Use these tips to stay productive and raise your side gig's bottom line.

6 minute read

Done right, an online side gig is an excellent way to bring extra money into your budget, reliably, with a minimal effect on the rest of your life. It’s a pretty good deal, all things considered.

Done wrong, a side gig can be a big waste of time and bring in very little money in comparison to the time and energy it steals from your family and other interests. That’s a bad deal any way you look at it.

Every side gig is different, and every person involved in one is different, too. We can’t give you a playbook of how to run yours. However, we can offer seven of the most universally helpful strategies to keep your side gig organized, profitable, and in its proper place in your life.

1. Set metrics

Common Problem: You give up 8 to 10 hours weekly to make your side gig work. That means you lose time with your loved ones and lose the hours you used to spend relaxing, working out, and engaging in your hobbies. A month later, that time is gone forever, but you find you’ve made little money at all. Most of what you made went back into the expenses of the side gig, and you spent all those hours working for what comes down to far less than minimum wage.

Solution: Spinning your wheels like this is usually the result of going to work without metrics. Metrics are specific numbers you use to determine whether you’re working toward success.

One metric that applies to all side gigs is how much money you’re making per hour of effort. Total up your earnings for the month, divide it by all the time you spend on the tasks that earned that money, and that’s your hourly wage for your side gig. Compare that to how much you make on your day job. With this in mind, decide if the sacrifice you made to earn the additional money was worth it.

Other appropriate metrics vary according to the specific side gig, but other common ones include:

  • Net profit
  • Number of discrete jobs per day, week, or month
  • Number of assignments vs. number of pitches sent
  • % of hours spent where you actually get paid

Once you determine the best metrics for your side gig, track them daily and analyze them weekly. This will help you determine the best use for your time to maximize profits and time spent on the things that matter most.

2. Work set hours

Common Problem: Although your side gig was supposed to be just a little of your spare time each week, it’s spiraled out of control and takes up all of your available time. You haven’t been on a date with your partner in months, and you keep having to cancel time with your kids. It’s even started to take up some time at your regular job, endangering your performance and potentially your employment.

Solution: The best solution to this problem is to set regular hours for you to work. Figure out how many hours you must put in to make the money you want, then schedule those hours into your calendar. Don’t allow yourself to spend time on other things during those hours and focus on everything but your side gig during the rest of the day.

3. Build a slush fund

Common Problem: You’re stressed. Your side gig started out as a way to make an extra thousand dollars every month, and at first, it was easy. Then, you started to rely on that money to live the lifestyle you want, and you made commitments based on those expected earnings. This month, though, things are looking slimmer for your side gig and you’re not sure how you’re going to pay all of your bills.

Solution A: The best solution to this problem is to avoid making your side gig money part of your baseline monthly expenses. Because this income is less reliable than your regular job, it creates financial vulnerability you’re better off avoiding. But not everybody can do this, and not everybody who can do so wants to.

Solution B: The second-best solution is to do what most successful businesses do: Set a baseline goal for your monthly earnings. Whenever you make more money than that in a month, save the difference in an accessible account. On lean months, dip into these savings so you’re still working with the same amount of money each month.

4. Call it a job

Common Problem: You like your side gig, you’re good at it, and you make good money. The trouble is, you keep deciding to take other opportunities, ranging from volunteering to help with something you’re not really interested in binging another episode on Netflix. Your friends and family aren’t helping, either. They constantly ask you to take time away from the side gig to help with little projects and tasks. What could be making you a few hundred or even thousand dollars every month is just a trickle of cash.

Solution: This one is a matter of psychology and phrasing, but can be very powerful. Starting now, don’t think of this money-making venture as your “side gig” or “side hustle.” Start calling it your “second job” and treat it that way.

You don’t miss work because you’re tired, you really want to watch the next episode of “Parks & Recreation,” or because your buddy wants you to help paint their garage. Instead, you work your job and plan your other activities around those hours. And your friends and family do, too. That buddy won’t ask for your help during a time he knows you’re at your regular job, and he wouldn’t if you were working a second job. The more you help yourself and others understand that you’re at work during your side hustle, the easier it will be to succeed.

5. Turn off distractions

Common Problem: You sat down, intent on putting in two solid hours toward your side gig. Two hours later, you’ve done almost nothing, but you have found a dozen solid memes and gotten into two raging arguments with distant relatives. This wouldn’t be so bad, but it’s the third time it’s happened this week.

Solution: The Internet makes it easier than ever to make a little spare money, but it also makes it easier than ever to lose track of time and productivity. When you’re at work on your side gig, turn off your social media, phone notifications, and any other electronic distractions that might lure you away from making money.

If you have trouble doing this, you can install an app like OffTime or Moment that helps you track your time usage and temporarily disable distracting programs during your work time.

6. Make (and defend) a workspace 

Common Problem: You finish dinner, do the dishes, and head over to the desk to get some work done on your side gig, but your kids are using the computer. Once they’ve logged off, you can’t find the papers where you’d scheduled your work for the day, and your good keyboard is nowhere to be found. Once that’s all sorted out, your partner comes over and wants to talk about something important. You sigh, figuring you’ll get to your work tomorrow night instead.

Solution: Virginia Woolf famously said that a woman needs “a room of her own” if she wants to succeed at writing, and this applies to any person of any gender who wants to make a side gig work. Set aside space in your home and make it your work station. It doesn’t have to be a whole room, but someplace with a door that closes makes a big difference. Nothing happens in this space except your side gig – not for your family and not for you. All of your supplies live there. Any work you have to stop doing mid-activity, and the supplies you need to do it, are there waiting when you sit back down.

This division helps both in terms of the logistics and infrastructure of supporting this small business you’ve started and in setting clear and gentle reminders for your family when you’re at work. As an added bonus, you can qualify for some tax breaks for dedicating a portion of your house to this venture.

7. Get paid twice

Common Problem: You like your side gig. You’re good at it. The hours you spend on it are far more enjoyable than your regular job, and you’d do this full-time if you could just figure out how to make it really pay. As it is, you’re just making a couple of bucks above minimum wage, and you can’t see how to make much more at it.

Solution: This is more advanced work, but it’s a strong opportunity for people who have mastered the basics of a side hustle: When you’re spending time at your side gigs, find ways to “double-dip” and make more money per hour.

One example is being on Uber, Lyft, Uber Eats, and DoorDash simultaneously. Having four different sources of assignments reduces the amount of time you sit in your car waiting for a job. That’s not an online side gig, but it illustrates the concept.

For your online side gig, look for ways to sell more items for every customer, or to do work once and sell it multiple times without breaking the terms of your contract. The details will vary according to your skills and the nature of your gig, but once you start looking, you’re likely to find a few opportunities.

Final Thoughts

Start by thinking about this as a checklist. Find out how many of the things on the list you do well already. Identify the ones you don’t do at all.

What’s left are those items in the middle. Tackle those first. It’s easier to take something you’re already doing and improve than to start something from scratch. Once you have those whipped into shape, take on the larger, more difficult tasks.

This article is by William Fullman. Fullman worked on Wall Street for three decades and, while there, began a side gig as a technology developer. He left Wall Street for this side gig, which is now his own full-time business.

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Money Crashers

Money Crashers

Money Crashers' mission is to develop a community of people who try to make financially sound decisions. The website strives to educate individuals in making wise choices about credit and debt, investing, education, real estate, insurance, spending, and more.

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