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Earn more money using your God-given skills

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This is Tip #25 of of the Save $1,000 in 30 Days Challenge. (See past tips.)

Today’s tip is to earn more money by freelancing on the side. It sounds harder than it actually is — I’ll show you how below.

freelance-on-toilet.jpg

As I wrote during the presidential debates, you really have two levers to control when it comes to your money: Making more (revenue) and spending less (costs). Most Americans only think about cutting costs, resulting in frugality websites that frantically try to out-do each other with the most inane and meaningless tips of all. Don’t eat out at all! Scrape foil off the sidewalk and use it to pack your lunch! Ok, I’m sure I’ll do that.

We forget about the lever of earning more money, which is the most powerful of all. You can do this in a bunch of ways:

  • Negotiate your salary at work (I’ll write about this in an upcoming post)
  • Start a second job (yes, about 4 billion people in the world do this…instead of reading blogs)
  • Freelance for something you’re very good at

And on and on.

The money is there, but it’s really hard to get the initiative to try to earn more money, knowing that you’ll probably fail the first 10 times. I can’t help you with the initiative, but if you’ve decided to earn more, I can show you how. Today, we’ll talk about the freelance route, Q&A-style:

Q: What’s freelancing?
A: It’s just doing part-time work for something you have a particular expertise in.

Q: But I don’t have any expertise!
A: I bet you do. Can you do math? Then you can freelance by tutoring kids in algebra. Do you know how to hike? Then, with a class or two, you can become an instructor for the local recreational hiking class. If you play tennis or you’re a web developer…you get the idea. Think about what you’re good at, then ask yourself how you can use it to help people.

Q: But I really don’t have any expertise.
A: Really? Do you speak English? You can tutor a foreign student easily. When I was in college, I consulted for a couple venture-capital firms teaching them about YouTube and social networks — stuff that I used every day. (I’ll never forget being in a professional conference room and showing a bunch of partners how guys check out girls on Myspace…it may have been my life’s crowning achievement.) The key is, think about what you know and who would want to know it.

In January 2007, I posted a job ad for various positions. I ended up hiring a guy named Jeff as my book researcher — which means he has the ability to dig up anything, any time, and quickly. Could you do that? Besides Jeff’s amazing research abilities, he was being able to connect his skills (‘I’m really good at finding information’) with an opportunity he saw. More importantly, he took the initiative to (1) reach out to a site he read regularly, (2) turn in a great application, (3) show that he could do the work over a trial period. He’s now a regular paid consultang on multiple projects with me — all because he took the initiative to reach out.

Q: Ok, I know what I want to freelance for. What now?
A: Go to the places where people would want your skills. If you’re tutoring kids, go to Craigslist and search for “math tutor.” It literally took me 15 seconds to find this “Tutor needed” post — which pays $15/hour.

Tutor needed

Email all of your friends and let them know you’re looking for a position. Tell them specifically what you’re (1) looking for, (2) what skills you have, and (3) put it in an email that they can just forward. A friend of mine named Ian did this yesterday, and I forwarded his resume to a few friends, a couple of whom are really interested. People want to help you.

Q: What should I avoid?
A: I avoid Elance because everybody tries to undercut everyone else (but I LOVE it when I’m hiring). By contrast, you should definitely look at Craigslist since (1) there’s an incredible amount of buyers and (2) everyone else is so horrible that if you can write a half-decent sentence and restrain yourself from including a picture of your penis, you can almost certainly get a freelance gig.

Don’t be utterly concerned with making top-dollar on day 1. Check out this great post by Ben Casnocha, who describes the professional-speaking circuit. I can tell you that I spoke for free for many years before charging even a little…and it took even longer to charge significant rates. When you see a consultant who charges $150/hour, it took a long time to build up that skillset. Be comfortable starting modestly.

Q: What kind of money can I make freelancing?
A: This is important: You should first plan your goals with freelancing. Do you want to make enough to cover your weekend going-out costs? If so, then you only really need to make about, say, $100 per week. That’s about 5 hours @ $20/hour, or 7 hours @ $15/hour. Once you have your goals, you’ll have a better idea of how to package yourself to buyers. In general, first-time freelancers can charge $10 to $25/hour, but it really depends on your skills, location, and market demand. For example, I pay some of my contractors over $150/hour, but others work for free to develop their skills and build a relationship for future work down the road. Although the eventual point is to make money, don’t lock yourself in to charging high rates up front. See On Greed and Speed for more on that.

Example:: If you tutor for $20/hour, 4 hours/week, that’s about $320/month. Not bad. If you tutor for $20/hour, 10 hours/week, that’s $800/month. Now we’re talking. That’s money you can save, invest, and spend on the things you love.

A final point about lazy people who complain and do nothing to earn more money
Nothing makes me angrier than people who complain about their financial situations but do nothing to solve it. If you truly believe that you can’t freelance for anything, that’s The Shrug Effect in action. Look, almost anyone can earn more money, but most of us sit on our asses and complain about taxes instead of trying to earn more. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, there’s no clear path. But the rewards are enormous, and I’m not just talking financially.

You can’t think of anything you’re good at? Ask yourself what you’re doing right now: You’re reading my blog. Do I have any needs? Of course I do — I want to grow my site, add cool new content, etc. So how might you be able to help? Think about it tactically: “Hmm…I read Ramit’s site…maybe I should email him and send him a bullet-pointed list of things I’m good at that might help him. Who knows if it’ll work? But I’ll do this for my favorite 20 blogs and stay in touch with them over time.” In fact, I’m looking for a book reviewer and someone who can help me design a great-looking Powerpoint presentation. Please get in touch if you’re interested.

Do you read magazines? Send an email to anyone who was featured in there and let them know you love what they’re doing, and you’d love to help out in [3 SPECIFIC WAYS]. Nobody does this, so you’ll stand out. At the very least, you’ll quickly find out what skills people are looking for. Do the same for interesting people you meet online. Tell your friends what you’re looking for. And don’t be afraid to start off small (or free).

Email template that you can use:

Hi Mike,

My name is Ramit Sethi and I’m a recent Stanford grad. I’ve been reading your blog for two years (I loved the post about using virtual assistants and got BOTH of my brothers to start using one), and it’s really helped me be more efficient with my work.

It occurred to me that you’re probably interested in growing your blog. I might be able to help. I’ve done video editing (http://www.FAKESAMPLESITETHATYOUDID.com) and Powerpoint design (http://www.BLAHANOTHERFAKESITE.com). Imagine doing a great video on using virtual assistants, then distributing it through your newsletter. I could do one for you in about 2 days if you’re interested.

How about chatting later this week? My # is XXX-XXX-XXXX or I can give you a call at your convenience.

Thanks,

-Ramit

Total savings: $100 to $1,000 per month

* * *

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85 Comments

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  1. […] doing) Tip #23: Go cash only for 15 to 30 days Tip #24: Cut your commute expenses by 40% Tip #25: Earn more money using your God-given skills (52 votes, average: 3.23 out of 5)  Loading […]

  2. “God-given skills” i was expecting sperm and egg donor tips.

  3. This is probably the most useful tip out there. Even better than freelancing: teaching sports for cash — you get exercise and have the additional benefit of not having to pay taxes. Golf & Tennis are highly profitable – charging $50/hour for private lessons is still considered a “cheap” rate.

    Just 20 hours/month adds up to $1,000 — I throw everything in an envelope, and wait until the end of the month to use it to pay for rent, car insurance, bills, etc. Take the rest and use it for gambling/golf/gifts/whatever!

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  4. I just finished catering an anniversary party and earned $150. It was super easy (hors d’oeuvres), only took a few hours of my time, and I got many more references for future parties while there.

  5. Good article and true… HOWEVER, savings are more efficient than earnings (when you get the crap taxed out of you). IE: a penny saved > penny earned… Poor Ben Franklin.

    You have to pay income taxes on everything you earn so our corrupt politicians can dole it out for votes and corporate interests. Last year I paid over 43% of my earnings to taxes.

    So if I want to add $100 to my investment portfolio, I actually have to earn $175.44… But I keep 100% of my savings. So I’d rather Also, this tax burden will increase as your earnings go up! Provides a great incentive to work harder does it not?

    I’m most certainly not saying don’t increase your earnings (but your govt is)! While I spend most of my energy on increasing my earnings, I don’t use them as an excuse to lapse in frugality!

  6. great tip! i have been meaning to freelance for a while but have been — full disclosure — TOO LAZY to put up portfolios of my work. i’m leaving this comment to hold myself accountable for completing this within the next week. things i can do:
    • videography
    • video editing
    • web design
    • handout (as opposed to ppt) design

  7. On the “What should I avoid” question I would add … avoid to “diversify” yourself too much. It goes in the same idea as “start small”. When I started to try to find ways to make more money I knew that all attempts will not work so I thought that I should try as much ideas as I can … It resulted in trying too much things and couldn’t completed any successfully due to a lack of time.

    I’m getting better at this now. One example of a skill I used to make money is growing house plants, I enrolled myself in a local growing club, they have regular selling events, I sell my houseplants and make 100-200$ almost every other month (once a year we have a bigger event … up to 400$ during a single week end ). It’s not too much time consuming : less than 1 hour a week to water and take care of plants … they grow almost by themselves.

  8. Great post. I’m thinking of doing some freelancing in the new year.

    However, I don’t see why you feel the need to constantly put down other websites. There are a lot great ideas out there — ones which you’ve obviously used for this challenge (like packing your lunches and selling stuff on ebay). I’m sorry, but as a reader, I find the attitude a little hypocritical — and I see it as a sign of insecurity.

    In addition, a lot of these frugal ideas are better for the environment (like packaging your own snacks and reusing foil). Isn’t it funny how we’ll pay more for eco-friendly products, yet balk at eco-friendly ideas that actually save money?

  9. Ramit,

    This is an awesome post. I’m moving to Seattle by end of this month (from Philly) and just laid-out my 2009 financial savings plan. I created few savings accounts, each devoted to specific purposes (house, wedding, travel, etc.) and realized that my two paychecks per month won’t be able to support all my goals. I am now considering doing a 2nd job – was thinking about restaurant because I have passion and desire of opening my own when I’m older, so it’ll give a great perspective on how to run a restaurant if I work there. I could also do some tutoring (though not extremely smart) but I could teach English to just-came Korean students, or Korean to 2nd-generation Koreans, or Math/Physics. It just opened up a lot of doors for me. I’ll definitely look into tutoring for my 2nd income in 2009.

  10. one thing to note is that many companies have rules against doing professional work on the side. every company i’ve worked at has had a rule against doing side business other than part time teaching at a college.

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