Five Tips for Starting Side Work

Posted by Mike // Jan 14, 2016

[Image Credit: Judit Klein]

For those looking to start doing side work (moonlighting), I have some tips on preparing for and finding the right gig. In my own career, each of these helped me to be successful at working for myself, on my own time.

This is the first part of a two part series about how to start and maintain side work. That is, how you keep a full time job and work for others on your own time. Part two is here.

Just finding a side job might seem like the first hurdle. It is. But it’s not a matter of simply following the dotted line of a treasure map to the X marked spot. Because once you find the X, you have to sell. You have to close the deal.

Let’s get to it.

1. Set goals to achieve

It’s the start of every self-help seminar, right? That’s because it is important. Why are you doing this? Side work may seem simple at first, but when things get difficult, you need to remember why are you doing it. Maybe you are changing industries or careers because your current track isn’t rewarding. Maybe you need to earn more money to better your life or you are looking to increase your job security by reducing your reliance on a single job. Get detailed about what your goal is and keep it in front of you at all times.

2.  Pick something you can do in your sleep

For those with lots of experience, it’s tempting to try and sell your service as, “I can do all of these wide ranging tasks because of my broad expertise.” That’s good when trying to get hired for a full-time position. But you have a finite amount of working hours with side work. Every one of them should be spent as efficiently as possible. Because of that, sell what you do best. Sell what you can do without much thought. Both you and your client get the best possible value that way.  For more on this topic, check out this post on marketing your skills.


3.  Price it right

If you charge too much, businesses may not bite. They are looking for a decent rate. But if you charge too little, you might not be taken seriously, and worse, you aren’t getting paid what your time is worth. As a starting point, take your current salary or full-time compensation and use that as an hourly rate. So if you make $50K/year, add in 15% for the overhead your employer likely has (benefits, etc), then divide that $57,500 by 2080 hours. That gives you a base rate of $27/hour (rounded up, of course). If you make $75K, your base hourly rate is $41. Keep in mind, this just gives you a reference point for what hourly rate your employer pays you. As your reputation is established, push that rate higher; adjust it to fit the market.  For help, Brilliant Chemistry has a profile analyzer to make recommendations on your hourly rate.

4.  Sell yourself

No, I don’t mean, “market yourself.” I really mean sell yourself. Many people recommend offering free advice in the hope that a potential buyer finds it worthwhile enough to pay for more services. That’s fine and helpful, as long as  you keep it to a minimum. In the early stages of selling your services, many people will find it difficult to talk money. It’s much easier to continue with free advice instead of directing the conversation towards a contract. It’s not something you are used to and it can be difficult to say something as simple as, “My hourly rate is $XX/hour, would you like to continue talking?” Get over that as quickly as you can. The business on the other side of the conversation will rarely offer to pay, unprompted. They’ll continue receiving the free advice as long as possible. It’s up to you to make the deal happen.


5.  Become a padawan

Finding others in similar situations like you can help. Seek out a freelance group. Freelances are different then moonlighters in that a freelancer’s only source of income is their client work. However, most got started doing freelance through side jobs. They can offer advice and, if nothing else, their moral support. They’ve been in your shoes. One such list is #freelance: Another good resource is the Side Work Resource group on LinkedIn:

For me, personally, #3 and #4 were probably the most difficult challenges to overcome.  The thing I learned is that you get better on selling and more accurate on pricing with experience.  You’ll price yourself wrong with your first client and take to long to close the deal.  It’s a fact.  But don’t stress; keep at it and you’ll get better.

Getting in the right mind set and preparing is key.

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