Freelancing can leave you a bit lonely, without even offering benefits like seminars or skills training. How can you gain hands-on experience without going back to a full-time office?
By taking on unusual side gigs, you gain invaluable insights to concepts you had no idea about. It’s fun, and it keeps you well rounded – all while earning extra cash to boot!
Freelancing enables me to treat the world like my playground. Today, I’ll tell you a bit about my own experiences dabbling in side gigs, and how they’ve helped my freelance game.
1. Car Salesperson
It was a hot Texas summer. I was fresh out of California, desperate for a new experience. Tired of laptops and screens, I wanted to work face to face with people.
The Craigslist ad read “Customer Relations,” promising $2,000 per month, with the potential for bonuses. There wasn’t much else. When I pulled into the address and found myself on the lot of a car dealership, it took a moment to reconcile what I might be walking into.
I wound up hitting the melting asphalt that summer as a car salesperson.
It was a gnarly look into the universe of sales. Thanks to that job, my eyes were opened to the reality of hard, cold business.
What I Learned
- Everything is marketing and sales. All around you. Some people are scarily good at it. Because of this, everyone should learn the basics. For example, a salesperson knows to sell you on price per month, because $299.99 sounds pretty reasonable for a car. If you don’t understand the implications of this deal, you wind up with a severely overpriced vehicle.
- You will be taken advantage of if you’re green. It’s not a matter of if, but when. For instance, customers are more willing to buy from new salespeople. I was being sold on my job as a new recruit, with as much effort as they were selling the cars.
- Sales is about having the right bait. Companies don’t always make money in the places you expect. I learned that dealerships prefer to sell in-house loans, not the cars themselves.
- Building the right connections makes or breaks you. A customer won’t buy if they don’t trust you. Negotiators won’t work with you without incentive.
2. Bicycle Assembly
After dipping my toes into the car sales industry, my soul felt a bit dirty. It was time for something more honest.
I interviewed for several odd listings on Craigslist. None were so endearing as this one ex-convict who was hiring bicycle assemblers. My phone interview largely consisted of learning his backstory. He was passionate about work ethic and letting people prove their worth.
My first day involved getting picked up by a group of strangers at 6am in a retail parking lot. We drove two hours to the worksite. Thankfully, I lived to tell the tale.
The company was a third party hired regionally by Walmart. We assembled bicycles when the in-house team couldn’t handle the influx of new product.
There’s always a niche to fill, even in the least expected places.
What I Learned
- It’s useful to know that almost every big company contracts out third parties. Starting a business is a matter of finding one small gap and filling it.
- Showing moderate respect, competence, and reliability can land you a gig on merit alone.
- Best of all, repetitive hands-on work can be cathartic.
3. Brand Ambassador
An acquaintance was in town and invited me to dinner. Turns out he was managing a marketing gig, and needed extra hands.
He told me I could earn between $15–$20/hour to show up and hand out samples! There was even a bonus for coming early and staying late to take care of the equipment. For drives over 30 miles, they reimbursed gas costs.
Not only that, but because we sampled out food, we were allowed to take home whatever was left at the end of the day. Hello, fridge stocked full of expensive pre-made smoothies!
The job is called ‘brand ambassador’, and many companies hire for it. The position exists to make a good impression on guests. The idea is to bring positive brand awareness, contributing to a much bigger scheme designed to improve sales.
Basically, marketing budgets produce a lot of excess. You can be at the receiving end of it if you know where to look. I was earning over $1,000 in a weekend!
What I Learned
- Most people don’t bother to pay attention to details. The daily questions I fielded were simple. To be more knowledgeable on a topic than most, simply read the included instructions.
- Friendly banter and a genuine smile can get you a long way with coworkers and clients alike. This helped me more than hit my sample handout goals.
- Going the extra mile often means you’re the one the boss counts on when he needs to hire someone for an extra gig. I ran several side errands for extra cash, thanks to my reputation of always being ready to help.
4. Resort Food Server
I always liked the idea of seasonal work. Someone wants to pay me to live somewhere amazing without a long term commitment? Where do I sign?!
After much research, I settled on the Grand Teton National Park. Server positions paid best after tips and filled up early, so I pursued it aggressively the season ahead while I was still in New Zealand.
I touched down in San Diego and rode my bicycle to Salt Lake City, just in time to hitch a ride with a friend to the mountains for the summer. All the knowledge I gained while assembling bicycles came in handy for repairs during the tour.
On the job, I was constantly handling sensitive interactions in a high pressure environment. It made managing freelance clients feel like a cakewalk.
What I Learned
- Treat everyone nicely and with respect, no matter how tired, grumpy, or angry you feel. A good game face helps avoid a lot of drama. Most of our staff went out of their way to accommodate me in the kitchen, which translated to better service and better tips. By the end of the season, I was asked to return and manage the restaurant for the next year.
- The power of suggestion is strong. You get hands on practice by up-selling dishes or recommending the day’s special, getting to play off customers’ reactions.
- Tourism is an insanely profitable market – particularly where tips are involved. I made over $11,000 in four months.
Going freelance doesn’t mean isolation or restricted job experiences. You can create your own training by widening your understanding of the world and business through side gigs.
Just a few of the odd jobs I learned from were:
- Car salesperson
- Bicycle assembly
- Brand ambassador
- Resort food server
Do you ever feel pigeonholed by your freelance work? How have you found ways around it, to get these types of extracurricular life lessons? Share your own experiences, and what side gig you might like to try next, in the comments section below!
Image credit: Ramallo.