting I would hear about it pretty fast. So check your contract, use your common sense, then go for it.

Then there’s the next problem. There’s a reason why I always, still, talk about controlling your spending and working on a budgeting mindset. Like every bit of extra money you earn, the income from your side hustle comes with a danger attached– that you spend it immediately, don’t use it to improve your overall situation and waste the effort you put in to earning it.

There’s an unfortunate bit of psychology that comes with side hustles – it might feel like free money. You worked so hard, you’ve earned a little treat. Before you know it, you’ve blown it all on treats, making that hard work pointless. You might aswell not have hustled at all, and gone for a walk in the park with your friends instead.

Side hustles should have a clear goal, whether it’s to boost your career, your money, or both. You must remain laser-focused on that goal. You are not working hard in your evenings and weekends so you can try out being blonde, decide you don’t like it, and go back to being brunette – not that I’m talking from experience or anything . . .

You have survived for now on the money you earn in your regular job. So keep using that regular job just as you were, and stack the side-hustle money away for your goal. Otherwise don’t bother doing it at all and just enjoy your evenings.

Sure, the changing world of work is unsettling, particularly the changes being forced through by the digital revolution. But it has a serious upside, too, in that we have more freedom to work where we want, at times we want, to create a better hybrid between work and life than before. It’s certainly not the default but there’s the opportunity to find new options that make work fit your life, instead of the other way around. I’ve known people who have moved to England and kept working for their New Zealand company, because they cover New Zealand’s ‘nightshift’ – just during daylight hours in England. Others, like myself, move to a different part of the country and enjoy a better lifestyle and lower living costs while still doing work that was previously only possible from head office. We can also take on side work for people all over the world or advertise ourselves online. That’s a serious advantage.

Your side hustle might boom into the fulfilling small business you always wanted, paying you enough to take it full-time. Or it might earn you enough that you can reach financial independence faster, quit your full-time job, and live on a combination of investments and side-hustle money that wouldn’t sustain you on its own.

You might not want to have a side hustle once you’re financially independent, or you might decide that it’s the only way you’ll hit your financial goals. Either way is fine. We’re opening up options here. Whatever works for you.


Your Money, Your Future Frances Cook

A real-life handbook to finding financial freedom on any income, from the creator of New Zealand’s leading finance podcast Cooking the Books and author of Tales from a Financial Hot Mess.

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