So, you want to become financially independent. You’ve cut your expenses and now you want to maximize your income so you can boost your savings rate, but you know your salary alone isn’t going to cut it. What is a reliable way to generate more income?
For many, the answer is simple: Side hustle.
A side hustle is a great way to grow your earnings without giving up your current job—even if you aren’t due for a raise or a promotion.
Or, if you have the right skills and stay dedicated, you might even build an income stream that isn’t tied to traditional employment. You may even put yourself in a position to ultimately leave your full-time job and work from anywhere, a la digital nomad.
Table of Contents
- Side hustle examples
- How side hustling works
- How to start a side business
- Comparing gig economy jobs
- Building wealth from side hustle revenue
- Side hustling as a digital nomad
- Tips from those who have done it
- Recommended reading
- Bottom line
So what is a side hustle, anyway?
Side hustles have been around forever, although they haven’t always been known by that name. During World War II, it was common for families to take in laundry or take care of other people’s sewing. In some areas of the country, families started small gardens and took their excess produce to farmers’ markets. Or kept chickens in their backyards and sold farm fresh eggs. Side hustles come in all shapes and sizes.
And now, with the growth of technology, there are more side hustle options than ever before.
Side hustle examples
With so many avenues to make extra money, it can be hard to decide which one(s) might work for you. The first step in deciding on a side hustle is to consider all the options.
Of course, there are the online side hustles that we’re all familiar with:: Uber, Lyft, Postmates, and Etsy.
For those who are willing to take a little more risk for the chance of making more money from their side ventures, there are also more speculative activities like fixing and flipping homes or self-publishing books.
And that’s to say nothing of more traditional side jobs like mowing lawns, babysitting, or restoring furniture.
So, if you’re looking for ideas for your next side hustle, here are some of the most popular that we’ve found:
By now most people are aware of the ability to make extra money driving through a platform like Uber or Lyft. This is a great option if you have access to a second car or a vehicle that isn’t frequently in use, so long as the car meets the platform’s requirements.
If you’re thinking about driving for Uber or Lyft, you should be aware that it typically works best if you can work in chunks of at least several hours. You should also be aware that your vehicle may encounter extra wear-and-tear as a result of driving for hire, although this may be avoidable if you decide not to work during peak bar-hopping nights (even though these can also be some of your most profitable times to drive).
Food & grocery delivery
Delivering food or groceries through UberEats, Instacart, Postmates, or other services is another way to make money in your spare time with no real requirements except access to a vehicle. Again, you should plan to work in spurts of at least several hours, but your car will probably encounter a lot less wear-and-tear without human passengers.
Writing and visual design
Freelance writing or design work is a growing area, especially for people who are thinking of making a career change and want to accumulate experience.
People who are considering a side hustle should also think carefully about whether they have a strong background in some other field that gives them a leg-up on work related to certain topics. This can be super helpful as this market gets more competitive with increasing numbers of remote workers from all walks of life and areas of the world who might undercut your prices or charge a lot less for their work.
Accounting and bookkeeping can be a big business for people with training in accounting or just those who are used to managing the finances of a business or a household. This kind of work is often done by accountants during their spare time, but it doesn’t always require extra licenses. You can get started with just a simple Quickbooks license and grow your practice from there as time allows.
Carpentry and handyman jobs
If you’re available for a few hours per week to help people with small home repairs, you can make extra money working as a handyman. If you’re willing to work on small projects over several weeks and are used to working with your hands, carpentry may be another option.
To make extra money doing these kinds of jobs, you may or may not need to be a licensed contractor, so be sure to check your local laws. Most states have revenue thresholds; so, if you charge less than a certain amount, you may not need to be licensed.
Lawn care and landscaping
This one is especially big in suburban areas, where people own homes in country club communities that need to be kept looking nice.
If you have a riding lawnmower or are used to taking care of your own lawn, you can make plenty of extra money taking care of other people’s lawn care needs during evenings and weekends. The springtime is also a great time to take on extra jobs as people get ready to mulch and prepare gardens and flower beds for summer blooms.
This category is a bit broad. It includes everything from making handmade goods and crafts that can be marketed through Etsy to making your own jams and jellies to sell at local farmers’ markets.
If these kinds of crafts aren’t your speed, refinishing furniture is another popular cottage industry, and one that can be done right in your own garage. You can do this kind of work on contract, restoring pieces for other people, or on spec by buying pieces that you find for cheap to fix them up and resell.
Virtual assistants have the benefit of working remotely, though not always with flexible hours. Still, if you can commit to making yourself available at regular hours through a week or month, you can help small business owners to set and manage appointments, coordinate correspondence, prepare and review documents, and generally make their life easier.
Do you have unique insight into a topic or industry, or even just a unique voice that people find engaging? If so, you may be able to set up a profitable side hustle producing and publishing your own content.
Today, one of the fastest-growing side hustles is in the content space. Whether you’re a writer, editor, photographer, or videographer, you can make money posting content to your own website or through other outlets like a YouTube channel.
In order to be successful, you’ll need to make sure you produce interesting, engaging content on a consistent schedule, and that you monetize your content with the right partners. Thankfully, if you use a platform like YouTube or a Google plug-in on your own site, you can let other providers customize your ads based on individual users.
Real estate (two ways for one!)
If you have the sales skills and social network, a passion for houses (or architecture, design, etc.), and are willing and available to work on the weekends, becoming a realtor is a great side hustle or even second career to earn extra income. Realtors are typically commission-based vs. salaried so the amount of time you put into the job can be somewhat flexible. But if sales isn’t necessarily your thing, you can still make money (maybe even more of it) in real estate.
Another long-standing way to make extra money in your spare time is by investing in real estate. This can be done any number of ways, but the most common are to buy properties that can be fixed up and rented out or just fixing houses and reselling them (fixing-and-flipping).
This avenue can require quite a bit more capital to get started than most other options, but the rewards can also be a lot higher. If you want to maximize your return, try to focus on properties that you can fix and/or manage yourself. But, if a project is too much for you to do by yourself, you can always hire a contract or a property manager.
IT is another area that has a lot of possibilities ranging from programming to network administration, helping small businesses with websites, and so on. Most small business owners often aren’t very tech savvy, so having someone who can help them keep their office communication and data storage systems up and running is super important.
If you have a background in tech, whether it’s working as a systems administrator, a front-end developer, or a programmer, there are clients willing to pay you for a few hours per week.
As documented in books like Squeezed, daycare is becoming a growing need as more and more Americans are forced to work longer hours for less pay. These additional working hours have led people to look for daycare options for their kids starting at an early age.
If you have proper training in things like CPR, and are willing to get the right insurance, babysitting or running a small daycare operation—even just on nights and weekends—can be a great way to make extra money. It also helps other people to take shifts and do work of their own, which is increasingly important.
At the end of the day, an effective side hustle is any way that you can think of to make extra money outside of your traditional job. One route that a lot of people take is to monetize their hobbies, but that isn’t the only way to go. Ultimately, a side hustle is any way you can think of to make a buck.
How side hustling works
The way side hustling works is that you basically take on extra work as you can. While nights and weekends are typical, you can also work on your side hustle early in the morning or even during the day if you work outside normal 9 to 5 hours for your day job.
One of the great things about side hustles is that they’re flexible. You can spend more or less time on your side hustle as your schedule allows.
Of course, this flexibility also cuts both ways. Sometimes you may see revenue from your side job drop off for no reason or for reasons beyond your control. However, when you’re working in a side job, it’s up to you to go drum up more work as necessary. No one else is going to do it for you.
The gig economy
Most people are aware of side hustles through the gig economy. Even if they aren’t doing gig work themselves, they’re probably aware of gig jobs from the consumer side. They’ve taken an Uber, split a Lyft, or had a website built through Upwork.
The gig economy is basically a subset of side hustles that’s now several years but still growing. Basically, the gig economy is when workers with special skills or access to certain resources (even if it’s just a car) take on individual jobs (or “gigs”) for small business owners or consumers in their spare time.
The gig economy is often thought of in terms of the platforms that help connect giggers with consumers of their services. Along with the sharing economy, the gig economy is a way for people to make extra money using their spare resources - including time.
Historically, everything was gig work
While today we have a fairly limited definition of what qualifies as gig work, this hasn’t always been the case. In fact, what today we define as a “gig” is only thought of that way because people have gotten so used to working normal 9 to 5 jobs.
Historically, almost everyone did work that we would call “gig work.” Up until the 1940s and ‘50s, the U.S. economy was largely composed of independent tradespeople who did small jobs for other people.
Sure, there were large companies back then that people worked for. But, even then, these workers were largely considered freelancers who traded their time for wages. And they were largely in the minority. It wasn’t until after World War II that the industrial economy really began to take off and the concept of full-time 9 to 5 employment and “company men” became the norm.
This is still seen in other countries such as Britain and most of the EU where the majority of workers are on contract and being an employee is seen as an intense, typically longer term commitment.
Side hustling vs. gigging
While many people use the terms interchangeably, there are some differences between side hustling and gigging. One of the biggest differentiators between gig jobs and other side hustles is that gigs are typically done through platforms that help aggregate jobs for workers to do. These platforms are great tools for both workers and consumers, as they represent a single place where people can come together and get matched up based on needs and offerings.
Some of the things that a gigging platform makes easier include:
- Finding and identifying clients
- Matching consumers and workers
- Coordinating billing and payment for completed jobs
Sometimes these platforms also take care of your insurance or prepare necessary tax forms for your earnings.
So, unlike other side hustles, gig platforms can help you find work. This is especially helpful if you have a drop-off in work and need to find more clients, which can be far more challenging with traditional side hustles.
How to start a side business
One of the recurring themes that comes up when we ask experts about starting a side hustle is this: Don’t get ahead of yourself.
When most people start a side gig, it’s common to rush in and try to do way too much, way too fast.
Instead, people are encouraged to start their side gig with small, measured steps. For example, if you’re going to work through a gig economy platform, you just need to sign up. Of course, each platform will have its own requirements for getting registered. Some may include a background check, photos of your vehicle (if you’re driving for Uber/Lyft), or proof of licensing. Depending on what job you’re doing, you may want to make sure you have access to whatever tools you’ll need or a dedicated workspace.
However, if you’re planning to start off through a platform or just doing minimal work each month, you can likely dive in and get started quickly. You may not even have to worry about incorporating as a business entity or doing your own bookkeeping aside from whatever is provided by the platform.
On the other hand, if you’re starting a side hustle that isn’t going to be run through a platform, then items like business insurance, letters of incorporation, bookkeeping and tax software, etc. become much more important without the platform there to shield you from liability or take care of back-office functions for you.
Looking to scale?
If you’re starting your side hustle in the form of a standalone operation (not on any platform) and you plan to grow it to a large operation or will be doing work that can create liability (working on other people’s cars, for example), then it’s really important for you to incorporate, get insurance, and ensure that you meet all state and local licensing requirements to do the work that you plan to do.
Comparing gig economy jobs
|Choosing a gig work platform|
|Platform||Best For...||Typical Wages|
|Uber||Drivers who want to get started quickly||$15.50 per hour|
|Lyft||Drivers who don’t mind a slightly longer vetting process||$17.50 per hour|
|Upwork||Anybody with special knowledge, skills, or software to complete small jobs||$15.76 per hour|
|Fiverr||People with niche skills who want to create tiered offerings||$5 per gig (base rate)|
|TaskRabbit||Handymen or people with repair skills||$8-$43 per hour|
|99Designs||Creative people or those with experience using design software||$18-$25 per hour|
|Clearvoice||Experienced writers and editors||$15-$50 per hour|
|Wag||Dog-lovers in major American markets||$17.50 per walk|
|Postmates||Good drivers who don’t mind smelling someone else’s food||$15-$25 per hour|
|Amazon Flex||People with reliable vehicles in major American markets||$18-$25 per hour|
|Liveops||Friendly workers with good people skills who can provide strong customer service||$0.25 per minute of talk time|
If the work you want to do for your side hustle can be conducted through one of these platforms, that can really simplify your life. You probably won’t need to incorporate, buy insurance, or worry about things like bookkeeping or payroll. Instead, you just sign up, accept jobs, do them, and get paid.
It’s very important when deciding how to set up your side hustle to consider your skills and the types of work you want to do. This will help you decide if one of these platforms are right for you or if you’re better off using a more traditional side hustle that’s less tech-centric.
Trends in the Gig Economy
There are several factors driving growth among gig work and other side hustles. Here are just a few insightful statistics:
- The average salary of a millennial today is an estimated 20% lower than the average salary that a baby boomer had at the same age.
- Millennials are less wealthy than previous generations were at their age at any point between 1989 and 2007.
- The recession left over 15% of Millennials in their early 20s out of work, many of whom are still struggling to get their feet on the ground. This will hurt them long after they do get work.
- Almost two-thirds of millennials say they’re living paycheck to paycheck and only 38% feel financially stable.
Due in large part to their financial circumstances, today roughly 20% to 30% of today’s workers take part in the gig economy, a term used for freelancers who earn money through temporary contract work, instead of through a structured payroll position. This number is expected to grow to 40% by 2020.
Building wealth from side hustle revenue
One common question for people who are thinking about starting a side hustle, if it’s successful, what then?
You might find yourself wondering what you’re supposed to do if your side hustle is a success, but the whole point of starting a side hustle is to boost earnings and increase your net worth.
Now, this can be done in any number of ways. You can use your earnings from your gig economy to:
- Pay off debt
- Invest in new education, skills, or tools
- Build a rainy day fund
However, the important thing here is that no matter how much you make from your side hustle, you’ll never accumulate wealth if you’re constantly spending what you make. This means that money you make from hustling shouldn’t be used to cover your monthly expenses.
Instead, try to use money that you make from side jobs to either increase your savings or further increase your earning potential.
Investing your earnings
Ultimately, whether you contribute your side hustle earnings straight to an investment account, reinvest in your business, or invest in yourself to increase earning potential, the goal will be to increase the amount of money that you invest in things that will make you even more money.
Typically there are three main things that you should invest in if you want to continue building your net worth:
- Liquid investments like Index funds
- Real estate
- Your business, if you plan to sell it someday
Within these three main groups, there are obviously many different ways to invest to further build your net worth. Which one is right for you will depend on your investing objectives, skills and know-how, and the nature of your business or side hustle.
Side hustling as a digital nomad
One of the great things about building a side hustle is that it often provides income that isn’t tied to one place. If you’re looking to minimize your living expenses or want to spend time traveling, building a successful side hustle can give you the flexibility to quit your full-time job and spend several months or even years living on the road and working online.
Folks who adopt this lifestyle are often called “digital nomads,” and they have a level of freedom that many of us can only dream of.
If you’re one of the lucky few who finds success in your side hustle and you want to consider renting or subletting your home and living on the road, be sure to check out our article on how to run a business from the road.
10 side hustles for digital nomads:
- Freelance writing
- Digital marketing
- Web design
- Selling goods on Etsy
- Remote systems administration
- Travelling handyman
- Remote bookkeeping
- Contract tutoring
- Virtual assistant/remote researcher
Tips from those who have done it
Look for passions you can monetize
"Building a side hustle starts in one of two ways: finding something you are passionate about or something you know you can monetize. When I decided to start writing, I knew I wanted to write, the content wasn't as important as what I could make money writing. Once you know what your hustle will be, then you need to develop daily routines to make it work of the long run." - Kimberlee Leonard, Author, Stay At Home Single Mom
Be prepared to work hard
“Starting a side hustle is not for the faint of heart, but, let me tell you, it is a sure shot way to achieve financial independence. Whether you start a blog, become a freelancer, or do part-time consulting, getting your hands involved in multiple streams of revenue is life changing. Before you begin, I challenge you to remain focused, enjoy the grind, and with time comes success.” - Drew Cheneler, Founder, SimpleMoneyLyfe
Consider recurring revenue streams like royalties
“I’ve always enjoyed writing and wanted a side hustle that would let me keep earning money for work I’d already done, so I decided to write a book. While most people think big publishing houses are the only way to go, that’s actually not the case. Self-publishing is an emerging trend in the publication industry, and companies like Amazon make it completely attainable. Through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, aspiring authors are able to self-publish both print and eBooks and keep control of all the books they publish.” - Jordan Tarver, Author, JordanTarver.com
Use your hustle strategically
“Assess what skills you currently have. That's the easiest way to expand and make additional money. You don't need to learn an entirely new skill set because you already have some that you're an expert in. Also, have a clear goal in mind for what financial independence means for you. Write those goals down and break them into actionable steps. If you want to quit your job and go into a lower-paying field, you may first need to pay off outstanding debt. Use the side hustle income to slowly but steadily work through those steps towards your goal.” - Steffa Mantilla, Personal Finance Blogger, Money Tamer
Start your own business as a hustle
“Aspiring entrepreneurs should always start with a side business. That's what I did when I got my first client in college. I interned at a radio station that was owned by a financial advisory firm the summer my freshman year. At the end of my term, the company requested that I offer my production services to them while attending school at Syracuse. This experience helped me land three or four more clients during college. By the time I was in grad school, I had nearly ten clients under my belt. While getting my Master's, I was making more money part-time through my services than some of my friends made working full-time jobs after graduation.” - Naresh Vissa, Founder & CEO, Krish Media & Marketing
Consider taking on a partner
“My friend and I started a side hustle that is doing about $20,000 a month. Working with a partner can really help you make progress on your side hustle - someone who can compliment your skills, motivate you to keep hustling and celebrate your victories.” - Healy Jones, Co-founder, FinvsFin
Focus on profitability, not popularity
“One mistake when choosing a side hustle is going for something trendy, in-fashion, or that you are passionate about. Often, these are the markets that are the most saturated with other hopeful side-hustlers who were told to follow their passion, and the ones you have the least chance of success in. Instead, do your research and don't shy away from side-hustle ideas that are off the beaten path and even ones that get into topics you are not interested in personally.” - Stacy Caprio, Founder, Accelerated Growth Marketing
Keep your upfront investment to a minimum
“One mistake people pursuing a side hustle make is choosing one that has significant upfront investment. Choosing options with low barrier to entry and minimal upfront investment decrease the risk if it doesn't work out, and allow you to become ROI positive with less cash flow.” - Eryn, Personal Finance Writer, Successfully Simple Sisters
Just get started, already!
“Some of the most sustainable and realistic side hustles just aren’t all that glamorous. As a result, there are hundreds of websites out to convince you there’s some secret formula that you can access by buying a course or signing up for some membership scheme. Plenty of people make huge side incomes from very “ordinary” hustles, such as running a small eBay or Amazon business - so don’t dismiss these ideas!” - Ben Taylor, Founder, HomeWorkingClub
If you’re interested in starting a side hustle or a new business, be sure to check out some of these great reads:
If you want to start making money outside of traditional employment, a side hustle may be just what you need. Side hustles—whether through gig economy platforms or not—allow you to jumpstart your earnings and start building up savings for investing in stocks or real estate.
So, if you have hobbies or special talents or skills—or even just a car and some spare time—start thinking about what you can do to start hustling and start saving.