According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), about 5% of Americans worked two or more jobs in 2017, down from more than 6% in the mid-1990s.
If those figures sound low to you, you could be onto something. Forbes contributor Erik Sherman argues that BLS figures could underestimate the true extent of multijob employment due to inexact employment rate and contingent workforce (nontraditional workers like freelancers and independent contractors) calculations, survey sampling errors attributable (in part) to the fact that people with multiple jobs tend to be very busy, and self-reporting errors because full-time workers who earn some income from self-employment or gig work don’t always think of themselves as holding multiple jobs.
Research suggests this last category of people represents a huge chunk of the workforce. A 2017 CareerBuilder survey found that 32% of all workers have at least one side hustle — a part-time job, gig, or business — on top of a regular job. These pursuits tend to be entrepreneurial and hold the promise (if not always the reality) of significant extra income: dog walking through Rover, babysitting, DJing, driving for DoorDash or Instacart, and blogging are all common side hustles.
Side gigs are more common at the lower rungs of the income ladder, where workers often have no choice but to string multiple income streams together to make ends meet. But plenty of high-earning professionals maintain productive side hustles too — often complementary consulting or moonlighting jobs that leverage their expertise and heighten their professional standing.
In other words, wherever you fall on the socioeconomic spectrum, you probably have peers earning real income on the side. Should you join them?
That depends on some obvious considerations, such as whether and how badly you need the extra income and whether you can carve out enough time and reserve enough energy to justify the effort. Side hustling also has some less obvious upsides and downsides. Before diving all the way in, do yourself a favor and weigh these pros and cons carefully.
Pro tip: Most side hustles require a lot of work to start. However, some can provide passive income. If you have extra space in your basement or garage, you could rent it out through Neighbor.com. If you don’t use your car all the time, you could share it on Getaround.
Pros of Starting a Side Gig
The benefits of starting a side gig can be both obvious and not-so-obvious.
The former includes the opportunity to increase income and skills. The latter includes boosts to your primary career and unexpected financial benefits.
1. It’s Likely to Increase Your Income
We could all earn a little more, right? Whether you plan to use the extra income from your side gig to offset housing costs, save for a vacation, or pay for a major one-time expense (such as a wedding, honeymoon, or home improvement project), you can no doubt put the funds to good use. Just mind the risks of lifestyle inflation, which can erode your new income stream’s value.
2. It Diversifies Your Income Sources & Could Have Tax Benefits
Why leave all your income-producing eggs in one basket? Having a wider array of income sources reduces the impact of an involuntary layoff or working-hours cut. If your side hustle produces adequate income, you might be able to rely on it instead of filing for unemployment while you look for a new full-time job — or redouble your efforts to expand your side hustle into a full-time pursuit.
In the meantime, if your side hustle qualifies as self-employment, you could take advantage of common tax benefits for self-employed individuals, such as the home office tax deduction.
3. It Could Expand Your Client Base
If your side gig is similar to what you do at your day job, pursuing consulting or freelancing relationships outside the bounds of your job can help you grow a client portfolio that’s not dependent on your 9-to-5 employer’s whims or connections. That said, it’s vital you keep your extracurricular consulting activities from interfering or directly competing with your day job — such conflict is a significant downside of pursuing a side hustle that’s similar to your day job.
4. It Could Raise Your Professional Profile
As your client base grows thanks to your side gig, your professional profile and career prospects may grow along with it. If you aspire to something more than your current day job — for example, launching a business of your own one day — a complementary side gig could help lay the groundwork and give you the confidence necessary to one day strike out on your own.
5. It Could Help You Gain or Hone Professional Skills
You can be happy with your present employer and anxious to shoulder more responsibility at the same time. If said responsibility isn’t forthcoming in your day job, a side gig can help you acquire and sharpen skills that improve your prospects of earning a promotion, bonus, or raise. If any or all of those welcome developments arise, perhaps you won’t need the side gig anymore to meet your income goals or enjoy a truly fulfilling career.
6. It Could Help You Gain or Hone Skills Not Related to Your Current Job
Perhaps you’re biding time until you’re ready to change employers or switch careers. Or maybe you’re the curious type and eager to acquire skills not relevant to any present or future endeavor. Whatever lies ahead, a side gig can be a fantastic educational tool and creative outlet that provides a sorely needed break from the daily grind and leaves you more professionally and personally fulfilled.
7. It Could Empower You to Pursue New Interests & Challenges
It bears repeating: Many full-time workers are unhappy or unfulfilled. Even if you earn a comfortable living at your 9-to-5 job, you shouldn’t ignore your desire to do more — as long as that desire doesn’t interfere with other, potentially more important professional or personal obligations. Your on-the-side “challenge” needn’t even be lucrative. Many attorneys happily do pro bono work in their spare time, for example.
8. It Could Turn Into a Full-Time Business
Many side hustlers hope to lay the groundwork for something more. If you can’t afford to quit your day job and focus full-time on your business idea right away, why not incubate it in your spare time? If you conclude that the side hustle isn’t going to work out or that you need more time to develop it into a viable enterprise capable of replacing your full-time job, you’ll still have your 9-to-5 to fall back on.
Cons of Starting a Side Gig
Starting a side hustle isn’t risk-free, especially not when it conflicts directly with your day job or exposes you to professional or personal risk. Weigh these potential downsides carefully before committing to a new gig, however lucrative or professionally rewarding it seems to be.
1. It Could Compete With Your Full-Time Employment
One of the most significant potential downsides of a side gig is a direct conflict with your full-time employment. For example, if your employment contract includes a noncompete clause that prevents you from performing any consulting work in your employer’s industry or soliciting your employer’s clients outside your official role, you obviously can’t do either of those things. Doing so can jeopardize your relationship with your employer.
Because the concept of competition is often open to interpretation, it’s best to be transparent and upfront with your employer if you plan to perform outside work that could present a conflict of interest.
2. It Could Affect the Quality of Your Full-Time Work
Even if your side hustle doesn’t directly compete with your employer, it could negatively affect the quality of your work. That can have negative ramifications for your finances or career if your employer notices — from the loss of a performance bonus, which might be bearable if your side gig is lucrative, to the outright loss of your job, which probably isn’t worth risking to maintain a second source of income.
3. It Could Negatively Affect Your Career Trajectory
Even if your side hustle has no immediate or egregious consequences for your income or full-time employment status, it could negatively affect your career in more subtle ways, possibly over long periods enough that you don’t realize what’s happened until the damage is already done.
For example, if your attention to your side hustle affects your full-time job performance so much your employer ceases thinking of you as a “high performer,” you can miss out on promotions, raises, and other opportunities to improve your professional standing. That can affect your lifetime earning potential and render any future side hustle opportunities in your industry — namely consulting, a common post-retirement job for accomplished professionals — less lucrative.
4. It Could Be Less Lucrative Than You Expect or Realize
With regard to income potential, most side hustles are considerably less predictable than full-time, salaried jobs, and the downside is often considerable. For example, any income projection for a job that involves making money with your car must account for vehicle expenses: maintenance, repairs, depreciation due to wear and tear, and fuel. Though these pursuits absolutely can be lucrative, you should always base your earning expectations on net income after expenses rather than gross income.
5. It Could Eat Up Your Spare Time
How hard do you want to work at your side hustle? If your day job is physically or emotionally demanding and you come home every day to a host of personal obligations, your honest answer might be, “Not very.” You’re well within your rights to use whatever free time you have to rest, recharge, and reconnect with family or friends.
6. It Could Affect Your Personal Relationships or Family
The mere fact that you can juggle your day job, side hustle, and nonprofessional obligations doesn’t mean you should. Not if you care about the people behind those nonprofessional obligations, at least.
If you determine that your side hustle’s upsides outweigh the potential strain on your personal relationships or home life, consider meeting with your significant other (and anyone else important enough to include in such a conversation) to lay out boundaries, define roles, and attempt to make some preemptive compromises for balancing your side work and personal obligations.
7. It Could Be Detrimental to Your Mental or Physical Health
Your side hustle could negatively impact your mental or physical health in ways you don’t anticipate, even if the work itself isn’t dangerous (driving for a ride-hailing app after bars close) or emotionally taxing (moonlighting in an emergency room).
I can personally attest to this. Years ago, while working 50 to 60 hours a week in a restaurant, I spent evenings and weekends working to get my writing career off the ground. The combination of four hours of sleep each night (if that) and a terrible, inconsistent diet triggered bouts of reflux, a condition I’d never experienced before and haven’t since. Fortunately, I was young and otherwise healthy, and my grueling pace of work was temporary — but I certainly wouldn’t want to relive the experience.
8. It Might Not Offer the Same Legal or Financial Protections as Traditional Employment
If your side hustle involves self-employment or participation in the gig economy rather than part-time wage employment, it might not offer the same legal or financial protections you enjoy in your day job — for example, eligibility for unemployment benefits, workers’ compensation payments, and freedom from certain types of workplace discrimination. Despite ongoing federal and state efforts to enhance protections for gig economy workers, there’s no guarantee your side gig will offer such benefits anytime soon.
Deciding whether to pursue a side gig on top of your regular job probably won’t rank among the most difficult choices of your life. After considering the pros and cons of fitting a side hustle into your life and determining what form that hustle should take based on your skills and interests, you should have a good sense of whether it’s something you should go for.
Depending on what you plan to do and how much time you need to devote to the enterprise, actually launching your new side hustle could be a taller order. That’s especially true if, as is often the case, the demands of your full-time job occupy most of your waking hours. Learning how to balance your side gig and full-time job — if that’s possible at all — is crucial to your side hustle’s success.
Are you considering starting a side gig while working full-time? What’s pushing you forward or holding you back?