Until recently, I never thought of myself as an entrepreneur. Ever since college, I've worked in traditional journalism jobs at relatively large companies. I reported on small businesses, entrepreneurship and startups, but was never a participant.
That all changed about two years ago, when I created a line of money planners and started selling them online. I got the idea from someone I interviewed for an article about selling items on Etsy, an online marketplace for handmade goods. After speaking with her, I created some workbook-like planners of my own and uploaded them to the site.
What happened next taught me more about the world of entrepreneurship than I had learned in almost 10 years of writing about money. I had to quickly figure out how to market my little shop by reaching out to bloggers and other influencers. I taught myself how to use tools like WordPress and MailChimp to further promote my business. And I suffered through the inevitable frustrations and rejections that come from slow sales weeks or negative customer feedback. (Luckily, that only happened once.)
My experience left me convinced that almost everyone should consider launching their own side business today. Technology and new tools make it easier than ever to run a micro-business on top of a full-time job and other responsibilities, and a turbulent economy makes a secondary income stream, even a modest one, an essential part of overall financial security.
If you're still not convinced, here are five reasons why you should consider embracing your inner entrepreneur by starting your own side business today:
1. New tools make it easy to do.
Websites such as Elance.com, Freelancer.com and Fiverr.com make it simple to post your skills or talents online and find potential buyers for them. You can simply log in at night or on the weekend, set up an account for yourself and then start seeking clients or accepting offers. Social media in the form of Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook offer some of the best marketing tools to start getting word out about your new venture, and you can use them on your own time. The ease of online selling means that entrepreneurs no longer need tons of cash for start-up costs -- as long as you have an Internet connection and a PayPal account, you can be in business.
2. Full-time jobs don't offer any guarantees.
Gallup reports that the percentage of American workers concerned about a potential lay-off remains relatively high, at about 30 percent, according to a survey conducted in August 2013. Even higher percentages of Americans report being concerned about their benefits or wages being reduced. Since jobs don't come with guarantees, workers have to create their own, in the form of multiple income streams. That way, if one suddenly dries up, you have another one in place, ready to serve as your back-up plan.
3. Companies are increasingly open to "moonlighting" employees.
Operating a business on the side is becoming so commonplace that many companies are updating their official policies to clearly spell out the rules of what is, and isn't, allowed. Employees always have to be careful to avoid conflicts of interest with their day jobs, or doing anything that could be perceived as damaging their company or stealing clients, even on their own time. The good news is that companies increasingly see entrepreneurial employees as assets, not drags on their bottom line. That's because employees running side businesses are picking up new skills that they can then turn around and apply to their day jobs, too. Indeed, a 2012 survey from Millennial Branding, a generation Y research and consulting firm, found that 1 in 3 employers say they are looking for entrepreneurial experience in their new hires.
4. Side businesses can offer financial security.
Even if your side business earns a relatively modest amount, it can add up. Think of it as the reverse "latte factor," the term coined by money author David Bach to describe how much money gets wasted from small daily purchases. If you earn $200 a month from your side business, that's $2,400 a year. If you invest that money in an index fund that pays out 6 percent a year on average, you'll have more than $200,000 after 30 years. That's no chump change.
5. Everyone else is doing it.
Following the crowd isn't always the smartest move, but in this case, it is. According to a survey from the Young Entrepreneur Council, 35 percent of millennials have started a side business. Meanwhile, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that more than 7 million workers, or around 5 percent of the workforce, hold more than one job. For those with professional jobs and advanced degrees, the rate is over 7 percent. And those numbers probably undercount side-business owners, since BLS counts only those who say they had "more than one job" last week. Those who do just occasional freelance work would not necessarily be counted.
The vast number of people building side businesses means there is plenty of online support, resources and tools for those looking to join them. Launching your own business not only takes your finances to a higher level, but it also offers a incredible sense of empowerment and validation that's worth even more than the extra paycheck.
This article is excerpted from U.S. News money senior editor Kimberly Palmer's book, "The Economy of You: Discover Your Inner Entrepreneur and Recession-Proof Your Life," which comes out this month. Copyright © 2014 Kimberly Palmer. Published by AMACOM Books, a division of American Management Association, New York, NY. Used with permission. All rights reserved.