What do you think of when you hear the words side hustle?
Chris Guillebeau’s definition is interesting to me: “It’s not just about avoiding or overcoming economic uncertainty, it’s about creating something for yourself and having ownership over that, and that’s a wonderful thing.”
I turn that on its head in my own life. A long time ago I decided that working for myself was my real work. Even when it doesn’t earn anything. Whatever work I’ve had to do while I built my business has been a side hustle — including regular 9-to-5 jobs.
For me, a side hustle is about creating a way to support your life and your goals and your dreams. Sometimes, it’s also about surviving. The difference between making rent and couch surfing.
Side hustles are income streams. They’re a barrier against an uncertain economy during swiftly changing times.
So maybe your side hustle is the thing you create for yourself, that you can have ownership over. Or maybe you’re like me and you’ve flipped the script a little — maybe that something of your own means so much that it becomes your real work and everything else (no matter what it is) supports it.
Side hustles generally fall into one of six master categories. Once you know what they are, you’ll start to notice opportunities everywhere.
“The learning process is something you can incite, literally incite, like a riot.”
― Audre Lorde
I guarantee that you know how to do something that someone else would pay to learn. The good news is that you don’t have to be an expert to teach something. You only need to be a few steps ahead of someone else.
My daughter earned money teaching piano lessons to little kids while she was in college. She doesn’t actually play the piano — she played the clarinet in high school and can read music and understood piano enough to teach five-year-olds.
Make a list of the things you’re good at. The skills you possess. Don’t edit yourself with thoughts like well, I’m not very good at that or no one would pay me to teach them that. Right now, just make your list.
Think about concrete skills like baking cupcakes or playing the flute. Also consider skills that are less easy to define. Is there something that other people consistently come to you for advice about?
Once you have your list, you can decide if there’s something on it that you’d like to turn into a side hustle. There are lots of avenues for teaching.
This is my favorite income stream source. I do it every day via writing. I run a membership community. I write books. I’ve also taught non-credit classes via a local college’s community education department and I’ve been a tutor and a coach.
Here are some ways you can create a teaching side hustle:
- Start a blog.
- Write an ebook (or a series of them) and self-publish on Amazon.
- Contract with your local college to teach non-credit classes via their community education department.
- Check with local community center and senior centers as well, they often have a roster of classes every season.
- If you can teach something that parents might want their children to lean, offer a class to local homeschooling groups.
- Start a membership program — charge a monthly fee and offer ongoing education to people who want to learn what you know.
“The more you become aware of and respond to the needs of others, the richer your own life becomes.”
― Mollie Marti
One of my favorite self-employment gigs involved learning how to prepare the divorce and bankruptcy documents anyone could pick up for free, then offering my services as a preparer.
I put an add in a local circular — the analog precursor to Craigslist — and for a while I earned a decent living that way.
Service-type side hustles involve offering up your skills to people who are willing to pay you to something for them (rather than learn how to do it themselves.) Anything that folks can do themselves could become a side hustle for you if you are willing to do it for them.
Service jobs are often either labor- or time-intensive. Or just boring. People can clean up their own yards, change their own oil, dig out their own gutters, scrape the paint off their own baseboards — but they often are more than happy to pay someone else to do it.
Another way to identify a service you might provide is to try to think of something that you’re comfortable doing or have experience with that other people are nervous about trying themselves (even if they could.)
Also, ask yourself if you own something — a tool or other resource — that someone might you to use for them, rather than having to buy it themselves. If you own a truck, for instance, you could create a side hustle hauling things.
This is the kind of work where you might either create regular customers or gain new customers from referrals. Doing an excellent job is your best advertising.
Besides document preparing, I’ve had side hustles as a mobile notary and writing resumes.
Here are some ways you can create a service side hustle:
- Look back over your list of things you know how to do. Is there anything on it that someone might just pay you to do for them?
- Think of things that people dread having to do. Any of them are do-it-for-you services you can offer.
- A listing in Craigslist or on Facebook Marketplace is a good place to start building a client list.
- Consider seasonal service work. I know someone who makes a good amount of money every holiday season hanging Christmas lights for people.
- You can create a side gig doing what you’d be doing anyway — just for someone else: Babysitting, dog walking, house sitting, etc. There are companies who will pair you with clients who need this kind of work.
“What preys on my mind is simply this one question: what am I good for, could I not be of service or use in some way?”
― Vincent van Gogh, The Letters of Vincent van Gogh
One of the best ways I know of to create a successful side hustle is to pay attention to the people around you — look for a need you can fulfill.
This goes hand in hand with service, but is a little different. It’s more about filling in a gap that other, perhaps more traditional serves, have left an opening.
My first ever side hustle happened when I was about ten years old. My dad owned a coin shop and my little sister and I would go with him to shows — with a roll of paper towels and a bottle of Windex. We’d spend the day cleaning cases for people. Eventually we figured out that people manning their booths alone couldn’t leave to go to the concession stand, so we offered to do that, too.
We were tiny, but we saw a need and offered to fill it. This was the early 1980s and we easily earned a hundred bucks a piece on those weekends (that’s the equivalent of about $300 in 2019 dollars!)
When I prepared legal documents as a lay person, I made a second fairly substantial income by offering to go file those documents at the court house for my clients. Eventually, I started to get customers who only wanted me to do their filing for them.
Lots of people prepared documents in my area at that time, but no one else offered a service for people who had done it themselves but were intimidated by the actual filing.
Just in the last few weeks, I’ve seen a couple of gaps that someone could fill and make a nice income. I had to drive my dog to another town to be groomed, because no one in my town works with large breeds. A friend has been utterly frustrated by the lack of scheduled driving services in her area. Another friend is a nurse who has struggled to find overnight care for her baby.
Look for a gap in existing services that you might be able to fill and offer to fill it.
Here are some ways you can create a gap-filling side hustle:
- Pay attention to your friends and neighbors when they complain about needing a service that just isn’t available.
- Gap-filling side hustles are often jobs that aren’t difficult — just time consuming. Think of time sucks that you could take off of customers’ hands.
- Offer a traditional service in a non-traditional way.
“I was being paid to do what I loved, and there’s no gig on earth better than that; it’s like a license to steal.”
― Stephen King
The gig economy is a euphemism for freelance or short-term work.
I started to write that I don’t have much experience with the gig economy, because I’ve ever driven for Uber or rented out my spare room on Airbnb — but I’ve freelanced all my adult life.
Gigs are contract work. You’re paid for a specific job, rather than being on someone’s payroll and getting paid by the hour. You rent out your room for the weekend, rather than working at a Hilton. Or you drive people when it suits you to turn on your app, rather than taking a job with a cab company.
My biggest experience with gigs involved writing blog posts for a content mill for $25 a pop about a decade ago. It was mindless work, writing articles I didn’t really care about for just enough money to encourage me to slam them out as fast as possible. In other words, it definitely wasn’t art.
One way I’ve found little streams of income when I needed them has been to check out the ‘gigs’ section on Craigslist. You’ll often find people looking for someone to do one-off jobs.
Here are some ways you can create a gig side hustle:
- We live in a gig economy. There are many, many opportunities to sign on with a company offering gig work — driving, delivering, running errands, sharing your resources (like your home or your car.)
- Keep an eye out for anyone looking for someone to do a one-time job for them. That’s a gig you might be able to pick up.
- Look for opportunities to leverage your resources into a gig-based side hustle. If you own something that other people could use, but is too expensive for them to buy, there’s a gig there if you want to pursue it.
- Gigs often involve doing base-level work, rather than producing exceptional results. Look for companies hiring people on a freelance or contract basis to do that level of work.
“The thing about rabbits, sir, is that everybody has one, I’d like to see you step up to the goat-class where I feel you belong. Frankly you look more like a goat man to me.”
― Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
The world is full of stuff. Full of it. If you develop an eye for picking the good stuff from the junk, you can sell that good stuff to people who either haven’t developed that eye or just want to buy the good stuff without having to dig through the junk to get to it.
My experience with selling involves reselling vintage things I’ve found at thrift stores. Other people earn a good amount of money reselling new things they buy at a deep discount on clearance or in lots from distributors.
I once bought a vintage 1950s Yves St. Laurent coat for $10 at a thrift store that I sold for $800 on eBay. It was gorgeous — a Russian-princess coat that never would have left my hands if it wasn’t made for someone half my size.
I found a funky old mid-century type writer at one of those Goodwill bin stores (the place where Goodwill sends the stuff by the pound that they can’t sell in their regular store) for $5. I sold it for $250.
If you enjoy the hunt and you’re willing to learn how to spot treasures and research them on the fly (smartphones are a picker’s best friend) then you can make a side hustle out of selling things.
Here are some ways you can create a selling side hustle:
- If you like thrift stores, teach yourself to recognize items that might resell for more (sometimes much more) than the asking price. An Etsy store works well if you’re selling vintage items. Ebay lets you sell pretty much anything.
- If you’re more of a bargain hunter, pay attention to clearance aisles or research online outlets for case lots of returns or discontinued items that you can resell. Ebay is a good outlet for these items.
- Learn about Amazon FBA (Fulfilled by Amazon.) You find your deals, then send them to Amazon for storage and shipping.
- Look into Facebook Marketplace for selling items in your own community.
- Often you can find books sold for a set price. If you learn how to research their market value, you’ll be able to find the diamonds in the pile. Use BookScouter to find where you’ll get the best resale value.
“Amateurs are not afraid to make mistakes or look ridiculous in public. They’re in love, so they don’t hesitate to do work that others think of as silly or just plain stupid.”
― Austin Kleon
This last core idea is tied to selling. Only, rather than selling a manufactured product, think about creating something yourself to sell. All kinds of art falls into this category — from fine art to music to writing and everything in between.
I make notebooks out of book covers and album sleeves, as well as a printable planner for writers, that I sell in the Ninja Writers Etsy. I’m not particularly artistic, but creating something tangible is a fun and satisfying income stream.
I’d put any sort of performing or creative writing in this category as well. When I’m paid an advance for a novel, that’s an income stream that falls under ‘create.’
Here are some ways you can create a creative side hustle:
- If you have an skill, create something to sell.
- Consider upcycling something, the way I do with book covers and album sleeves.
- Online venues like Etsy, Amazon, or eBay are options for selling your creative work without needing a physical store of any kind.
- Looking around your area for a Farmers Market or other fairs where artists can rent space to show their wares. You may also find a permanent market that rents booth space to artists.
Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She is an out-of-place Nevadan living in Northwestern PA with her husband, three superstar kids, two dementia patients, a good friend, Alfred the cat, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s on Twitter and Instagram and is the author of Viral Nation and Rebel Nation, and The Astonishing Maybe. She is the original Ninja Writer.