Worried about recession? Here are 5 side gigs for technologists

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Another day, another couple rounds of tech layoffs.

While economists continue to say that the US is not in a recession as of January 2023, the spike in tech layoffs are real — though maybe not as devastating as they may appear.

If you do find yourself out of work, the good news is that there is still a shortage of tech talent, even with tens of thousands of layoffs happening, and the trend is that experienced tech workers who’ve been laid off are scooped up quickly by companies in need of talent.

Still, when your economic future is in question, you might be thinking about side gigs you can take on to grow your savings just in case. A good side hustle can turn into a full-time gig if necessary. A really good one can turn into a successful business of your own.

Remember: One-third of Americans contribute to the $1.3 trillion freelance economy. Here are some things you can start doing on a part-time basis that can potentially become a temporary or even permanent job if you find yourself out of a job.

Consultant

Take the expertise you’ve gained from your job and offer consulting work for small, midsize and sometimes large companies that don’t have staff in certain areas, like tech, human resources, DEI and marketing.

Your expertise doesn’t necessarily have to be based on your technical knowledge. Life experiences can be valuable, too, especially when a company is marketing to certain demographics not represented on their team. Wilmington’s Tamara Varella founded Manifest Business Consulting after a local nonprofit recognized the value of her experiences.

Keeping an eye out for pain points among certain demographics can help you find a consulting niche. Rose Breyla and Donna May, founders of the Wilmington’s Breyla May Consulting, noticed that there were a lot of small businesses that lacked the resources to hire in-house HR and DEI departments, but are committed to a people-first workplace. Their wellness-focused people ops consulting fits the bill for their mostly woman clientele.

  • Caveats: You really have to know your stuff to be a successful consultant.
  • Upside: Usually pays well by the hour.

Online instructor

If you’re an expert in something — or even if you just speak English fluently — there are a lot of ways to teach online classes, from creating a curriculum for Udemy to signing on as a part-time teacher with a company that provides the curriculum. Look for local coding schools, which may be in need of good online instructors.

  • Caveats: Sites like Udemy are extremely competitive, with multiple classes for just about any subject you can think of. Similar to being a successful YouTuber or TikToker (which we won’t recommend as good ways to make extra money because odds are extremely high you won’t), you need to really stand out and gain a following.
  • Upside: Usually remote.

Tutor

Unlike teaching a class, tutoring in one on one and can have a big impact on kids who need extra attention. Online tutoring, for example via tutor.com, is a popular alternative to in-person tutoring as cautious parents may not want their child in a one-on-one situation with an adult.

  • Caveats: If you prefer in-person tutoring, you’ll need to get certification and a license if you don’t already have it.
  • Upside: Often remote.

Freelancer

It can take years to build up a good stable of freelance clients, whether you want to freelance as a writer, graphic designer or marketer. But if you have experience, it can be a fairly reliable way to make money. Advice for freelancers abounds on the internet; this collection of advice from Women Who Code DC still holds up.

  • Caveats: A lot of companies look for freelancers offering lowball rates that are not worth your time, especially on platforms like Upwork and Fiverr.
  • Upsides: If you can build up enough clients, you’ll be turning work away while making what you need.

Founder

Yes, plenty of successful startups started out as side gigs. While starting a new business is risky and making money takes time, it’s not uncommon in the field: Something like a quarter of laid-off tech workers start their own business, according to one recent survey.

This road can be complex. Unlike freelancing and consulting, which require little overhead to start, launching a new app, product or platform will require capital, branding and support in general. For help, look for local organizations, incubators and accelerators for early-stage startups, such as Philly Startup Leaders. You’ll find similar orgs in your nearest city wherever you are in the world. Check out these startup resource roundups for Philly, DC, Baltimore, Delaware and Pittsburgh.

  • Caveats: Most startups fail.
  • Upsides: If you hit on the right idea and execute it well, you may be able to say goodbye to working for someone else altogether.

Things to remember

If you start collecting unemployment benefits payments after a job loss (or when your severance runs out), you’ll need to disclose any money you’re bringing in on a weekly basis, which means that you might forfeit those payments if you make more than a designated amount. There is usually a maximum amount you can earn before your unemployment payments are affected, usually around $100 to $150 a week. Check with your state’s labor office for specifics.

Also remember that for virtually all gig or contract work, zero taxes are taken out and sent to the IRS. That means you must pay taxes and social security directly. If you do a small amount of side work, you can usually pay these with your yearly taxes, but if it’s a regular part of your income, you should also make quarterly estimated tax payments. To learn more about paying taxes as an independent contractor, visit the IRS’s Self Employed Individuals Tax Center.

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