How to be a side-gigger.

qDoing well on your current salary? If so, you’re lucky. According to a MetLife survey, anywhere from 12 to 25 percent of U.S. citizens are either freelancing or working a second job.

A handful of work-related books have come my way lately, offering help for the current or wannabe “solopreneur.” The best of the bunch is Kimberly Palmer’s “The Economy of You: Discover Your Inner Entrepreneur and Recession-Proof Your Life.” The senior money editor for U.S. News & World Report, Palmer isn’t immune to financial fears.

That’s because although she and her husband both have traditional jobs, they also have two kids and are staring at the same fears a lot of us face: Life is getting more expensive and no one is immune to layoffs. (Ask me how I know.)

So she started her own Etsy store, Palmer’s Planners, in the hopes of being able eventually to work for herself, at her own pace. “It was really about so much more than money. I wanted to be in control of my life,” she writes.

In sharing her story and those of other entrepreneurs, Palmer suggests ways for readers to come up with their own side-gig ideas, test the market for their service/product, meshing day jobs with extra work, keeping costs low, learning how to self-promote, reaching out to others for support and – perhaps most important of all – being ready to cope with setbacks or even outright failures.

But not to be stymied by those bummers. Side-giggers know that a rejection here and there “doesn’t mean their contributions are worthless…they take it as proof that they are trying something new and taking risks, some of which are bound to fail.”

Dream big, and dare to fail

The fear of failure might keep some people from even trying a new business or service. But according to Megan McArdle, failure is how we learn.

“The opposite of failure is not safety: It’s nothing,” says the author of “The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well is the Key to Success.”

McArdle, a Bloomberg columnist, knows that too often we’re conditioned to avoid failure at all costs and then, if we do fail, to avoid thinking about it. Bad idea. Instead, we should be teaching ourselves to identify mistakes early and/or recognize when we’re on the wrong path. She quotes a CEO as saying “when most people look back on their successes, they realize they were a series of failures that allowed them to navigate to success.”

Her book is designed to help us become more resilient and – bonus! – to turn setbacks into “an opportunity to do something you might never have had the courage to do otherwise.” How many times have you heard some version of this story:

  • Someone loses a job/gets divorced/goes broke, yet
  • Ultimately comes out in a great place because of the windows that opened when what they saw as essential doors got closed.

(I identify with that one pretty strongly, as regular readers might have guessed.)

‘A life of passion’

What if you think you want to build a business, create a service, learn a skill or write the Great American Novel but you just can’t seem to get started? Motivational speaker and accountant Onyx Jones has seven steps for you – and yes, it really is best if you do all seven.

“(After) committing to following all seven steps, you will see improvement in your quality of life in just 30 to 90 days,” says Jones, author of “The Unofficial Guide to Achieving Your Goals.”  

This slim paperback (66 pages) is designed to “motivate, inspire and provide you with tools for achieving your goals and living a life of passion.” It should be said right away that if you’re not the kind of person who likes following directions, this isn’t the book for you. Jones lays out the steps and expects you either to communicate regularly with a “goals partner” or else journal like mad. She also requires you to read books, make lists, and either meditate or communicate with God/a higher power.

But those of you who need a specific guide, or even just a virtual kick in the pants, should love this guide. It’s concrete, it’s friendly, it’s encouraging. Jones wants you to live the best possible version of you.

“The world has enough room for your success, my success and the success of everyone else who chooses to operate in a life filled with purpose and goals,” she says.

Pay taxes like a rich dude

Thinking about that side gig or full-fledged business? Good. It’s a great way to avoid tax disparities, according to former IRS agent Anthony Campidonica.

“All taxpayers…should have a small business to take advantage of the tax laws like the rich do,” says the author of “Outsmarting the System: Lower Your Taxes, Control Your Future and Reach Financial Freedom.”  

This former IRS auditor urges people to take advantage of the tax benefits afforded to those who work for themselves, whether that’s as an entrepreneur, investor or landlord. Plenty of us don’t have a ton of investment capital weighing down our bank accounts. But as noted above, more and more U.S. citizens are starting to sell their products or services on the side.

Campidonica’s book is a good beginner’s guide to the advantages inherent in the system for the self-employed. As someone who recently became a limited liability corporation all I can say is, “Why the heck didn’t I do this years ago?” When I think about all the extra taxes I paid, I get a little cranky.

But McArdle is right: Failure is how we learn, and I’ve learned. I also take every opportunity to suggest (gently) that other freelancers incorporate in order to take advantage of the tax laws. So stay tuned, because in the near future all of these books will be featured in the weekly giveaways.

How about it, readers: Are you interested in becoming an entrepreneur, either part- or full-time? What kind of product or service would you sell?

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  1. Terri M

    This is perfect timing for me! I am in the process of writing the next chapter of my life. I intend to make a life change and will look into the books you mention. I just needed another push in the right direction. Thanks!

  2. Ro in San Diego

    When I was facing being fired 4 years ago I started selling products for a direct marketing firm. I don’t make a lot of money at it but I have some reliable customers who make it worth my time and minimal effort. I like knowing I could do something with it if I was facing a job loss.

  3. I look forward to reading some of these books. I’m sure they’d make a great addition to our public library collection. Our eBay, etsy and small business books circulate like hotcakes.

  4. Catseye

    I’ve been thinking about starting my own business recently, mainly because I can’t find full-time work. And I’m sick of being trapped in a cubicle! I need to read all 3 books, even if I don’t win any of them. ;o)

  5. Hey Donna, what’s up? Funny this should come up. I just got a long-term (I hope) writing gig starting this week. Good topic for me, and thanks for the info!

  6. Dear Donna

    I have worked in a health profession for 25+ years but have always looked for a creative outlet to balance out my nerdy brain. Just a few months ago, after perusing the internet for small mosaic projects to work on, I stumbled across mosaic light switch plates. I made a dozen or so for holiday gifts and have sold a dozen or so and currently have a couple of shops in my area who are interested in consigning them. Woo hoo! My only problem is that I don’t have the time to make a bunch up….I can only do them as I get orders for them (which is not bad….this way I keep ALL the profits). This little business provides me with a much needed creative outlet and, since people have a TON of switch plates and outlets in their home, a nice little stream of income as well, all of which makes it a perfect venture as I head into the possibility of early retirement.

    Thank you for your advice and enthusiasm.

    • Donna Freedman

      Good for you! A friend of mine started learning freeform bead weaving and now has a nice sideline selling jewelry to several local stores and also at two or three major bazaars a year. It’s a lot of work, but also very stimulating.
      Here’s wishing you continued success. Thanks for sharing this with other readers who may be thinking about side-gigging.

  7. jillian

    Golly! I was just talking to a friend about what I want to do next. My service would be a trainer as in exercising or some type of adventure. I love getting off of the couch and before I had the love, I paid a trainer to get me to this point. Now I am very frugal so I do it on my own and because I know everything the trainer does at this point. Thanks Donna. I have been following you since MSN and I just want to tell you how much I appreciated your writing.

    • Donna Freedman

      Thank you, Jillian….And again, keep an eye on those weekly giveaways because eventually all those books will go up for grabs.

  8. I’d like to get it on the book, please. I’ve been thinking of branching out into business for myself, just not sure how to do it or what I would focus on for the business. Thanks!

  9. i’m in this position as well. i just took a voluntary demotion at work to avoid being laid off so my income has taken a major hit (like $400 off my paycheck? ouch) my field of work is prone to not only layoffs but offshore outsourcing so i’m looking for something else to do until the other shoe falls. i’ll keep my night job as long as i can stand it but in the meantime i’m looking for another gig. i’m also 50, and the idea of asking if one wants fries with that does not appeal to me. the timing of this is perfect. thanks donna!

  10. Caroljean

    I would love to win one of these books.

  11. Caroljean

    I get your e-mail and want to enter the drawing.

  12. Caroljean

    I follow on face book and would like to be able to change jobs but this one is my health insurance for my family.


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