The Evolution of the Side Hustle and How Gen Z Amps it Up

(all content originally posted on http://www.mediapost.com, written by Leah Perlmutter OMS Brand Researcher and Strategist)

What’s a side hustle? As a Millennial, I’m no stranger to peers who focus their energies on passions beyond their day jobs. Playing or writing music, making videos, baking cupcakes or blogging have become popular Millennial side hustles, which offer creative outlets aside from today’s insecure “traditional career paths” in an underwhelming job market. 

As a market researcher, my many conversations with Gen Z teens, the emerging generation that’s just appearing on brand radar, has shown how this mentality is shifting to embrace new side hustles. While Millennials created the “passion economy,” the next generation is dedicated to making their hustles work for them financially. 

Z Amplifies Millennial Traits

In many ways Gen Z is amplifying Millennial traits, from their openness to diversity, to their digital identities and capabilities, but Gen Z ideologies contrast with those of Millennials. Even though the oldest Gen Zers are still in their teen years, they are learning from the mistakes of Millennials and are determined to live better lives. 

For instance, while Millennials are known for their blind optimism and banking on passion to propel them to success, for Gen Z this is not enough. Zers are a pragmatic generation that focuses on passions they believe will ultimately pay off in their wallets. And, to help ensure success they make multiple plans; should plans A or B fizzle, they’re ready with plans C and D. 

Don’t Dream, Specialize

Gen Zers do not just dream about success, early on they are specializing to make their dreams real. While the participation trophy was a Millennial phenomenon, Gen Z is aware that they will need to work hard for what they want and master the necessary skills to attain their goals. From sports to the arts to academics, Gen Zers have adopted an air of professionalism unheard of among previous generations. The Cassandra Report recently found that 89% of 7-17 year olds spend their free time pursuing productive or creative activities instead of hanging out. They know that to succeed they will need a head start to find a niche where they can become better than the rest. 

Through their online prowess and eye for business, many Zs are already on the path to financial security. If they’re talented painters, can fix cars or computers, they curate Instagram accounts to market themselves. A flair for fashion trends, collectible sneakers or Transformers allows many to profit by buying and selling on eBay. Some go even further; we’ve interviewed high-schoolers, who straight out told us that they sell marijuana — taking pride in the act as a business venture. Such are the side hustlers of Gen Z. 

Ready for Any Future

Gen Zers are incredibly future-focused. Even as teenagers, they have no plans to end their side hustles when they land their first “real jobs.” Maybe they will be lucky enough to start a rewarding “traditional career” after graduation, but their cynicism tells them nothing is guaranteed or permanent so they stick to their side hustles to ensure that they’ve started on one or two of their plans to succeed.

They’d better have another idea, or two or three, to enable them to eventually monetize their passions. Perhaps they will be among the lucky whose passion early on becomes plan A. But again, they’ve seen how that’s not worked so well for Millennials, too many of whom have retreated to their parents' homes. They see multiple revenue streams as the best way to guarantee success — after all, wealth can take many forms — in an unstable economy that may turn on them at any time. 

Ultimately, Generation Z is keenly aware of the realities of the world in which they find themselves growing up, and they do not shy away from its’ challenges. Their devotion to side hustles shows that they are, creative, hard-working generation that will pose new challenges to marketers who fail to familiarize themselves with them while their brand preferences are still being formed.