The Career Corner
By Chaim Shapiro
Q: No matter what I do and no matter how hard I work, I can never seem to make ends meet. The real question is what to do now. I have considered taking a second job and even working part-time as a private consultant to bring in extra money. What do you recommend?
A: Thank you so much for your question. My guess is that a large percentage of the readership of this newspaper can see themselves asking that same question! In a relatively short period of time, society has moved from the standard one-career family to a situation where even two full-time careers are not enough to adequately provide for a family.
Obviously, this is a bigger problem in the Orthodox Jewish community than in other communities due to the expenses inherent in an Orthodox life (I am not going to touch that subject), but it is not a unique problem. Whether or not extra income is necessary to make ends meet, or to save for a house or family vacations, it is very common for folks to look for additional revenue streams.
Trying to identify an appropriate “side hustle” (to borrow the common parlance) as a supplemental income stream is a frequent topic of conversation in Twitter chats in the career and business worlds.
To address your question specifically, the difficulty with finding a second, part-time job is the expected pay scale. A second job works well when you are able to utilize your professional expertise for a few extra hours a week at your standard level of remuneration.
Too frequently, that is not an option. While there are often jobs available in local retail establishments, chances are the pay is minimum wage or close to it. It takes a lot of extra work hours per week to turn a $12-an-hour job (minus taxes) into enough income to make a real difference in most people’s lives.
It is much more effective to find a way to utilize your specific expertise to build a “side hustle” that pays much higher dividends. These opportunities can be as basic as running a side Amazon store to freelance writing, editing, and graphic-design projects.
One common problem with those kinds of projects is the lack of business expertise. The ability to write or edit does not necessarily correlate with the ability to run and market a business that offers those services. Unless you find a way to attract customers, your abilities alone won’t help you.
Frequently, the most attractive and financially rewarding “side gig” is consulting. Consulting sounds great. There is little to no overhead and people assume that businesses are always looking for people who can help them improve.
Unfortunately, it is not that simple. I cannot count the number of times people have asked me my thoughts on pursuing consulting on the side. I usually ask them two questions in response:
- What kind of consulting would you like to do?
- What gives you the expertise to provide advice to highly qualified professionals in that area?
I made a huge tactical error around that first question when I started consulting six years ago. I believe that I am good at a lot of things, and I set out to provide consulting in multiple unrelated areas.
Unfortunately the “handyman model” does not work well for consulting because people are looking for a superior level of expertise in their consultants. From a branding perspective, being good at many things was worthless. I needed to be known as being great at one thing. For me, that one thing is LinkedIn.
Identifying my specialty led to the second problem. How would I develop a reputation as a LinkedIn expert who provides results that are worth the hourly fee?
Initially, I tried to undercut the market by providing services at a rate that was a fraction of what most consultants charged. My reasoning was that a few testimonials from happy clients would lead to a lucrative practice. The problem was that clients assumed I was only worth what I was charging.
In other words, the assumption was that if I was willing to charge one-third the going rate, I must not be worth the going rate. If clients are going to pay for expert advice, they want the best advice, not a cut-rate service that will not prove beneficial.
This is like the old paradox—you can’t get clients without experience and you can’t get experience without clients. So how do you build trust in your level of expertise? Use every opportunity you can to build your brand as the premier expert in your area.
Here are a few ideas:
- Write guest blogs and articles demonstrating your expertise.
- Sign up for the HARO (Help A Reporter Out) listserve and provide your expertise to reporters.
- Engage in topic-related Twitter chats.
- Volunteer to speak at networking events.
- Volunteer to provide consulting services for communal or charitable organizations running community events.
- Be ready and willing to provide quick expert advice in public forums like Facebook and Twitter.
The fact that “side hustles” are the new normal means it is harder than ever to differentiate yourself and build a solid brand as a premier expert in your area.
Remember, it takes time and effort to build a solid client base, and you will need to constantly retool to make sure you are on the top of your game. But when you do find that right fit, it can make a real difference in your bottom line and the financial well-being of your family. Good luck! v
Chaim Shapiro, M.Ed., is director of the Office for Student Success at Touro College. He is a freelance writer, public speaker, and social-media consultant specializing in LinkedIn. Chaim earned a master’s degree in College Student Personnel from Loyola University, Chicago, and also studied in the Institutional Leadership and Policy Studies Ph.D. program at the University of California–Riverside Graduate School of Education. He has more than 13 years of experience working in college administration. Please send your career questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or by Twitter @chaimshapiro.