I am officially throwing my hat into the self-employment ring from now through summer 2015 (at least). I never thought I would be at this point, but over the last six months I’ve found something I really enjoy doing, and I want to see if I can earn a living from it. Kyle and I are also still anticipating moving in the near future (destination TBD), so it’s not a great time for me to try to apply for full-time jobs, anyway. I guess you could say I’m being both pushed and pulled into working for myself.
Last fall, I was funemployed. I had a bunch of different projects and goals, and though I was working very hard and long overall, I wasn’t focused on building a business or earning money. For this upcoming summer, I am going to have a laser focus on building up my new business and evaluating if it’s something I can/want to do over the next few years instead of months. Mostly, that evaluation is going to be if I can earn sufficient money from the endeavor.
The objective of my business is to inspire and empower early-career PhDs to make the most of their money. It’s funny how this shift in audience has really ignited my passion. I’ve been into personal finance for a number of years, obviously, but I never wanted it to be my full-time thing when I was thinking of serving general audiences. But now that I realize that I could focus in serving my own community of grad students and postdocs, I love the idea of doing more of it.
The primary component of the business, which is the one that inspired me to get into this in the first place, is public speaking. I’ve now spoken about personal finance five times to people in my target audience (prospective stipend-receiving grad students, stipend-receiving grad students, and postdocs). I told you about how the comprehensive personal finance for grad students seminar that I gave at my university became my passion project for last fall. Well, I continued pitching it to a number of universities and was able to give it twice more and have high interest from two more universities for the fall.
However, I am having a bit of trouble consistently getting the fee I want. Professional public speaker fees are quite hefty, but unfortunately universities are accustomed to paying honorariums, which are not sufficient to sustain a professional (they are kind of more like a tip). This spring I gave discounts because I had a restricted schedule due to my fellowship and I was just getting started, but I’ve now determined that, yes, this is very difficult and time-consuming work (and I’m good at it) and I need to stay firm on my fee. If it turns out that I really can’t generate the fee or volume I need to, I will likely stop this kind of active work and get a job. So this summer is an evaluation period.
In addition to the speaking, I’m going to work hard on my online presence and offerings. A baby version of Grad Student Finances is now online, but I have plans to grow its content and audience substantially through the summer. I am also going to finally develop some products that I can sell directly to students and postdocs (I’d rather have the universities pay, but I won’t be able to reach everyone that way). First on the docket is the ebook I’ve been wanting to write for years, and I hope to follow that with some webinars or courses (I need to learn a lot more about this). I may get into coaching if I get requests for it.
I like this dual approach of pursuing active and passive income. (Well, I don’t really believe most “passive income” is passive, but this is what people refer to as passive income.) If it turns out that the speaking component, the active component, doesn’t work out and I end up getting a job, I’ll still have made the investment in the passive components, and perhaps those will continue to sell and I can eventually make up for some of the lost income.
I know early-career PhDs are an underserved audience with respect to personal finance. Lots of people have told me that they love what I’m trying to do and that there is a distinct need. The question remains whether there is any money in it for me, and that’s what I’m going to apply myself completely to discovering this summer.
Have you ever started a business? Do you have any recommendations for me? What are your summer plans?