We’ve been talking recently about how difficult it is for debt-saddled 20-somethings on entry-level salaries to follow the cardinal rule of personal finance — live below your means and invest the difference.
If that sounds familiar, you have two options: Slog it out for the foreseeable future living paycheck-to-paycheck — perhaps dipping in and out of credit card debt along the way. Or, increase your income with a better-paying job or, more immediately, get a side hustle.
Most people hear this advice and say “that’s a great idea, but…” You can insert your own excuse here. Three of the most common are:
- “I don’t have time.”
- “I’m afraid of rejection.”
- “I don’t have an idea.”
Today, I want to help you find side hustle ideas.
The fastest side-hustle: Get a minimum-wage job
Getting a part-time job brewing coffee, flipping burgers, or folding sweaters might be the least desirable way to earn extra money, but it’s easy to do.
I worked three such jobs nights and weekends on my road out of debt:
- At a gift and bookshop
- At Starbucks
- As a nighttime receptionist at a flight school
The gift shop was miserable, the receptionist job was easy but boring, and making lattes was, to my surprise, quite fun, but still a low-paying food service job.
None of these jobs paid more than $10 an hour, but they were easy to get, worked with my schedule, and had the added bonus of not requiring much thought. (If you use your brain a lot at a day job, you may find that freelancing in a similar field gets taxing.)
Moonlighting in the minimum-wage workforce isn’t for everybody; it’s easier when you’re single and free to give up your nights and weekends. If have kids, the wages and short shifts at these jobs might not cover the expense and hassle of arranging childcare.
Unfortunately, there’s still competition for these jobs. You will go up against applicants for whom the job isn’t a nice-to-have second income but must-have employment to put food on the table. To improve your chances of landing a part-time gig:
- Treat the application process like any other job. Be confident and respectful. Dress well for the interview.
- Apply to places where you have an interest in what they sell. I love coffee, so Starbucks was an easy sell.
- Realize that nobody likes working nights and weekends. If you’re willing, you’ll be an attractive candidate.
- Address your day job head on. Emphasize that you’re committed to earning extra money and will take the part-time position seriously. Most managers know that your day-job will come first in the long run, but they want to be reassured you won’t be calling out every week because your other boss needs you to stay late.
Anywhere with a “Help Wanted” sign is fair game, but here’s a list to help get the ideas flowing.
- Any mall store
- Home improvement stores
- Big box stores
- Coffee shops or fast food restaurants
- Bars and restaurants
- Distribution centers
- UPS/FedEx – They have part-time early-morning and evening positions loading trucks.
- Office cleaning companies (nights and weekends)
- Airport stores and services
Finding freelance gigs online
If you have skills that can be used virtually (think writing, designing, or coding), the Internet makes finding a side hustle both easier and more difficult. On the upside, Websites like ODesk and Freelancer.com connect freelancers with clients: You can create a profile tonight and begin bidding on jobs in your field. On the downside, you’re competing with the world. No matter how good you are – or how cheaply you’re willing to work – there’s somebody in India or Vietnam willing to do the same work for a quarter the price.
The second hurdle is that new freelancers have no track record: Very few clients are going to select somebody with 0 feedback over someone with 5 stars from 20 clients. To get a foothold in these services you will have to do some jobs for virtually nothing or work with somebody you already know first.
Here’s a list of the top online freelancing marketplaces, although are many more focusing on specific skills like writing, design, or coding:
There are other Internet marketplaces for freelance work. Craigslist, of course, remains a trusty place to list services offered and find gigs wanted. You just have to be extra careful of scams and sketchy people.
Amazon Mechanical Turk is an interesting one. The site harnesses thousands of willing virtual workers to complete large, mundane tasks cheaply. Examples include transcribing audio, translating documents, tagging images, collecting URLs, etc. Tasks (called HITs) don’t take very long but only pay between a few pennies and a dollar. In other words: Less than minimum wage.
Mechanical Turk isn’t a realistic option to earn any meaningful income, but it’s something — and if you have time to kill in front of a computer – it can put a few extra bucks in your pocket.
TaskRabbit connects real-world workers with customers who need help with simple to-dos: Doing the grocery shopping, weeding a yard, assembling IKEA furniture, moving stuff, housecleaning, you name it. It’s available in about a dozen U.S. cities. To become a TaskRabbt you must be 21 and pass a background check. Once approved, you can bid on jobs just like other freelance sites. According to TaskRabbit, average payouts are $35 for grocery shopping, $60 for housecleaning, and $85 for handyman tasks.
TaskRabbit competitors are popping up, too. Handybook focuses on cleaning and handyman services. GigWalk posts tasks related to local businesses, such as recruiting attendees for a concert or finding the prices of milk at a grocery store’s competitors.
If you have a decent car and a clean driving record, you might consider becoming a driver for ridesharing services like Uber, Lyft, or Sidecar. Once approved, you can login to these apps and bid on jobs giving rides to customers. The app collects the money from the customer and pays you for each trip. Not surprisingly, taxi and livery companies that aren’t already using these apps are pushing for regulators to prohibit “just anyone” from offering hired rides in personal vehicles. We’ll see what happens.
Where the money’s at: How to create your own side hustle
With some persistence, it’s possible for most people to earn a couple extra bucks by getting a minimum-wage job or using one of the gig services mentioned above. But there are downsides to this approach:
- You won’t earn a lot of money doing it and
- With the exception of feedback on freelancing sites, you’re not building anything of your own – you’re simply trading your time for money.
At some point you have to ask if the money you’re earning is worth your time.
When you’re young, unattached and broke, virtually any hour you can spend earning a few bucks is time well spent. As you get older, earn more at your day job and pay down debt, your time begins to get more valuable and you might decide that $10 isn’t worth the hour of your life you have to trade for it.
If you’re driven to be as successful as possible, you want to eventually be charging $100 an hour, not $10 an hour. And even more importantly, you’ll want to build a side hustle that you control – not Freelancer.com.
In order to build your own side hustle you need to be willing to think like an entrepreneur. That means you need to take something you can deliver and turn it into:
- Something your clients want and
- Something your clients will pay for.
Then you need to sell it.
In our last side hustle post I mentioned Ramit Sethi’s Earn1K course (affiliate) – it’s like a condensed MBA for part-time entrepreneurs focused on earning at least an extra $1,000 a month. The course begins with numerous exercises designed to help you find a business idea that you can deliver, that clients want and will pay good money for. It then goes into how to get your first three clients and on from there to advanced topics. You can learn more or sign up for his free email lists here; even the free stuff is invaluable to any potential entrepreneurs. The high-level stuff I’m covering here will get you started, but if you’re serious about making it as a part-time entrepreneur, Ramit’s work will help.
Focus your idea as narrowly as possible!
Although it seems counterintuitive, the more specific you can focus your offering, the more you’ll earn. For example, if you decide to offer tutoring services for all high school students, you’ll have a hard time standing out from the competition and you’ll have to compete on price. But if you offer SAT and AP Exam tutoring for affluent students aiming for Ivy League colleges, guess what – you can double your hourly rate (and you’ll probably get more clients, too).
With that in mind, here are some side hustle ideas to get you started. It’s far from an exhaustive list, but hopefully it will get the juices flowing.
- Yoga/exercise instructor.
- Writer. Specialize, specialize. Find a niche you’re confident about and become THE freelancer to hire in that area.
- Designer. Competition is tough, so you’ll have to be good and specialize. My cousin has been successful by focusing his graphic design business on the food and restaurant industry in Texas. If you’re branding a new gastropub in Dallas, he’s the guy you’re going to first. Another Web design firm I know transformed its business when it decided to focus solely on serving museums and art galleries.
- Dog walker/pet-sitter.
- Landscaper/snow shoveler.
- Fitness coach. Are you a competitive runner/biker/swimmer? Tap the huge market of individuals wanting to do their first 5k, marathon or triathlon and offer individual or group training classes.
- Public relations. Big bucks if you have the connections!
- Virtual assistant. If you’re an organized, detail-oriented person, there are busy people who will gladly pay you a good rate to keep their lives on track. The key is selling your value to the right people – busy working people with good salaries that can’t keep up with life’s little details.
- Car detailer.
- Language teacher.
- Musical instrument instructor or vocal coach.
- Career counseling.
- Data analyst/Excel guru.
- Massage therapist.
- Business coaching.
- Organizational consultant.
- Nutrition or weight-loss coach.
- Personal shopper.
- Ski/snowboard instructor.
- Elder-care aide.
- Personal chef. This is my own hunch, but I suspect there is a market for prepped meals for busy working parents. You come in, chop the veggies and put a casserole together so all the client has to do is cook it for 20 minutes when they come home.
- Tutor. Not just for high school kids, tons of adults need help studying for grad school exams, professional certifications or night-school classes.
- Developer/coder. You have in-demand skills, but your side-hustle success rests on selling your services at a premium rate over cheaper outsourced labor. Becoming an expert in one area will help you stand out and win jobs even at a higher rate.
- Babysitter. We think of babysitting as a high schooler’s job, but it’s not. As the parent of two little ones, good babysitters (who are actually good with kids – rarer than you think) and available when you need them are hard to come by. As with anything, the key to turning babysitting into a viable side hustle is to raise your rates. Obtain specialized training (CPR/First Aid at a minimum), target working parents in affluent neighborhoods, and add value to your services, such as tutoring, running errands or doing laundry while you have the kids.
How to land your first side hustle gig
Hopefully, some of the above ideas have you thinking about what you might be able to offer the world. But how do you get that coveted first client?
Sure, you can advertise on Craigslist, but that’s a shot in the dark and anyone who answers the ad may very well want references. You may be tempted to spend time building a Website and a Facebook page for your business, but resist the urge. Save that for after you have some clients.
To get clients, you have to start with your personal network. That doesn’t mean your first client will be Uncle Greg (but it could be), but it might be your Uncle Greg’s poker buddy or your mom’s hairdresser or your brother’s girlfriend’s coworker.
You get the idea. To start: let as many people know what you’re offering. Repeatedly. Sell yourself. You’ll need 100 people telling you “no, thanks” to find one who’s interested. That’s how sales works.
A more targeted approach is to think of people you know who are candidates for your service – for example working parents for a personal shopping service or friends who are trying to lose weight for fitness coaching. The email them and ask them:
I’m thinking of offering XYZ service. Would you pay for that?
If they say yes, you’re 90 percent there to getting a client. If they say no, you can ask why not and get valuable feedback to tweak your offering or intended customer base.
Getting started with your own side hustle idea is more work than grabbing a part-time barista gig. It’s not for everybody. But if you’re willing to lay the groundwork, it will pay off for years to come. As you gain experience and satisfied customers, you can target your offering even more and charge more money.
Take action right now. If you want to earn more money on the side, what are you going to do today to find a side hustle? Let me know in a comment.