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Podcast 171: Kimberly Palmer, The Economy of You

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I’m a reluctant entrepreneur, but I’ve learned to be less self-conscious about the fact that this is the designation society has given to me as someone who started his own business. While many people after, but also before, the recession have started side businesses to improve their financial security, for me, a hobby turned into a profitable and enjoyable way to spend my time.

But entrepreneur was always a dirty word to me, even after I came to the realization that I was, in fact, an entrepreneur. The word hustle is now associated with side businesses, but a hustle is a con, a scam. These words have always had the connotation of being less than forthright in business, using deceptive practices to get a customer or mark to part with his or her hard-earned money.

Entrepreneurship has a rich history in the United States, considering this is a country of immigrants, and every batch of latest immigrants has a hard time finding acceptance in traditional jobs, and language and cultural barriers often keep communities looking within for business.

Self-employment as a result of side businesses is a growing trend, but not necessarily due to immigration. This is the focus of Kimberly Palmer’s new book, The Economy of You: Discover Your Inner Entrepreneur and Recession-Proof Your Life. Kimberly is the money editor and Alpha Consumer blogger for U.S. News & World Report, and I’ve had the great pleasure of working and speaking with her over the past few years. She joined me recently to discuss the theme of her latest book.

Continue reading this article to listen to the audio or to find a link to download the audio for later. You can also subscribe to the podcast in iTunes. Visit Kimberly’s website at ByKimberlyPalmer.com.

Luke: Today on the Consumerism Commentary Podcast, I speak with Kimberly Palmer, the author of The Economy of Your.

Luke: Welcome to the Consumerism Commentary Podcast. I’m Luke Landes, and my guest today is Kimberly Palmer, senior money editor and Alpha Consumer blogger at U.S. News & World Report. Kimberly’s new book, The Economy of You: Discover Your Inner Entrepreneur and Recession-Proof Your Life, hits stores in January.

Kimberly, welcome back to the podcast.

Kimberly: Hi, Luke, thank you for having me.

Luke: Absolutely! It’s my pleasure. Let’s talk about entrepreneurship, a topic you focus on in your book. Entrepreneurship in the United States isn’t new; it’s always been a part of American society, especially for later immigrants for whom traditional jobs were not available for a variety of reasons.

But lately there seems to be a surge of entrepreneurship across the board. Do you think that more people are starting their own businesses?

Kimberly: I do, and I think your point is such an interesting one because you’re right. Historically, having a side gig, or moonlighting as it was traditionally called, was really something that was secretive and done by people on the edges of society. It was almost seen as something to be ashamed of or embarrassed about.

And now, I think what we’ve seen over the last decade or so is a real blossoming of side gigs. And it’s been brought into the mainstream, and it’s something to be celebrated. And that’s what I found when I looked back historically at how newspapers and magazines wrote about side gigs and side businesses over the twentieth century. It was written about usually in a negative way, people breaking the law by doing side gigs because they’re public officers and they shouldn’t be doing it ethically.

And then over time, it’s been talked about in an increasingly positive light. So now what we’re seeing is that having a side gig or a side business is something really positive. It’s a way to build your career, especially when you’re first starting out or when you’re in your thirties or forties and you want to add more income to your life, and then as you approach retirement and you’re looking for a game plan to still be working while also scaling back. Throughout all those stages of life, it’s now something really positive and something we’re celebrating.

Luke: The words we use today to talk about owning a business whether it’s a side job or not used to have a negative connotation. Entrepreneur is one of these words. I hear the word hustle used a lot, and that always reminded me of some kind of shady business, where a sleazy salesperson uses lies to take advantage of as many customers as possible, for as much money as possible, as quickly as possible. A hustle was a “con,” a scam, but now it’s a good thing.

I was forced to shift my mindset after starting my own business and people started calling me an entrepreneur. Am I right that there was at some point some kind of shift in connotation?

Kimberly: No, I think you’re 100 percent correct, and that’s what I think is so interesting. Because now, almost everyone is an entrepreneur in some way or another. I think culturally we really embrace it. If you look at the kinds of shows we watch and that are popular right now, all the way from the Real Housewives, Kim Kardashian to the TLC cupcakes and baking shows, it’s all celebrating entrepreneurship.

I think that we’ve really seen this huge shift in how we see entrepreneurs. And now, being entrepreneurial is such a positive thing, we see it celebrated all over the place, even in the movies. Once I started noticing this, I started seeing it everywhere. The movie, Bridesmaids for example, that was so popular a couple years ago. That centers around a woman who tries to get her bakery off the ground and eventually finds a way to do that at the very end.

It’s everywhere in our culture, and I think it’s also a reflection of the economy, and how we do need to be more creative in how we make money and how we create job stability for ourselves, beacuse none of us can depend on having our current job, if we have a full time job at all, forever.

Luke: Through all of your research interviews with entrepreneurs to prepare for writing The Economy of You, have you seen trends in self-employment tied to the economy? Is the recession responsible for the increase?

Kimberly: It absolutely is. Even though at first, I was expecting to find that as the economy goes down or is suffering or sluggish, that entrepreneurship would go up as people looked for more solutions to their own financial hardships. But actually, what you find if you look at the statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics is the opposite.

As the economy is booming, people see more opportunities and they jump at the chance to start their own business. So we see the opposite effect, where when the economy is booming we see more people launching side businesses because they see those opportunities. So now as the economy is starting to turn around and grow, we’ll see even more growth in the side business world, too.

Luke: If that’s the case, how does job security play a factor in seeking out other opportunities beyond traditional employment?

Kimberly: On an individual level, as people struggle to find financial security for themselves, and feel like they can sleep at night knowing we can’t count on our jobs for sure, people turn to side gigs and side businesses to find their own financial footing and give themselves that back-up plan or that reassurance.

Luke: Of the entrepreneurs who have seen success with their own businesses and are working for themselves or their own businesses full time now, did many start out small with side gigs instead of starting full-time on their business ideas?

Kimberly: Yes, and that’s what was so fun for me about writing this book. It took me a couple years to write this book, so I got to follow people through their side business growth. A lot of people started out when I first interviewed them, they were doing it on the side. It was almost like a hobby.

One man was creating custom cakes on the side after he worked in a deli all day. By the time I was wrapping up my book and I was reaching back out to people to get updates and see how they were doing, about a third of them had actually quit their full-time jobs and were running their side businesses full-time. So those side businesses turned into full-time, thriving businesses.

That was really great to see because you can see how much growth potential there is even if you start out doing something as a relatively small undertaking.

Luke: When entrepreneurs start their side gigs, or a hobby begins to be more like a business, how discreet do they have to be? Are employers generally OK with employees’ working on their own business if they don’t interefere with the day job?

Kimberly: That’s such a good question because almost everyone worries about this. It comes down to what your full-time job is and if there are ethical rules that you have to follow, because you have to be so careful about that. Your full-time job is what’s paying the rent and the mortgage, so you want to always make sure to protect that. If you’re someone working in a sensitive position, in the federal government for example, or at a tech company, you usually have to be extra careful about this.

Even though that’s the number one concern, what I actually found when I interviewed people about how they work their side businesses into their lives, is that so many people find a way to convince or show their full time jobs that their side business is a positve thing, that everyone benefits from it.

One example is this woman, Alicia Williams, who is an aspiring Olympic athlete. She’s also a CPA or a financial officer at a big company. Her company is so proud of what she does, even though it means they have to schedule meetings around her racing schedule. She has to leave work early and at lunch time, to run, to practice, to train. But she has made the case successfully that it’s a good thing for everyone to have an aspiring Olympic athlete at the company.

That’s an extreme example, but there are all sorts of ways you can convince your boss that it’s a good thing you’re learning skill outside. That’s what happened with my Etsy shop. I have an Etsy shop of money planners, and it’s taught me so much about entrepreneurship, I’ve leared new technical skills, and now I bring all that to my full-time job at U.S. News & World Report. It’s a win-win.

So if you can find a way to leverage that and make sure everyone is benefiting from what you’re doing on the side, then you can minimize a lot of those conflicts.

Luke: I’m glad you brought up Palmer’s Planners, which you designed, and that was our topic for the last time we spoke on the Consumerism Commentary Podcast. Was that a side project for you while working for U.S. News & World Report?

For the rest of the interview, listen to the podcast.

Updated January 17, 2014 and originally published January 13, 2014. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

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