5 tips for IT pros who want a side hustle

A side hustle could give you extra cash – and maybe even updated tech skills. Here's how to avoid pitfalls and get the most from a side gig
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IT careers 2020

As the gig economy has grown, so too have the opportunities to more easily make supplemental income outside the full-time work environment. Some 78 million people earned money from a so-called side hustle in 2017, according to a survey conducted by the Federal Reserve. For IT professionals, in particular, such extracurricular work can also be potentially lucrative learning opportunities or launch pads for new careers or businesses.

IT pros face a continuous need to learn emerging technologies: It’s great for your resume if you can do some side projects that give you practical experience.

“Just like anyone else, IT professionals might want to start a side hustle because they’d like the extra cash. However, considering that in this industry, there is a continuous need to learn emerging technologies and update your skills, it’s great for your resume if you can do some side projects that give you practical experience,” says Elana Varon, veteran business and technology journalist and author of The Ultimate Side Hustle Book: 450 Moneymaking Ideas for the Gig Economy.

“And, of course, there’s a long tradition of technology startups that began as side hustles. So if you have a business idea, that would be a way to see if it’s viable before you give up your regular paycheck,” Varon says.

IT-specific side hustles can be especially appealing to technology professionals, says Varon, “because you can use your existing network, and maybe gig platforms, to find work. But a different type of job that makes use of your skills and knowledge can offer a break from your 40-plus hour routine and enable you to get paid to do something else you enjoy.”

[ What skills are hot? What certifications pay off? Read also: 5 IT job trends to watch in 2019. ]

One now-retired systems engineer, featured in Varon’s book, has been tutoring middle- and high-school students in math and science for decades. “Remember, also, that it can be rewarding to earn money from a hobby,” adds Varon. “If you’re a musician, you might be able to find work gigging with a band. If you knit, you can try selling your creations.”

Whatever the rationale and supplemental vocation of choice, IT professionals can take a number of steps to make the most of the side hustle opportunity. Varon offers five tips, based on her interviews and research.

1. Set a specific goal

Adding more hours to an already full work-week takes drive. “If you’re already working hard at your main job, knowing what you want to accomplish with your side hustle – whether it’s funding a big vacation or paying regular expenses – will keep you motivated and help you to manage your time,” says Varon.

2. Think creatively

The best side hustle for you may not be the most immediately obvious. “You can turn almost any skill into a side hustle. Consider what you’re good at beyond what’s in your job description,” Varon says. “If everyone on your team comes to you for help crafting their presentations, for example, you might be able to earn money coaching others.”

3. Be sensible

Don’t overestimate your available time or energy. “Be realistic about how much time you have to dedicate to your side hustle, considering what else is happening in your life,” Varon advises. “Everyone needs to rest. A lot of people have family responsibilities. IT professionals are fortunate to have in-demand skills, and the work is often flexible. But you don’t want to burn out.”

4. Know your employer’s policies

Check with HR about any company rules concerning conflicts of interest or other restrictions on side projects, especially if they’re IT related. “Common sense dictates that you shouldn’t work for a competitor or use company time for your side hustle. But running afoul of other policies – such as prohibitions on using company equipment, or requirements that you must disclose any outside work –could also get you in trouble with your manager or even fired,” says Varon. “Your side hustle shouldn’t put your livelihood in jeopardy.”

5. Treat it like a business

Do your market research. “IT side hustles can be well-paid, especially if you have a hot skill,” says Varon. “But as is the case with a lot of gig-based work, how much you earn per project will vary. If you have never freelanced, it’s worth your time to research pay rates for your particular skills and location to help you spot good opportunities, avoid exploitive clients, and negotiate when possible.”

Also, keep good records on your side hustle, even if it’s only a few hours a week. “You don’t want to lose money,” Varon says. “If you spend more on services, equipment, and travel than you’re bringing in, consider doing something different. In addition, by documenting your expenses, you can consult with a tax preparer about whether they are eligible to write off.”

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Stephanie Overby is an award-winning reporter and editor with more than twenty years of professional journalism experience. For the last decade, her work has focused on the intersection of business and technology. She lives in Boston, Mass.