Like many semi-nomadic tech workers, I’ve recently become interested the FIRE movement, not necessarily with the intention of retiring early, since I love my work, but with the option to have financial security and freedom from the constraints of having to work in the future.

One common approach to the wealth building phase of FIRE is the concept of a side hustle, a job that fits around the 9-5 and provides extra resources for savings and investment.

Early last year, I gave a lot of thought to the kind of side hustle that would make sense for me. My criteria were:

  1. It had to fit neatly around my full time job – I didn’t want to be in the position where I felt stressed juggling the two or trading one off against the other
  2. It had to be simple enough that it wouldn’t require any additional mental energy to complete – again I didn’t want to be in the position of sacrificing my commitment to one in favour of the other
  3. It had to pay enough to make the additional tax worthwhile, either by being infinitely scalable so that I could choose to invest more time in order to maximise output, or by offering a high enough wage in itself

The first side hustle I tried was sports umpiring. This fit my first criterion easily as games took place after work. I would arrive at a nearby venue with my whistle and scorekeeping app, then spend an hour or two sprinting up and down various South London sports halls trying to keep track and accurately administrate the play.

Although umpiring offered what I was looking for from a timing perspective, it didn’t meet my second or third criteria. It was much more difficult than I imagined it would be to see and mentally calculate gameplay in real time, even for the sports I knew well. For those I wasn’t so familiar with, it was even more challenging still. The pay was also minimum wage, which although higher in London, didn’t feel worth it for how stressed I felt at the end of each match.

The second side hustle I tried was freelance user research. Being freelance meant I could theoretically dedicate time to it on a schedule that suited me, it was something I knew well and could deliver value for my clients, and I set the pay so was able to calculate a rate that made sense for my goals.

Although this work certainly felt a better fit than umpiring, it eventually began occupying more space in my life and mind than I wanted. I found myself working late into the evenings and giving up numerous weekends, I felt annoyed when I received client emails outside of the times I’d committed to working with them and although the pay to output ratio was significantly more favourable than umpiring, I couldn’t simply leave the stress on the court and go home.

Finally, I found what’s since felt like the perfect solution – user research as a participant rather than a researcher via usertesting.com. As a participant, I can choose when I have a free slot and would like to participate in a test. As I’m invariably talking about my own experiences with everyday issues, I’m rarely required to do any advance prep, which means the time spent logged into the test is contained and if a topic suggests it might take more from me than I want to give, I can simply decline that instance. The pay is usually around $60 an hour, but it’s infinitely scalable and the scaling is even compounded overtime by the number of positive reviews you receive as you participate in a greater number of studies.

Having tried three different side hustle options in 2022, user testing as a participant with usertesting.com has been the most successful by far and I’m looking forward to reviewing its contribution to my financial goals in the summer, once my first year of participation is complete!