One of the things that really gets me riled up is looking at articles that claim to have great ideas for side hustles for women. The article is usually accompanied by a horrible stock image of a woman holding a baby while balancing a laptop. And the suggestions revolve around taking online surveys for cash (just don’t) or selling the newest beauty product through a multi-level-marketing scheme.  

I get it. These options – and things like driving uber and walking dogs – are fine when you are in a pinch to make ends meet. We’ve all been there. I ran a pretty lucrative babysitting business to earn some extra cash before business school.

But with the growing gig economy and people embracing the idea that there actually can be flexibility in careers (crazy idea, right?), there’s a growing need for access to side hustles that will actually help your career as well as bring in some extra cash. Side hustles that build or broaden your skillset. Side hustles that end up adding to, rather than detracting from your career journey.

These side hustles are out there, they just take a little extra time to track down or create for yourself.

The reason you need a side hustle might vary. Perhaps you’re a parent and you’re looking to take the foot off the gas pedal for a little while but you still need an income and want to keep your career skills sharp. Maybe you’re in a job that doesn’t meet your financial or creative goals. Perhaps you want to change careers, but you don’t have the skills yet to take that leap.

Whatever your reason there may be times when a side hustle is the right move for you. It was certainly the right move for me.

2 years ago I was in need of a side hustle. I was living abroad in London, I hated the career options that were available here, and I had big student loans. I needed money, I needed flexibility (it wasn’t clear how long we’d be here), and I needed to stay in my career.

Walking dogs or babysitting wasn’t going to meet my needs.

I found my side hustle – to be honest, I found a lot of side hustles – and this is how I zeroed in on the ones that would work for me. Hopefully, some of these tips will help you decide how to begin or where to take your side hustle:

1. Know your goals

It can be hard to decide on a side hustle when you aren’t sure about your goals. When I was drowning in student loan debt my initial reaction was that I just needed to do something (read: anything) to make money. When my husband, Jordan, suggested I start babysitting again I quickly (and possibly angrily) rejected that idea. I didn’t want to babysit! I wanted to make sure that my career skills didn’t lapse and I really wanted to figure out where to go next in my career.

My mistake here was to claim that it was all about the money, which it wasn’t. I wasn’t clear with myself about my goals which were leading me down some very frustrating paths – and leading me into frustrating conversations with Jordan.

The first step is to get really honest and clear about what your goal is for the side hustle. Is it just about the money? Is it about new skills? Is it about figuring out where to take your career next? Or is it to stay in your career while having the flexibility to work fewer hours for a while.

2. Take stock of your skills

Depending on what your current career situation is, this can feel difficult. It was by far the most difficult thing for me. While I had skills and a lot of education, I couldn’t see how these skills would translate to anything other than the corporate jobs I’d had in the past. I have my CPA but I can’t do your taxes. I have my MBA and marketing experience, but my experience was managing an eight-figure brand. Could I just manage people for my side hustle? I quickly decided that I had no concrete skills. I wished that I had a specific skill, like graphic design or writing.

As you probably can guess, I finally realized that I did have some concrete skills that I could lean on. Sure, my CPA won’t help me actually do your taxes, but I do have a really thorough background in accounting and could put together financial projections in my sleep. And while I spent the last few years managing and creating reports, I did have some skills when it came to reviewing copy or setting marketing strategies. It honestly still didn’t feel like much, but it was a start.

Take some time to dig into specific skills that you have. While they may feel very vague and specific to the job that you’re currently in, dig down to actual items that you currently do or can do. Even if they feel small and specific, they can add up to something.

3. What do you want to learn?

If you’re venturing into a side hustle because you want to learn something, you’ll want to spend a good chunk of your time figuring this piece out. What do you actually want to learn? What I failed to realize right at the very beginning was that I could use a side hustle as an opportunity to learn, not just as an opportunity to continue growing the skills I had.

When I first thought about writing, my initial reaction was, “but I’m not a writer!” Yes, 2015 Erica, you’re not a writer. But you can learn if you want to. When a project came up to use a digital marketing tool I’d never used, I almost turned it down because I didn’t know how to use it.

So open your eyes and start exploring. What is something that you’ve always wanted to learn? What is something that interests you? What do you wish you knew?

I was really interested in learning more about digital marketing because obviously that’s big business and I knew very little about it. I also wanted to learn how to write better (clearly it’s still a work in progress…thanks for reading).

Focusing on what you’re interested in learning more about can help point your side hustle in one direction or another.

4. Who do you know or who can you meet?

Don’t worry, a side hustle isn’t all about who you know. But it does help. A lot of prosperous side hustles are born from current or previous companies people have worked for. It’s a natural place to land your first client or your first gig.

Do you know a person or a company who has a problem or a project that you think you could help them with? That is huge.

For me, I was living in a new country and I knew roughly 3 people. So who do you know didn’t really work for me. But, I focused on who I could meet. I went big – arguably too big – and tracked down someone who I saw on a reality TV show that lived in my neighborhood. Her business had a need and I felt like I could probably help solve it. That side hustle was born.

Now you don’t have to become a super sleuth and track down people you don’t know. But if you literally know no one to help get this started, who can you meet? Are there meetups or networking events that are related to the area you want to start side hustling? Are there friends of friends who might know someone that would be looking for what you want to do?

I’m now taking my side hustle a new direction and have a map of all the people I know that might be able to introduce me to someone who can help me get my next thing going. Also, just to clarify, I have 3 different side hustles that make up my full-time job.

5. What’s in front of you?

We’re all so into our computers and live behind our screens each day. The whole world is accessible via the internet! So why wouldn’t we look at side hustle opportunities that are across the country, or possibly the world? We can!

But before you start jumping around time zones and send out a bunch of cold emails, take a look at what’s literally in front of you. In your neighborhood. Down the street. What opportunities are right under your nose?

For example, if you want to start trying out your hand at social media management, walk yourself to some small businesses in town and strike up a conversation. See what they need. And see if you have any ideas that can help them. While it might take you a little courage to talk to the owner that first time, I’ve usually found that small business owners are friendly and at least open to what you have to say.

Some of my favorite ideas to get started on a side hustle:

  • If you want to get into PR, Digital marketing, bookkeeping, or really anything business related, find a small business in your area and offer your services. For example, are you in traditional marketing but you really want to learn more about paid, online marketing? Take an online course and put those skills to use in a local business that could use your help.
  • Excited by events? Head to a florist, caterer, or event planner before their busy season and offer some part-time help.
  • Have a unique perspective that you want to share? Or are you just great at crafting communications? Write your own articles or a white paper and take that sample portfolio to pitch for writing gigs.
  • Obsessed with cooking? A mother-daughter combo I met would do weekly lunch deliveries to startups and small businesses in their city.
  • Interested in taxes? My mom made a career change into taxes by first volunteering to do taxes on the weekend, which led to an evening freelance tax work during tax season, and eventually a full-time career change.

If my mom can use a side hustle to make a career jump and earn some extra cash on the side, there’s really nothing stopping you.

Have you created a side hustle that is actually helping your career?

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