How I built an income safety net
This guest article was written by Kimberly Palmer. Kimberly is the author of the new book “The Economy of You: Discover Your Inner Entrepreneur and Recession-Proof Your Life,” and senior money editor for U.S. News & World Report. In addition, she is the creator of Palmer's Planners, a line of digital financial guides on Etsy.
A month after my daughter was born four years ago, as the fog of newborn sleep deprivation was at its height, I was overwhelmed by a terrifying thought: What would happen if I lost my job? Or what if my husband lost his job? I couldn't stop thinking through various scenarios, imagining what we might possibly do to avoid complete financial catastrophe.
My paranoia wasn't completely off-base; after all, I work in journalism, a field known for its job instability and lay-offs. And my daughter was born in 2009, just as our entire financial world seemed to be collapsing. I probably shouldn't have been so surprised by the crushing weight of parental responsibilities.
A few months later, after my daughter grew (slightly) more self-sufficient and started sleeping in more than two-hour chunks, I decided to find a way to fight back against my anxiety. I wanted to build my family a safety net — something that would save us if my fears did come true. That safety net had to provide us with a new stream of income, something outside of our day jobs, which would generate extra cash and be there for us if our primary incomes suddenly disappeared.
I came up with the idea for my Etsy shop of money planners after browsing around on the handmade-goods website and discovering an entire section dedicated to paper products. While I had purchased gifts on Etsy before and long admired the site, I had never imagined that I, as a writer, could become an Etsy seller myself. After finding products that included organizational calendars and digital files for shopping lists or other planning tools, I knew I had to join Etsy as a seller.
Within two weeks of that revelation, I had launched my first product, the Baby Planner, on my Etsy store. I wrote in a flurry, relying on much of my previous reporting for a book idea that had never found a publisher. I connected with a freelance illustrator through one of my favorite blogs, and she created a gorgeous cover for me for around $100.
The minute I hit “Publish,” I felt like a different person. I was officially an entrepreneur with an online business. I was taking control of my financial future and building an alternative to being entirely beholden to a single salary.
Of course, it took a little longer for my first sale to come in — about two weeks. But I quickly learned how to embrace the marketing side of entrepreneurship, and soon started reaching out to bloggers who I thought might be interested in writing about my planners. After I generated some coverage, my planners started selling more briskly, and I quickly expanded my shop to include money planners, business planners, a money goals planner, and others. (Later, I added customized versions that come with a half-hour coaching session — the possibilities for expansion are endless.)
My shop now generates between $50 and $200 a month — income that comes nowhere close to paying for our mortgage, but that provides a nice cushion for non-essentials. More importantly, being an entrepreneur has shown me that I can earn money from my own creations, and if I ever need to, I can grow my shop into something larger.
The best part is that I know I'm helping people in the process. If I'm ever having a rough day, all I need to do is read through the “feedback” section of my Etsy shop to see how people are using my planners to improve their own financial well-being.
Recently, I've started helping people find ways to build their own side-gigs, so they can find that same empowerment that comes from bringing in an additional income stream. Some of them have launched online businesses like I did, but others rely on their talents, such as singing or stand-up comedy, or an area of professional expertise, such as graphic design or website building, or a service they enjoy providing, such as lawn care or babysitting. Almost everyone has a potential side-gig inside of them, waiting to be unleashed. What's your side gig?