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Side Hustle Ideas To Make Money Or Start A Passion Project — A Practical Guide
side hustle

Side Hustle Ideas To Make Money Or Start A Passion Project — A Practical Guide

There’s never been a better time to make a few extra bucks on the side. 

Let’s face it, we could all use more money these days, and if you feel like it’s time to take a shot at making a living doing something you love (or finding a way of making money online) now is the time. 

Success story after success story provides guidance on how to live the life of your dreams, whether that includes getting a part time job for just a few hours a week, starting your own business (however small at first), or even doing something more technical like building an online store. 

Remote work from beaches in Bali, or dreams of four-hour workweeks and lots of passive income is what many ambitious millennials strive for. But does that mean you should take the leap, and go all-in? Or is a side hustle a better option?

How can I make a few extra bucks?

A side hustle is a term given to any type of employment taken in addition to full-time work. There are many reasons you might consider additional work. For some, it’s a nice way to boost income to save, pay off student loan debt, or just enjoy having a little more cash. For others, a side hustle is an opportunity to express creatively or make tentative steps towards opening a fully fledged business.

Last year, 57 million Americans — a third of the workforce — freelanced or worked part-time, with that number growing since the pandemic. It’s not all chasing dreams, though. According to a survey by DollarSprout, 27 percent of people work a side hustle on their own time to meet living expenses.

Whether you’re looking to boost your income, create your own schedule for work or even explore a future career change, there are many options to choose from. This guide will cover the essentials of the side hustle, equipping you with the knowledge on how to make money in your spare time.

What is “hustle culture”?

Before digging in, let’s take a quick detour to explore the psychology behind hustle culture. The same technology that has made previously unthinkable opportunities possible also has the potential to lead to burnout. Always being available to respond to email or Slack notifications can blur the lines between work time and rest time.

In fact, hyper-productivity can have a detrimental impact on wellbeing, even if what you have is a very lucrative side hustle. Overworking has been linked to a host of health problems, from heavy drinking, poor sleep hygiene, to depression. 

Overworking doesn’t help the brain, either. “We examined the association between long working hours and cognitive function and found a small decrease in a reasoning score [after] 5 years among those who worked long hours,” Marianna Virtanen of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, told HBR.

In 2019, the World Health Association declared burnout a recognized mental illness, with the big risk factor societal expectations that encourage overworking. Why am I telling you this now? When exploring starting your side hustle, it pays to keep your wellbeing in mind. 

It’s tempting to follow the advice of tech-gurus around working non-stop and maximizing the use of every spare second. But if you’re serious about a side hustle long-term, it pays to make room for your wellbeing, and approach the project with balance in mind.

Explore your motivation for your side hustle

Understanding why you want to start a side hustle can provide clarity on what opportunities to explore. 

There are two key types of motivation in behavioral psychology: intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation. These terms are part of the self-determination theory, by psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan.

Intrinsic motivation is a task performed due to its inherent satisfaction. Extrinsic motivation is driven by external rewards, such as monetary gain. When looking at your side hustle options, consider the intrinsic and extrinsic causes of your motivation. 

An obvious extrinsic motivation for starting a side hustle is to earn extra cash. If this is the case, it doesn’t matter so much the type of work you do, and you can look at the most lucrative options. It doesn’t matter if it’s acting as a virtual assistant, filling out online surveys, being a part-time social media manager, working for a mobile pet grooming service, being an affiliate marketer - whatever helps you earn money and gain financial independence counts. 

However, intrinsic motivation is less focused on how much you can earn, and more focused on how rewarding the task is. For example, you might try out your writing skills by posting articles online, refining your freelance writing skills, and earning opportunities for paid work. 

Or, you might start to side hustling by selling art on your own website or creating graphic design pieces as a part of helping an online retail business. In these instances, it makes sense to focus on the activity ahead of how much money it’ll make. Not sure where to start? Check out this list of fun jobs you can do online. 

You might be able to find a balance between intrinsic and extrinsic rewards, such as working as a freelancer which uses a skill you don’t utilize in your full-time employment. There are many opportunities to find a whole host of projects available online on freelance job sites.

How to choose a side hustle for you

Once you’ve created clarity around your motivation, the next step is to choose which side hustle is best suited for you. 

Whitney Wolfe Herd, founder, and CEO of Bumble, which is now worth $7 billion, keeps her advice simple. “You can monetize anything,”  she told CNBC Make It. “Figure out what you’re passionate about, and if you’re really good at it, there’s some way to turn it into a business.”

Herd uses the example of a cook starting a blog, before charging for recipes. The key ingredient (pun intended) is to highlight your talents first, and then find ways to explore making this your side hustle. As a practical exercise, write down a list of your skills and passions. 

A tool I’ve used in coaching is the matrix of “good/not good” and “enjoy/don’t enjoy”. Within this matrix, note the skills you’re good at and enjoy, not good at and enjoy, etc. That’ll give you some idea of what side hustle options to consider.

For example, you might have a flair for visual design and command of Photoshop. Creating graphics might be your access point to flow state. If this is the case, a great side hustle option would be offering freelance graphic design services to clients. Not only is it work you’ll enjoy, but people will be willing to pay for those services.

side hustle
(Ariel Skelley / Getty)

The sweet spot is finding something you’re good at, that you enjoy, that can also make you money. An alternative is to explore common side hustles, those known to be effective, and decide if these are options you’d like to explore. The benefit is that it avoids the risk of attempting to monetize a passion, which can take the fun out of the process itself.

Once you’ve explored your motivation, you’ll get an idea of whether to look at profit or passion. Let’s start with the former, by looking at side hustle ideas that are tried and tested in making a decent income.

The best side hustle ideas from home to make extra money

If making money is your number one priority, then it makes sense to explore side hustle ideas from home. These save you time and travel costs, and most activities can be set up easily from anywhere with an internet connection. 

Common side hustle gigs (and potentially great side hustle ideas for you) include freelancing (including copywriting, marketing, social media management), one-off gigs, and online tutoring. These gigs are in high demand, and could provide a steady stream of income in your free time, without you ever having to actually leave your house!

“[Look for] problems you’ve overcome in your own world or problems you can perceive other people having,” Nick Loper, founder of Side Hustle Nation, told Time. This is golden advice for finding a niche and monetizing the wisdom you’ve attained. The internet has opened doors and connections all over the world. That means there will be an audience for what you have to teach — you just have to find it.

Creating online courses is one potentially lucrative side hustle idea from home. You might need to invest in equipment, but there are a host of platforms available to make your content accessible to students from all over the world. Considering the online e-learning market is set to be worth $325 Billion in 2025, it’s worth looking into.

Other ideas include:

Selling items on eBay: kill two birds by one stone by getting rid of unwanted junk, whilst making a profit by selling online.

Social media management: a growing number of companies are looking to outsource control of their online brand. According to PayScale, the average salary for full-time positions is $34,432 to $56,571 per year, and with a couple of hours of work per week, you can top up your income significantly.

Teach a foreign language: there are a growing number of opportunities to teach English to students online, with flexible schedules, and decent pay. If you enjoy meeting people face-to-face (or on Zoom!) and having a social side hustle, this could be a worthwhile option.

Sell items on Etsy: if you’re looking to exercise your creative muscles and make money, Etsy provides an opportunity to sell crafts or homemade items. By using its platform, you can reach customers and monetize your creative streak.

The best side hustle ideas to make money in person

There are still side hustle opportunities away from the internet (making money without additional screen time is always welcome). Serial entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk has a specific side hustle he believes can help people make up to $100,000 each year: retail arbitrage flipping. 

This side hustle involves finding discount projects in stores, and finding out how much they cost online through other outlets with the aim to buy and sell for a profit. “I am watching people literally go from being homeless to building up $50,000 to $100,000,” Vaynerchuk told CNBC. The process is simple: look in the aisles in places like Walmart, find a deal, then sell it on eBay or Amazon (or at an in-person sale).

For those with an eye for a bargain, this can be a fun experiment. Picture browsing thrift stores for clothes you can resell. The concept isn’t new — people have been looking for hidden gems at garage sales (in England, we call these “car boot sales,” which I’ve only just realized sounds a bit odd) and selling at auctions for profit for generations.

Other opportunities in person include dog walking, ridesharing, or renting out property. Although the gig economy has potential downsides, including unstable working hours, poor working conditions, and a lack of job security, it opens up opportunities to make extra income in a way that suits your schedule.

The passion project: using your side hustle to test a business idea

But what if you want to pursue your passion project as your side hustle? If this is the direction you’d like to go in, ahead of boosting income short-term, the process is different. 

You’ll want to view your side hustle as an investment, focusing more on long-term goals than immediate feedback. That doesn’t mean completely sacrificing profit — a number of leading companies, such as Udemy and Groupon, started as side hustles.

Stories of budding entrepreneurs going all-in, quitting even some of the highest paying jobs in America, and putting everything on the line to become an overnight success, offer inspiration. But sometimes setting up a business is a marathon and not a sprint. 

One way to add intense pressure to “making it” would be completely cutting off other sources of income in pursuit of your business idea. Instead, a side hustle is a great opportunity to explore the idea with less risk.

Indeed, the Young Entrepreneur Council recommends testing any ideas before heading for a full launch. “A test of this sort determines what your effort will be versus what a client will pay for in a new venture,” Matthew Capala told Forbes. “Many great ideas are just that — great ideas. Not all great ideas translate into great businesses or side hustles.”

That doesn’t mean the business has to be taken any less seriously. You’ll still need to develop a solid business plan, define your target market, refine your product, and build an audience. But rather than attempting to make this a reality at rapid speed, working on the project as a side hustle allows you to take your time, and slowly build. 

You might find yourself “working” on weekends or evenings. The beauty is, if it’s something you enjoy, it won’t feel like work. Not only that, but if you’re earning a decent income elsewhere, you’ll be able to invest in your business without worrying about not covering bills or living expenses. 

By putting in the hard work before making the full leap, you give yourself the opportunity to make sure your business idea is viable (and financially stable) to quit the day job.

The value of 1,000 true fans

side hustle

Does this mean you have to wait until you’re making millions to fully commit? Not quite. Technology opens up a wide range of opportunities for online businesses. It’s possible to make a decent income by creating online products, such as eBooks or an online course, offering online services, such as coaching, or by becoming a content creator. Kevin Kelly, the former editor of Wired Magazine, presents an idea for the modern market: 1,000 true fans.

According to Kelly, “to make a living as a craftsperson, photographer, musician, designer, author, animator, app maker, entrepreneur, or inventor you need only thousands of true fans. A true fan is defined as a fan that will buy anything you produce.” Kelly notes that if a true fan is willing to pay $100 for your content or services per year, you suddenly have a $100,000 business.

“If you lived in any of the 2 million small towns on Earth you might be the only one in your town to crave death metal music, or get turned on by whispering, or want a left-handed fishing reel. Before the web you’d never be able to satisfy that desire. You’d be alone in your fascination. But now satisfaction is only one click away. Whatever your interests as a creator are, your 1,000 true fans are one click from you.”

So, if looking to explore a business idea as a side hustle, begin by thinking: how can you move towards 1,000 true fans? It’s inspiring and attainable to aim for this ahead of millions of followers. 

Consider the above steps of what you’re good at, what you enjoy, and think about what people need. What niche can you delve into, allowing the internet to connect you to your tribe all over the globe?

When should a side hustle become a full-time project?

Eventually, by testing a business idea and slowly building an audience, you’ll reach a tipping point. That’s not to say all attempts at side hustle businesses are resounding successes. With focus, determination, and a clear desire to work towards your goals, the results will pay off. 

It might be slow in the beginning, but the effort works like compound interest, each day adding to the next. Before you know it, you might find yourself in a situation where you have to decide to pursue your side hustle full-time. What are the key signs you’re ready?

Your side hustle is making money consistently

There are no guarantees with starting a business or following an idea. But you need to have a solid idea of the income stream your side hustle provides. This is why testing is such a good idea: you can see the ups and downs of your financial situation and spot trends over time.

This income stream covers your living expenses

Having a consistent income is one thing, but you want to make sure your bills and costs are covered. Whilst a side hustle that earns you $2,000 a month is impressive, it won’t be sufficient if your monthly bills are $2,500! With this example, you might want to consider working part-time on the side, by reducing hours in your “main job” or looking for a more flexible role.

You’re prepared for failure

I know, failure is the last thing you want to consider when chasing a dream business idea. But it pays to be cautious. Do you have enough savings to cover your living costs if you have a poor few months? Whilst an element of risk is required, preparing a safety net will avoid getting into difficult financial situations.

The demand is growing

Away from the financial side, another sign is if you’re struggling to keep up with demand. If you work a 40-hour week in addition to selling crafts online and have a huge backlog of orders, it could make sense to commit more time to your side hustle, in the knowledge higher output will make you more money.

You feel ready to take the shot

As Michael Jordan said: “You miss 100% of the shots you don't take." Yes, be wise about the financial side. But at the same time, know that it’s easy to talk ourselves out of pursuing a dream. Be prepared as best you can, and decide if it’s worth the risk to go all-in. Know you might never feel fully ready. What if now is the time to take that shot?

side hustle
(Kiyoshi Hijiki / Getty)

Recap: How to start a side hustle

Before we conclude, let’s roundup the steps to starting a side hustle that you can start to transform the enthusiasm into action:

  1. Explore your motivation: get clear on why you want to start a side hustle. What is your intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation? What is your priority? Are you looking to boost your income, test a business idea, or monetize a passion? Start by knowing exactly what you want.
  2. Choose your side hustle: once you know your motivation, the next step is to choose the best side hustle idea for you. If you’re looking to make money, choosing the most lucrative and time-sensitive option might be the best fit. If you already have an idea you wish to pursue, this choice is already made.
  3. Create a plan: how much time will you dedicate to this weekly? What are your financial goals? What steps will you take to make sure you’re on track? Consider all these options as you make the project more tangible. If you’re testing a business, this stage involves working out your target audience and developing a business model.
  4. Take action: the next stage is to get to work, without overworking. Show up, be consistent, and honor your side hustle. Have patience, and see what happens. But know that dedication is an investment, and momentum will build.
  5. Consider if it’s time to go all-in: after you’ve worked on your side hustle for some time, you’ll get an idea of how viable it is. Are you enjoying it? Is it profitable? Is it showing potential to grow even bigger? This is the crossroads where your side hustle has a chance to become your full-time “job.”

Feeling inspired? Ready to take that shot at a dream business, or boost your income? Prepping your trip to Walmart, or opening a new Google doc with the headline “business plan?” Great. Welcome to the side hustle journey. It’s great to have you here. 

Don’t forget: stay resilient!

There will be ups and downs, but always remember, you’re much more likely to regret the things you don’t try. So keep making small steps, believe in what you’re trying to achieve, and allow the rest to take care of itself. And you never know, maybe today’s effort will make you tomorrow’s success story.

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