In the popular view of the labor market, there are two kinds of careers. Some are well-paid but soul crushing. Others are fun, creative, meaningful–and pay sums that will keep you in your parents’ basement for the rest of your life.
“Artists don’t get paid! They’re starving artists. There’s a whole saying based on it!” sums up J. Money, the personal finance blogger behind BudgetsAreSexy.com. But “for the most part, everyone has the ability to make more money.” Doing something creative can go hand in hand with making enough to live well. Here’s how.
No matter how closely your profession is associated with poverty, you can still ask for a raise. “Most of the time people just assume that’s how much they should just keep getting paid for doing this thing,” says Adrienne Dorison, an Alabama-based coach. “But there’s nothing stopping you from keeping the job you have now and looking at other companies and what they pay their people to do this thing.” Not everyone has the same definition of low-paid, and if comparable organizations are offering higher amounts, you can leap, or use an offer to negotiate a better deal.
Some industries are better capitalized than others, and “maybe you have a skill set that can be transferred to a different industry that’s willing to pay you more,” says Dorison. Corporate philanthropy may pay better than working for a small nonprofit. If you like to write, topics such as business or medicine command higher rates than fiction book reviews. Personal finance blogging generally pays better than lifestyle blogging, says J. Money, because “we happen to be writing about something that marketers crave.” Looking for concepts that marketers crave is a good strategy for finding the higher-paying corners of any career.
If you think broadly about what you love to do, some part can likely be offered to the public for payment. Musicians can teach lessons and play at parties. Maybe you love creating huge, ornate metal sculptures, but you’re willing to do small-scale jewelry pieces to sell on Etsy too. Gabriela Pereira, a writer, launched DIY MFA to help other writers get published through a strategic process of reading, writing, and community building. “Writing coaches are kind of a dime a dozen these days,” she says, so “the key is really honing in on the unique facet so it’s not part of the white noise.” As in all entrepreneurial ventures, you need to be able to reach potential customers. “I believe in building my email list. It’s my number-one thing to get fans, readers, clients, everything,” she says.
J. Money recommends joining online groups associated with your side hustle. Such networking “encourages you and motivates you, and then the opportunities come.” Given that the point of a side hustle is to make money, make sure to regularly raise your rates, or “swap out for better-paying clients as the years go by.”
Side hustles can take a lot of work. That’s especially problematic if you’re working full time too. “Many people have to experiment with different approaches before they find the right fit that lets them really ramp up their income significantly,” says Kimberly Palmer, author of The Economy of You. But often, creating a source of passive income is part of the strategy. Writing an e-book requires an upfront time investment, but then you get paid every time it sells. Teaching a class is time-intensive too, but if you record it, you can let people download it for a fee. “It’s a lot easier to repurpose stuff than to constantly make stuff up from scratch,” says Pereira.
If you love your work, it’s quite possible you’ll hustle more when all the benefits accrue to you. J. Money was fired from his job several years ago, but as an accidental entrepreneur, he’s managed to increase his net worth substantially after throwing himself into his blogging and money-coaching business. Dorison says she was limited in how much energy she could put into her business while doing it on the side, but after going out on her own earlier this summer, she made $40,000 in the first month, which is significantly more than her corporate job paid. “I do what I love right now,” she says. “I feel like I’m playing.” To be sure, not everyone has that experience (I think I earned $400 during one of my first months freelancing), but when you work for yourself, there are fewer artificial limits on income.
Money is just a tool, so if you’d like a more lucrative life, ask yourself why. “The money is used for something. Whatever the something is, that’s the key,” says J. Money. Do you want money so you can travel the world? There may be cheap ways to make that happen, including home swaps and befriending people in the airline industry. If you want to live in a nice house, maybe you can be a live-in property manager for someone’s massive vacation home while you write experimental poetry on the side. Some things do require more money to pull off, but not everything, and there may be a way to do what you love while living pretty well too.