Home / Money / Personal Finance /  A side hustle can help you battle uncertain times

The average width of a kiosk selling stuff on the road is as wide as an arm span. That is what it needs to take your khokha (shanty shop) and run when the municipal corporation comes on its “inspection" to remove the illegal entrepreneurs off the pavements and roads. They dive into the nearby residential areas with their khokhas, leave them in friendly homes and then put them right back where they were, after the usual bribes have been paid to the police and the municipal corporation.

The Indian state has crushed enterprise for decades by its rent seeking on account of a labyrinth of rules that nobody really understands. The story of the Indian IT industry that boomed in the 1990s was just this—the babus simply did not “get" technology and by the time they got to know the industry was a well-established tax-paying success.

There are lessons from these two examples for the middle Indian labour force that is discovering as it goes through the pandemic that unless they fend for themselves, they will end up with no job and no future. The lifelong job and loyal employee-employer relationship actually was a myth that got busted over the past few years got sharper as costs were cut and employees were let go. Those who were fortunate to keep their jobs saw their work load rise to inhuman levels triggering mental and physical problems—but the fear of a layoff keeps everyone silent and working.

The behaviour of the workplace has made one thing clear to employees—if you don’t have the ability to nurture a side hustle to your main job, you will not be able to negotiate the post-covid workplace that needs peak performance 24x7. At any age and stage, it is a good idea to see how much you can earn if you lose your job out of what you do—your skills, a product or a service. It is, of course, a good idea to have your go-free money in place as soon as possible. A frill-free life does not cost that much.

Skimming over my social media ads across platforms, I am amazed at the innovation in stuff that people are selling using technology. Connecting farmers to consumers, getting greens onto your salad plate, connecting traditional specialty Indian cuisine to buyers who don’t want factory-made modaks for Ganesh Chaturthi. Property brokers who have gone upmarket and broken out of the three stretched picture shots that most property portals show. Bespoke tailors who are capitalizing on the desire to get a good fit. Wellness, yoga, bespoke travel, public speaking, specific disease management, gourmet ice creams and snacks, jewellery and clothes. The list goes on. Smart young entrepreneurs are using their interests, skills and technology to get out and get business.

What to put your energy into becomes the most difficult hurdle to cross. Ideally, this is something you are good at, and really enjoy doing. But it is not enough to just enjoy yourself. Watching clouds skim over the sky all day maybe your idea of great fun, but unless this activity of yours can be of use to somebody else who is willing to pay you for this, it is not good enough. It needs to be something that improves another person’s life and is valued enough to generate an income for you.

The Japanese concept called Ikigai made famous by authors Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles in their best-selling book that I am yet to read points to the intersection “where your passions and talents converge with the things that the world needs and is willing to pay for".

Keep your investments in the side hustle small initially. If you have a full-time job, keep the weekends to work on and power your idea. A best-selling author I know kept his financial sector job till the day his royalty cheque became greater than his take-home salary a decade ago. He then chucked the job and became a full-time author. It is best to begin with testing your product or service with people in your family and friends to work through the glitches and the rough edges. See what you can price it for.

So, set up your little khokha, but virtually, since setting up a physical shop in India is so tough due to the labyrinth of colonial-minded rules and a rent-seeking state. Your best shot is to keep it online, keep it legit and slowly grow it so that by the time it becomes big enough, you have worked out how to negotiate the system.

Monika Halan is consulting editor at Mint and writes on household finance, policy and regulation

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