The lack of skilled IT workers is hurting the deployment of emerging technology, according to a new survey from Gartner. In areas from cloud to cybersecurity, this crisis is expected to last for years to come.
There’s another, more flexible way to cash in on today’s high demand for tech: Start a part-time business in your spare time. According to "Freelancing in America: A National Survey of the New Workforce," 14 million Americans engage in a part-time business (also known as moonlighting, freelancing, or running a side hustle). And in tech there is no shortage of part-time projects and contracts on offer, some of which will be in your wheelhouse, while others will provide an opportunity to learn new skills.
Developers who have struck up successful side businesses provide insights on how you can start one.
Get your side business up and running
Skill development, increased income, and the option to become a full-time entrepreneur are common motivations for starting a part-time business. But you’ll need to consider what exactly you’d like to accomplish before launching your side business. Much of your success will depend on your capacity for additional work, your current skills, your desire to acquire new skills, and most important, your motivation. Yes, your skills are in high demand, but following through consistently in your spare time to make your side business work can be challenging.
Corey Creech, a web consultant based in central Florida notes that sacrificing leisure time to build a business is part of the deal.
The fastest way to start a business is to sell services to a client as a freelancer. This type of business can be started for less than $100: obtain a business license, open a business bank account, and put up a simple website. How quickly you start to earn money will depend on your sales ability and network. For many freelance businesses, landing the first client presents the greatest challenge.
The first and best place to find clients is your personal network of contacts. Writing handcrafted emails to people in your network can be a great way to land a first contract, Creech says. If your network is limited, offering your services through an online services platform may be a good option.
Make the most of freelance marketplaces
Bidding on client projects through freelance marketplaces such as Upwork can simplify the marketing process.
“On freelance sites, you’re competing against a large number of people from around the world, so they are very competitive,” explains Nick Loper, host of the Side Hustle Podcast. “Despite the competition, you can still win on these services if you put in the effort to read the project description and come up with a detailed response,” Loper adds.
But doesn’t the global nature of freelance marketplace websites mean a race to the bottom for freelance pay?
Preston Hunter’s experience offers a stark counterpoint to that assumption. In 2015, Hunter, a developer based in Tempe, Ariz., earned approximately $80,000 through Upwork as a part-time business while holding down his day job. “When I first started out, I was typically billing around $15 per hour. Over time, I’ve raised my hourly rate to about $86, and I often turn down client requests today,” he explains.
Toptal: Freelance network for high-end talent
Describing itself as an exclusive network of top talent, Toptal is becoming a popular option for developers and designers to land clients.
“Before starting with Toptal, I worked on a couple of freelance projects,” says Paulo Castro, who began freelancing while working for IBM in Brazil. “A lot of customers have difficulties finding developers to do maintenance and support for existing software”.
In contrast to other services, Toptal plays an active role in interviewing developers, working with end clients, and administration. Toptal’s end clients include a mix of large and small companies such as J.P. Morgan, Pfizer, Zendesk, and AirBnb.
Building a product-based business
Earning income from selling technology products on the side is another path for a part-time business. In contrast to a services-based business, it generally takes longer to earn money, though the long-term rewards can be significantly greater. If you already have significant skills in app development, you might want to consider building a business around a software offering.
Of course, you’ll need to find a worthwhile market niche to fill with your app or software. After all, few side-hustle businesses receive angel or venture funding; money needs to come in from direct sales to justify the effort.
Gary Vaynerchuk, a digital marketing expert and author, regularly reviews the “top app” lists in the Apple iTunes Store, especially paid apps, to find new opportunities. There’s no need to create a new idea from scratch with this approach. Instead, you can build an app that leverages existing market demand. Over time, the best-selling iOS apps include games (such as Angry Birds, Words with Friends, and Plants vs. Zombies) and productivity apps (Camera+, iScanner, and TapeACall Pro). Performing market research on previously successful apps can help spark new ideas for areas with high demand.
Software as a service
Beyond mobile apps, software as a service can be another lucrative option for building a side business. Consider ConvertKit, an email marketing service created by Nathan Barry. Based in Idaho, Barry created the service in early 2013 after becoming frustrated with the capabilities of existing email marketing services. Prior to starting ConvertKit, Barry’s work focused on selling premium digital books like "The App Design Handbook" and "Designing Web Applications." Barry’s approach offers clues on how to build a successful SaaS product. He clearly understood the problem (ineffective and limited email marketing) and he defined a target market.
Books: Spread your knowledge as a side business
Writing is another way you can leverage your technical expertise to earn money on the side. Writing books for a traditional publisher like Apress, O’Reilly, or Wiley is one approach. When you go with a traditional, established tech publisher, you earn an advance payment (likely less than $10,000 for a technical book) and royalties on books that sell. Beyond the immediate income, writing for a respected publisher is an excellent option to set yourself apart from other professionals in your niche.
Self-publishing offers another avenue with potentially greater rewards and flexibility. There are two popular ways to self-publish a book depending on your goals, skills, and resources: by creating a self-hosted premium e-book or by using a platform like Amazon.
Technical books are well-suited for the premium e-book model because it is easier to include code samples, videos, and other instructional materials to help readers learn. For non-technical authors, Amazon represents a significant opportunity to build a business by publishing Kindle books.
Should part-time mean forever?
Keeping up a part-time business and a full-time job is challenging. Maintaining a traditional job and a part-time business creates additional pressure on your life. And that is another great facet of the side hustle: You can quit at any time. You may decide to close the business once you accomplish a specific goal such as paying off college debt. Or you may grow their business so much that you could resign from your day job.