4 things I learnt from my first side hustle

I love side hustling. I had my first one when I was 19. There was this American investor, Jonathan, whom I met at a college alumni event. He wanted to break into the Chinese medical device market and he didn’t know a word of Chinese, let alone about medical equipment in China. He was about to attend a conference in Beijing the following month and needed someone who could speak Chinese to set up a series of high-level meetings for him.

Sensing an opportunity here, I offered up my service as a 19-year old university student and told him frankly that:
  • I was a fluent Chinese speaker.
  • My parents had been bringing me to their business dinners ever since I was a kid so I knew how to appear professionally to be taken seriously.
  • I knew next to nothing about medical devices in China however my cousin was a doctor so I could pick her brain.
Over the next 2 weeks, whilst attending a language course in Barcelona, instead of going out every night for the daily fiesta, I spent every available hour outside the classroom writing meeting requests to anyone I could find at the Chinese Ministry of Health whilst speaking with my cousin and her colleagues to absorb as much as possible about the Chinese medical device market.
By the time Jonathan had landed in Beijing, he was already holding a 10-page market overview brief as well as having 5 meetings set up, one of which was with the Minister of Health himself. In return a £500-cheque was warmly received, which unfortunately got spent quickly on beer. On the plus side, I got to buy all my friends drinks on nights out and rapidly became the most popular figure in the school.
So what did I learn?

1. Side hustling felt so good

Truth be told, it felt bloody awesome! Before that gig I had mostly earned money via begging my parents or working in back-breaking jobs like being a waiter. To be able to sit in an air-conditioned room anywhere on the planet whilst earning some decent bucks felt incredible.

2. It’s not as hard as you think

I used to think having a gig was in the realm of grown-ups. I never thought that at the age of 19, someone was willing to pay serious money for what I was willing to offer.
Yet I was wrong. Someone did value my skills and was willing to pay for these skills.
So the next time you find yourself saying “I don’t have the skills” or “it’s too hard to do”, think again! Even better, write down a list of activities you do on a daily basis. They don’t even have to be things that you feel you are good at (I can be hardly called being good at communicating in business Chinese, I simply grew up with it). Chances are someone somewhere would be willing to pay for one of them.

3. Trading time for money still sucked, but to a lesser degree

After blowing that £500 on booze in Barcelona, I headed back to China. On the flight home, still high on the endorphin from earning my first “proper” buck, I started thinking about how to make more. My logic was quite simple:
  • £500 for about 10 hours of work
  • So that equated to about £50 per hour
  • Which meant I could make £1200 per day
  • Which meant I could make £438,000 per year.
  • Holy sh*t that’s a lot of money! WICKED!!!
But wait.
  • I needed to sleep
  • I needed to eat
  • I needed to drink beer and hang out with mates
  • I needed girls
  • I needed to chill
  • I needed to watch DVDs (Netflix wasn’t around then)
But I only have 24 hours in a day and 365 days a year. So that £438,000 figure was only a theoretical maximum if I had an endless supply of clients and didn’t do anything listed above. Obviously that was infeasible as I’d literally be a money slave!
Years later when I read Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki, I realised that what I was doing then was called trading time for money.
You can find a free PDF copy of the book here.
Like being a regular employees, I was dedicating my time and attention in exchange for payments. As illustrated above, this approach has serious limitations, most notably the total number of hours in a day that you could physically work. However I took solace in knowing that my hourly rate was at the top 10 percentile even at the age of 19, so that definitely made me feel better.

4. The learning curve was steep

To this date, my only regret was not having started side hustling at a younger age as it helped me to mature tremendously. Even during these 10 hours, I learnt how to craft professional emails, conduct business phone conversations, produce presentations and research reports in a concise and understandable manners, all of which were vital in enabling me to grow as an individual. These skills became invaluable in my later career.

Wrap up

I’m a firm believer that everyone should have a side hustle because it enables
  • Income stream diversification
  • Faster skills accumulation
  • Greater personal satisfaction.
What was your first side hustle? How did it feel afterwards? Please comment away.