Why Millennials Need Side-Businesses

The following guest post by Kimberly Palmer is based on her new book, “The Economy of You: Discover Your Inner Entrepreneur and Recession-Proof Your Life,” which comes out this week.

Economy of You book coverMoonlighting has become the new reality for our generation.

For 20-somethings who often find themselves underpaid and under-employed, side-gigs provide much-needed income as well as the chance to build on their education and experience. For 30- and 40-somethings, who are often facing stagnant wages as well as increasing household costs, they offer income and the chance to transition to self-employment. Meanwhile, for workers nearing the end of their careers, side-gigs offer a path to a more meaningful, and profitable, retirement.

No wonder the Young Entrepreneur Council found that one in three millennials launch side-businesses, and many do so while they’re still in college. Popular side-gigs include freelance writing for websites, selling handmade accessories on Etsy, or social media consulting. The possibilities are literally endless, and the best ideas usually start with leveraging an existing passion or skill you already have. Here are five strategies to keep in mind as you build your own hybrid career:

1. Just get started.

Your first idea might not be the best one, or the one that ends up generating a steady stream of side-income. Many of the best side-gig ideas happen by accident: A friend asks for a favor, and then suddenly you’re offering social media consulting services to other people, too. Say “yes” to opportunities that present themselves and then you can make adjustments as you move forward.

2. Keep your costs down.

Side-gigs can almost always be launched on a shoestring budget, or none at all. Take advantage of the existing infrastructure, including websites like Elance.com, Freelancer.com, Etsy.com, and Fiverr.com, where you can sell products and offer services. Use free social media accounts to start spreading word. Once you build your client base, then you can upgrade to a professional website and other investments.

3. Embrace even small trickles of extra income.

Just because your Etsy shop only earns $50 a month doesn’t mean it’s a failure. (And I can tell you that from personal experience.) Earning even a small amount on the side gives you extra income that you wouldn’t have anyway, and it’s income that adds up over time. $3,000 a year equals around $40,000 after ten years if it’s in an account earning 5 percent interest. It’s also income that can be scaled up if you had more time to put into it (in the event of a lay-off, for example.)

4. Avoid conflicts with your main gig.

Some jobs are stricter than others when it comes to allowing outside activities, but there is usually a way to work around even the most stringent of rules. Federal workers, for example, who face dozens of regulations regarding outside activities, still launch side-businesses, they do just do it with the explicit approval of agency lawyers. Jumping through those hoops is well worth the effort if it means protecting your primary form of employment.

5. Learn to brag a little.

It’s hard to market yourself and your products or services if you’re not used to it, but it’s a skill that will serve you well throughout your career. Emphasizing how your offering helps people and improves their lives is a good place to start.

Here’s to launching a successful side-business in 2014 – and to building a more meaningful career.

Kimberly Palmer is the author of the new book, “The Economy of You: Discover Your Inner Entrepreneur and Recession-Proof Your Life,” and senior money editor for U.S. News & World Report, where she writes the popular Alpha Consumer blog. In addition, she is the creator of Palmer’s Planners, her own line of digital financial guides and money organizers for major life events and goals. You can connect with her at bykimberlypalmer.com, where you can also download worksheets to help you build your own side-business.

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