How to Make Extra Money (Without Mowing Lawns or Launching the Next Tesla)

You’re committed to aggressively paying down those pesky student loans. You’ve realized your paycheck alone is insufficient, so you’ve decided to make extra money on the side.

You know that working a second job, even if it’s only 5 or 10 hours per week, can earn you enough extra money to make a big dent in your student loans.

There’s just one problem. All the advice you’ve found online seems to fall into one of two categories:

1. Gigs you could have done in high school. This includes babysitting, mowing lawns, becoming a mystery shopper, moonlighting as a part-time assistant, or shoveling snow. Thanks, but no thanks: you gave up lifeguarding when you started college. You’d rather not go back to those days.

2. Founding a company/launching a startup. You’re not keen on the idea of launching a scalable business (like a startup). This side business is simply something you’re undertaking to pay down your loans. You don’t intend for it to be your next full-time job; you’d prefer to pursue other passions. You’d rather not invest hundreds of dollars and countless unpaid hours into forming a company, when self-employment isn’t your goal.

What if there were a happy medium between these two? What if you could make extra money on the side by doing something related to your field or industry without being forced to either scale up or backpedal?

Guess what? This happy medium is possible. You could become a freelancer, consultant, or coach within your professional field by working only 5–10 hours per week, developing your network and skill set, and earning extra money that can accelerate your student loan payoff.

You wouldn’t need to quit your job or launch a full-time business (unless you wanted to). This is a “side hustle,” as some people call it, that you can enjoy during your time off.

How would you get started? While every industry holds different specifics, here’s a general overview:

#1: Think about what skills you can offer

Are you talented at graphic design? Programming? Video editing? Can you use Excel, Dreamweaver, or Photoshop? This is known as your “core competence” or your “unique ability.”

Your college major and current job both provide clues on where to turn for your skills, though you’re of course free to offer skills outside of those designations if you choose.

#2: Consider who might need those skills and services

Think about both individuals and businesses.

Could locally-owned restaurants and shops benefit from your talent for building websites?

Could small business owners find value from your talents in data entry, spreadsheets, and general organization?

Could your skills as a video editor be valuable to local nonprofit groups? In this step, you identify your “target client.”

#3: Find out where your target client spends their time

Where would you meet your target client?

Are there networking events — like happy hours or meetups — that this type of client is likely to attend?

Are there other weekly or monthly events that they might attend, like trainings or community meetings?

Or maybe this type of client congregates online on certain message board forums, Facebook groups, LinkedIn groups, or subReddit threads.

Go to the spaces (both physical and digital) where your target clients are. Meet the type of people you want to serve.

Let’s use two examples of specific careers to illustrate what this could look like in action.

Example #1: Freelance Accounting and Bookkeeping

Imagine that you graduated from college with a degree in accounting. You’re currently working at a Big Four accounting firm. You don’t necessarily want to start your own practice, and you don’t want to undertake work that’s too draining, but you could freelance on the side as a bookkeeper.

(By the way, we’re assuming freelancing doesn’t violate any non-compete clauses. Check with your company’s HR department to make sure you’re not stepping on any toes.)

To find clients, you could list your services on websites like Upwork (formerly known as oDesk) or eLance, both of which are job boards where many small business owners look for contractors. The benefit to this is that it’s easy, though the drawback is that you’re competing with a wide pool of other candidates.

To narrow that pool and increase your likelihood of standing out, you could also attend casual local networking events, such as a happy hour meet-and-greet at a local pub. These aren’t too formal, and they’re not as expensive or time-consuming as flying to a conference.

If it helps, tailor your services to a specific community. Choose a niche you’re interested in, such as working with divorced parents, entrepreneurs, or real estate investors. Attend meet-ups that are specifically tailored to these groups.

If you want to work with mom-and-pop real estate investors, for example, attend their local happy hour events, introduce yourself, and mention that you offer freelance bookkeeping services. Ask them if they know anyone who might benefit from your services.

Be casual, confident, ready, and willing to deliver on your promises. It may take a while, but you’ll eventually land your first client . . . then your second. You’ll start making an extra $100 per week, which over time will increase to $200 and then $400, as you add more clients and increase word-of-mouth marketing. Soon you’ll have a tidy bookkeeping practice on your hands.

Example #2: Freelance Writing

Let’s use another example. Imagine that you have a masters degree in Library Science. You’re working as a librarian, but you want to make some extra cash.

Although you’ve never had any formal training in journalism or advertising copywriting, this type of work is related closely enough to your industry that you think you could offer valuable skills.

To find gigs, sign up on job boards geared specifically towards writers, such as ProBlogger, Media Bistro, and Journalism Jobs. You could also create a blog to showcase your writing, with a page noting that people can hire you to write for them.

Try to focus on an area of specialization that piques your interest. You could write about animals, art, fashion, real estate, gardening, or anything else. Pick something you enjoy writing about so you don’t run out of ideas, and begin making a name for yourself within that niche.

Freelancing in Your Field Is Possible

You may not find work during the first few weeks that you start looking for freelance projects. Don’t get disheartened. Over time, you’ll pick up enough clients to start making a nice side income as a freelancer.

By freelancing or consulting on the side, you can make extra money without mowing lawns, babysitting, or taking on other low-paid “gigs.” Since freelancing and consulting both require little-to-no overhead, you’re not required to reinvest your profits into growing a scalable business. After all, that’s not your goal.

You don’t have to be a devoted entrepreneur to enjoy a side gig as a freelancer or a consultant. You just need to figure out where your potential clients are located and make yourself available in those spaces.

Networking events and online job boards are two great places to start — but those will simply be your entry points. The more you dive into the world of freelancing or consulting, the larger your network will grow. Over time, you may find that most of your new clients come from word-of-mouth referrals.

Finally, stay willing to say “no” to projects if you find your plate is filling up too quickly. This isn’t your full-time job, after all. You’re just accumulating extra money so that you can move onto enjoying life after debt.

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