At some point over the last few years, were you inspired by an Insta-worthy screen printing t-shirt business, or women who made hand-sewn masks or purses, and thought to yourself: I could do that. And you did. Or, maybe for the last decade you’ve been doing social media consulting on the side, or freelance blogging. These days, nearly 44 million U.S. workers are running some sort of side hustle alongside their full-time job, according to a new study from Bankrate.
Side hustles let us explore our passions + creativity in a way that our full-time jobs don’t always allow, and they are an important source of income — sometimes the money we make from a side gig will be the very thing keeping our budgets afloat from month-to-month, and sometimes they become so lucrative that we’re able to turn it into our full-time position. But until we’re ready to make that leap, we don’t want to risk losing our primary job by focusing too much on our side gigs. Typically, our full-time jobs will be where we have health benefits, retirement benefits, and financial security — things we should never risk, no matter how passionate we are about our ‘lil hustle. Balance and boundaries are key — learning them just takes a little practice.
A Gig That Won’t Compete
Most companies have very clear “non-compete” rules in the contract that you signed before working there, or in the employee handbook that you were given. (Just because you don’t remember seeing this warning about doing something competitive doesn’t mean it’s not there!)
Here’s an example: If your full-time gig is working as a designer at a jeans company, it’s likely that the non-compete for your company includes design for all other forms of clothing and accessories — in other words, you can’t go out and start your own line of handbags while working there. Likewise, if you run social media for a healthcare brand, you’re probably restricted from offering social media consulting to other companies in the health, wellness, or medical space. No matter the industry, companies don’t want their best people moonlighting in a way that takes their own trade secrets and uses them to someone else’s advantage. So, to be on the safe side, make sure your side hustle is always distinctly separate from your primary job’s industry. You never want to face that awkward call from your boss (or worse, your boss’ boss) asking if the business you created is taking clients away from them. On that note, even if you’re in the clear on the separate industries thing, make sure you build your client base from the ground up — never use your full-time job’s connections to generate clients or interest. As long as the professional network and goals don’t mix, then you’re all set!
Separate Schedules For Success
Only spending your own (personal, non-working, time-off) hours on your side hustle is one of the best things you can do to keep your side hustle from infringing on your job, says Nick Loper, Chief Side Hustler at Side Hustle Nation. If you’re getting paid to work your full-time job from 9-to-5, then that’s all those hours can be used for, no exceptions. If you’re answering emails or phone calls from customers to your side hustle during those hours, you’re technically “stealing” from your company, using their time to benefit your other gig. This is absolutely a fireable offense. But apart from the moral concerns of double-timing things, you’re going to find yourself completely stressed out if you’re trying to juggle both during the same hours of the day. Here’s the fix: Set aside dedicated time before or after work to pursue your side gig. Mornings, evenings, weekends, holidays, and even your lunch break (as long as you’re using a separate phone or computer) can be your side gig time. (After all, how great would it be if your boss is one day rooting for your success, rather than saying, “Oh, so that’s why your productivity tanked.”)
Be Open And Honest
At a certain point, you may want to tell your supervisor (and your company’s HR department) about your side hustle. Some companies require this of their employees, and at a certain point, if your brand’s presence and social media following gets large enough, your supervisor is going to find out about it anyway. No one wants to be blindsided. Lauren McGoodwin, Founder of Career Contessa, a career site built for women, says to put yourself in your boss’s shoes as you approach the open conversation. They have their business in mind, just like you. Something that you could mention to ease the conversation is to discuss how the skills you’re learning with your side hustle can be applied to your job. For example, perhaps you’re strengthening your social media skills, learning SEO, or gaining a familiarization with Excel. If you can show your boss how this might benefit the company, or your ability to succeed in your role, they will likely have a more positive outlook on your side gig. Whenever you’re ready to have the conversation, approach it with confidence and respect. You got this!
Manage Expectations And Set Boundaries
In addition to being open and honest with your boss, make sure you’re upfront with your clients as to when you’ll be available. And remember that emails don’t require an immediate response — you can set up an auto-responder that informs your customers that you’ll respond in 24-48 hours. Setting boundaries won’t damage your chance of success — you are not obligated to be on-call 24/7. But when you do communicate with clients, make sure you’re thorough. It’s impossible to over-communicate, especially where deadlines + product delivery are concerned. Once you find your rhythm, your side gig flow will become second nature.