What are the best ways to invest in yourself and your career?
You might say doing your best at the office so you outperform your peers. Or attending conferences in your industry to learn new skills. Or making your boss happy so you get that raise you’ve been waiting on.
But one of the smartest approaches has nothing to do with your current job at all. Instead, it involves what you build on the side.
I built a content-marketing business on the side of my day job before leaving that job to grow the business full time. When I spoke about this at a conference, The National Journal turned my experience into a motto I now love: “All hail the side gig.”
The most brilliant 20-somethings (and 30-somethings and beyond) are doing just that: hailing the side gig, or hustling on the side of their day job. Why is it so smart? Because it allows you to create new opportunities and build your own brand while still gaining skills, contacts and money from the 9-to-5.
Here are a few more reasons you should start your own side gig — and how to build one that works for you.
Test the Waters Before Going Full-Speed Ahead
Even if you want your side hustle to eventually become your full-time gig, growing it on the side gives you time to experiment and learn. It lets you try different strategies and moneymakers to see what works. It allows you to fail without as much risk.
It also relieves you from depending on your hustle for income, which takes some of the pressure off; it gives you the chance to focus on long-term success rather than short-term financial wins.
Move Closer to Freedom
You’ll likely make money from your side hustle, and that’s always a welcome complement to your full-time income. Whether you use your side gig money to build a nest egg or dig yourself out of a hole, that cash will help you reach your financial goals.
While having a ton of money shouldn’t be your entire goal and certainly won’t make you happy by itself, saving money will have a huge effect on your life and career for one unavoidable reason: money means freedom. (Minor caveat: Only up to a certain point and only if you manage it well.)
Money makes it easier to follow your dreams. Cash gives you the ability to fund your own startup or take a pay cut to pivot in your career when you finally discover your true passion.
Even more importantly, money makes you feel like you have options, like you have a back-up plan, like you can afford to fail. And if you feel safe, you’re more likely to take small, smart risks that will put you closer to where you want to be.
You Already Have the Skills
Look around, and you’ll see side-hustlers everywhere turning their knowledge and abilities into profitable businesses.
Journalist Kimberly Palmer is a great example. In addition to her full-time job covering personal finance for U.S. News & World Report, she has written two books—including one on the side hustle called “The Economy of You“—and sells a line of financial and life planners on Etsy.
Then there’s Dave Herrle, who turned his side hustle Herrle Custom Carpentry into his primary paycheck. While digital products and service-based consulting offer high profit margins, Dave is an impressive example of someone who makes enough money to support his lifestyle by building physical products.
Your side hustle should either make you a good sum of money or help you grow your skills and network. If your side hustle gives you both, well, you’ve hit the jackpot.
If it gives you neither, figure out how to create something better.
So Ask Yourself…
What skills do I have that people might pay for?
How can I gain enough experience to get paid for those skills?
How can I harness the power of the Internet to make even more money?
If you’re not ready to sell your skills, look for a volunteering opportunity; the organization gets your awesome product, you build your portfolio, and no one knows you weren’t paid to do it.
Figuring out a smarter way to earn is also another way to learn. It will challenge you and give you opportunities to grow. It will help you realize there’s more to life than the status quo. And once you start going after bigger dreams, you’ll never go back.
Photo: Luis Alvarez / E+ / Getty Images