How I made almost $50K in side hustles last year

It’s tax time! Last year, we ended up owing almost $6,000. I try to frame this not as “OH SHIT WHAT THE FUCK AM I SUPPOSED TO DO” but “wow I’m so grateful to have so much extra work.” It’s…a hard sell.

Freelance Company 1 does not send 1099s, so I self-report: for 2018, I made $37,208.37. I recently got my 1099 from Freelance Company 2: $10,082.08. Those are my main side hustles, but I also had $1200 from Freelance Company 3. This brings my total from my three main side hustles to $48,490.45. There were little things here and there that aren’t reported income – $50 to edit a CV here, $200 for a dissertation there.

How did I do it? My specialty is copy-editing. I have a PhD, which means that I’m a pretty good candidate for academic copy-editing. When I started looking for jobs, here are the lists I looked at:

  1. Flexjobs
  2. Indeed
  3. Upwork

I have friends who have also used these lists, to a lesser degree than I have, and they have found consistent work. I applied to a bunch, and didn’t get hired at a bunch. Eventually, I found the gold mine (for me): Editage. I had to pay $15 to access the application from a job posting board, which I have heard is not a great idea because why pay to get something you could probably Google and find? But I was desperate, and I thought, “if I make $15 back, it’ll be worth it.” I’ve since made something like $70K with them. It…was worth it.

The work that I do for Editage is mostly copy-editing academic papers from people who are non-native speakers of English. There is a huge market for this because our world is not fair and people need to publish academic papers in English; even people with excellent English-as-a-second-language skills generally need a native check.

There are some specifics to my situation that make it, well, specific. I am good at copy-editing, both academic writing and more conversational writing. I have a degree that gives me a leg up in terms of credentials.

But there are also steps that anybody can do:

  1. Decide that freelancing is something you want to do. This seems obvious but it took me a long time to actually get off my ass and try for things. It seemed so out of reach, which I don’t think it is – it just seems that way. Putting one foot in front of the other gets you to your goal.
  2. Decide what skills you have that are marketable. I am an excellent copy editor. A friend of mine writes website content. My husband designs websites. My brother cuts custom bike spokes. My sister makes jewelry. My sister teaches yoga. My brother hauls trash. My sister is starting a photography business. Jesus I have a lot of siblings that can’t seem to fucking sit still.
  3. If you don’t have that skill, get that skill. When we came to America, my husband decided he wanted to work with computers. He got an associate’s degree in IT, which got him his full time job. Since then, he has constantly worked on his design skills – taking online courses, watching YouTube videos, making practice sites. We have spent money on some courses, and he has asked his employer to reimburse others. He never stops. This step is super annoying because it is a constant investment and who knows if it will pan out? But without the skills, you can’t get paid.
  4. Do shit for free. This step, too, sucks a lot. But for me, it was crucial. It was crucial because it gave me the opportunity to practice my skill, and it was crucial because it got the word out. I copy-edited dissertations, novels, cover letters. I got much better at online copy-editing, and some of those people that I did stuff for free told their friends, who told their friends. When a friend’s boyfriend’s publishing company had an opening for freelance copy editors, she immediately thought of me, and sent me the application. This is Freelance Company #2, which has paid me about $30K over the past three years. I copy-edited a friend’s dissertation for free, and she recommended me to her friend, who paid me to do her dissertation. When that friend got a full time job, she hired me for editing at her new company, which is Freelance Company #3. My husband is currently in this stage, and it takes patience. He approaches local businesses with terrible websites and offers them to do a low-cost or free website. This is building his portfolio, which eventually will make him much more marketable.
  5. Apply, get denied, apply, get denied, apply, get denied, apply, get denied, apply, get hired! You can skip this step if you are opening your own business, but in that case, go ahead and spend a lot of time opening your own business.
  6. Work, all the time. This is the step that I think people don’t pay attention to when they imagine the freelance life – it’s a ton of work. I try to get up at 4:30 in the morning to get work done before the kids get up, and sometimes, if I have a deadline, I could stay up until 11 working (I try my best not to do this because I hate the nighttime). I bring my computer to the kids’ practices and pull it out any time I have 10 minutes. I freelance in the car when Amelia has fallen asleep and I don’t want to bring her inside. I freelance when I’m waiting in a doctor’s waiting room and when my kids have screen time. I don’t typically have time to watch TV, or read books, or do puzzles. In my experience, there is more freelance work out there than any one person can do; the question is how much you are willing to sacrifice to do it.
  7. Pay off debt, take family vacations to Europe, go to Disney World, become financially independent, retire early or maybe just retire on time.

My husband and I have decent salaries from our full time jobs, and we live in a low cost of living area, but we also have dependent adult family members and three kids with tons of activities, and we dug ourselves into holes as we built those full time salaries. In the journey to FI, it’s not been realistic for us to cut costs to nothing, so the answer for us has been to increase our incomes, and side hustles have made that possible.

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