What you’ve heard about side-hustling is wrong

More than a decade on from the dot-com bust of the early ‘00s, it seems we finally have a handle on monetising the web.

We’ve gone from total ignorance of this interconnected web of phone lines and computers called the internet, to nothing short of total reliance and an entirely new sector of the economy.

From side-hustles and freelancing, to remote work and the often controversial ‘gig economy’, it’s now commonplace for many of us to make secondary or even primary incomes online—all you need is an email account and a Wi-Fi connection.

Alas, this exciting blue ocean, which continues to attract new schools of fish every day, has attracted its share of sharks, too.

You’ve probably come face-to-face with some slick talking head in a YouTube ad who wants to tell you all about the secrets of side-hustling and how it can bolster your savings and financial security.

Maybe you’ve encountered one of the countless listicles that promise ‘101 Easy Side-Hustles You Can Start Today’.

But the truth is, if you’re doing it right, a side-hustle is anything but easy.

The side-hustle myth

Much like the misnomer that is ‘passive income’, the side-hustle has developed a reputation as a guaranteed path to easy money.

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The formula is simple: just pick something you’re good at, then go out online and find people willing to pay you to do it for them.

Maybe you’re fluent in some language or good at writing resumes. Just find people looking to avow themselves of your particular skill set and the rest takes care of itself.

You’ll be supplementing your primary income in no time. Maybe you’ll do so well you can quit your day job and leave the 9-to-5 grind forever.

This is, in essence, the side-hustle myth.

A new rat race

The side-hustle myth comes from the idea that working online is somehow different to working in ‘the real world’. But when you think about it, what’s the difference between pitching your skill set to full-time employers in an office or short-term employers on Upwork or Guru?

Sure, in the latter case, you decide when and how much you work. You get to set your own schedule and often have more freedom when it comes to negotiating compensation.

But the principle behind actually finding work is no different: you’re providing skilled labour in exchange for payment.

What’s more, the side-hustle world is just as competitive as the world of the 9-to-5, perhaps even more so. After all, you’re not just competing with a few dozen other applicants, you’re competing with other hustlers from around the world, some of whom are willing to work for considerably less than you are.

Reality check

What you’ll likely find when you venture out into the realm of the side-hustle is that you’re just one, lowly hustler in a sea of eager grinders, many of whom have spent years developing strong personal brands, positive reviews, and ongoing client relationships.

You may even have well-honed skills in your particular field, but the reality is that the clients posting jobs to online freelance hubs like Upwork are often just looking to get the job done as cheaply as possible, with little regard for how skilled the freelancer doing the work really is.

Sure, there are those willing to pay a premium for quality work, but you need to be prepared to sift through countless listings that offer writers $1 for every thousand words or $10 an hour to get a website to the 1st page of Google for some highly competitive keyword.

And, much like the real world, you’ll have to get used to rejection. For every dozen proposals submitted, you’ll be lucky to get one positive response, and the application process can be time-consuming and downright exhausting.

How to do it right

All of that said, there is a way to succeed with a side-hustle, but it certainly isn’t passive or anything remotely resembling easy money.

  1. Forget easy

If there’s one piece of advice you should take away from this article, it’s that you need to divest yourself of the idea that a side-hustle is easy money.

Like anything in life, if you want your side-hustle to be successful, you need to put in the work. Take it seriously and treat it like a real job, with a set amount of hours you put in each week.

  1. Be a genuine expert

One of the unfortunate side-effects of the side-hustle craze has been an influx of unskilled workers entering the freelance space.

Set yourself apart from these wannabe ‘content creators’, ‘digital marketers’, and ‘graphic designers’ by making yourself an undisputed expert in a particular skill or niche.

Ask yourself: would you pay you to complete this project? If the answer isn’t ‘definitely yes’, maybe you need to upskill before you start asking other people to pay you.

  1. Develop a personal brand

One of the biggest issues with internet side-hustles is that it’s easy to get lost in a sea of other hustlers.

Distinguish yourself by building a strong personal brand through blogging and/or guest-posting, optimising your social media profiles, and creating your own assets, such as an ebook or web course.

  1. Leverage existing relationships

If you’re able to avoid the online freelance rat race, do it. It can save you hours of trawling through job listings and filling out applications.

Find out if any friends or family members are looking for a few hours of graphic design work per month (if that’s where your skills lie) or maybe email that guy you met at an industry conference who was on the lookout for skilled freelancers to help his business.

  1. Avoid templates

In case the message still isn’t clear, much of your success as a side-hustler hinges on distinguishing yourself from the competition. This is why you should avoid using cookie-cutter proposal templates when pitching for work.

Most clients can tell when an applicant hasn’t read their listing and just uses the same cover letter for every application.

Feel free to use the same layout for your applications, but make sure you personalise each one and make them relevant to the individual listing you’re applying for.

Before you start

You may have heard the expression: “There’s no such thing as easy money.” This should be a mantra for anything you do in your career. You can, and should enjoy what you do for money, you should be passionate and excited about it, but you should also be really good at it.

At the end of the day, side-hustling means asking people to part with their money in exchange for your services. The attachment most people have to their cash doesn’t change just because you’re doing it online.

You need to give people a good reason why they should pay you and not someone else for what you’re providing. After all, they don’t call it a ‘hustle’ for nothing.

Share your thoughts on side hustling in the comments.

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About Greg Moskovitch

Greg Moskovitch is Head of Search at Splashbox, one of Melbourne’s top digital marketing agencies. Greg works on SEO campaigns for more than 60 clients, ensuring strategy is in line with each client’s business objectives. A graduate of the prestigious Australian Film Television & Radio School, Greg is a prolific blogger and e-learning junkie.


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