If one of your resolutions for 2014 was to start up a side gig, you’re in good company. More and more people are establishing their own side hustles to supplement incomes from “regular,” 9-to-5 jobs. Although taking on more work may not sound like the most appealing endeavor for folks who already put in 40 hours a week at the office, a side hustle is often well worth the time and effort required.
Think about it: what could you do with an extra $100 to $500 per month? That is a completely realistic range of income that you could pull in from a side gig.
And while there’s been a lot written about what you can do to make money on the side, there are still so many folks asking how. I believe the answer to this question is simple, but it’s one that not many folks want to give. The reason? It kinda sucks: when you are first starting out, when you’re looking at trying to get your very first gig or client but you don’t have any experience under your belt yet.. consider doing some work for free.
I know, I know – it’s the last thing you want to hear after being regaled with case studies of people who started freelancing on the side and within six months were making something crazy like $10,000 a month and had the ability to quit the day job they hated. That’s the goal, right?
Well, yeah. Folks with those kinds of success stories are out there, and they’re living the dream. Some of them are even within our own personal finance community: Michelle at Making Sense of Cents regularly blows us all away with her monthly business income reports, and Holly at Club Thrifty hustled hard in order to quit her job and become a full-time freelance writer (and in fact, if you click on that link and read Holly’s post on how to become a freelancer, you’ll notice that the first thing she mentions is to write for free).
So yes, your wildest dreams are possible, but making them happen immediately when you don’t have any experience isn’t probable. By that I mean things don’t just happen overnight, and they absolutely do not happen whatsoever without a lot of dedication and hard work. I’m sure those inspirational women I mentioned would tell you they started somewhere, and it wasn’t with making bank the first evening they sat down with their laptops after they got home from their full-time jobs.
In my experience, the norm is that you’ll find yourself in the same position you did the day after you graduated college and started looking for your first career position: you need experience to get the job, but you need the job to get the experience. That’s where the whole consider some work for free thing comes in.
I can it hear it now, dear readers, thou doth protest: How hypocritical to tell us to work for free when some of your goals for 2014 include making more money! True, my goals did include growing my own freelance business and earning more. Which is why I phrased my suggestion with “consider,” meaning, think about it if you’re feeling stuck, and I said “some work,” meaning, don’t do everything for free all the time.
As for me? You best believe I’m still doing some work for free. Not all the sites I write for are paying gigs.
If you’re feeling like you don’t know how to get started with a side gig because you lack experience, here is a step-by-step mini guide for those of you who are seeking success with work on the side in 2014:
- Have your own site. It doesn’t matter if it’s a blog or simply a site that tells folks all about you (like a portfolio site). If you want to work with people online, you still need a shingle to hang out, a virtual storefront. A site is to an online freelancer what a brick-and-mortar building on Main Street is to a bakery.
- Build connections within the niche you wish to work in. Do this by starting a conversation on Twitter, commenting on blogs, and emailing folks with ideas or a dialogue that can add value to a current project of theirs. Be friendly, be sincere, and remember that on the other end of the line is another human like you.
- Be willing to do some work for free. Once you’ve established yourself as a friendly face in the line of work you’re interested in, reach back out to folks you’ve made connections with and see if there’s anything you can do to help them out. Explain that you’re looking to gain experience and would love the opportunity to help with a project, or offer to guest post on their blog. Alternatively, do some work for your own audience – create a guide or a tutorial to offer as a free download, offer 15 minutes of your time in a free consulting session, or allow folks to contact you with questions or problems that you can help answer or solve free of charge.
Still not convinced doing a bit of work for free is the way to go? Let me spell out some of the ways this can benefit you when you’re new to the scene and don’t have experience or a portfolio built up just yet:
- The obvious one: you gain that invaluable experience. If you don’t have a thing down in your portfolio or a single reference that can vouch for you, spending a few hours of your time of three different projects gives you something substantial to start showing other potential clients and partners.
- It’s a learning opportunity. If you’re new to the job, working for free will allow you to get the kinks out of how you operate before you take your service to a paying client (who probably won’t be pleased if you bumble and fumble around with their project because you’re still learning).
- You’re building an awesome reputation. When you establish yourself as the friendly, easygoing web designer, or writer, or SEO consultant when you offer to help others, people remember that. They remember someone who was genuinely nice and interested in helping – and folks will talk. They’ll tell their friends, partners, and connections within the field. In other words, some of the work you did for free is laying a foundation for more, paid work.
So if you’re struggling with taking that first step into side hustle-dom and you’re not sure how you’ll ever pick up a job when you’ve never had a gig in your niche before, consider doing just a bit of work for free. Those freebie seeds you’re planting now just might allow you to reap serious monetary benefits later.
Have you done work for free? Do you think it eventually led to other, paying opportunities that made those upfront, unpaid hours worth it? Or do you refuse to do any uncompensated work – and if so, why?