Today I am participating in a blog swap on lessons learned from side hustles. The post below was written by Pilgrim, who writes stories and gives perspective on the road to financial independence at FI Journey. You can find my post on the same topic over on his blog. Thanks for this wonderful post today, Pilgrim!
As an IT Manager by day and father of 2 young children by night, I usually have plenty to keep me busy without the need for side projects. However, with 15 years of IT experience I also have a wealth of knowledge that friends and family glean from and make use of on a regular basis, and I enjoy helping folks when I can.
One area that I have a good bit of experience in (and I enjoy) is building websites. I’ve built a few for the company I work for, and I’ve built several personal sites for myself using various tools, all the way from FrontPage (back in the ‘90s) to hand-coding them in Notepad, working with HTML and CSS and now WordPress as much as I can. The changing landscape of web technology is exciting to me, and it’s why I love working in the field of IT.
So when a lady from my church stopped me outside one day and asked “do you think you could help me build a small website?” I was more than happy to oblige. We talked through a few ideas and a few details and I told her I would get a quote over to her for a simple WordPress site for her small business. Little did I know what challenges awaited me…
Delusions of Grandeur
I went home pretty excited and started working on a quote. Once I finished listing out the scope of work we had discussed, I started thinking about what kind of hourly rate I should charge. Website work isn’t cheap, but since this was a friend and I was somewhat inexperienced I figured I’d give a lowball price on the entire project instead of charge hourly. The price I gave ended up being around $25/hour, which is fairly low, for those of you with no exposure to website developers.
As the day went on I began to dream about what might happen with this project, and what my little “side-hustle” might turn into. Could this be the perfect job for me? Flexible hours, a hobby I enjoy, and a good hourly rate? In my mind, I was sure I could begin charging $50-$70/hour pretty quickly after a few introductory jobs. So I sat down and started drawing up a company logo in Photoshop, just for fun. I also registered a domain name that I might want to use for my own business website. There were dollar signs dancing in my head.
A Mushrooming Project Scope
Then reality set in. I sent out the proposal and my friend relayed it to her boss, who came back with a LOT more work that he wanted done, because at that price, why not?! They also decided that they wanted an entire section of their site dedicated to video content, and they wanted it to look and feel like YouTube.com. In addition, they wanted some DVDs turned into online videos, so there would be some video editing needed (which is way outside my area of expertise), and they wanted years of old site content cleaned up and moved over to the new website, which originally they didn’t want done.
As I looked down the list of additional requests my heart sank a little. With a full time job and a young daughter at home, these requests were going to turn a 2-month-long flexible side-project into a 6-month-long marathon project. And instead of being the hero of the day I was now looking at being the bearer of bad news and having to say “no” to a bunch of their requests. However, I realized that telling them this information up front would be the best policy, so I informed them that I would help them out with some of their additional requests, but not all of them. It was an uncomfortable conversation for me to have, but I thought it went OK, and I was still happy to be “on the job”.
The Human Dynamic
Then came an email that totally threw me for a loop. The website for this small business had been previously designed and maintained by a close friend of the business owner, and they said that they weren’t comfortable with turning control of the website over to me. My friend let me know that they didn’t want to hurt the previous web guy’s feelings, despite the fact that their website looked awful and they couldn’t ever get him to update anything. On top of that they had discussed the entire project with this guy to get his input!
In his opinion WordPress was “of the devil”, and he strongly advised them against building a website on WordPress. I, on the other hand, had already explained to them the many benefits of WordPress, and it was exactly what they wanted for their new site. I knew it and they knew it. So to get around all this, they asked me if I would build the website, then teach their old web guy how to maintain and administer WordPress, so that “maybe he’d come around and want to help”. So to summarize, they still wanted me to build them a website, but they wanted me to work with their anti-WordPress friend and hand him the reigns once it was complete.
At this point I felt like my mind had just been made up for me. I called my friend and said “No thanks, this project is not going to work out”. What started as a win/win was turning out to be lose/lose, and I wanted to nip it in the bud before we even started. She wasn’t happy about it, but I’m sure she understood how things had changed since our conversation in the parking lot.
As much of a disappointment as it was to me not to be able to put together a solid side-hustle like that, the experience taught me several valuable lessons that have served me well ever since.
- Set expectations on the front end – If I had known more about how to communicate my abilities and limitations on the front end a lot of the disappointments I had during this experience could have been avoided.
- Price my time appropriately – Since this incident I’ve helped several other folks with website or computer work, and every time I give them my hourly rate up front, and now it’s set at an appropriate level. I’m worth every penny of what I charge, but it’s still a good price for most people. If it’s out of their price range they don’t move forward, which is good for both of us. If the project scope mushrooms then it’s still worth my time to handle it. In both cases we each come away satisfied with the price tag of the project.
- Set clear boundaries for myself – If I’m only willing to venture into certain areas, or only willing to spend a certain amount of time each week working on side jobs, I need to know what my boundaries are. Side projects can become burdensome very quickly if I’m not careful about maintaining my own priorities.
- Get used to saying “no” – This is a lesson many business owners have had to learn, but it really is better to be honest and upfront with a customer instead of over-promising and under-delivering.
- Prepare for the worst and hope for the best – Things can go south with a side-hustle at any time, so be careful with your expectations. Don’t burn any bridges with your day job, and be ready to change direction entirely if things don’t work out.
What do you think of this story? Have you had an experience “helping a friend” as a side-hustle, and how did that go? Do you have another side-hustle that you can tell us about?
photo from Free Digital Photos