How To Become Financially Stable: A Guide To Side Hustles And Freelance Work

Apr 14, 2024

When there’s a lot of uncertainty in the job market and the economy overall, one of the best ways you can prepare yourself is by identifying your options and, ideally, multiple ways to generate income.

Actually, regardless of market conditions, we’ve found that having multiple sources of income to rely on can help you feel more in control—you don’t have to depend on a single company for your financial livelihood.

And with record unemployment, we created this guide to also help you explore alternative ways of working that may help you build greater financial stability in the long-term.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a recent grad or mid-career professional, identifying multiple sources of income is a good idea for anyone. Some people choose what’s commonly known as a “side hustle”—a part-time job in addition to a full-time job. But many people choose to freelance full time and build financial leverage that way.

In addition to freelancing and/or having side hustles, investing can also result in another source of income, but we’ll leave that for a separate guide.

In this guide, we’ve highlighted questions, along with resources, to help you get started and ensure you’re thinking through your options.

Now, let’s get started 💥

1. Why should I consider multiple sources of income?

There are plenty of reasons to have multiple streams of income, but some of the most common are:

  • Not putting your eggs in one basket. Think about how you pay the bills right now. If you only have income through a full-time job, what happens if you lose it? New streams of income can help you diversify and be more resilient if you lose one source of income.

  • Building up an emergency fund. The majority of Americans don’t have the recommended 3-6 months of expenses saved in an emergency fund. If you’re one of them, a second or third stream of income can help you add some cushion to your finances.

  • Saving for other life goals. Where do you want to be financially a decade from now? In two decades? Even if you feel comfortable with your current income, you could still benefit from saving or investing another source of income to use down the road.

2. How do I know if adding a source of income is right for me?

Everyone can benefit from another source of income, but adding more work with side hustle jobs, or simply exploring alternative ways of working like freelancing, is a personal decision that should be based on your individual situation.

To start thinking about it, ask yourself:

  • Do you value having multiple sources of income to rely on in case one drops off?

  • How much autonomy do you want regarding who you work for, how you do the work, and when it happens?

  • How financially stable are you right now? Could you cover an unexpected expense of $1,000?

  • How much downtime do you currently have outside of work, and do you feel capable of using some of that time to work on the side?

You’ll have to weigh the answers to these questions yourself to figure out if new income sources make sense for you and how many you should consider having.

3. Side Hustle vs. Freelancing: What are the similarities and differences?

You can break up contract work into two categories:

  1. Work that utilizes the skills you’ve been using to build a career (or would like to use to build a career). This is usually referred to as “freelance” work.

  2. Work that you do just to get some extra money coming in. This can be part-time work in addition to a full-time job, usually considered a “side hustle" job.

Both of these are options for you! It all depends on your personal situation. Consider:

  • You might make more right away working with Instacart or tutoring online than you do when you start freelance writing. And there’s nothing wrong with making some extra cash doing something that doesn’t have to turn into a career.

  • Some other examples of contract work include:

    • Online tutoring in English, math, test prep, or any number of other subjects you’re knowledgeable about.

    • Becoming a virtual assistant. Use your organizational skills to help someone out and earn a little extra cash.

    • Delivering food with one of the many delivery apps like DoorDash, or Uber Eats.

    • Completing errands and small tasks for people using TaskRabbit.

    • Selling handmade crafts on Etsy.

Those are just a few of the many options out there. Do some research and you’re sure to find some side hustle jobs you align with. Here’s a fairly lengthy list of side hustle ideas to get you started in your search.

4. How do I start freelancing?

Freelancing—working for multiple companies as a contractor—can be much more lucrative than random jobs, but it may take a little longer to get started.

  • Start by researching what skills are actually in demand right now. Here’s a list of the fastest growing skills on Upwork, one of the most popular freelancing sites, to get you started. Also think about what “pains” people are feeling right now that you can solve. This will help you come up with ideas people may be willing to pay you for.

  • If you don’t think you have any marketable skills, don’t be so sure! Take some time to think about past jobs or even class projects that you did well in. Then take a look at this guide to turning what you already know into freelance work.

  • If you really don’t think you have anything to offer right now, or just want a leg up, that’s okay, too! Here are some in-demand skills that you can learn online.

  • It’s also essential to get in the right mindset before you start freelancing. Learning how to freelance means leaving behind the mindset of a traditional employee and taking on a more entrepreneurial mentality. You may have more autonomy over your work, but you’ll also need more self-discipline and organization.

If you have more questions about what it takes to get started, reach out to freelancers on platforms like LinkedIn and ask them about their own journey to self-sufficiency.

5. Where do I find freelance work that's right for me?

One of the initial hurdles to learning how to freelance is finding long-term clients who pay a fair rate.

  • This list has some of the most popular platforms for a wide range of skill sets, but there are many to explore.

  • You can also look for platforms specific to your skill set like:

    • 99designs for graphic artists.

    • ndash for writers.

    • dice for developers and other tech positions.

Keep in mind that many of these platforms are not entirely “free.” Sites like Upwork, for example, take a commission for setting up freelancers with clients. Be sure you research any platforms thoroughly to make the best decision for your situation.

6. How can I position myself for success?

Whether you’re walking dogs or offering freelance graphic design services, there are some ways you can set yourself up to be successful—without driving yourself crazy in the process.

Financial Management

  • Taxes. Taxes are a big deal for contract workers, but they’re very manageable if you’re prepared! Your contract income will be taxed differently than the income from a full-time position. You can learn more about paying those taxes here.

  • Budgeting. You’ll also want to think about how this new income fits into your budget. Are you strictly saving it? Adding it to a retirement fund? Paying down debt? Whatever the case, a budget will help you visualize where all your different sources of income are going.

Business Essential Skills

  • Networking. Many of your first clients may come from your network, so it’s definitely worth thinking about how you can leverage your current network and build new relationships.

  • Client Management. Getting a new client is exciting! But if you’ve never had experience working directly with clients, then you should spend some time learning about aligning expectations, good communication practices, and even how to gently “fire” a bad client.

Mental Health

  • Time management. Using your time well is critical to being successful in your side work. We recommend the Pomodoro Technique, but you can find more tips here.

  • Organization. Keeping all your finances, client correspondence, and work organized and in one place will do wonders for your sense of control and reduce stress.

  • The proper mindset. Be realistic about your new source of income and how it’s affecting your mental health. If you realize a client or project isn’t worth the money when it’s combined with a lot of stress, then it’s okay to let it go.

7. Where can I find support and community?

Side hustle jobs and freelance work can get lonely at times because of the individual effort it takes. But you don’t have to go it alone. Millions of people freelance daily. You can try:

  • Looking for freelance-related events on sites like Meetup.

  • Joining organizations like the Freelancer’s Union.

  • Searching for terms like “[your city] freelancers” or “[your city] side hustles” on Facebook and LinkedIn to find groups of people doing the same thing.