Rapper and TV personality Professor Green talks to us about side hustles

Katherine Denham
Stephen Manderson's side businesses have often served as a creative outlet

A business school isn’t where you’d expect to meet a famous rapper. But it is 2018, and stranger things have happened.

While Professor Green might not be an actual qualified professor, he’s got plenty to say – and he puts everything so eloquently, intellectually, almost lyrically.

This is a man from a tough working-class background who is now a successful musician with two hit albums. And ultimately, he’s got where he is today not just by making music, but by pursuing other projects – such as making documentaries, opening a nightclub, launching a clothing range, and promoting a mental health awareness campaign. He even had a stint selling weed back in the day, but let’s move on from that.

At your inconvenience

Running a secondary business while holding down a stable job is a movement which has been dubbed “side hustling”. It’s a new economy that is being driven by tech-savvy millennials who don’t want to trundle through a career they despise for the rest of their lives.

And it’s not just about making money.

Young people want more meaning – we want to care about our work. And in many ways, 34-year-old Pro Green – whose real name is Stephen Manderson – represents this generation.

Manderson is certainly passionate about what he does, and – like many people – his side hustles have often served as a creative outlet which have become lucrative later down the line.

“Because I care about everything I do, I’m able to apply myself,” he says. “A byproduct of being good at something is you become successful, and with that comes profit.”

You’re no good to anyone if you’re not good to yourself

Side-hustling is commonplace in the celeb world. Just look at the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop lifestyle empire, or Dr Dre and his Beats headphone brand, which has made him more money than his career as a musician.

But running a side business is not just for the rich and famous – it’s where “normal” people can actually start to make their name.

According to (real) professors from Henley Business School, this new economy generates income of around £72bn for UK side hustlers – or about 3.6 per cent of GDP. To put that in perspective, that figure could pay the Brexit divorce bill and give us some change on top.

As many as 25 per cent of adults are now side-hustling, and this trend is set to grow as the marketplace becomes more global.

In fact, the research suggests it could double in the next 10 years, as technology brings down the cost barriers.

Setting the record straight

But I digress, let’s go back to Pro Green. Manderson might be sat in a seminar room when I meet him at Henley Business School, but he definitely doesn’t remind me of a teacher. For one, he’s covered in tattoos. He’s also dyed his hair Eminem-style blond and is wearing a pair of Reebok classics. But more crucially: he’s not here to lecture.

“I prefer to lead by example, rather than preach,” he tells me. While Manderson’s career has centred on spinning several plates at once, he admits that managing his time wisely is the real challenge, making sure everything “doesn’t come crashing to the floor like a Greek wedding”.

“It’s learning from what I’ve got wrong, focusing on what I’ve got right, knowing what I’m good at, and knowing where to put time,” he says poetically.

People usually want to restrict things due to fear, because it’s something that is out of their control

Getting a business off the ground is one thing, but the risk is that it becomes a constant tug of war between two jobs as more opportunities arise. Inevitably, a successful side hustle will start consuming more time, and end up interfering with the day job.

Of course, having a stable job means that you can keep the financial security of your salary, which can help provide cash-flow for the business, while also building confidence as an entrepreneur. The trick is making sure you don’t exhaust yourself in the process.

And Manderson gives some good advice. “You’re no good to anyone if you’re not good to yourself. I’ve had to learn to be kinder to myself, to say no to things, and take time away to work out where my next move is.”

The rapper also talks about the importance of having a “mooring”. “For me, music is central to everything, and I think it’s good to have that – I think it’s dangerous when people have multiple side projects, and don’t have any direct stream or a fallback. What’s an idea without execution?”

If you can’t beat ’em...

One of the problems with this emerging economy is that people don’t want to admit to their employers that they are running a business on the side.

The research estimates that more than half of companies don’t have a policy in place for side-working – leaving employees in the dark about where they stand and if they’re allowed to do it, forcing them to keep their business a secret. At the other end of the spectrum, some employment contracts stipulate that staff must commit 100 per cent to their employer, and in these instances, side hustlers will often end up leaving the company.

According to a white paper, published by Henley Business School last week, the loss of side-hustling staff could cost British business a whopping £340m a year.

But speaking during a panel discussion, Metro Bank’s Danny Harmer questions whether implementing rules is really the answer. “I think policies are the kind of fallback when culture and adult conversations don’t work,” she says.

Harmer points to one employee at Metro Bank who works in the leadership team, but gets extra income as a comedian on the side. “If you’re looking for someone who can engage a room, he’s the man to choose,” she says. So it’s clear that having a side hustle can actually be hugely beneficial to your boss too.

As Enterprise Nation’s founder Emma Jones points out, some employers love it, because it means their staff can learn entrepreneurial skills outside of the workplace – and they don’t have to pay for the training.

There’s a strong case to be made for employers to help their side-hustling staff – whether that’s by dialing down the hours, or even collaborating directly through guidance and investment.

Just be good to Green

The reality is that having restrictive policies in place can make employees miserable, and therefore less productive.

“People usually want to restrict things due to fear, because it’s something that is out of their control,” says Manderson. He admits that he had his own negative experience of this when he signed his first major record deal with Virgin Records.

“I’m extremely grateful for that opportunity, but at the time, record labels didn’t think Napster was going to be a problem and they weren’t keeping up to speed. But Napster was a huge problem, and suddenly the record label was tightening the purse strings. Everything changed – my label started taking 25 per cent of all of my income, even outside of my music. So if I was working 19-hour days making a documentary, they would take a cut, which made me very unhappy.”

On the flip-side, giving employees the freedom to pursue ideas that they’re passionate about can create a positive and progressive business.

As Harmer puts it: “People will leave anyway, but while they’re here, let’s have them happy and engaged. If they feel supported and treated as an individual, they do a better job. I just don’t think it’s that complicated.”

Rapping it up

Jones says that younger generations tend to be quite brazen when it comes to putting themselves and their ideas out there – which is invaluable in the entrepreneur world. But what they miss are the connections and the wisdom of running their own business, which is something their employers can help with. It’s a two-way relationship that doesn’t have to be in conflict.

The bottom line is that businesses can’t prevent forward-thinking people from branching out and creating companies of their own. Employers should be nurturing the ambition of young Brits, not trying to fight against it.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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