The safest side hustles to start right now
Unemployment rates are high enough. Don’t watch your side hustle wither on the vine.
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A lot of people have started side hustles since the last recession. But, like the rest of the economy, incomes from a lot of these side jobs are dropping quickly in this downturn.
Between social distancing, quarantines, and general worries about the pandemic—and people just not having money to spend—a lot of jobs like ridesharing just aren’t as lucrative as they once were. Some aren’t even options during statewide shutdowns.
At the same time, though, other side hustles have actually seen upticks in activity. Or, at the very least, they haven’t been hurt as much.
Editor’s Note: When it comes to finding the right side hustle or gig economy job, there are a few ways to decide. This article covers what work is safe to start during a pandemic or global shutdown, but we’ve also covered side gigs you can do from anywhere and which ones are best for digital nomads. As similar as all of these sound, they’re not all created equal.
Let’s review some side hustles that are the most insulated against economic downturn and the odd global pandemic.
Our list of the safest side hustles
In just the past four weeks, more than 20 million Americans have had to file unemployment. With so many people at risk of losing their jobs, we can’t afford to watch side hustle income evaporate as well.
If you want a gig that can keep money coming in through this crisis, here are some to consider:
It doesn’t matter whether it’s a recession or a pandemic—people gotta eat. And some people will always get delivery. Even those who don’t order prepared food for delivery still rely on internet shopping for groceries, homegoods, and other necessities.
So, if you want a way to make extra money, even while the economy is slow, consider signing up for one of the delivery services like Postmates, UberEats, Instacart, or Amazon Flex.
One of the added benefits of being a delivery driver is that you can work from the safety of your own vehicle. So, even when the next pandemic strikes, you’ll still be able to make money. For the professional social distancer, some of these platforms even have options for contactless delivery.
It’s amazing how many businesses rely on freelance designers to help avoid the cost of hiring an agency or full-time designer. Plus, the job has always been of the work-from-anywhere-with-wifi variety.
If you’ve got a good eye or skills with design software, consider signing up for 99Designs, Fiverr, or Upwork. Or, call on local businesses or personal connections to round up some individual clients of your own and avoid all the platform charges.
Did you know that 300 hours of content are uploaded to YouTube every minute? And just about every second is monetized. But it’s not just video—there are plenty of businesses and individuals who have trouble stringing together a coherent sentence. So, they pay people who can to write their content for them.
If you have a knack for communicating and want a side hustle that’s well-insulated against recessions, consider doing some writing/blogging/vlogging. You can take on projects for clients, writing articles and the like, or you can produce content to monetize using YouTube or with a simple WordPress site. [Shameless plug: If you’re going to set up on your own site, you might as well use Bluehost. They’re a solid provider and it’ll help us keep our own lights on.]
Remote customer service
There are one or two airlines that have used remote customer service for years, but we swear this is better. Now, rather than dealing with over-stressed travelers or explaining shampoo bottle sizes, you can work with companies like LiveOps to provide companies with sound customer service and get paid for each minute you’re talking to a customer.
And, yes, you can do this from home.
Just like graphic design, building websites is another gig that’s not going anywhere. No matter what happens, as long as there’s an economy, there will be people trying to sell things to other people or wanting to develop some sort of online presence.
In fact, during tumultuous times like these, there’s often actually an uptick in this kind of work. Small businesses of all sorts end up having to change policies or build new offerings, and they need pages built explaining their new curbside delivery or no-mask-no-service policy.
In some cases, whole new products are coming out that require new sites to be built. When the SBA rolled out its new loan programs in response to COVID, thousands of banks around the country had to build brand new landing pages and portals to handle all the applications. Many of them didn’t work, but that’s beside the point.
Yes, this is another tech side gig. And, no, it’s not the same thing as web design.
Developing software and writing programs or apps are extremely valuable skills (as indicated by real estate prices in San Francisco), and the demand for those skills isn’t slackening in response to COVID. In fact, it’s growing in many cases, because so many businesses want to be ready to roll out new products as soon as the crisis passes.
If you have programming skills, you may already be used to working from home and finding your own clients. If you aren’t, get used to it—even if it’s just for nights and weekends. You’ll thank us later.
Selling goods online
If history has taught us anything, it’s that no matter how bad a recession gets, there are always people willing to spend money. Though the economy may suffer, people continue celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, and other personal milestones, and they use these events as opportunities to treat themselves or others.
So, why not sell people things they already want to buy?
Using platforms like Etsy or eBay, you can sell or re-sell goods online. They might be refurbished/reclaimed/upcycled antiques or homemade items you craft in your spare time. Getting supplies and shipping final products may prove a bit difficult, and sales will almost definitely be lower during a recession than they are doing boom-times, but it’s still money coming in.
If there’s one thing that the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted for many young-to-middle-age parents, it’s the time and attention required to educate their kids.
Admittedly, needs have been especially unique during the pandemic. But still, this experience has served to reinforce the need for kids to have access to after-school tutoring, standardized test prep, and individual instruction for English-as-a-second-language (ESL) students. Anyone with experience as an educator—or even just a sound understanding of various high-school level subjects like Calculus—can be a God-send to parents struggling to keep their children's education on track.
Imagine doing a bunch of work upfront and then collecting checks forever. That’s how royalties work. Sound cool? Then you might be an aspiring author.
Getting a deal from a publisher is difficult, to say the least. But, thanks for self-published platforms like Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, you don’t need to wait for one of the big houses to come calling. Now, you can write the next great American novel in your spare time, self-publish, and wait for your checks to roll in.
To be fair, the royalties from self-publishing aren’t usually very big. But it can be decent money if your book sells. And, people still need something to do during recessions. The COVID-19 pandemic has, ironically, been a bit of a boon for the publishing industry, because millions of people have been forced to stay home and had time to do things they like. Like reading.
Another great benefit about self-publishing in a recession is that you can keep collecting royalties even after things go back to normal.
So, I have to admit, as a 33-year-old finance guy who spends his time writing, reading, and working outside, this one wasn’t something that immediately occurred to me. But, I’ve been assured, it’s a thing.
In addition to selling actual goods on platforms like Etsy, many people make money by designing things that can be downloaded for a fee. People upload everything from craft designs to journal templates that people can pay for and download at will.
Using this kind of side hustle, you can get paid per download. If you have the skills and the time, you can even offer custom downloads for an additional fee.
This side hustle comes in all shapes, but the most insulated forms tend to be tech-heavy. Examples range from systems administration or e-commerce integration to freelance marketing, SEO consulting, loan brokering, and so-on. Lead generation in particular is a big moneymaker in recessions, as businesses have to work harder to attract their target customers.
We’ve already identified some of the side hustles that best withstand events like recessions and pandemics. There are other gigs that, though not necessarily as well-insulated, are great side hustles for people looking for part-time work that they can do from anywhere.
Just know that some of these will be among the first things people quit paying for during a severe economic downturn.
Working as a virtual assistant
A virtual assistant can be a big value-add for many business owners and independent entrepreneurs. Depending on time and skillset, assistants can help business owners manage their calendars, invoice clients, and perform other administrative tasks that let entrepreneurs focus on the profit centers of their business.
The only reason that this valuable side hustle didn’t make our list is that many business owners have to cut expenses during a recession, and this often includes assistants and other administrative workers.
Virtual bookkeeping has become a great remote business for people to start in recent years. Using software like Quickbooks or Xero, you can get set up to track and manage the finances of entrepreneurs, small business owners, or even individual households.
However, with many businesses shut down in response to coronavirus, there’s much less work for bookkeepers to do, and so they’re currently seen as a luxury that many business owners are having to forgo. However, under normal circumstances, virtual bookkeeping is a great source of work that you can do from anywhere, usually on a flexible schedule.
Recessions make everything more difficult, but it’s still important to keep money coming in—especially because full-time jobs are scarce. Even if you get laid off from a full-time job and qualify for unemployment, it’s important to know what you can do to make money once your benefits run out. These are some side hustles that stay in-demand, so you can make money even during economic downturns or shutdowns.