Four Red Flags In Side Hustling That I Wish I’ve Known Sooner

#1 If clients avoid negotiating pay from the beginning, leave

Photo by Usman Yousaf on Unsplash

Remember when you closed your first business deal? Ah — the good ol’ times.

For most of us that work in the side-hustle world, I’m sure you have realized that your first clients can either make or break you. It is especially true in the services sector. Whether you are a writer, designer, or software developer, clients expect good results and good manners, and excellent negotiating skills.

In any case, both client and provider should walk away with a big smile on their faces. Well, maybe not literally, but you get the point.

But my early side-hustling years were not filled with big smiles. On the contrary, I made a lot of mistakes in most of my early side-hustling career. I wasn’t the sharpest tool in the box back then, but it was a learning experience nonetheless. I learned to avoid these four red flags in business. Some might seem obvious, but new guys tend to get it wrong.

Red flag #1: If clients avoid negotiating pay from the beginning

Ah yes, the classic “We can talk about it later.” Uhm, no, we can’t talk about it later.

Pay negotiations are essential, especially in the services sector. When you are asked to help out another person, you have to negotiate your time. There is no “universal” price on how much your time is worth. Only you can decide what your time is worth, period.

I learned about this one a little too late. Let me tell you a story. When I first got into the social media management business, it was by accident. A friend offered me the position. He was initially offered but declined because he was going to study overseas. The thought of working on social media seemed fantastic at the time, so I took up his offer and called up his boss.

We met up in a restaurant near my place, and he sold me his business idea. He told me that I needed to post at least three times a week, design the posts myself, and write the captions. Yeah, I pretty much had to think about the content myself too. It sounds like a daunting experience, but to be fair, it wasn’t. At least for me.

I was confident in my social media skills, good design skills, and I didn’t mind writing captions in English. The talk went so fast because the guy ended the meeting because he had to leave. I asked about the pay, and he said not to worry as I would be compensated fairly.

I stayed quiet.

Oh, poor naive me, I can already imagine the comments section grilling me, saying it was my fault. I concur. It was my fault. Well, partly my fault. To this day, I have worked with many people, and most people have fair pay. Sure, I had to negotiate, but there were instances where I hadn’t learned the art of negotiation and still got a fair amount (compared to the prices on the internet).

Now, this red flag does not mean that we should reject doing business with the client altogether. Because it is also our job as providers to give the expected compensation amount, it’s just a reminder that we can’t rely on the kindness of others during the business. Business is business. If you can get cheap help, wouldn’t you take it?

Back to the story, I ended up working for two months as a social media manager, creating content three times a week. In the end, when the timeframe was over, the boss and I had a meeting. He calculated the price he is willing to give me afterward, and all I can say is, the cost of one week’s worth of content is less than you need for take-out.

I tried to say something about it, but I failed to negotiate. The deals have been done, I already did my time, and the choice is up to me to take it or leave it. I felt dumbfounded. Walking home disappointed, I learned a valuable lesson. Negotiate before you use your time.

Sure, this sounds obvious, while in reality, some of us are too shy to ask how much we want. I am not afraid to admit that I was one of those people. But I am grateful it ended up as a wake-up call for me rather than being a reason for me to quit.

Red flag #2: Partners changing plans without your consent

Reading the title of this section, you might think, so what’s the problem?

The problem doesn’t lie like changing plans in and of itself. But the problem lies in what follows and the patterns that I noticed when these things happen.

A few years ago, I was still a freshman at Uni when one of my old pals hit me up and said he had a gig for me. He knew I needed the gig because I was in dire need of money for tuition. “It would be a four-man job,” he said. He asked two of our other friends to join in. We were supposed to do a pre-wedding shoot.

The four of us have been on jobs together before, and the working experience was great. I thought it would be another smooth job like the rest, but for some particular reason, this isn’t it.

I have no photography skills whatsoever. My talent lies in design and computer magic for the most part. One day, this friend of mine asked me to accompany him for the photoshoot. I said that I had class an hour later and was able to stay for a little bit. He said it was okay.

We planned to meet up at some fancy restaurant, but he was a no-show. The last thing I know, the photoshoot has been moved to some beach fifteen kilometers away. It was sudden, and the time needed to go from the restaurant to the beach was about an hour. So I decided to call in and say that I couldn’t make it.

He sounded like he had no issues with it — or so I thought. The following week, when the down payment arrived, the boys called, we had a chat, and we agreed that we use my account to keep the money. I said, alright, it’s okay. A few days later, they asked me to transfer the money back to one of their accounts. “Weird,” I thought. Why would they give me the money, only to take it a few days later?

Two red flags over there. The first one was the sudden change of location, and this was the second one. I should’ve read the signs and bounced.

Because they ended up not calling me again, suddenly, the project was finished, and I was like, “Umm… great job?”. I asked, so what could I get out of this, but they ended up saying I don’t deserve anything. They didn’t give me anything to do. I was usually the design guy, but they said that they decided to do it themselves.

They said, “Hey, you know what, we are going to take the profits. Maybe we can “spare” you some.” Now, tell me, what’s “spare” supposed to mean? So you are telling me that you recruit me for a job, and you end up deciding to do it yourselves cause you can.

Look, I don’t want free money, and I am not a victim here. All I am trying to say is if you change plans and end up kicking me out because you “got it,” why should I work with you again in the first place? Sure, I didn’t do much. I admit to that.

But, at least have an honest conversation about it. Don’t kick me out unanimously.

I don’t know what to say. I am completely speechless. Here are my “friends” who kicked me out of a project because they felt that they were enough. Mind you, they never discussed anything with me, and in the end, they unanimously kicked me off the board. It’s a waste of my time.

Red flag #3: Clients seem not as invested as you are

There was this one time that I was asked to design a logo for a client of mine. It was a simple logo. He needed it for his new restaurant.

We met at a cafe, he gave me the details, and he asked for a price. I already learned to negotiate the price beforehand, and we ended up having a lengthy discussion on why I wanted to be compensated that much. He didn’t agree to my initial price and negotiated way lower than I would like to.

Then I started asking more profound questions. The client said he just wanted a logo, but they don’t understand why they need it.

Then and there, I decided, “Nope, I’m out.” I’m not going to waste my time with someone to tell them why their logo is essential. Because, first of all, it is not my logo. It’s theirs. Second of all, if you don’t feel like you need to pay me “that much” for a logo that you think is “easy to make,” I don’t think you even need one.

To say that the conversation went wrong is an understatement. I should’ve known because when I was trying to make small sketches, the only thing in the client’s mind was to keep bargaining for a lower price. Honestly, they have a right to want an excellent logo for dirt cheap. But I also had the privilege to reserve my services.

Sadly, clients like these are not that rare. I have multiple acquaintances that ask me to design things for them and usually bargain at a meager price. They keep saying that what they are asking is “easy to make.” Well, if it is easy, why not do it yourself?

It pains me to waste time with these kinds of people, so when someone offers me a job for a very low price. I usually end the conversation right there. Nothing needs to be said. No time needs to be wasted. Just move on.

Red flag #4: When you feel contempt with your partner/team

This one might be controversial.

When I was younger and inexperienced, I often joined my friends in their creative ventures. Usually, I was the least informed about the situation. This was due to my lack of experience in the creative world. Thus, it was always up to my colleagues to explain specific jargon or how we would go about our business.

Honestly, it was an excellent way to start. But, you cannot stay like that forever. If you continue to be clueless and ask too many questions, some people might feel annoyed and think of you as “freeloaders” even though you were trying to do your job.

You might say the obvious solution to this is to “work harder.” But the fact of the matter is, sometimes people can’t keep up with the times. Some people learn slower/faster than others. It is what it is.

I seem to notice that at times we are strict towards strangers but are lenient when it comes to friends. This is, of course, caused by the feeling of connection other than business. But, this tendency can also lead to a negative conclusion. The leniency given to us based on friendship will slowly turn into contempt. It fuels irrational decisions not to say what you need to say but more of what we think our “lacking” friend wants to hear. In the end, we lose our professionalism because we are afraid to lose some friends.

Though, I will not go as far as to stereotype the entire friend-based partnerships. It is just a good thing to note.

This is why I prefer working with professionals rather than friends. I say “professionals” because, in the workplace, we are not “friends” per se. Even though we behave in a friendly manner towards each other, we’re just being polite. In the end, by being professionals, we can be rational about the good and the bad, and finally, build a relationship of trust.

In my personal experiences, the people I work well with are some people I am excited to meet. Not because of our friendly relationship, but because of our pre-defined mutual respect and trust. Thus, the central premise behind this red flag is that we need an environment of trust in a good team.

So, when you start feeling contempt towards the other person, try to remind yourself to talk about it with the person later. Otherwise, leave. No business is worth you feeling contempt. It will only worsen the situation.

Final Words

These are the four hardest lessons I had to learn when trying to do my side hustles. I admit that these are rookie mistakes, but sharing these red flags might help some people start their side hustling careers on a good note.

The four red flags are:

  • If clients avoid negotiating pay from the beginning
  • Partners changing plans without your consent
  • Clients seem not as invested as you are
  • When you feel contempt with your partner/team

When you spot one of these red flags, I suggest you try to address the problem directly or leave the project altogether. Remember, no side hustle is worth your mental wellbeing.

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Agustinus Theodorus

Agustinus Theodorus

Loves to share his thoughts and opinions on the internet.

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