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Economy of YouWhether side gig, side hustle, freelancing, or moonlighting, doing work on your own time in addition to your regular job is a terrific way to build some resiliency into your career – and finances. The place to start? Kimberly Palmer’s The Economy of You: Discover Your Inner Entrepreneur and Recession-Proof Your Life (AMACOM, 2014).

According to Palmer, solid, sustainable side-gig ideas usually have the following characteristics:

  • Low start-up costs
  • Large potential upside (lots of room for revenue and growth expansion) and easily scalable (when that upside hits, you’ll still be able to manage things)
  • Fit well with your current full-time work (especially important: no conflict-of-interest issues) and can be done on a flexible schedule (non-work hours)
  • Based on your individual skills and passions
  • Fun to do

What Work Might You Do?
One way to approach side-gigs is to take on work based on a non-LIS skill or passion you have. This might be something creative like artwork, landscape design, or photography. Or perhaps you love animals and would enjoy pet sitting (I’ve just discovered that my nephew makes $60/day for doing this on weekends). Cake decorator? Etsy seller? Personal organizer? A great resource for ideas here is Palmer’s group of exercises and worksheets, plus her list of the “Top Fifty Side-Gigs,” which identify and describe the most popular options.

But what if you’d like to do work based on your LIS skills? Happily, information skills are particularly adaptable to side-gig options. Some starter ideas: content development for websites, freelance business research, market research, website development work, freelance cataloging and/or metadata assignment, project-based information organization, contract indexer, organizing personal libraries, tutoring college-bound high school seniors in research skills, running virtual focus groups, genealogy research, social media marketing, ghost-blogging, and tutoring.

Being Open to Aha Moments
Once you start thinking about creating side gigs, you may find yourself stumbling across opportunities that you’d otherwise not have noticed. For example, recently I decided to complete a certification program in career coaching (since I often find myself in this role, I wanted to make sure that I was adhering to the “do no harm” mantra!). I wasn’t particularly paying attention to the career coaching profession but was more focused on the underlying core philosophy of behavioral change and personal motivation.

But then I had a surprising realization: although most career coaches love the one-on-one coaching process, they basically have no clue (nor interest in) how to do career research.

For example, how do you research a company or industry? How do you quickly come up to speed on industry trends? How do you determine whether a career path is expanding or contracting? How do you suss out organizational culture? What are all the very useful types of career and/or potential employer insights you can discover on LinkedIn? Aha moment: set up side-gig doing career research for career coaches and their clients.

This is just one example of finding a good match for my information skills; there are, no doubt, dozens of other options that would be a good match for yours.

How Side Gigs Have Worked For Me
While I was a single mom, I needed the steady, reliable income of a full-time, permanent job. Fortunately, I had a job that I loved as an information advisor to the CEO of a large telecom company. Later I worked as a managing/acquisitions editor for a publishing company, the developer of an information center for a newly established cultural institution, the interim head of an MLIS program, and the developer of the first virtual academic library, among other positions.

While I had all of these full-time jobs, I also always did freelance jobs on the side. It was part of my “exit strategy” – I always knew I could walk away from a job if I needed to and pick up additional freelance jobs. But it was also a part of my mental-health strategy – I needed to know that my career was independent of my employer, and my freelance work gave me the sense of independence and freedom I craved.

None of my freelance gigs was particularly glamorous – mostly researching, writing, editing, some information organization projects, a bit of training and coaching, and even proofreading – but they all represented potential career paths that could, if necessary or desired, be developed into more robust (and lucrative) professional opportunities.

And, in fact, almost all of them have developed into major revenue streams for me now, as I am asked to take on larger projects (at higher prices, thank you!) by clients who have worked with me through the years. Those freelance gigs over the years turned into Dority & Associate, Inc., my solo-entrepreneur content development business.

Benefits of Side Gigs
Besides the obvious one of adding to your income, there are a number of other reasons to consider side gigs. For example:

  • They’re a secondary revenue stream that can be bulked up to replace a primary revenue stream if necessary (translation: layoff).
  • They enable you try out work that you may want to segue into in your career future.
  • You have the freedom to test out pursuing a passion without putting your income at stake.
  • Being able to try out a type of work without jumping into it full-time gives you the freedom to decide you don’t like it, and walk away with no major damage.
  • You get to experiment with how it feels to have clients and deadlines – and see how that works with your personality and lifestyle.
  • You have the incredible luxury of controlling your own work, as usually opposed to the work you do as an employee.
  • You get to decide how much time, effort, or additional skill-learning you want to put into your side gig.
  • If doing LIS-related work, you get a sense of what it might feel like to become an independent information professional – and whether that might – or might not – be appropriate for you.

Getting Started with a Side Gig
Pick up a copy of The Economy of You and start doing the exercises and making margin notes. Brainstorm with your buddies and trusted colleagues, and test out potential ideas with them for some honest feedback. See if you can find someone(s) doing what you might be interest in and see if they’re game for an information interview. Hit your favorite search engine (and LinkedIn Groups) to research your idea – who’s doing it already, how are they doing it, what issues are being discussed, and whether you’re still interested.

Then give it a try and see what you think!

Palmer, Kimberly. The Economy of You: Discover Your Inner Entrepreneur and Recession-Proof Your Career. AMACOM, 2014. 239p. ISBN 987-014432730.