Here's an uncomfortable truth about our economy today: We all need more than one source of income. Relying solely on a single employer is a surefire way to end up struggling, as so many Americans do. In the wake of the Great Recession, over 7 percent of Americans looking for work still find themselves unable to land jobs today.
For young people and seniors, the unemployment and underemployment rates are even higher. And those of us lucky enough to hold onto our jobs face pay cuts, benefit reductions and longer hours, along with the unsettling feeling that those jobs could disappear at any moment.
A 2012 Gallup survey found that close to three in 10 workers worry they will get laid off, while four in 10 fear a reduction in benefits. It's hard to go about our normal lives, picking up groceries and planning vacations, with that kind of anxiety hanging over us. At the same time, life keeps getting more and more expensive. The prices of food, gas, rent and even coffee keep going up. Not surprisingly, most Americans report feeling incredibly squeezed financially.
That's why so many of us have decided to look for an alternate way to live. A way that doesn't make us feel like we're balancing on a tightrope, one misstep away from disaster. We're fighting back against stress and stagnation by pursuing money-earning ventures outside of our full-time jobs (if we still have them). Often, we feel like we have no choice. We need the money, and our primary jobs aren't providing enough of it. Instead, we must actively create multiple ways of earning money through entrepreneurial pursuits. Entrepreneurial side gigs offer us a third way, not as scary as full-blown entrepreneurship and not as dull as standard office life.
With side gigs, we can turn the new economy from a frustrating wasteland of lost opportunities into a thriving incubator for our true selves. Its newest features – the ease of online connections, the intense demand and competition for creative services, the temporary job market – become assets instead of drags. Not only do we improve our financial security, but we often discover we are happier and more satisfied in our new lines of work.
That's what happened when Amy Stringer-Mowat, a laid-off architect, posted a few state-shaped cutting boards she had made for her wedding on the handmade marketplace website Etsy.com, and within months had sold thousands and turned her hobby into a full-time business, giving herself and her family more job security than she ever had as an architect.
A bookstore manager, Tara Gentile, frustrated with her long hours and $28,000 salary, realized she was never going to afford the kind of life she wanted for her family without making a drastic change. So she launched her own entrepreneurial coaching business aimed at creative and crafty types. Within two years, her annual income shot up to $150,000, and she gained complete control of her schedule. And Chris Furin, a deli employee, started up a custom cake business after hours so he was prepared when that deli shut down. He was able to keep his customers and replace his income stream.
These success stories demonstrate how to go about launching a successful side business, which begins with selecting the right one. The best side gigs typically have low start-up costs, are easily scalable, fit well with full-time work (or at least do not pose a conflict) and take advantage of your own unique creativity and skill set. They're also enjoyable. Some of the most popular examples include being a life or career coach, marketing consultant or Web designer, social media consultant, fitness trainer and writer also made the top 50 list.
Given the benefits of running a side business, it's no wonder 30 percent of the freelancers on Elance.com also maintain full-time jobs. Or that the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that about over 7 million workers, or around 5 percent of the workforce, hold more than one job. (For those with professional jobs and advanced degrees, the rate is over 7 percent.) Side gigs serve as our shining white knights, ready to save us from the evil dragon of the sluggish economy.