Career Advancement, Finance and Negotiation

Boost your bank account and career by cultivating side hustles

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Photo credit: Galushko Sergey, Shutterstock

With tax season wrapping up, money has been on my mind more than usual.  While I’m upfront that it was my passion for arts and culture, personal values, and the desire to give back—rather than the paycheck—that drove me to work in arts nonprofits, at the end of the day, I’ll tell you that I’d still like to make more money.

I’ve built my career in art-focused nonprofits where I’ve faced the stark reality of little-to-no raises or bonuses, along with drastic funding cuts for my programs.  To bulk up my savings, pay down debt, and sometimes just to make ends meet, I’ve taken on side jobs and freelance work. This work has included grant writing, event coordinating, and teaching. When I was fresh out of college and a museum educator I would take on any kind of side job that would have me: baby sitting, cat sitting, and writing quizzes for teacher editions of text books. Over the years I’ve gotten more strategic with my side hustles and learned to use them to further develop my skills, broaden my network, and deepen my portfolio.

Below are some of the lessons I’ve learned from picking up side jobs to supplement my nonprofit salary.

Be honest about how much time and energy you can commit

Before diving into looking for part-time work assess your interests and schedule. How much time and energy do you have to give to side-projects? If you have a full time job, is it a regular eight-hour workday, or do you find yourself working days, nights and weekends? Personally, I found that my jobs have been relatively contained within the workday, so I have been able to find time for projects on lunch breaks and after work. I also found that, energy wise, jobs that required intellectual labor, such as grant writing, were difficult for me on the weekends. If I decide to work on weekends I focus jobs like event management that use a different skill set.

Additionally, before committing fully to a project I evaluate the specific job. I ask myself, “Is the money I will make or experience I will gain worth the time that this job takes?” Once I turned down an opportunity with a company whose mission I believe in wholeheartedly because I decided that the money I would make was not worth the stress and time constraints it would add to my schedule.

Let people know you’re looking for side projects

To find side jobs, whether one-time freelance gigs or longer-term project management opportunities, I’ve mobilized my network. I found it’s important to let my contacts know I’m interested in part-time and freelance work, otherwise I can miss out on great opportunities. For example, I found a three-month-long position as a neighborhood coordinator for Go, the Brooklyn Museum’s borough-wide open studio initiative, because a colleague reached out to see if I knew someone in my neighborhood for the job—I realized she had no idea I was interested in side projects! Now, to find grant writing work for artists I let my colleagues and friends who worked with artists in various capacities know that I’m interested and available for such work.

I’ve also returned to former employers for freelance work. I regularly work as a freelance event manager at the Brooklyn Museum’s Target First Saturdays. I helped run that program for almost three years when I worked there full time, so staff at the museum know me, trust me and I have the specialized knowledge for the role. Plus, for me it’s fun to go back and reconnect!

To find teaching gigs I’ve tapped into my college alumni network and reached out to friends I know who have education and programming positions at universities, libraries, and museums. So if you’re serious about getting extra income, be sure let your network know what type of work you are looking for and how much time you have to give.

Leverage your new knowledge for more opportunities

To bring it all together I’m developing a portfolio website that collects the different types of work that I’ve done into one coherent package. This is site helps me showcase my different professional experiences and will enable me to leverage my side projects into future jobs.

In fact, to get the greatest impact out of the money I make from my side projects I’m clear with myself about how I will put it to use. Instead of just looking at it is an addition to my paycheck that gets factored into my regular earning and spending, I view it as contributing towards something specific. For a year I was using additional income to pay down my credit card debt. Now, with money I’m earning from teaching this semester, I’m concentrating on saving for a large scale, creative project. Being strategic about what type of side jobs I take on and how I use the money makes me feel like I’m maximizing my outside of fulltime time, impact and earnings.

Are you picking up side work? What strategies do you use to do this?

About Eleanor Whitney

Eleanor C. Whitney is a writer, arts administrator and musician living in Brooklyn, New York. She is currently a Program Officer at the New York Foundation for the Arts and is the author of Grow: How to Take Your Do It Yourself Project and Passion to the Next Level and Quit Your Job, released in 2013 on Cantankerous Titles.