Finance Friday: Yes, I Have a Side Gig (or, Additional Revenue Stream)

We’ve talked about having a side gig before on this blog–particularly the problems in how we discuss them and the implications therein. Today I’m going to tell you about mine. It’s truly a side project, secondary to my main job, something I do primarily on weekends and during the summer. It’s turned into a nice little revenue stream, largely because it has next to no overhead. And I can do it because I had the time to develop it and because my primary job enables me not to worry about making ends meet.

I am a genealogical consultant.

Chief for me when I considered embarking on a side project was doing something that was enjoyable, made use of my skills, and made me some worthwhile money.

I had been prowling Mr. Money Mustache for weeks and I saw lots of posts about sites like Task Rabbit. If I needed the income to pay my bills, Task Rabbit might have been ok, but I did not want to be tethered to someone’s needs for unpredictable, low cash. I didn’t want to end up exploited or abused, as can happen with task jobs (there’s an episode of the Simpsons where Bart does tons of work for an old lady and gets a measly quarter). I didn’t want to put myself in odd situations. As a woman in 2017, that concern is often forefront in my mind.

As for my skills, my main job is in the humanities–long the butt of jokes about uselessness in the employment world. I spent some serious time thinking about what I like to do, particularly during the summers when my regular contract is up. I’m a skilled historian with a good handle not just on the American past but the sources that help us decipher it. Some summers ago, I mapped our family tree back to the 1680s–I was hooked. So I set myself up as a summertime genealogical consultant. I’m not certified as such, but I do have a Ph.D. in history. I frame what I do as both fact-digging and narrative-telling: people love stories, and I hate facts without context. I’m really good at this kind of work.

Humanities critics can suck it.

I looked into what professional genealogists charge, and numbers ranged as high as $80 an hour. That seemed more than my market could potentially bear, I figured, especially since I lack the appropriate credentialing. So I charge half of that, and people pay it. It never fails to amaze me that people barely blink that I’m charging $40 an hour, or $375 for a ten-hour chunk. They hand over their Ancestry credentials (so far all of my clients have an account) and I dig in. Rates are higher if I have to use my own account, which is currently dormant. I may increase them to $50 for new clients this spring, after I do more research.

I’ve had three clients so far. People call me in for a range of reasons. Some have family mysteries they want help with. I’ve teased out a family’s complicated moving patterns and offered interpretations grounded in general US history for them. I’ve helped decipher nineteenth-century language choices. I’ve located a rabbi who was ministering in Brooklyn–a lost link in a family chain–on behalf of another. Most recently, I worked with a client whose family stretched back to Puritan settlement in Massachusetts. Family branches fought on both sides of the Civil War, and one side was deeply entrenched in propagating slavery.

I pull no punches and hide no truths. If your past is dark, that’s what I’m going to tell you.

I love this gig.

I love it so much I’m doing some consulting–albeit rarely–during the academic year. People are often surprisingly vulnerable during the searching process; they’re sharing intimate parts of their family histories, their pain.  It’s an honor to bear witness to them and to help people process their pasts.

Plus, they like to brag: my current client delights in telling her friends she’s meeting with her own personal genealogist. I only hope they book me, too.

My goal is to turn this little enterprise into something that yields at least $10k/year. I’ve made over $2k this year and I haven’t put much into marketing it. My goal was $1k, so I’m doing a smashing job. The three jobs I’ve had came through a single FB post on a local page: a woman who saw it told her friend who hired me, and she told two friends who hired me. Three of those setups a year would put me over the moon and close to goal. One of my current clients will join me for a presentation at the local library next spring that I hope will yield more clients.

Shameless plug:

If you’d like to work with me on tracing your family heritage, let me know! I’ll send you the link to my personal site and credentials once you check out as a non-bot non-threatening actually interested human. While there are some things–like sorting your family photos–I cannot do online, I can search and communicate with you easily by phone and by email. I can’t promise all the results you might want, but I’m a tenacious digger with a keen sense of seeing where clues lead. Want your own history detective? Hire me.

 

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Finance Friday: How We Write About Side Gigs

Good weekend, readers! Today I’m going to talk about side gigs. If you read financial blogs and forums at all, you’ve seen this phrase. The gist of discussion tends to go like this: lower your expenses as you will in order to better your savings rate (or whatever), but at some point you can’t (or won’t) lower any more. At that point, assuming you want a better savings rate or more money for your ferret farm or whatever it is you’re up to, you need to increase your income. Get a side gig–a second job, generally less intensive than the first. But how we frame the concept of side gigs carries class and sex assumptions that need unpacking.

The Gig Economy

In America, we increasingly have a “gig economy” wherein people freelance for work. This has occurred for a couple of reasons.  One, because of lack of choice, and two, because the nature of the work people want to do can necessitate that kind of self-employment. (Plug for universal health care to make self-employment and gig living easier goes here–it would be infinitely easier to be working gig-style or as an entrepreneur if you didn’t have to worry about medical expenses, dammit). The phrase “side gig” can be related to this economic situation. It is not necessarily reflective of broader, more long-lasting trends in America’s employment and economics scene, however. Greater complexities are missing, and their absence is troubling.

Class

One piece that is missing in many discussions of side gigs is that the concept itself assume a middle-class status. It assumes you have a primary gig, the one that pays you reasonably well and likely gives you health benefits, maybe a retirement plan of some kind, paid sick days and the like. It negates the fact that for many people, two jobs was a way of life, with poverty the consequence of missing either. Plenty of people for decades have worked two jobs to make ends meet; neither of those jobs would be side gigs, neither secondary to the other. They’re necessities.

This assumption of middle class status-shades a lot of finance blog writing, including mine, but I want to own it. I know I’m often making that assumption. I fully understand there’s a difference between side gig for added savings and a person working two jobs to put food on the table, and that the latter are often trapped in jobs that don’t come with benefits or decent hours. America loves to point fingers at those people, laying responsibility for their situations to poor choices when the reality is nearly always far more complicated. In any case, while I get why we talk about side gigs (I have a badass one, myself), we need to at least be cognizant that two gigs is the norm for a lot of folks.

Sex

Another issue with the way we conceptualize side gigs is sex. Here are my thoughts, generally malformed and in need of work:

Women chronically earn less than men. The wage gap persists. If we talk about pursuing side gigs as a way of rounding out the primary gig, are we abandoning to some extent the real problem–that primary gigs don’t often pay enough, particularly for women? That there are penalties for time to raise kids, but that putting them in day care can cost the mother’s near-entire salary (which is one reason why moms tend to stay home more than dads–it’s the patriarchy reinforcing financial traditions that then reinforces social ones).

Here’s a fun link, btw: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/13/upshot/the-gender-pay-gap-is-largely-because-of-motherhood.html

I’m not sure where I’m going with this, but there’s something there I can’t yet put my finger on.

So, Anyway

I guess what I’m trying to get at is that there is a lot of baggage with the concept of the side gig. It comes with assumptions about class, and I think what I’m leaning towards is that it comes with assumptions of (masculine) gender. What are your thoughts? Should we modify our conversations about side gigs, and if so, how? What are our assumptions and our own baggage in these conversations?

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