Why I Still Side Hustle Even though I’m Self-Employed

I’m a solopreneur; I inspire and empower stipend-receiving grad students and postdocs to make the most of their money through speaking engagements at universities, online resources, and (coming soon!) coaching services. This is my passion business that grew out of my own experiences with personal finance while I was in graduate school.


But I also have a side hustle: I’m a contractor for a scientific services company. I accept short assignments that have a fixed amount of pay. I learned early on how to choose and complete these assignments so that I have a decent average hourly pay rate. This side hustle is very part-time (e.g., last month I spent less than 15 hours on it) so it doesn’t generate a lot of money. I’ve earned anywhere from $0 (after DPR was born) to about $1,600 in a month. In most months, I would have accepted more assignments if they had been offered, so generally my income from this side hustle has been limited by the availability of work.


Why am I bothering with the side hustle work? Wouldn’t it be better to use that time on my main business?



I started this side hustle during my funemployment semester in 2014 for two reasons: 1) to earn money and 2) to diversify my skill set for possible future employment. But the reasons I’m still doing it are: 1) to trade time for money and 2) to stay connected with my scientific training.


The main way I earn money in my business is through speaking engagements at universities. The time-into-money trade on that is not at all straightforward. I invested a ton of time into creating my seminar offerings. I spend a ton of time working a sales funnel; I email and talk on the phone with many people, only a small percentage of whom end up becoming clients. I do spend a handful of hours tailoring my seminars for each client, traveling to the client, and speaking/answering questions, but that time pales in comparison to the time spent on creating the seminars themselves and landing the gigs. And then I get a nice chunk of money after delivering the seminars (often months after!).


With each subsequent year I’ve been doing this, I’ve improved my time-to-money ratio: I’ve spent less time on the sales funnel and have earned more from my speaking engagements. (This is partially due to experience/productivity – I implemented a customer relationship management tool this year, which I love! – and partially because developing clients sometimes takes years.) But the fact remains that there is not a guarantee that work put in will translate into money, and even if it does the distance between the two is months to years.


But sometimes I just like knowing that if I do an hour or two of work today, I’m going to be paid something on the 15th of next month! Don’t get me wrong, the extra income itself is nice (though it goes directly into savings so it’s not really hitting us psychologically) but mostly it’s the near-term payoff.


The satisfaction I receive from this direct correlation between work and reward (in this case a paycheck) is one of the reasons why I encourage grad students to have a side hustle or at least a creative hobby. Experiencing frustration and setbacks in research is basically the default state of affairs, and it’s easy to become discouraged. It’s very beneficial to have some aspect of your life outside of school where you can put in some time or effort and receive a given outcome. This is yet another similarity between grad school and entrepreneurship!


I’m sure at some point I will stop side hustling. The coaching arm of my business (Want to find out when it launches? Sign up for Grad Student Finances’ mailing list!) will enable me to directly trade time for money, and I’ve set my hourly rate higher than what I average in my side hustle. In time, I’ll probably also learn to trust the work/income cycle in the speaking arm of my business. But all of that takes time and a heck of a lot of not-yet-paid investment, so for now I’ll keep side hustling and take some comfort knowing that a paycheck is on the way.


Why do or don’t you have a side hustle?


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7 Responses to "Why I Still Side Hustle Even though I’m Self-Employed"

  1. Fiby says:

    I don’t know if you can really call this a side hustle, because the hourly return on it is not great, but I do gift card reselling. But boy is it a lot of fun. And I’ve built relationships with the people in the gift card reselling group I’m in, which are worth far more than any money earned from reselling.

    This bit has nothing to do with the subject of your blog post, but when I saw CRM I was confused because I’ve seen a bunch of episodes of Air Crash Investigation, which is about airline crashes, and in that world CRM stands for Crew Resource Management.

    1. Emily says:

      I think anything that earns you money is a side hustle – no min hourly rate applied! That’s awesome about the side benefit, too. What makes the relationships so valuable?

      I’ll add ‘Customer Relationship Management’ to the post! What a niche show you’ve been watching. 🙂

      1. Fiby says:

        I’ve been offered places to stay and once, a car to borrow, when I was traveling =).

        1. Emily says:

          That is awesome! What a nice community.

  2. Tara says:

    I’ve never had a side hustle before due to work visa restrictions. Once those were lifted, I’ve picked up random small jobs for professors in my department, grading or doing coding work. I may end up being a site manager in the spring tax season, depending on how life goes. I’m really excited for that possibility as I’ve quite enjoyed volunteering doing tax preparation!

    1. Emily says:

      How do you like the student/side hustle life vs. having a full-time job?

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