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Ask HN: How can I make an extra 30-50k a year?
75 points by jman1 on Apr 11, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 91 comments
Hi HN,

One of my goals this year is to increase my income by 30-50K. I am currently employed full time and am looking for guidance from the thoughtful and capable HN community on ways to do that. I can code and design. I have been part of a small team running a startup and have worn many hats on the technology and client facing sides. My biggest strength is to be able bridge business and technology. I can talk technology to non technical folks and talk business to technical folks.

Thanks for your help !!

If you can design, code, and talk business goals with non-technical people, it is highly unlikely that the W-2 rate paid by your current day job is in the near ballpark of what you'd reasonably expect to achieve by going into consulting at an appreciable fraction of full-time. Quitting your job and hanging your shingle as a consultant-who-solves-business-problems-with-technology will trade a lot of the certainty of your biweekly paychecks for more occasional payments on invoices which would blow your mind.

If you add the constraint "I want to keep my day job", then I'd suggest negotiating with them (and, er, not mentioning that you're unwilling to leave them prior to having that conversation).

There are many people who have, in recent memory, made appreciable fractions of your goal numbers by taking one service offering which they'd be really good at as a technologist -- say, designing iPhone apps or what have you -- and wrapping that service into a teaching product. There are a variety of form factors: book, video course, in-person training event, online webinar, yadda yadda. This does not get less viable if you mix substantial business expertise into the offering or your promotion of it.

If you want to execute on that, I'd start building up a mailing list of people who have given you permission to talk to them about $BROAD_OUTLINE_OF_YOUR_TOPIC post-haste. Virtually no plan for building products gets worse if you have 100, 300, 500, etc people who are willing to hear from you about it.

Let me put your point in plain words:

Consulting currently pays a lot of money. You can make 6 figures without much hassles. Don't quit your job to start consulting without having a group of prospect to sell to. Build your prospects list first, by doing content marketing and networking in site like linkedin.

If you want to take the business route, you can make that amount of money by automating tasks and selling the software. What should you automate? Everything that has to do with lead capturing is worth its zeroes and ones in gold. Start there.

Anything else?

Yes! Start blogging. About your skills. About your projects. Get people reading about you. Even if you don't have an idea at the moment, people will gravitate towards you and give you good ideas.

Whatever you do, realize that this will take time. At the very least, two months of work. Worth it? You bet!

Good luck.

The original point was put quite simply and your "summary" has messages the original didn't. Just seems a weird way of adding your own opinion as when you start with "let me put _your_ point in plain words," you imply that you are still keeping the point the same, just rewording it, not editorializing.

If you can, just meet with people. Sit down, talk about their problems, and how you can help them. Far more direct than blogging and hoping someone reads it.

I don't disagree with your point, but blogging has a purpose. Which is to define him/her as a an expert in the field. When you go in to a business meeting, your credibility plays a big part. Through blogging, you develop your credibility. Same as publishing a book (even if its self-published). Being a published author makes a huge difference. I've had people contact me from the other side of the planet asking for a consultation. All through books and blogs.

I used to do freelance web development on the side in addition to a full time job, and I pulled in the income numbers you're aiming for, but I must admit it was hell. There's little worse than coming home from a stressful 9 hour day at the office and realizing you need to work another 5 hours for a bitchy freelance client. Or telling your friends, no, once again, I can't come this weekend because I have to work.

If you can design and code then you've got more skills than I had (I am code only), so I'm sure with a little effort you could put together a decent side business. Just be prepared for the life sucking that comes along with working 100+ hours/week. But it isn't all bad, working for yourself, sometimes, provides its own satisfaction.

Eventually my freelance business grew so big I quit my full time job--that was always my goal and it is the reason I was willing to suffer so much at the beginning.

Probably the most common question. Where do you get clients?

I have two clients for some freelance and I do web application for them, earning me $19k over last 2 years ( plus $8k finishing in another month). They run their own businesses and they are very happy with them, but I am not sure how to expand past them. I don't think I will ever do it full time, but if I can choose the right gigs, could definitely be worth it.

I got all of my clients via word of mouth. It sounds weird on the surface, but honestly, as a web developer, I didn't even have my own website. I can't think of a single client who didn't approach me first.

I guess it is a bit of a chicken and egg problem, but there's always a way to get those first couple clients. Reach out to your personal network, everyone knows someone who needs a website. Price the first couple of jobs cheap, do good work, and your name is bound to get passed around. Also after you build your first dozen sites, many of them are bound to require maintenance--eventually you end up with fairly consistant work even if you aren't closing new deals all the time.

After a year or so I had enough work to support me full time, and after 2 years I had enough work to bring on a second person.

You didn't state your current salary. If you are making $40k and want to make an extra $30-50k the answer will be very different than if you make $250k and want to make an extra $30k.

My suggestion. Hire a maid. That will save you 8 hours a week. She (yes I'm sexist it will be a she) will make $15 an hour and work 4 hours saving you 8-12 hours. You can work at Radio Shack and earn $22 an hour. Working 12 hours a week that will make you $13k. Use your discount to buy things you were going to buy anyway save another $4k a year. That is 17K and you will have only spent $3k to get that. Netting you $14k for the year. If you want $30k double your hours to 20 hours a week.

Who spends 8-12 hours a week on housework, and $4000 a year at Radio Shack? I'm running through ridiculous scenarios in my mind to hit those numbers. I think I've just been nerd-sniped.

Weird, I did this exact thing, down to the numbers, but I was young and irresponsible with my money and just wound up buying $15K worth of Radio Shack batteries that I haven't been able to unload.

This was an odd post. And nobody at any radioshack makes anywhere near $22 an hour.

The manager doesn't make anywhere near $22 an hour? Really? That's lousy even by retail standards.

"You can work at Radio Shack and earn $22 an hour"

You can't seriously expect persons to believe any of this is grounded in reality, can you? Retail wage earners do not make 22 dollars an hour, no matter how many terrible monster cables and extended warranties they shill.

I made $19 an hour at Radio Shack in 1997. I would hope things have adjusted since, but My exGF made $26 an hour working at Ann Taylor. You can totally make $40k a year equivalent in retail.

Clarifying a bit, were either of you a (very) part time worker? It's not impossible to make 40k a year in retail, but not in seasonal, disposable employment.

Sure you can. Key Holders, and shift managers earn this part time in limited shifts. When I worked at Radio Shack I was in High School and earned because of commission.

My ExGF did well because it was a part time job and she was Very over qualified. She did a lot of tasks that required managerial experience, like supply re-orders, scheduling, time sheet reconciliation.

I actually almost took a Gig as a 20 hour a week Regional Manager for Ann Taylor when a gal was pregnant and wanted to cut her hours. I'd have been at $35 an hour and mostly doing administration tasks.

Similarly Geek Squad at best buy pays $25 an hour for MCSE's . Car Audio shops pay $35 an hour for qualified installers. There are lots of fill in and week end shift jobs that pay well.

If you are looking to supplement income you can't do better than working Holidays. Time and a half or double time for working days others don't want to adds up fast.

Do you start off as a key holder/shift manager? Or did you both start out making much less?

Now, with regards to Geek Squad and Car Audio shops, they rarely want a weekend and nights person, they want someone who ~needs~ the job.

It's possible if you stick them out, but I can't imagine people who don't want to put in years can just jump into these well above minimum wage gigs as easily as you claim.

That's where knowing if the person is a $100k employee or a $40k employee matters.

If you are a manager at a Fortune 500 company and looking to moonlight, yeah you start out as a Manager/Key holder.

If you are a peon at a mom and pop shop you won't.

How do you look in lingerie?

On a serious note, never stop looking for the next job. If it comes up, move. It'll add more stress to your life, but not only will you learn more about software, you'll learn more about how organizations work and what you can do to maximize your perceived value to the company.

Thanks, you just made me spill my drink.

What is your full-time job? How long have you been there? Does your boss trust you? Is there a way you can contribute more value to your current employer? For example, is there an important but difficult project waiting for someone to step up and take ownership? Or do you have an idea for a side project that if you successfully implemented it, would improve your efficiency or even that of your entire team?

Promotions and raises are more likely to come when you "step up to the plate" and show how much value you can create. And then you can simply ask to be rewarded accordingly. If you really did your boss a solid, and he's a good manager, he will recognize it and might even give you a pay bump without you even having to ask.

If your boss shoots down your ideas, or lets you implement them and then doesn't recognize them or takes all the credit for them and rewards you with nothing, then update your resume and move to another place where your value may be appreciated.

I would say not having a goal of "increase my income by 30-50K" might be a start.

Moneys not everything, it probably shouldn't be a goal.

Instead by focusing on making yourself happy you'll be better off and probably be earning more.

Just a theory.

You know, I'm about to rant on an ideal that I hold. So what about money? Money is everything if you think about it. The second you stop having money is the second you are on the street without anything. So money is something.

You can go through and live in a decent house with a decent car and you'll be happy if you make yourself happy but I just don't see how people can argue that money doesn't make you happy or happier. I get that in and of itself if you fuck yourself over and you don't keep your friends or family or kids and you work so much that you will be unhappy even with money, but money can make you happier even if its indirectly. You may be one to sit at home and do nothing on the weekends and I get that, but having money allows you to go out and experience things. It buys experiences that you normally couldn't have.

Having no money does limit what you can do in life. The case can be made that you are happier not doing things but I think if you are the least bit adventurous money can buy you pleasure, joy, experiences shared with loved ones, and in the indirect result happiness. I believe family and friends are more important, but saying money should't be a goal is just silly in my opinion. Why not have both as the girl on the taco shell commercial would say?

With no money there is a slew of problems that come your way..late rent, bills, struggling to always be on top, etc. With a lot of money I'm sure there are issues as well..but I'm pretty positive you can't find anyone that has a lot of money that has good relationships that would trade their large bank account to gain more happiness and be more free. If it's not your personal goal then that's your decision and your life.

I'm NOT saying that chasing money should be your only goal. Working crazy hours in a field you don't like while ruining relationships is not healthy and isn't good. But strategically gaining money by working hard and smart and taking risk isn't such a bad thing. I'm a big believer in doing what you love and being the best at it and getting money that way, I'm not a fan of getting a degree in a field and working your life in that field just because of the money.

Happiness starts with you and ends with you. Whatever you surround yourself with should be things that make you happy. It's also not relative. Having more money shouldn't just make you automatically happier, but it should cut out some stress to let you be free to be happier and enable you to do more things that make you happy.


Money might not buy happiness, but poverty sure buys a ton of unhappiness.

One of my points exactly. :)

Empirical evidence shows money does make people more happy. But there's a lot of if's and buts.

It depends on current earnings and it also depends on what others around you earn and it levels off.

And it's not logical in any way. Halving your wage but then quartering everyone else would make most people more happy (As per experiments)

Commute time for instance is something studies show people don't realise the negative effects on happiness. So earning ten grand more will make you more happy but if it increases commute time you could end up less happy overall.

And I think if you earn more but end up less happy you're more likely to waste the money on stuff or quitting your job or missing a promotion and many other things that might in the end make you earn less long term.

If you want more money and the happiness that goes with it I think don’t concentrate on the money.

Money basically buys you happiness up until the point it gets you out of poverty. After that, the money/happiness ratio seems to flatten out (ie, poverty causes much unhappiness).

I agree with this.


Maybe not quite the same thing as OP, but I've always been weary of chasing the money in this tech world. You manage to get some crazy good salary and now you're kinda stuck with "golden handcuffs". I personally am aware of 2 people who had comfy corp jobs, steady "mandatory" raises. Everything seems great. Then the year 2008 real-estate-bubble-burst happened and wiped them out. If the OP is very disciplined; living below his salary & keeping his skills sharp then I guess he'd be fine, but that's not how most people handle getting more money. I like to think I can handle it myself, but I have to admit that as the raises come, I find new concerns to make me buy yet another organic food/pillow/blanket/bottle/etc.

Stopping after the first sentence, you have a point: This is not what I'd call a well-considered goal. It's just a number... unless there's more to it than "I like 90 more than 60," it's lacking any kind of reason or direction, which might explain why he's having such a hard time figuring out how to attain it. A goal that you'll be able to reach comes from a need or desire you can feel and likely articulate.

As for the rest... "money isn't everything" is such a situational and personal sentiment as to be worthless, especially in the context of someone who expressly states that more money is one of his goals.

Ah, the 'zen' theory of investment and earnings increase!

It's your attachment to the concept of interest rates that is the source of your suffering.

You could start by putting your email address in your profile ;)

Mobile apps. Pick a few niches and research them and the apps. Slam out some MVP apps and see what sells. Go all-in on a bigger app in the best niche, even if you have to pay a developer and/or designer. Bonus: when you stop working on it, the app(s) keep making money for quite some time.

Subcontracting could get you part of the way there. If we assume you keep your full-time job and have a restricted number of extra hours to devote, you could probably handle a mid-size project where you're managing/overseeing/architecting while subcontracting to 1-2 other developers that you trust. Depending on your margin, you could hit that range. I'd recommend sticking to local developers in your circle that you can work well with, as opposed to off-shoring, which has a higher margin but a higher probability of backfiring. It'd work well for your skillset since a lot of freelance developers don't tend to market themselves aggressively, and are happy to be subcontracted to.

I did this for a few of my own freelance projects - it worked ok, although I also found that as a solo freelancer, the clients that were interested in hiring me tended to have budget restrictions that made them nervous to commit to sums of money that necessitated subcontractors. So it was an occasional thing for me.

Have you thought about possibly using your communications skills for profit via workshops? You could teach a business boot camp for techies that covers some common issues and pitfalls that tech folk may encounter on the road to developing a successful business.

I would suggest domain name and website flipping, particularly to someone with your skill-set.

http://www.quicksprout.com/2013/03/18/the-neil-patel-guide-t... http://www.dotsauce.com/2010/10/21/how-to-sell-domain-names/

Also, if you invest in generic term domains for the 2013-2014 GTLD landrush for quality extensions like .blog, .cars, etc. you stand to make a quick profit during the GTLD launches. Please do your research first, of course, I wouldn't want you to lose money.

Please don't listen to this guy and leave domains alone.

In my books, professional domain squatters are scum and the rules that unfortunately allow this should be changed. You should not be allowed to squat like that on a public resource that is scarce and getting scarcer, this is a net loss to everyone else (except maybe the registrars, which are in on it).

On other websites, many commenters seem to have a sister who is unemployed, but makes $87/hr on the computer - up to $12345 per month, in just a few hours. Perhaps you could look into one of these schemes.

"I can talk technology to non technical folks and talk business to technical folks." This sounds like you haven't chosen your base yet.

No, he's describing consultancy.

Buy bitcoin while everyone else is selling ;-)

Please don't do this. This is the worst advice here.

It's great advice, but mostly for Nym's speculative hobby.

Teach courses. Udemy, Skillshare, etc. If you're in a big city, see if the co-working spaces also offer classes, then you can go teach there.

You may not realize it, but relative to ten years ago, you know a lot more, so put that knowledge in an ebook or course and sell it to people ten years younger than you.

Build mobile or web apps.

I'm surprised no one mentioned investing. You can make decent money from investing if you have the time to do the research.

And an understanding of how accounting/finance is better than being to do all the math since many of the stock information websites help you out with any kind of information you want to know.

Also using programming you can grab data from sites using Yahoo API or other APIs or simply webscraping(if they allow it) and produce your own tests on market information to prune information for resulting trades.

1. Job hop 2. Contracting 3. Consult 4. Kickstarter for something ??


(1) ebook : business 101 for programmers, (2) a micro start-up, (3) ebook: pickup something new (a hobby) and blog about it and work hard to make the blog sucessful

and get stuck in endless cycle of learning and buying more ebooks

Job hop to a larger company and get a more senior title.

I think OP you are on the right track trying to leverage your skills in one area by applying them to another.

I'm in the process of transitioning from IT to Law. This obviously takes longer than a year and it's certainly not for everyone. However I expect to be able to use my technical background (though not expertise per se) in legal work.

Night manager at McDonalds.

Depending on your geographic location, this could be a lot of fun and really open your perspective. I've considered moonlighting as something similar to this (minus all the American Beauty connotations).

write a HFT bitcoin bot

The exchanges charge 0.5% per trade. This isn't feasible once you look at the numbers.

Why wouldn't it work if the spread was high enough?

Sure. It would also help if the exchange took less than 10 minutes to execute trades.

Exactly. I'm writing a (low-frequency) arbitrage program in Clojure for fun, but the long confirmation time for BTC and the inability to move non-BTC currencies between exchanges greatly limits this in practicality.

1) Think of a SaaS Product 2) Build SaaS Product 3) ??? 4) 30-50k/yr

oh that's your answer to everything. ;)

Find paid speaking gigs.

Start by asking for a raise, a 15 minute conversation can usually net you a decent chunk of change.

After you get your raise phone some recruiters, ask for more from the new company.

If you get a raise and another offer you've probably got your 30k.

This is the easiest and most foolproof option. But reverse fleitz's chronology: first get another offer, then go talk to your boss.

Edit—To imsofuture's point below: Yes, come to your employer with another offer that you would actually take, but with a real preference to stay (otherwise, just go). Ask for a raise, and if the discussion doesn't go anywhere, describe the decision you face between more money elsewhere and a preference to stay if the money were not a differentiator.

This is not extortion, and a reasonable employer will not treat it as such. It is the way you find out what you're worth and get paid commensurately. Changing jobs is not the only way to get a raise, and it's certainly not the best way—for you or for your employer.

Don't do this. Well, do this, but don't use your offer as a negotiating chip -- use it as a backup plan if you don't get a raise.

You will be the first up against the wall if you accept a counter offer to stay.

Not up against a wall. You'll be out the door as soon as your replacement is trained. You'll probably be the one doing the training, too. And then instead of your income going up, it'll go down to zero.

Have either of you witnessed this happening in real life? There's always a comment to this effect in every "raise" question I've ever come across, but never have I seen any proximate information.

It definitely does! Take it from someone who's been responsible for giving the layoff list to HR as well as being a small business owner. Business leaders look at developers as a commodity. Why do you think so many companies still hold Java in such high esteem?

I don't doubt that out-of-band raises can put someone over the cost-line such that they'd get the axe at layoff time, but I think that's different than the company gunning for them as soon as they give a raise in response to a cherry-pick offer to the employee, to be actively hiring for this person's replacement ASAP.

First hand, it happens. Not every CEO is a wonderful caring person, and some can get very vindictive when it appears that an underling is threatening the operation of their company by (in their view) holding the job hostage for more cash.

More charitably, by talking about offers from other companies, you are indicating to them that your continued employment is in question. Businessmen like predictability. So from that perspective, when they see you have one foot out the door, it makes sense to alleviate the uncertainty by getting the other foot out the door and bringing in somebody who seems more predictable.

I'm not saying any of that stuff, I'm just asking about your first sentence, which is like every instance where someone makes the bald assertion that it happens, but I've never heard of it happening. So far I'm thinking it's just a myth.

Yes, first hand. Don't do it :)

I agree with this wholeheartedly. And anyway it's not necessary. First you get the offer. Then you go to your boss and say "Look, I'm not really happy with my current situation. The market supports a larger salary than you're paying me."

That's a threat, sort of. But it's veiled enough that your boss can give you a raise without feeling like you forced his hand. He can give you a raise without it being step one in a two step plan to get rid of you.

If he doesn't... well, then you take the other offer.

Check out the good book "Getting Past No" (the follow-up to "Getting to Yes") - this is called having your BATNA - Best Alternative to Negotiated Agreement and will help your position even if you don't have to bring it up, just having it in your mind could boost your confidence and help you ask for what you want

Fleitz' point is that switching jobs usually gets you a raise. Most people don't know how to avoid the "what is your current salary?" question, so the raise they get by switching jobs is pegged to their previous salary. Thus, get a raise first, then go fishing for another job. His point was not to get two raises from your current job!

Or just lie in response to the question.

If you can put "just" before "lie" then you're not taking this seriously, you've never found yourself really, badly lied to, or you have a serious dearth of ethics.

Don't lie. Deflect, even if it's bluntly. Saying "I don't believe that's relevant, but I will tell you how much I'd like to make" pretty much says "I'm underpaid" but also says "I know I'm underpaid and I expect better," which tells them something useful about you that you actually want them to know.

It's supplying an anchoring number, nothing to do with ethics.

Call it what you want; lying to a prospective employer means you no longer have any grounds to expect them to behave in an honest way. If you can't be honest with people you have no reason to expect honesty in return.

They won't see it that way when they do a little research and find your actual salary.

If my current company discussed my salary with anyone outside of my company or myself, there would be much larger problems. No reasonable company would be dumb enough to disclose personal information about one of their employees.

Now that I'd like to hear a story of it happening!

Or fire back by asking them what they make.

If only it was so symmetric.

Agreed with pash. You make it seem like the OP should ask for a raise, get it, then ask for another raise after getting more offers. No employer will look favorably upon asking for two raises in quick succession.

The first raise is leverage for the exit. If you have to get an offer before you can get a raise you should just take the offer.

Ahh.. That is fine.

Let me rephrase it as I understand it: ask for a raise. If you get it, then look to get another job where you can get an even higher raise. If you don't get that other job, then stay. If you don't get a raise in the first place, either stay or look for another job.

If you can get a raise and stay, why leave?

Leave because you don't like your job, or because you'd really rather being making more money elsewhere doing something else. If you like your job, give your employer a chance to pay you enough to keep you.

I don't think he was saying use the counter offer as a raise, I think he was saying use the first raise to leverage a higher offer from a perspective new employer.

On 50k, ask for raise, now on 65k. Ask new employer to beat current salary, offer of 80k.

Without the first raise you don't get to leverage a higher salary at the new job for the 30-50k op needs. And good luck getting 30k raise at the same job, that just doesn't happen.

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