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Hustling for a living

In Africa, nine in ten people don’t have secure jobs, and many are forced to take on extra work to make ends meet. This side hustle culture is fuelled by low education levels, a lack of skills and banks’ tough lending criteria, leaving people with little choice but to start their own businesses and to monetise their skills and hobbies in order to access more money.

Unlike in developed markets, where those with the security of a full-time job are able to pursue passion projects as a hobby, in Africa, side hustling has its roots in the informal economy and is often about survival.

Development economist Anzetse Were says the majority of Africans sit in the informal economy because the continent is yet to fully industrialise and benefit from the job-generation power of manufacturing.

The typically low remuneration of jobs in the formal sector is a major driving force behind Africans’ strong entrepreneurial mind-set. It’s also one reason why side hustling is common among those in high-paying, formal employment. Working a day job in order to financially support a side hustle is the status quo.

When opportunity knocks

Programmes like Microsoft’s 4Afrika initiative prioritise skills, access and innovation to empower African youth and entrepreneurs to turn their great ideas into a reality. It recognises small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) – which many side hustles become – as key to driving Africa’s long-term economic growth, social development and youth employability through government support and opportunity.

And when it comes to opportunities, it’s human nature to take them, says African economist Nonso Obikili. “It’s a human thing to want to do more, to create more, to earn more. Some just have more incentive and motivation than others. Incomes are a lot higher in established markets so the incentives for a second income are lower. In Africa, social, financial and job security are all incentives to establish side hustles. If the opportunity is there, people will take advantage of it,” Obikili adds.

Good things come to those who hustle

For some, it’s about more than opportunity. It’s a chance to establish themselves as entrepreneurs and to chart their own course in life – something 72% of young people in Africa want to achieve.

“The biggest advantage of starting a side hustle is that it gives the founder an opportunity to take risks while maintaining the stability and security of having a full-time job.”

Folayemi Agusto recently left her full-time, high-paying job to focus on growing her side hustle, Eat.Drink.Lagos, an online food and drink guide to Lagos.

Agusto and her partner didn’t start Eat.Drink.Lagos with the intention that it would make them money and one day become a business. They identified a gap in the market and started a blog to chronicle their adventures in the city. What started out as a fun project is now a thriving online community that hosts the popular bi-annual EatDrinkFestival.

EatDrinkLagos is Lagos’ premier food and drink guide, co-founded by Folayemi Agusto

“Not everyone who has a business on the side intends to leave paid employment. Many are just in it to increase their income and most side hustles are seasonal. With better access to credit, I believe there would be fewer side hustles because people would have other ways to access finance. On the flip side, the rest of the world can learn from Africa’s side hustle culture, that starting a short-term business by monetising one’s skills or hobbies is one way to reach their financial goals faster,” says Agusto.

The biggest advantage of starting a side hustle, she says, is that it gives the founder an opportunity to take risks while maintaining the stability and security of having a full-time job.

If you can dream it, you can do it
Developments in technology and the free – or cost-effective – availability of digital tools means you really have no excuse not to create something, and Agusto says she would not have a side hustle if it weren’t for technology.

“We wouldn’t have been able to start our blog by ourselves if we had to pay for a web developer. But because of services like Squarespace, WordPress and Wix, people like me, with zero experience, can build a website and start an online business. Technology also helps us to manage and schedule content, which is essential when it comes to balancing a side hustle and a day job,” says Agusto.

And therein lies one of the biggest challenges of juggling a full-time job and a side hustle.

“The hardest thing I struggle with is time management and decisive prioritisation,” says Agusto. “Your full-time job should always take priority because you made a commitment and you need to show up for that commitment. If you get to a point where your side hustle starts demanding more from you than your day job does, that is when you need to re-evaluate your priorities.”

She is proof that the tools and opportunities to turn your side hustle into your main hustle are out there and, once you’ve put in the time and effort, it is possible to earn a living doing what you love most. The only thing that stands between you and your dream is action.

The biggest challenge of juggling a full-time job and a side hustle is time management and prioritisation, says Folayemi Agusto.