• If you’re struggling to make rent or bill payments during the COVID-19 pandemic, Sethi recommends negotiating with your landlord or creditors to ask what options they can offer you.
  • “These companies want to exit COVID-19 with as strong a customer base as possible. So if you call them up and make an offer, a lot of these companies are going to play ball,” Sethi says.
  • Sethi also shares how to start a virtual side hustle while stuck at home, and why people shouldn’t be afraid to seek support from friends and family and accept the help they need during the coronavirus crisis.

Millions of Americans are now facing a previously unthinkable reality due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the last seven weeks, a record 33 million people have filed for unemployment, and many are unsure how they’ll be able to pay rent or even feed their families in the coming months.

While unemployment is technically available for Americans who need it, it can be very emotionally difficult to transition from having a stable career one day to asking for help the next. On top of that, many people have been left waiting weeks for their unemployment checks as states are struggle to handle the surge in filings, and not everyone qualifies for the additional $600 a week offered by the CARES Act.

To learn how to navigate these conversations, Business Insider spoke with personal finance advisor and entrepreneur Ramit Sethi. 

While studying psychology and technology at Stanford University, Sethi was eager to learn how to manage and grow his own money. But he grew disillusioned with how many financial experts talked about money — they focused more on what not to do, instead of helping people move forward. In 2008 Sethi founded I Will Teach You To Be Rich, a personal finance website that teaches people how to manage their money and grow their earning potential, too.

He’s gone on to become a New York Times bestseller and create Earnable, a platform that teaches students what Sethi calls “the ‘CEO’ strategy: cut costs, earn more, and optimize your spending.”

In a time where your next paycheck may be uncertain, Sethi shared his actionable advice on how you can negotiate down your expenses and debts, and side hustles you can launch amid social distancing. 

SEE ALSO: 14 books to read during quarantine if you want to start and run your own business

With one phone call, you may be able to save hundreds of dollars on rent and bills

“There are big opportunities right now if you are struggling with your finances,” Sethi said. “Companies do not want to lose you as a customer, so I’ve been advising many people to make a phone call to any of the companies that they owe money to, and discuss their options with them.” 

Here’s exactly what to say to your creditors

“When you call up your credit card companies, or student loan companies, or cable and cell phone companies, or even landlords, say: ‘Hi, I’d like to discuss my options with you. As you can see, I’ve been a customer for (insert number of) years, and COVID-19 is making it difficult for me to continue with my usual payments, so I’d like to discuss what options you have available for me.'” 

During the pandemic, many companies are offering either payment pauses, and some are even waiving entire fees owed.

“Many of my students have used this script and sent me the amount they saved, which is often in the hundreds or even thousands of dollars, with just one phone call,” Sethi said.

If you are denied, you may have other options

“If you are denied by someone like your cable company, cell phone, credit card, you want to ask for a department called customer retention,” Sethi advised. “Remember that these companies spent a lot of money to acquire you as a customer — they don’t want to lose you. Secondly, many of them are also feeling the pinch, and they want to capture what revenue they can. Thirdly, these companies know that this too shall pass, and they want to exit COVID-19 with as strong a customer base as possible. So if you call them up and make an offer, or you ask them what options they have available, a lot of these companies are going to play ball.”

If you are denied by your landlord or a smaller company without a customer retention department, however, Sethi admitted that you may be out of luck, but it’s still worth the try. “As unfortunate as it is, these companies are under no obligation to change the terms of your agreement. If they say no, you can try to call back another day. It’s rare, but occasionally your status may change and a company may approve you on a different day.”

“But the real honest answer is, you have to accept it, and make other plans for how to secure your financial future.”

There are also big side hustle opportunities during the pandemic

Ecommerce has been steadily growing in recent years (there are approximately 1.3 million ecommerce businesses in the US) and retail stores were already hurting pre-coronavirus. As physical businesses shutter, from gyms to shopping centers, consumers are left with little choice but to satisfy their needs virtually. This creates a wealth of opportunity for current and aspiring entrepreneurs, and there’s plenty of ways to start a side hustle or small business from home. 

“There are lots of people who started a business in the last recession which has now flourished, and that’s the same approach that some people are taking now,” Sethi said. “People are starting to focus on earning more, whether by starting a side business or a full time business, which can all be done remotely and virtually.” 

One of Sethi’s students is a gifted artist. After the outbreak, she launched a virtual painting business, similar to brick-and-mortar locations that offer wine tasting and painting classes. The student promoted and sold the classes through her Instagram account, and quickly found people who were eager to swap out their Netflix quarantine binge for a more creative evening activity. 

“Whether it is lesson plans for children, personal styling, or help with organization, there are so many opportunities that people are starting right now, even amidst the pandemic,” Sethi said.

Another student is a pilates instructor who owns her own studio — it was forced to close.

“Within 96 hours of the coronavirus shutdown, she had launched her online classes, and she told me was making 50% of what she used to,” Sethi shared. “Fifty percent is still a huge drop, but it’s also 50% more than zero.”

It’s also important, Sethi said, to imagine how to create a service that you can eventually turn into a product that will generate you income in the future, even while you sleep. 

“Focus on finding 10 customers who will happily pay for your service,” Sethi said. “The number they pay you doesn’t really matter, it could be $20 or $50, it’s irrelevant. Just prove that somebody values your service enough that they will pay for it. Once you find those people, you can then decide if you want to turn it into a product.”

Over the last few months, many Americans have learned the hard way that having a stable job doesn’t necessarily mean stability. By turning your side hustle into a product, you can create something that will generate you income for years to come.

“For example, you could record the painting session or fitness class that you teach, and sell that online. And suddenly, you’ve turned your side skill into an actual product that can sell 24/7,” Sethi said.

If you want to start a side hustle but are feeling stuck, turn to the people who know you best

If you’re unsure what skills you have that other people might actually pay for, Sethi recommended asking for advice from those close to you. 

“Ask 10 of your friends, ‘Hey, what do you think I’m good at, what do you come to me for advice on?’ Oftentimes you’ll discover that the things you are naturally good at, you take for granted,” Sethi said. “There is a process of discovering what you’re good at, and what people will pay for.”

For example, if your friends are always impressed by how well-organized and clean your apartment is, you might have what it takes to be a personal organizer. If other parents compliment how well-behaved your children are, you might have insightful parenting advice to share. Next, study other business owners, see how they got started, and then apply those lessons to yourself.

Sethi also said it’s important for both individuals and business owners to accept this new reality, and get over the fear of asking for help. “The first thing we have to do is accept that we live in a culture that should be helping us when we need it. It doesn’t mean you’re taking advantage of anybody. Ask for help. That starts with filing for unemployment, if it’s applicable,” Sethi said. “It also means asking friends, ‘Hey I’m trying to start this idea, what do you think I’m good at?’ If you have loved ones, ask them if they need help as well.” 

As the shutdown continues in certain states, and as others begin to reopen their economies with added restrictions, Sethi recommended being strategic with your financial and business decisions. He has been advising his students to target a one year emergency fund, but also to invest in making themselves more marketable entrepreneurs or employees to grow their earning potential. 

“There’s a time to play defense, where you make sure that you have enough to get by and make sure there’s a safe roof over your head. But there’s also a time to go on offense,” Sethi said. “To say, ‘What can I do to invest in myself right now, to start a business idea I never thought I would, or to invest in my own development and learn new skills?’ The people who are able to make that transition from defense to offense are the ones who have the best chance of coming out of this stronger.” 

This content was originally published here.

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