Millennials and money. Our fickle relationship with wealth has been the subject of countless studies, as economists, sociologists, and politicians struggle to understand how the generation that’s supposed to be the richest one yet is still living with its parents, can’t afford a home, and wants to put off raising children until it’s financially viable.
Maybe millennials will become the richest generation ever, but right now one thing is certain: most of us are barely scraping by in our traditional nine-to-five jobs.
In order to combat this paucity, many of us are taking a stab at the gig economy. In fact, a recent study found that 41 percent of millennials expected to do some kind of independent work in the next 12 months.
In spite of the popularity of the side hustle among millennials, we don’t want to be stocking grocery store shelves or staffing a fast food chain to rake in some extra dough. Many of us, myself included, are looking to our passions and skills and trying to discover ways to monetize those instead.
Super geeky passions
Growing up I had two super geeky passions: writing and playing my instrument, the viola. In high school, these hobbies seemed more like an excuse for me to isolate myself in the orchestra rehearsal room and it was always made very clear that they would never ripen into any sort of financial opportunity. “Focus on math and science,” they said. “That’s the way to financial fulfillment,” they said.
Well, the tables seem to have turned. My nine-to-five has little to nothing to do with my college major, nor does it have any math and science requirements. AP Calculus turned out to be a bust, but I am able to supplement my income by teaching private lessons for the viola and gigging in a string quartet when I can.
My side hustle doesn’t pay the bills and, honestly, I wouldn’t want it to. My hobbies are still fun for me precisely because they don’t consume 40 of my waking hours per week. I can manage my own schedule, do these things as little or as much as I like and pull in some extra cash on the side.
This is how the gig economy should work, I think. We take things that we would’ve been doing anyway and find ways to monetize them. I’m not going to say that this is possible for everyone because, honestly, I’m not sure that it is. If you have a passion, even if you’re not very good at it yet, I think it’s definitely worth a shot to see where that passion can take you.
Hobbies to side hustles
Like we talked about above, the gig economy isn’t an isolated phenomenon. There’s a pattern that I’ve noticed among my friends where they’re doing pretty much the same thing that I am: finding hobbies and turning them into little businesses on the side.
I know a few people who do some freelance writing, but the most popular and, to me, the coolest things that I’ve seen people do involve making and selling goods. More than a few of my friends put their skills with crafts to work in their own Etsy shops and farmer’s market booths. If you’re a food nut of any sort, this is probably perfect for you. Things like homemade pickles, salsa, and sweets can all sell like, well, hot cakes.
Though maligned a decade ago in Napoleon Dynamite, selling keychains and other crafts is becoming cool again, especially if it involves upcycling. I have a friend who makes lamps out of used wine bottles, turning trash into a useful household item. Glassware art is becoming cool, along with all sorts of other handmade items. Basically, people are leaning back towards authentic goods with a local connection, rather than cheap cookie cutter products from overseas.
If you have a skill, a hobby, or any passion that you think people might like to see a little more of, then I wholeheartedly advise you to give it a spin and see how it sticks. The worst case scenario is that you do some more of what’s already fun to you.
That’s not to say that gigging is all fun and games, though. For me, the hardest part has been — and continues to be — marketing myself. It’s one thing to have a skill, but it’s something entirely different to get that skill out into the world. As silly as it sounds, I recommend printing off some business cards. I got way more than I can ever use for super cheap and it’s just nice to have something to hand out.
What you need to do to get yourself out there really depends on the kind of skill or product that you want to sell. I registered with local band and orchestra shops and got on a list of local people who teach lessons. You might have to secure a spot at your local farmer’s market or starting getting the word out on Facebook.
A few other pieces of advice:
- Keep receipts of who paid you, when, and what for. My first tax season after I started gigging was a nightmare. I’m still a little terrified of getting a visit from the IRS in the middle of the night.
- If you’re contacting customers on the phone then please, for the love of God, block your phone number. I’m sure you’ll have plenty of great clients, but it only takes one bad apple with your number to make your life hell.
- Have a web presence. While Facebook has fallen out of favor as a social tool in recent years, your own Facebook page is necessary if you want to market and sell your own products. Even better is to have your own website, preferably with a blog about your products to drive sales.
- Charge competitive prices. Just because you enjoy your work doesn’t mean that you have to hand out your products for cheap. Find out what other people in your area are asking for the very same skills or goods. You can also check online stores like Etsy to get some ideas.
For creative millennials who like to get their hands dirty, the gig economy can be a blessing in disguise. Let me know about your creative talents. Happy gigging!
Nick Cesare is a professional violist and freelance writer. When he’s not practicing he loves to cook healthy food and go rock climbing. Connect with @cesare_nick on Twitter.