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“But starting a freelance business is too risky!” and other reasons people don’t earn more money

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Today, you’ll learn about the barriers we create to prevent ourselves from earning money.

Why cover barriers? Why not get right to the tactics? (We will cover them later this week.)

Because most people never get started at all, so the tactics are useless without understanding your own psychology. I could throw 50 tactics at you, but if you’re not ready to get started — if you still worry about XYZ or think “people who earn money are greedy” or there’s no way you could charge $100/hour — then they’ll just fly right by you.

For the past year, I’ve been researching barriers for people who say they want to earn money or find a new career, but aren’t. For example:

  • “What about a business license?”
  • “What about my boss? Should I even tell him? What should I say?”
  • “What if it fails? I really want this to be good but I don’t want to spend 60 hrs/week earning more…it’s just not worth it.”

I love all these objections because they can each be systematically dismantled until you finally take action…or acknowledge that earning more just isn’t for you.

Jonathan Fields puts it best:

How do you handle fear?

“Well, comes my answer, “that depends. Fear of what?”

“Of failure, of course.”

“Wrong fear,” I add. “You wanna be afraid, really afraid, take a look at what your life’ll look like not if you try and fail…but if you keep on keeping on for decades. That’s the real nightmare scenario for most people.”

Exactly. While there are a lot of fears (or “barriers,” since we usually only identify our fears retrospectively) about starting to earn money on the side, for me the scariest is the idea of not doing it at all and wasting years wishing for a better life / job / savings just like everyone else.

No thanks.

To examine our self-imposed barriers for starting to earn money on the side, I’ve asked Susan Su to help examine these barriers. You’ll remember Susan as my friend who left her fulltime job to become a freelance marketing consultant, where she now earns more than she did at her full-time job — and she can live on her own terms (e.g., yoga in the middle of the day).

Now let’s walk through the self-imposed barriers we erect to prevent ourselves from earning money.

* * *

Susan Su: The self-imposed barriers that stop you from earning more

Can you ‘afford’ to start earning money on the side? What about all the risks?

Sure, there are some real risks involved with starting a business, but today let’s look more closely at risks. Some will be related to freelancing — and some won’t. You’ll notice that lots of these familiar ‘risks’ can quickly turn into self-imposed barriers.

Specifically, we’ll get into questions like:

  • Do the risks related to starting a “business” apply when you’re simply earning a little side income?
  • What about your full-time job? How stable is it really?
  • What happens if you do nothing?

Risk #1: Do nothing

When it comes to wanting to earn extra money on the side, this is what most people do: nothing. We work at our 9-5 job, hope that one day we get a raise, and deep-down we know that we’re not sure how we’re ever going to live the lifestyle we want to live.

The thing is, while we’re so concerned with saving money on small things or, as Ramit likes to point out, complaining about taxes, we never stop to consider the risks of the things we’re doing today: nothing.

‘Nothing’ is not innocent. It can carry huge potential risks. Remember opportunity cost from basic economics class? There are opportunity costs with everything that you’re currently doing — including nothing. Doing nothing might be your most threatening risk precisely because it’s so invisible. It’s invisible, but we can still measure it.

Doing nothing seems to be completely unrisky – it’s sort of like hunkering down in a bomb shelter. What could possibly happen to you in there? Probably nothing. But even ‘nothing’ has a cost. If you do nothing –- or if you hunker down in a bomb shelter -– you’re probably safe, but you’re also missing out… on A LOT.

Let’s take a minute to measure out the risks of doing nothing in monetary terms. We’ll assume you keep your job, but you also learn how to earn money on the side and learn how to replicate it each month.

If you were to make $500 on the side each month, here’s how much you would have if you invested your ‘side’ money into a standard investment account with an 8% return:

  • After just 5 years, you’d have $36,983
  • After 10 years, you’d have $92,083
  • After 20 years, you’d have $296,473
  • After 40 years, you’d have $1,757,140

Let’s look at what would happen if you made $1,000 on the side each month, invested at 8%:

  • After 5 years, you’d have $73,967
  • After 10 years, you’d have $184,166
  • After 20 years, you’d have $592,947
  • After 40 years, you’d have $3,514,282

Money money

Did everyone catch that? After 40 years, you’d have over 3 million MORE dollars than if you had done nothing.

By doing nothing, you are essentially losing out on more money.

There are also intangibles to earning more like opening new doors and meeting interesting people (probably leading to better-paying jobs), but just by the numbers alone you can see that doing nothing costs you money.

Doing nothing is risky. If you do nothing, then you don’t earn that money on the side. You don’t get to invest it. Or spend it. Or pay off debt or start your own full-time business or….

You get the point. While most people create barriers against earning money on the side (“Oh no, I have to make business cards!”), their biggest fear should really be continuing to do what they’re already doing, and nothing more.

Risk #2: Stick to your job
Most people take comfort in thinking that their jobs are safe and secure, even if they’re not the most stimulating or fulfilling. In exchange for showing up from 9 to 5 every day, you’re basically guaranteed a steady paycheck every month. This kind of reliability lets you plan your finances and your life around a stable foundation.

But let’s look deeper. It doesn’t seem risky to stick to your 9-to-5 job. You know what’s expected of you, you show up every day, you do what your boss says, and you get paid.

But what kind of control do you have over your job?

  • You can’t control how much you earn — only your boss can — and it’s often not even up to him.
  • Most people can selectively work on items, but you can never control 100% of your workload. This is up to the needs of the organization.
  • You can’t guarantee a stable job. Do you think people who get laid off expected to get laid off?

If you want to enjoy big rewards at your job – a promotion or a raise – then you have to take just as many risks on the job as you would in a freelance situation. But, you still wouldn’t be in control of the recognition and reward levers that you’d need to pull in order to get promoted and start making more money.

And then… what happens if you get laid off?

My friend Sameer, a well-paid senior manager at a company, lived a great life thanks to his fat regular paycheck. Last fall, he was laid off and remained unemployed for over 6 months with no severance to tide him over.

Risk isn’t just about the chance that a bad event will happen. It’s also about how severe that event is. Getting laid off, not being prepared, and being unemployed for 6 months– that’s very severe. Sameer was dramatically affected by the layoff risk at his job, a risk that he might have been able to reduce by developing more than one stream of income.

Maybe you’ll work hard, putting all your energy and extra time into your job, maybe you’ll get laid off. Or, if things get really bad, maybe both will happen in succession.

Jobs like Sameer’s made him feel like he was set for life. But, he definitely wasn’t. Why don’t we think jobs are risky? We know layoffs are common, we see people being passed over for promotions all the time, but a lot of us still sit by and do nothing. Why?

On the flip side to this, there is something you can do – let’s call it layoff insurance. Phil H., an IWillTeach reader and Scrooge Strategy member, emailed Ramit a little while ago to tell me that he was getting his hours drastically cut at his regular job, probably in preparation for a full-on layoff. Eventually, he was laid off. But, here’s what he told Ramit:

“You have had so many great articles on little ways to increase income; everyone else talks about little ways to cut back. I don’t LIKE cutting back. It makes me unhappy. I want to live in the manner to which I’ve become accustomed. I like cashing checks. I like bringing in more money. So, with that in mind, I took my freelance work and really hustled on it. I’m in a situation where I’ve _had_ to hustle, because I was finally laid off in Sept., but I still could get a day job if I wanted to. I’m NOT out of work with no hope of a job.”

Phil landed on his feet thanks to the fact that he’d already been freelancing for months before he was laid off.

A lot of us have confused the perceived risks and the real risks of our regular 9 to 5 jobs, but both Sameer and Phil learned the hard way. The perceived risks seem low, but the real risks can be painfully high – and more dramatic than we ever expected.

Start doing some work to earn money on the side

Now what happens if you go for it and start a side business doing some freelance work? It will most definitely cost you time and effort, but what are the real risks to freelancing on the side?

What if I sink a bunch of money / time / energy into this and it doesn’t work out?

What if my 9 to 5 job suffers?

What if my business fails?

Sometimes, questions like these highlight real risks that could negatively impact your life. More often, though, they are limiting beliefs that we use as excuses to make doing nothing seem ok.

What if I sink a bunch of money / time / energy into this and it doesn’t work out?

Ok, that might happen. If you sink a bunch of money, time, or energy into earning money on the side by attending to non-essential tasks that won’t return on your investment. Some of these non-essentials might include:

  • Business cards. $70 to $200
  • Website and web hosting
  • Hours or days spent setting up a blog and writing posts

I’m not saying don’t do these things at all. Just know that the risks you’re assigning to them can be easily reduced or eliminated if focus your money, time, and energy on the areas of earning money on the side that are guaranteed to yield returns. All of us at IWillTeach have each made our own mistakes in this area, sinking lots more money, time, and energy into non-essentials than we’d ever like to admit. The key is not to get stuck here. These risks are easy to control because it’s up to you whether you get mired in these minutiae or you move on to earning more money.

What if my 9 to 5 job suffers?

This is a fair point, and is something you’ll have to manage. But (and this is something we discuss extensively in the full Earn 1K product), you don’t have to run your freelancing like a Fortune 500 company. Remember, your time and resource commitment to your freelance business all depend on your goals and your timeline, both of which are up to you. Freelancing doesn’t have to interfere with your normal job, as long as you set those goals accordingly.

What if my business fails?

Realistically, it might. That said, there are some pretty powerful things you can do to cut down on the risks related to the already highly unlikely scenario that your freelancing business will fail.

In general, you can:

1.    Start a freelance business on the side while you keep your job.
2.    Invest just the minimum you need to get going.

Here’s something to remember: the whole point of earning money on the side is to make failure hurt less. So what if your business fails? You were just doing it for extra side income, so you’d still have your regular paycheck to pay the bills. If your business fails, you can count yourself as one of the lucky ones — you didn’t bank your whole life on it like some insane entrepreneur (more on that next week).

Of course, there are also specific tactics to making each of these really work, and we cover those in depth in the full Earn 1K product.

When you let go of your fear – or barriers as Ramit describes at the beginning of this post – it becomes highly unlikely that your freelancing will totally fail. There are many, many measures you can take to reduce or eliminate your risk, all while you plot out a course of action that still ends up earning you an extra $500 – $1,000 on the side.

The right strategies aren’t fancy, can be done from scratch, and are very much within reach. Just think of the easy wins you can score by just getting started.

* * *

[Updated]: The 3-week course on earning more is finished. If you want to learn more about earning more money — with materials, scripts, tactics, and techniques that you won’t see on the blog, join my private Earn1K insider’s list:

 

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35 Comments on "“But starting a freelance business is too risky!” and other reasons people don’t earn more money"

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Dave @ 30DaysAtaTime
6 years 8 months ago

I recently started focusing on developing my technical skills to mitigate the risk of losing my job and being unable to find a new one. I’m glad I started working on this stuff now, because not only will it act as an insurance policy, it has also revealed some opportunities to earn a side income right now.

John
6 years 8 months ago

This is a great article! I’m in the planning phases of earning some side income and this was a great reminder to help get over the mental barriers that manifest themselves. As we’ve all seen throughout this recession, we can’t get too comfortable in our current jobs and it never hurts to have a backup plan.

Oleg Mokhov
6 years 8 months ago
Hey Ramit and Susan, The biggest risk of all is not taking a risk. Yes, very high Hallmark-card cheesiness level there. But it’s true. By venturing outside your comfort zone and diversifying your income streams, you make less of a risk for yourself, like you mentioned. If one income stream dries up, you’ve got others to keep you afloat while you make new ones. But if you only have one stream, and the faucet can be turned off at any time by your boss with two simple words (You’re Fu- er, Fired), then you’re living a high-risk life. I feel… Read more »
Nick
6 years 8 months ago

Fantastic article. This kind of writing and thinking is why this site is rapidly climbing in my list of finance blogs. I’m starting to get sick of reading about ways to save nickels.

This is the kind of thinking you need to really get ahead.

Tomas Stonkus
6 years 8 months ago
Ramit and Susan: It’s a good article, but I did not like a couple of things: – it assumes that we all want to earn more money. It might be true, but the I thought it could have emphasized one point: why do we want to earn more money to begin with? Is to live a more luxurious lifestyle? Is it to save money for a vacation or an escape? It is my strong belief that earning more money is good IF AND ONLY IF you know where you are gong to spend it. Earning more money just for the… Read more »
Tyler WebCPA
6 years 8 months ago
I definitely had that terrifying moment in which my comfortable but dull life was an excuse for not striving to create, innovate, and grow as a person. For me my motivation was my father, who showed me the potential of a driven life, and my son, who made me want to set that example for him. Tomas, I don’t think they were knocking your lifestyle and saying that their way is the only way, but most people already reading this blog already have that urge to create something and to be financially successful. I agree that it is not for… Read more »
Stefanie
Stefanie
6 years 8 months ago
I think that some of the risks of breaking outon your own are minimized, and the likelihood of success as a freelancer is HUGELY disproportional to reality. These risks are substantially less “risky” to single people with no dependents. As a single mom (late 30’s) with a disabled kid, I would assume a lot more risk, not only for myself, but for my child. I do have enough savings to carry me through a period of unemployment. Not a HUGE period, but enough to get us through about 6 months. After that, we lose our house, and the biggie: the… Read more »
Vin
Vin
6 years 8 months ago
Ramit and Susan, The fact that you addressed psychological barriers in regards to earning more money really gave me comfort. It helped me realize that I am not the only one having these feelings, which in turn helps me feel less isolated. Personally, my barriers come into play less in regards to what I need to do to operate my business (business cards), and more in regards to what business path I’m actually going to follow. I can’t decide what I want to do! I am compiling a list of strength areas in my life (areas I feel that I… Read more »
Mark
Mark
6 years 8 months ago
Awesome article that allowed a student like me to realize anyone can make more, mitigate risk, and overcome mental barriers. One of the most persuasive pieces of the article was displaying the long term gains from relatively minimal immediate gains by investing the newly found side income. My only question at this point would be where I find this “standard investment account” that maintains an 8% return? I realize the answer to this question is not the point of this article, but one of the most persuasive points for me is also the most befuddling. Even without an answer to… Read more »
Katrina
6 years 8 months ago

Vin,

Just pick one of the options you’re considering and brainstorm ways you could get started earning money with it right now. If you don’t know how to do it, look at other people who are doing what you’re thinking about doing and ask them how they started, or how they would recommend you start.

One of the best maxims I’ve heard regarding entrepreneurship, especially of the digital sort, is that’s you don’t get killed by making bad moves, you get killed by not making any moves. Don’t let analysis paralysis allow you to procrastinate getting started.

Ian Rogers
6 years 8 months ago
I love this article. I think entrepreneurship is one of the greatest things that our country has to offer and is what has made the US such a powerful capitalist country. I started my business is the toughest times as possible. It was scary, but it was also fun! I left my 9 to 5 job and actually made something of my life. Also, @Tomas Stonkus – it is up to YOU to where you want to spend your money. Susan and Ramit aren’t trying to tell you where to spend it, they are telling you how to earn more… Read more »
Mike
6 years 8 months ago
I love this article. I would also add that having a failed freelance business is not the worst thing in the world. In fact, it can be pretty good. Most people never try their hand at something entrepreneurial even if it’s something small like a side freelance job. I’m looking at business school admissions at the moment and I’ve read that a lot of schools would rather much admit someone who had a failed start up or unsuccessful business than someone who has a more traditional route and hasn’t tried anything entrepreneurial at all. The experiences that we get from… Read more »
steffen
steffen
6 years 8 months ago

OK….I understand. I have to do something…But how I will find my best (and of course most profitable) job to earn more money at a freelancer job? Thats my question….

George
6 years 8 months ago

I think a good rule of thumb is, “Any action is better than no action.”

RJ Weiss
6 years 8 months ago

Thanks Susan.

When I first started to earn money outside of my job, I just kept asking myself one question, “How can I earn an extra $1 today.”

It really simplified how easy it is to make money from a side job. There are a million ways you can make an extra $1 a day. As soon as you learn how to make $1, it’s easy to go to 2,5,10,50, etc…

Danny from Hello Destroyers
6 years 8 months ago

This is a great article. I totally agree. My friend and I started selling t-shirts online and design as a freelancer. We’re not making much (< less than 500$ /month) but I can see us getting there in the future.

Danny

Kim Campbell
6 years 8 months ago
The barriers are very important parts of earning more money and I am so glad that you have decided to broach the subject. I don’t know if you intend on exploring barriers specifically as you move forward with this, but if you did, I think the barrier Vin mentioned above is quite relevant to young college students who know a little bit about a lot and don’t feel like they know any one thing well enough to charge someone to do it. It would be nice to see a section highlighting strategies for breaking through different types of psychological barriers… Read more »
grumpy
grumpy
6 years 8 months ago
“Most people can selectively work on items, but you can never control 100% of your workload.” And you can’t do that as a freelancer either, at least not until you’re making so much money that when a client rings with an urgent job, you can afford to think “no, I’d rather go to the movies this afternoon, and it doesn’t really matter if s/he never puts any work my way again.” Realistically, that’s never going to happen for most freelancers – at least not until those millions are actually in the bank (etc) and you can live well on the… Read more »
Credit Card Chaser
6 years 8 months ago

There is risk inherent in every career choice whether it is starting your own business or whether it is “working for the man” in a traditional 9-5 job. Most people have a skewed perception of what risk is as they assign less risk to what is more culturally accepted as the norm (working for someone else) and more risk to what is unfamiliar to them (working for themselves). This is not necessarily true: http://www.debtfreeadventure.com/is-entrepreneurship-riskier-than-employment/

Megan
Megan
6 years 8 months ago
Personally I am past the pyschological barriers to getting started, but I’m 45 years old and it took me 20 years of beating my head against the wall, trying and failing, trying and failing, without understanding that it was my FEAR OF SUCCESS that was sabotaging my every effort. I love your approach! You are doing a FANTASTIC job! —- I wish I’d had all this available to me in 1991 when all I had was a conviction that corporate America was NOT for me, my dreams, and no experience or understanding of what it took to run a business… Read more »
Megan
Megan
6 years 8 months ago
@Stefanie – Absolutely correct…. Unless you’ve got a rich family and they hire people to teach you the ropes, nothing prepares you for running your own business. You are going to need some way of paying your bills — and you are going to sink most of your time and most of your new “extra” money into your side business. To succeed you have to think long term. Your first few tries are going to teach you what works and what doesn’t FOR YOU. It’s different for everybody. So don’t get stuck on “what” you’re going to do. Do something… Read more »
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[…] get entrepreneurial: Break down barriers holding you back when it comes to pursuing freelance work. This provides a logical, well thought-out push in that […]

Shamik
Shamik
6 years 8 months ago
Remember that $1000 is just a number. I think initially no one is going to make $1000 a month unless you have a great idea. However once you have an idea that generates something, you will be able to make it grow. The tough part is coming up with that idea which is original enough to generate some income. I really hope Ramit covers that. I feel that is my biggest barrier. I’m not afraid to take a risk. However I have ideas that I feel just won’t really make money and I want to know how to overcome that.… Read more »
Sheridan
6 years 8 months ago

“Maybe you’ll work hard, putting all your energy and extra time into your job, maybe you’ll get laid off. Or, if things get really bad, maybe both will happen in succession.”

In July and August of this year I put in 100 hours a week for six weeks to meet a deadline that was a huge deal for my company. In September I got laid off by the same company. I absolutely did not see it coming.

Barbara Saunders
Barbara Saunders
6 years 8 months ago
I really distrust that stat about “90%” of businesses failing. Here are just the obvious distortions I’ve seen: – Person starts one business for which she leaves the day job, and several other projects on the side. Original business closes its doors BUT another of the projects turns into a new, successful business or a new job better than the previous job – Person starts a business, pays himself a decent salary for a few years and closes the business to get a job because he is working a lot and sees no promise of the kind of profit he… Read more »
Pink Diamonds
6 years 8 months ago

i’ve been able to add $30k/year working less than 5hrs/week on the side.

Credit Card Chaser
6 years 8 months ago

@Barbara Yes, you are correct. You have every right to distrust that 90% “fact” and I mention a few of the studies that debunk that stat in the link I mentioned above ( http://www.debtfreeadventure.com/is-entrepreneurship-riskier-than-employment/ )

Jose
Jose
6 years 8 months ago

Pink Diamonds, can you give us insight how you manage to get $30k/year and with only 5hrs/week? I think a detail (to some extent) answer will be very helpful. Thanks in advanced.

Jacqueline Bartek
6 years 8 months ago

I am on the same wavelength as Shamik. I feel I need a great idea to make extra money. I am held back by “what do I name my business”? Will people remember Jacqueline Bartek, Inc.? Will they take it seriously? How do I develop my “Brand”? These things were holding me back. After I read Ramit’s “The myth of the great idea”, I may be inspired to move forward.

Peter
Peter
6 years 8 months ago
@Jacqueline Bartek I recently renamed my company that I’m launching (an online retail business) so I know your fear about naming, branding and being taken seriously. My question is, what do you do and/or what do you want to offer? Look at some a few other successful people in that area, what are their names/company names? I also work in the design business creating clothes, so I have had experience with brand. The most important thing is you are consistent, whether that be the style of clothes you create or the content you produce. Think about Tim Ferris from the… Read more »
rama
rama
6 years 7 months ago

Never fear to be self-employed! I just bought a franchise business November of last year, and am now on the planning stage for its marketing, management & accounting system. Come June, I’m hoping to see my little food cart business up & fighting. My advice for those going on business venture is to save, so that you don’t have to resort to borrowings for your capital & operating needs. Debts can cause so much head ache, so any business strategy that eliminate debts is always advisable 🙂

Barbara Saunders
Barbara Saunders
6 years 7 months ago
I don’t remember which guru said it, “The people who say they can’t afford to X,Y, or Z to increase their income are the very people who can’t afford NOT to.” I suppose if you earn six figures with great benefits in a relatively secure job/industry/company (to the extent such a thing exists these days), it might make sense not to stick your neck out. A person with several dependents living paycheck to paycheck, hoping and praying that the other shoe doesn’t drop, is risking far less by trying out freelancing (especially in the cautious way Ramit suggests) than by… Read more »
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