As counter-intuitive as it may seem, the “extra credit” work you make for yourself can be just as creatively fulfilling as it is financially rewarding. Enter: the side hustle, an increasingly popular approach for taking an idea to profitability while maintaining the safety net of your day job.
The calling card of a side hustler is a scrappy, experimental mentality that views resource constraints as a thrilling challenge, not as a sign to give up. Side hustlers come from diverse backgrounds and sell wide-ranging products. There is, however, one similarity they frequently share: while building their venture in the early morning or twilight hours, they do the best they can with the time that they have.
Thousands are joining their ranks as people rediscover that saving money only goes so far—there’s a hard floor, while the ceiling for making more money is almost limitless. But that doesn’t make it easy. So, what goes into the emerging art of starting and sustaining a side hustle?
What is a side hustle?
In its most broadly-used sense, a side hustle is any activity outside of your day job that helps make more money. Technically this can mean a part-time job or work done for “side gig” apps like Airbnb, Uber or TaskRabbit.
But not all side hustles are created equal. A part-time job may be good seasonally, but in slower months, limited hours can mean limited funds. Gig apps like Uber might work for making a couple of extra bucks in a pinch, but these options tend to have payment structures designed to minimize the payout to users providing the service.
If you want to know the best side hustle ideas, look past the part-time jobs and task apps for side hustles that provide flexibility, space for professional growth, and a way to earn income in your spare time.
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Questions to ask when considering online side hustles
Side hustles are a great way to earn extra income but, like all new ventures, they require a bit of legwork upfront in order to get traction. If you don’t choose an idea that fits your current lifestyle, it’s easy for this extra work to sink to the bottom of your to-do list and, eventually, fall by the wayside. For this reason, durable side hustles often feel less like a chore and more like a creative outlet that places craft and commerce on equal footing.
Although side hustles don’t always become full-time jobs, it’s common for side hustlers to gravitate towards this option once their venture becomes profitable enough. If you want a side hustle that could eventually become your career, here are some things to consider.
1. Does the idea fit your current schedule?
You’re going to be dedicating a meaningful amount of time to this side hustle, so it helps if that time fits into your schedule. A side hustle should be something you can do outside of your 9-5 job, but that won’t interfere with or keep you from that job.
Things will come up at your full-time job. Some days, you may have to pick up an extra shift, work overtime to finish up a project, or have obligations like meetings and team-building events. If you want to make sure you put time into your side hustle, it helps to pick something that’s easy to re-schedule. Side gigs like dog-walking or babysitting might seem appealing, but remember these could be more difficult to arrange around your regular job.
2. Does the idea align with your passions and interests?
Working 40 hours a week is enough to zap most people’s creative energy by the time the day winds down. And after time well spent with family, friends, and personal responsibilities, it’s easy to see just how hard it can be to carve out additional headspace to work on a side project. But it’s these hours tucked away in life’s margins that tend to be the best time to do the focused work needed to get something off the ground; the workday is done, the weekend is still a couple of days away, and since you’ve already watched all the true-crime documentaries on Netflix, your schedule is wide open.
The hours tucked away in life’s margins are often the best time to do focused work.
But, try as you might, sometimes you just won’t want to work. That’s why it’s ideal if your side hustle closely pairs with what you’re passionate about, even if it’s not the end-product itself. That might mean some aspect of running things behind the scenes, or maybe it’s just immersing yourself in a new topic or field of interest. Whatever the appeal, a good litmus test is that you’re drawn to the work when you’re procrastinating on something else—that little bit of enthusiasm can go a long way.
3. Is the idea financially viable?
Although not every hobby should be burdened by the need for profitability, by our definition of a side hustle, we are looking to create some kind of return on time invested. That means your side hustle needs to be financially viable and, over the long term, relatively stable. Most side hustles aren’t profitable right away since your primary focus is tweaking your product or service and finding how best to reach your first clients or customers. You want to keep costs low in the early stages and work exclusively on “ringing the cash register,” or proving out your idea with a sale so you can see what the numbers look like.
What does that mean exactly? Since the start of any project is completely lopsided in terms of time put in and revenue that comes back out, you don’t need to be as concerned with tracking your sweat equity. But as you make progress and begin to make money, it’s important to understand how much it costs you, in time or dollars, to get a client, customer, or sale, and ultimately, turn your effort into profit. If your resulting margins or hourly wages put you in the red, your side hustle may not be sustainable.
Work from home jobs: 10 easy side hustles you can start right now
1. Create and sell your own handmade goods
It’s no surprise that many Shopify merchants start successful businesses out of a hobby they did in their spare time. If you enjoy doing the work, it doesn’t feel like work. Think of something you enjoy doing, even when no one’s paying you. Whether it’s carpentry, knitting, painting, or crafting—these hobbies can serve as the foundation for many excellent side hustles.
Almost everyone has a hobby or creative outlet that they’re passionate about. You’re in an especially good position if yours involves making something with your hands—although creating handmade products requires plenty of time spent learning the craft, it’s one of the best ways to stand out in a sea of commodity products.
On top of this, sourcing raw materials puts you in a unique position to ensure your manufacturing process aligns with your brand values. In fact, many business owners are using their values, such as their products containing recyclable materials, as part of their sales pitch. Take Dick Moby, for example, a retailer that makes sunglasses using only oil-free acetate, an eco-friendly plastic substitute.
From bags made of old car seats to broken radios refashioned as Bluetooth speakers, using recyclable materials can be a great way to maintain your product’s environmental sustainability while keeping costs low. If you love taking old materials and turning them into something new, this may be the side-hustle for you.
2. Create your own designs for a print-on-demand business
Print-on-demand businesses are fun, low-risk ventures if you’ve got a passion for design and are looking to dip your feet into the entrepreneurial waters. Shopify apps such as Printful and Printify allow you to easily upload custom designs to products like t-shirts, mugs, canvas bags, pillows, and more, so you can directly import new products into your Shopify store.
When customers make a purchase, items are printed and shipped directly to them from your manufacturer. Print on demand offers one key advantage over manufacturing products in bulk: your supply of products can match and scale with demand without having to make large inventory purchases upfront. And you can still add your own flair and branding to products through your custom visual designs.
On top of this, since the grunt work of manufacturing and shipping are outsourced to a third-party, you’ll have more time to work on designing and marketing your business.
3. Start a dropshipping business
If you like the automated aspects of print-on-demand, but are more interested in marketing and operations over creating custom designs, consider starting a dropshipping business. Dropshipping is another business model where a third-party manufactures and ships existing products for you.
Dropshipping is also a low-risk opportunity because again products are only being shipped when they’re purchased, which leaves plenty of room for profit so long as your marketing expenses are reasonable. With a third-party in charge of manufacturing and shipping, dropshipping also frees up a lot of time.
That time can be spent finding a niche to sell to, marketing your products, reaching new buyers, or helping your customers. With product development and design being noticeably absent from this equation, dropshipping is definitely a side hustle for those who want to flex their marketing muscles.
4. Start a zine and sell digital subscriptions
What is a zine? Is that like a magazine? Sort of! A “zine” is typically a smaller circulation work. Occasionally the term “zine” is used to describe any magazine focused on a niche audience, but the primary difference from a magazine is the hand-crafted, independent element that draws on ideas and values not covered by the mainstream media.
For artists and writers, a zine can be a valuable vehicle to showcase your work. For activists, it can be an important way to mobilize people. Zines have a rich tradition of showcasing alternative, underappreciated works of art and literature. The internet has given the next generation of zine editors a platform for sharing new ideas through the form of digital subscriptions. With Shopify’s digital downloads app, it’s relatively easy to securely sell digital files, while the Lulu xPress app can help with self-publishing physical copies of your zine.
Apps like these help reduce the hurdles and time costs of running your store, time which can be poured back into your writing, art, photography, or whatever content you choose to base your zine around.
5. Become a freelancer
Freelancing has definitely benefited from the efficiencies created by the internet—it’s now easier than ever for experienced (and up-and-coming) writers, programmers, designers, and other specialists to connect with clients and provide their services from anywhere in the world.
If you’re looking for a side gig that provides a lot of room for growth and comparatively quick returns, freelancing might be for you. While freelancing does require you to trade time for money directly, the path to revenue is more straightforward than waiting for a product to pick up traction.
Freelancing is an especially great side-hustle for soon-to-be or recent graduates who find themselves getting crowded out of full-time jobs by more experienced peers. For some professionals, working on a project-by-project basis allows them to earn money whilebuilding a valuable portfolio and strengthening their resumes with a list of satisfied clients.
Some young entrepreneurs even start freelancing while in school. Services like tutoring and exam prep are so popular in universities among student freelancers that the test-prep market is now worth $24 billion. Some students even sell their own study material and lecture notes. When you consider that any university sees a guaranteed batch of new customers year after year, it’s not hard to understand why young freelancers have jumped at the opportunity.
6. Teach an online course
Learning a new trade, skill, or subject isn’t always easy. It requires research, time, and a genuine interest in the subject matter. But chances are, there are topics and talents that you’re already well-versed in, especially compared to the general public. Why not teach them?
Teaching is one of the most rewarding opportunities, and with online platforms like Udemy and Coursera, it’s become incredibly easy for experienced teachers across the world to connect with enthusiastic students.
The beauty of teaching an online course is that the subject of your course is limited only by your own knowledge and imagination. Are you an expert on the history of the Roman Empire? Teach that! Have experience beekeeping? Share what you’ve learned! As long as there are people who want to learn from your experience, and are willing to pay to have the information packaged and presented in an accessible way, you can make a course about nearly anything.
7. Start a blog
Blogging is one of the most popular side hustles because it can be done from just about anywhere. With just a laptop and a Wi-Fi connection, any location can be turned into your personal publishing den.
Blogging may not be profitable right away, but for aspiring writers looking to build up a personal brand, audience, and portfolio, a blog goes a long way in advancing your career. In fact, one of the most interesting things about blogging is the roundabout way it may benefit your current career—sharing your work can show employers and hiring managers how you think about problems and what projects you’ve worked on. Getting this knowledge down can help you get discovered or stand out from a barrage of resumes if you decide to apply to a new role.
Pageviews don’t pay the bills, so blogs typically need to monetize with products and services.
Like teaching, blogging can be about anything so long as some kind of audience is keen to learn, which means there’s a lot of space to take a deep dive into a subject you’re passionate about. One challenge with this side hustle, though, is finding the best ways of monetizing it. Pageviews don’t pay the bills, so you’ll likely need to do some adjacent work, like referring readers to products, offering sponsored posts or advertisements, or even providing a connecting service for blogging to be profitable in the long run. The upside? You’ll have done the hard work of creating an audience already.
8. Start a YouTube channel
YouTube has more than a billion users who watch hours of videos each day. As the popularity of the site has soared, so have the opportunities for creatives looking to craft their own video content.
You can always start your own channel where you talk about current events, perform sketches, music, or just about anything else—but the real money is in creating a channel that works along-side your business.
Building an audience big enough to profit from YouTube ads takes a lot of time, so it’s better to find a more direct connection to revenue than to wait for ads to become viable.
For example, a DJ might sell music while creating music videos. The closer your videos support an existing product, the better, even if that means creating videos before you launch your product.
Take the mattress company Purple as an example. Purple specializes in creating pillows and cushions out of a proprietary material called "hyper-elastic polymer." In the lead-up to the launch of their new mattress, Purple teamed up with content creators The Harmon Brothers to create a series of videos explaining and demonstrating the science behind the mattress.
Their raw egg test video went viral and wracked up 158 million views on YouTube and Facebook. Since their original ad, they’ve produced more content using the same offbeat humor and vibrant imagery. Having a YouTube channel that works alongside a product is a viable way to make a new audience aware of your brand.
But be wary of falling into the trap of over-promoting your product. The key to financial success in this side-hustle is creating content that people actually want to watch, and the last thing people want to watch are ads.
9. Get paid for creating content
Andy Warhol predicted that in the future, everyone would be famous for 15 minutes. From fashion models on Instagram to comedians on Twitter, it’s now true that the average person has access to an audience so large that it’s incomparable to anything Warhol would have seen in his time—but not everyone takes advantage in the same way.
This access has provided space for a wave of “micro-influencers,” especially those on Instagram, where people who may not be household names can provide brands with access to very niche audiences. And if the term “influencer” doesn’t conjure the greatest image in your head, remember that two important jobs of marketing are reach and influence, or getting the right message to persuade the right people. All that means is that influencers are just another audience-driven approach to building a side hustle or business.
Although this side hustle requires a bit of time to build an audience, there’s no shortage of creative ways to monetize. Even if a monetization model doesn’t stick out right away, focusing on audience-building isn’t a bad thing. Many Instagram creators had to take time building an audience before their account was able to become profitable.
Take Doug the Pug for example. What started as an account dedicated to funny pug pictures, developed over time to become a whole line of merchandise. It didn’t happen overnight, but by consistently posting content that people wanted to see, the creators were able to amass a following of diehard Doug fans.
Pictured: Marketing genius.
There are many different types of influencers on Instagram, so this is a side hustle with a lot of room for creative expression. You could specialize in creating content for a specific niche, promote your own freelance services, build your acting portfolio, or just provide witty commentary paired with thumb-stopping photos. Whatever you choose, remember to choose something with sustainability that interests you.
10. Start a podcast
Listenership for podcasts has been growing steadily every year. A podcast used to be a “must-have” for comedians. Then it became a “must-have” for writers and journalists. Now, podcasting has morphed into a “must-have” for almost anyone looking to build an online audience for their personal brand.
There have been concerns that an oversaturation of podcasts could kill podcasting, but data shows the appetite for podcasts hasn’t slowed down. Podcasting, like social media and blogging, has become a staple of the broader world of online content.
Podcasting is comparatively cheap, too. A decent USB microphone can be purchased for less than $100 (many of which are sold specifically for podcasting), and free recording platforms like Audacity are free and easy use. When you want to upgrade your tools to an XLR microphone, mixer, or other accessories to improve quality, you can still produce professional-sounding audio for a few hundred dollars.
Practice makes perfect—and profit
An underappreciated benefit of side hustles is that they can act as a sandbox where you learn how to make money. Making money is a distinct skill, and since most of us rely on traditional careers to pay the bills, it doesn’t always feel intuitive. Side hustles offer you a way to test ideas and practice in public.
And side hustles aren’t just a tool for making extra income, either. Starting a side hustle is a way to teach yourself valuable skills and help yourself grow as a professional and as an entrepreneur. For writers, actors, painters, musicians, and artists of all types, a side hustle can provide artistic independence, professional growth and, eventually, a profitable way to turn your passion into your career.