Stop Selling Your Side-Hustle Short!

A recent Craigslist ad has spurred my ire.

As I’ve mentioned previously, my main side-business (out of many) is face-painting. It was my first paying job eleven years ago, and I’ve stuck with it ever since. However, it’s only within the last year I’ve decided to treat it like a business. I took a deep dive into the nebulous world of online marketing and advertising, and it’s paid off. Face-painting is not my main income, but it’s a good chunk of change each month. Which, for something that’s fun and only about six hour’s worth of work per month, I’ll take it.

But, I wouldn’t be glowing if I hadn’t very quickly figured out:

Your side-business is only worth your time and effort if you stop selling yourself short.

Otherwise, it’s not a side-business, it’s a hobby. I’m certain I’d land a metric f**k-ton of face-painting gigs if I were 100% more willing to 1) travel farther to events, and 2) charge less. In fact, I did exactly that to build up my online presence on gig-generating sites like The difference is, once I was established, I tightened my travel radius and upped my rates.

What inspired my wrath this post is something I saw recently on Craigslist: a lady was advertising her face-painting services. It was about three sentences long, no external link, zero pictures, and didn’t exactly smack of professionalism. It came across more as something she wanted to do for pocket change and fun rather than running it like a business, which is fine. However, she offered her services at only $20 an hour.

I think I actually gasped.

Theatrics aside, my gut reaction was something catty like, “Whoever hires her will get what they pay for,” but that might not be entirely accurate. Maybe this woman is an amazing face-painter, and that would be worse. A client who hired her or at least saw her advertised price will then wonder, “Why bother paying $100/hour or more for the same services from someone else?” By massively underselling herself, she’s selling every other face-painter short, too.

My side-business of isn’t a race to the bottom, and neither is yours.

This post isn’t a defense for the costliness of a face-painter, but I’m using it as an example to illustrate the take-away points.

A Case Study: Why $20 an hour for a face-painter is laughable:

Consider the time spent on:

  • Finding clients, pitching to them (if you use sites like Thumbtack), communicating and finalizing details with them. Being on standby for the inevitable last minute changes.
  • Preparing for the event:
    • Cleaning/sanitizing, organizing, and packing all needed paints and supplies.
    • If there’s a theme: researching it and planning out designs†
    • Packing your car, asking Siri where to go, mapping out the directions, and driving there.
  • Setting up your area at the event.
  • Actually painting faces.
  • Extra time spent painting faces if you’re like me and never manage to leave an event on time.††
  • Cleaning up and wrangling the event host for payment.
  • Driving home.
  • Sanitizing, cleaning, and organizing your kit for your next event (if you’re good and do it right away).

And the money spent on:

  • The recurring fees of a business license and liability insurance (in the U.S.)
  • TAXES (again, in the U.S., though I’m sure other countries have their own applicable taxes on freelancers)
  • Purchasing paints and supplies beforehand.
  • Replacing paints and supplies afterward.
  • Gas money.
  • Advertisement costs (which are none if you’re exclusively advertising on Craigslist, I suppose).

My last face-painting gig was two hours long. So, at $20 per hour, let’s start with the $40 I would have been paid.

  1. After taxes, it would be about $35.04 net.
  2. I have a gas guzzling car, and I estimate around $7.23 in fuel costs. That lowers it to $27.81.
  3. I didn’t have to buy any extra supplies for this party, but I spent about $4 in credits on Thumbtack to bid on the job. That makes it $23.81. I also gave away a single business card, which actually works out to thirty cents, so we’re down to an even $23.51.
  4. The event itself lasted two hours, but the time I spent prepping and driving to and from made it a total of four hour’s worth of work.

In the end, that’s a paltry $5.82 an hour.

That’s only $0.67 more per hour than I made 11 years ago, when I was a teenager and working the face-painting booth at an orchard for $5.15 an hour. I love face-painting, but I don’t love it enough to work for less than (modern day) minimum wage.

Good thing I charge more than $20 an hour.

This brings me to my three points:

1. Your side-business is a specialty skill. It is not something that everyone can do OR not something that everyone can do as well as you can.
2. Your time is worthwhile, and you need to pay yourself for it.
3. Your rates should reflect both those points.

It’s easy to get jobs and gigs and business when you’re willing to travel far (if you don’t work remotely) and charge peanuts.  You’d better be working for the love of the job and the cost of materials, then, since you’re not building up a client base that is in any way profitable to you. Your clients might refer you to their friends, but their friends are going to expect those same awful rates and far travel distances.

Set your rates and stand by them. Don’t ever feel ashamed by them or feel the need to apologize for being “expensive”. I understand the shame and modesty – you like doing what you do, and you started your side-business because it was fun. You feel like making money off it seems like selling out and that you’re somehow negating your passion for it. I get it. I really do.

But mama’s got a mortgage.

You are worth more than five dollars an hour, and there are people out there who want the quality of your work and will pay for it.

And as for those who won’t, well… tell them to look on Craigslist. I’ve got a face-painter I can refer them to.


† This seriously eats up so much time for me. There’s so many kids’ shows out there today. Strike that – there’s so many goddamn Pokemon characters today. I don’t have children, so this is a concerted research effort for me rather than a passive intake of knowledge because of the shows my hypothetical kid would watch.

†† If other face-painters are reading this and somehow manage to leave an event by the agreed upon end time, tell me your secret! There’s always someone waltzing in late to the party as I’m packing up, carrying a cute little baby on their hip who needs a tiger face. I’m a sucker, I know, but I receive a tip 99% of the time, so whatever.


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