Whether you’re dreaming of starting a business or getting extra cash to pay off student loans, a side hustle could get you there. But before leaping into a side gig, keep an eye out for a few dangers, especially when it comes to your day job.
You can start a side hustle without putting your main income source at risk. Follow these best practices to protect yourself, both jobs, and your employers’ interests.
1. Don’t compete with your employer
Before starting a side hustle, consider what kind of work you’ll be doing and how that could conflict with your full-time position.
Most employers will take issue with your side hustle if it puts you in competition with the business.
“They obviously don’t want you to take the knowledge, skills, and company secrets you’re learning at your job and apply it at a competitor,” said Paula Brantner, a senior adviser at Workplace Fairness, a nonprofit that promotes employee rights.
Entrepreneur Ryan Robinson started a phone case company as one of his first side hustles and grew it into a profitable business while working full time. Based on his experience, he strongly warned against competing with a current or recent employer.
“It’s not only going to open you up to the potential of legal issues, but it’ll hurt feelings, damage relationships that could otherwise be mutually beneficial, and earn you an awkward reputation,” Robinson said.
2. Complement your day job
A great side hustle option could be one that complements your day job — and even makes you better at it.
“If you’re gaining skills in [job No. 2] that could be helpful in [job No. 1], your employer could be more supportive or you could leverage that in some way,” Brantner said. “It shows you’re seeking opportunities to build and apply new skills.”
For example, if you’re a lawyer, starting a blog that explores legal topics could generate side income for you and business for your employer.
If you’re a developer, a side gig could give you the chance to learn a new coding language, which could make you more valuable to your employer.
“Find ways to make your side hustle benefit your performance at your day job,” Robinson said. By getting creative, you can identify a side hustle that works in sync with your day job, rather than sinks it.
3. Review and follow policies regarding side gigs
Before starting a side hustle, review any employment contracts you’ve been presented with for either your day job or side gig.
Look for clauses that might affect your ability to have a side hustle, such as a noncompete, nonsolicitation, or nondisclosure agreement. You’ll want to be sure you can complete your work at both your primary job and your side hustle without violating any contracts.
Brantner advised checking your employee handbooks, too, to see if your company has a policy governing secondary employment. It’s not uncommon for companies to require their employees to submit their side gigs for managerial approval.
“If you need to be cleared, you’d want to do that and have the appropriate manager sign off,” Brantner said. You might be tempted to keep your gig a secret, but that “could put you at risk of losing your main job,” she added.
Even if you’re turned down, you can try to negotiate the terms of the policy or ask for an exception.
“A lot will depend on your specific company and its culture,” Brantner said. See if your manager is willing to work with you to find an agreement over your side hustle that satisfies both sides’ concerns.
4. Maintain strict boundaries between your jobs
Keep your time at work and time spent on your side hustle separate.
“It’s one of those obvious things that you don’t do — you don’t steal time or resources from your employer to use for someone else,” Brantner advised. “Don’t spend time at work on anything to do with your second job, even if it’s just answering emails or phone calls.”
Don’t conduct any side hustle business with a work laptop, company cellphone, or software paid for by your employer.
5. Consider seeking legal counsel
Robinson learned the power of legal counsel firsthand when his former employers took issue with his phone case business. “I got a cease-and-desist-style email from them one day out of the blue,” he said.
His former bosses claimed that Robinson’s company represented a breach of their employment agreements. But with the help of a lawyer, Robinson concluded that his former bosses were wrong and that he hadn’t violated any of his employment contracts.
Consult an attorney whenever you’re in doubt about the legality of your side hustle.
“No amount of advice you’ll read online can take the place of getting personalized advice from an attorney that’s qualified to advise you on what can or cannot be done with your own unique circumstances,” Robinson said.
6. Know your limits
Taking on a side hustle while working full time is a balancing act that can be tricky to get right. Take steps to prevent side hustle burnout. Maintain a healthy work-life balance and learn to manage stress.
“Make sure you can realistically take on that level of working without compromising your performance,” Brantner said. “You have to be realistic with yourself about how much sleep you need, what other family or personal obligations you have, and so on.”
By doing your due diligence, you can get more out of each of your jobs without the risk of losing either one.