Side gig can be lifeline when job security shaky

Do you fear losing your job?

If so, you are like a lot of people these days — and you’ll be interested in “The Economy of You: Discover Your Inner Entrepreneur and Recession-Proof Your Life” by Kimberly Palmer (Amacom, $21.95). It is the Color of Money Book Club selection for February.

Palmer, senior money editor and consumer blogger at U.S. News &World Report, argues that in a world of zero job security, you need to create a stream of income in addition to your regular 9-to-5 job.

“Relying solely on a single employer is a sure-fire way to end up struggling, as so many Americans do,” Palmer writes.

Palmer is pretty pessimistic about the American job market.

“Those of us lucky enough to hold on to our jobs face pay cuts, benefit reductions and longer hours, along with the unsettling feeling that those jobs could disappear at any moment.” And she adds, “We can’t pretend that our employers have our best interests in mind or even that they will continue being our employers for much longer.”

This should strike fear in anyone’s heart, especially as we continue to see reports about how long it takes for many people to find work after they’ve lost a job. Palmer cites a Gallup survey that found that many workers worry about being laid off or fear a reduction in benefits. But as my niece, who is a therapist in New York, likes to remind me, “Feelings aren’t facts.”

Unemployment is still too high, but millions of people have been able to build a good life just working for others, and many will continue to be able to do so. Yet Palmer has a point. You can help control your financial fate by creating income that is independent of your day job. There are so many side-gig options, especially with the Internet and social media.

“Not everyone wants to be self-employed, and voluntarily leaving a job in today’s economy can sound as crazy as burning provisions in a famine,” she said.

This is a how-to book with a lot of useful takeaways. Palmer says the most successful side businesses have some of the following characteristics:

Low start-up costs “As side-giggers showed me over and over again, there’s no need to spend big before you start earning.”

Fits well with your full-time work and doesn’t pose a conflict, “which usually means they can be done on your own schedule,” she writes.

Takes advantage of your skill set.

The hustle is fun. It can’t be just about the money.

Don’t underestimate this last point. How many side businesses have you failed at because you didn’t really like the job? Do you really want to stuff envelopes or take online surveys?

Palmer says to ask yourself these questions:

What fields are growing?

What problems can I solve?

Can I realistically get paid to do what I like?

So can you create “hybrid income” for yourself? To help you see the possibility, Palmer introduces you to many hustling entrepreneurs from cake bakers to home organizers to video editors. She talks about her own entrepreneurial venture that she operates on an e-commerce website.

Using her own path to entrepreneurship and that of others, Palmer walks you through the various business issues you’ll need to know from figuring out what side business to create, finding a place to sell your goods or services, branding, marketing, to making the time to do it all. You’ll find exercises and worksheets to help you get started.

Not sure where to start? She’s got an appendix with the top 50 side gigs. She describes the jobs that are best suited for certain individuals and lists the resources needed to get started.

I also love that she lists the entrepreneurs mentioned in the book and their side businesses and how you can reach them. Among the side-giggers is a social media manager who has a career blog, an instrument repairer who does voice overs and a graphic designer who is a classical singer. What a lovely way to expose these entrepreneurs to more business.

One thing that drove Palmer to write the book is that many people she talked to about their side business said it helped them have peace of mind. Having the extra money and knowing you can make a way for yourself should you lose your main job “can feel a little more stable even in an economy that isn’t.”

Michelle Singletary: michelle.singletary@washpost.com.

Washington Post Writers Group

Online discussion

Michelle Singletary will host a live online discussion about “The Economy of You” at 9 a.m. Pacific, Feb. 27 at washingtonpost.com/discussions. Kimberly Palmer will join her to answer your questions about discovering your inner entrepreneur. Every month, Singeltary randomly selects a few readers to receive copies of the featured book donated by the publisher. For a chance to win a copy of this month’s selection, send an email to colorofmoney@washpost.com with your name and address. Only winners are notified.

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