With salaries up only 1.7 percent for the year--a repeat of last year's meager 1.6 percent--many Americans must look beyond their regular jobs to boost their incomes. There are ways to make extra money, some of them new, others tried-and-true, says Randall Hansen, founder of the career development website Quintessential Careers. Couple your ingenuity with your skills and, in some cases, Internet-based opportunities, and you can expand your bottom line even in these tight times.
Crowdfund your invention. As recently as a few years ago, inventors required bankers or venture capitalists to realize their ideas and move them to the marketplace. Now, crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter.com and Indiegogo.com allow anyone to raise money from friends and strangers who want little more than to help bring an offering to life. Of the more than 30,000 projects successfully funded on Kickstarter since its 2009 launch, the vast majority have been the work of an individual, not companies, says a Kickstarter spokesperson. One recent project sought $250,000 to mass-produce "Impossible Instant Lab," a cool gadget that turns your digital iPhone pictures into actual Polaroid analog photos. Users set their phone screen onto a cradle atop the lab and press a button. The lab then spits out a picture. Contributors who pledged $149 or more received, at minimum, a discount on a limited edition Lab with free film. The largest givers received additional freebies.
To participate on Kickstarter, you simply create an online account, write a brief description of your vision (in a few cases, like technology projects, Kickstarter requires a working prototype); decide what goodies to offer donors in exchange for their financial contributions, such as an early sample of the product or a phone call from you; and designate a total dollar target. The site usually emails you within one to two days as to whether your project has met its guidelines--which include fitting into its established categories ranging from art, publishing, and games to music, film and technology--and is accepted. You only receive money if you reach your goal within the specified time period, which can be anywhere between one and 60 days. Kickstarter deducts a 5 percent fee, but only if you hit your target. Several projects have raised more than a million dollars, but the company says the average is about $5,000. And, for many people, that can be the difference between getting their product to market and leaving the idea in their desk drawers.
Indiegogo is more wide open. It does not vet its projects and offers participants the option of collecting contributions even if they don't reach their targets. The fee is 4 percent if you reach your goal and 9 percent if you fall short.
One other point to consider: In September, Kickstarter ranked 348th in the country in site traffic, according to the traffic monitor Alexa.org, compared to 759th for Indiegogo, which means it offers a significantly larger donor pool for participants to tap into.
Moonlight. Some 3.6 million Americans took on a second job part time in 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Aside from providing extra money, holding additional jobs can help you explore a potential career or learn skills that may apply to your primary employment, Hansen points out. Moonlighting often brings to mind holiday hiring by retailers, which can yield attractive discounts, too. In general, though, you will make better money capitalizing on your specific work skills, he notes. For example, if you have writing talent, can design websites, keep business books, pet sit, or fix computer problems, you can advertise your services on sites like Craigslist or offer your talents directly to local businesses or individuals.
You can also teach what you know to others as a tutor. Gaye Weintraub, 38, of Katy, Texas, has done this since 2009, when she began supplementing her full-time paralegal income by helping local students with their English writing assignments. Soon, she expanded to additional subjects: creating a PowerPoint presentation, photography, elementary math, study skills, and how to use YouTube and other online websites (which she taught to a 93-year-old client, among others). After Weintraub was laid off in 2011, her thriving side business provided a valuable safety net. She has since expanded it to include writing and other freelance work in addition to tutoring.
Besides spreading the word locally, would-be tutors can post their offerings on websites like Tutorspree.com or Wyzant.com. And people who are strong in math, science, or other sought-after school subjects can teach individual students online through websites like Tutor.com.
Share your home. One way to lower monthly housing costs is to take a renter into your home. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 6.2 million adults lived with someone who wasn't a relative in 2010 (the most recent figures), up from 5.3 million in 2007.
When her marriage ended and her women's clothing business went on the rocks two years ago, Beth Gross-Santos decided to rent out two bedrooms in the five-bedroom, Portsmouth, N.H., house that she shares with her teenage sons. Thanks to the Indian, Polish, and Peruvian natives she has rented to so far, the living arrangement not only pays nearly half of her mortgage and home equity loan, which she took out to try to save her business, Gross-Santos says, but it has also turned her home "into a mini-United Nations, which has been great for my boys."
City dwellers who don't want to take on a long-term tenant can consider hosting tourists passing through town. Mikey Rox and Everett Morrow regularly rent the guest bedroom in their New York City condo to visitors who pay nearly $90 a night. In three years, they've made more than $75,000 by advertising on Craigslist, and Airbnb.com and roomorama.com, which both take a percentage of the total booking fee paid by the guest. Rox and Morrow tend to prefer guests referred through the latter two sites because they gather more information on travelers, which seems to invite better behavior. They have had a couple of unpleasant experiences over the years of petty theft, says Rox, but ultimately, "the pros outweigh the cons."
Be sure your rental complies with local laws and your condo or homeowner association rules, cautions Annamarie Pluhar, author of Sharing Housing: a Guidebook for Finding and Keeping Good Housemates. You will have to pay taxes on the income, but you can deduct a percentage of your mortgage or rent, electric bill, and maintenance costs based on the size of the space you're renting and how many days it was occupied. Before anyone moves in for longer than a weekend, everyone should agree on shared living rules, including cleanliness standards, chore distribution, guest policies, daily routines, and acceptable noise levels, Pluhar says.
If it's a more permanent arrangement that you're looking for, potential roommates can be found through Craigslist or paid services like Roommates.com, which match landlords with would-be tenants registered on the sites.
Turn a hobby into cash. Craft sites like Etsy and ArtFire aren't just for artists selling their works; people make money selling a wide range of products, including handmade furniture and purses. Two years ago, Dennis and Sylvia Lai of South Florida decided to turn the wedding favor they had created for their own nuptials two years earlier into an offering on Etsy and other sites. The Lais mix and design unique blends of spices and seasonings, then personalize the bottles with photos and descriptions of the bride and groom.
So far, they've brought in $7,500; not enough to quit their day jobs (yet), but "we get to express our creativity and also bring in bonus income," Dennis says. Etsy takes a cut from each sale amounting to 3.5 percent of the sale price; ArtFire charges sellers $12.95 per month.
In some cases, you can cut out the middleman and sell from your own website. Although Jennifer James McCollum bought her first camera only five years ago, the executive director of the nonprofit Oklahomans for the Arts, in Oklahoma City, has turned her budding love of photography into a profitable side business. The thousand dollars she averages each month taking commissioned photos for various organizations around the state, as well as selling notecards through her personal blog and online sales page, "has been enough to pay the monthly mortgage for the past three years," she says.
Meanwhile, the explosive popularity of eBooks has made it much easier to turn your prose into extra income. In 2010, Web strategist Scott McIntosh dashed off a 61-page eBook based on his knowledge of search engine optimization, then uploaded it onto the websites of Amazon for the Kindle and Barnes & Noble for the Nook. While Google Juice may not ever be a bestseller, it has netted McIntosh several thousand dollars.
Not a techie? Free software, such as Calibre, can be found online that will convert your Word document into all the popular eBook formats with the click of a button.
Create an app. Benny Hsu knew nothing about programming when the 35-year-old manager of his family's Jacksonville, Fla., restaurant seized on an idea last year that he thought would make a perfect iPhone app. What soon became the hot selling Photo 365 enables users to take and save (or post to a social media site) a single photo each day, in effect creating a visual diary of the year.
Hsu's total cost was just $1,900, much of that the fee he had to pay the programmer he found by posting at Elance.com. Odesk.com is a similar site that he now also uses to find other contractors. The $.99 app proved so user-friendly it was featured by Apple, and it has so far earned Hsu $55,000. He recently released his second app, Gratitude 365, a daily diary of appreciation.
Programming for the increasingly popular Android phones may be even easier to accomplish, now that Google and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have launched a new online tool, App Inventor (appinventor.mit.edu). "It's a real game-changer in that it was designed so that folks with no experience can begin building apps almost immediately, without learning to write code," says David Wolber, professor of computer science at the University of San Francisco. Other resources for navigating the app world are iPhone Application Development for Dummies, Android Application Development for Dummies, and Wolber's tutorial at Appinventor.org.
Profit from your videos. Professional filmmakers aren't the only ones who can make money from their creations, as Wayne Perry of Schenectady, N.Y., discovered this year. Like millions of other parents, Perry had filmed his newborn's first moments in 2010 and posted the results for friends and relatives to watch on YouTube. Because his newborn had grabbed hold of the doctor's instrument, Perry intriguingly titled it: "Newborn baby helps doctor cut umbilical cord" (www.youtube.com/watch?v=JpeTQsTqHwQ).
A few months later, Perry was shocked to discover that his home movie had reached 50,000 views. Last October, when it hit 750,000 (it's now 1.7 million, and growing), he signed up for Adsense (www.google.com/adsense) and checked the box allowing commercials to run before his four-minute video. Since then, between $1,000 and $1,500 each month has been automatically deposited in his bank account. Of course, luck also plays a role: Perry has since uploaded several animal videos, but none has made even close to that amount.
Another way to profit from your videos is to sign up for the free YouTube Partner Program (www.youtube.com/yt/creators/partner.html). In effect, this gives you your own "channel" on the site, something that may be worthwhile if you plan to upload a series of well-done works with a common theme. Humor represents four out of the top five channels on YouTube. Gaming represents the fifth. Anyone can opt in to monetize his videos if he is the intellectual property owner, confirms YouTube spokesperson Kate Mason, who notes that thousands of channels brought in six-figure incomes this year. In addition to allowing ads, the program offers training and mentoring to improve your video skills.
Cobble together odd jobs. People with access to a computer can get paid to do a variety of unique activities on their own timetable, says Christine Durst, a home-based career expert and co-founder of RatRaceRebellion.com. Each assignment pays from $5 to $50. Some examples:
-- Put your high-speed Internet access to use securing tickets for popular concerts and other events. Ticketpuller.com pays an average of $10 to $20 for successful "pulls," which usually consist of more than one ticket--and you use their money for the purchase, not yours. Because tickets are sold to the buyers at face value, this is perfectly legal, the site says. Your commissions are drawn from a percentage the client pays as a "convenience charge."
-- Individuals who need someone to physically check something far from where they are--whether it's a pricey item they are considering buying on eBay or the status of their rental home after a storm--describe their request on WeGoLook.com, which pays $25 and up for each completed task.
-- Act as a juror and render a nonbinding verdict for legal cases online, at eJury.com and JuryTest.com, as a way to help lawyers test the strength of their case. Pay is from $5 to $50, depending on the complexity.
-- Provide candid feedback via audio and video of your gut reaction as you visit and navigate a designated website at Userlytics.com, which charges companies for this valuable information. You get $10 and up per completed review.
Ask for a raise. Wages are stagnant in many sectors, but that doesn't mean it's impossible to get a raise. Especially if you are a top performer, you may be able to make a successful case, Hansen says. According to a study by Towers Watson, a professional services consulting firm, companies are planning to give pay increases averaging 4.7 percent in 2013 to exempt employees receiving high performance ratings. The key to getting a raise is documenting everything so you can make your case with specifics. Keep a log detailing all your accomplishments both at and away from your job, including new degrees or certifications and ways you've saved the company money or have enhanced revenues.
In addition, it's smart to carefully research, through industry associations and sites such as Salary.com and SalaryExpert.com, the going salary for someone with your education, skills, and experience. When you meet with your boss, don't say you are asking for extra money because you need it; instead, make the case for how you've strengthened the company's bottom line. If the type of job you have doesn't directly lead to profits, you'll likely have a tougher time, but it still may be worth trying.
Whether you think you can get extra money or not, be sure to get your annual review. This is the best way to identify the skills your boss believes you need to develop to earn a raise or a promotion, if not now, when the economy eventually improves.
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