In the first piece of her year-long column on futureproofing your creative career, Lauren Ingram explores the rise of the side hustle and whether 2019 should be the year you start your own.
In strange and unpredictable times like now, with Brexit chaos still looming large and the future of agency networks looking less robust, it’s more important than ever to futureproof ourselves for whatever comes our way. Side hustles, also known as moonlighting if you’re not a millennial, are just one way to skill up and stay memorable when the longevity of our day jobs isn’t guaranteed.
So what is a side hustle when it’s at home? It’s a cringe-inducing term, but one that’s sticking around, and usually, it’s a second job or side project that’s separate from your job, but it may or may not make money. Side projects have always been knocking around in the creative industries, but you don’t need to be a creative to start one, and the nature of social media and access to basic graphic design has meant that it’s easier than ever to get a small brand off the ground.
However, as I was asked by Stephen Lepitak, editor here at The Drum: “Why bother starting a side hustle?”, especially given the long hours culture of UK agencies, to which I say: if you do have an idea that fires you up, it’s too good an opportunity to miss. Starting your own project gives you energy you never realized you had within you - so that rather than being twice as tired from having two jobs, you feel more motivated and energized than ever. I haven’t road tested this theory while adding having children to the mix, but if you have enough time to scroll on Instagram, have long lunches and watch Netflix, then you can certainly make time for a side hustle.
The biggest benefit to catapulting yourself into the world of starting your own project is the new skills that you pick up on the way. Starting a podcast? You’ll get the hang of editing audio smoothly, honing your interviewing technique, and maybe you’ll even uncover the mysteries of the iTunes podcast New & Noteworthy algorithm (if so: please share your findings). Starting a community group? You can up your copywriting abilities, get to grips with AB testing and email marketing, or learn the mechanics of paid social - for me, this was a new-found opportunity to understand many of my colleagues’ jobs and challenges on a whole new level. So from that point of view, employers should see a side hustle as self-funded training.
Side hustles do seem to make some employers very nervous. What if they are a distraction? If employees are creating great things outside of work, will they create great things at work too? The short answer is yes they will. Creativity is not a well that runs dry. Agencies and brands that recognize that will create an environment for innovation and entrepreneurship to thrive, and this will help to bring the outside in. Which is all too important in the business of creativity.
Owning the creative process holds a lot of appeal for creatives and beyond, and side projects are a chance to experiment with ideas that might not have commercial value (and probably won’t!). You can play for the sake of play. You can go weird. You might go for a deliberately naff 1980s aesthetic. You can experiment and delete the results if you don’t like them. Do whatever - there’s no signoff needed, and that can be very freeing.
Saying all that, of course, you don’t need a side hustle to be successful in your creative career (or a business in your shed, or a consultancy in your spare time, side hustles in their other disguises). There is even a risk that hustle culture and the ‘hashtag entrepreneur’ or ‘girlboss’ narrative perpetuates an unattainable lifestyle - one with seemingly unlimited hours in the day, or quite possibly a trust fund to make things work. Trying to balance a small brand and your day job and other commitments can quickly become a strain. Your mental health is far more important than just creating a body of work that you’re proud of.
Therefore if you’ve already started tinkering with a project and it’s taking up a lot of your evenings and weekends, ask yourself: Is this fun? Am I learning? Does it affect my ability to do my day job well? Would I be better off working on a brand partnership for my side hustle or just getting a proper night’s sleep? It’s a balance I still have to master.
So: will 2019 be the year you start something in your spare time? It may take big sacrifices for big payoffs - and probably not of the financial kind. I would still encourage it. If you are still intrigued, have a listen to the podcast I recorded with copywriter Vikki Ross (for my own side project), where we talked all about… you guessed it: side hustles.