Get Something on the Side
When Laura Jones, a life coach, and her husband, a ballroom dance instructor and studio manager in Southampton, Pa., couldn’t find a natural deodorant that worked as well as the commercial ones, they developed their own. Realizing others were probably seeking the same thing, the couple started Arborstead, an Etsy shop where they sell all-natural, homemade deodorants, lip balms, baby powders and wood polish. After just a couple months in business and no marketing, the couple was earning an extra $100 per month selling their products online and at a local farmer’s market. By the end of the year, they expect to be earning as much as $1,000 per month from product sales — and that’s on top of their income from their regular jobs.
Starting a side job has become a common way to earn extra money, build job security and control your income. And it doesn’t have to be difficult. “All it really takes is to find a problem you'd like to solve and teach yourself how to solve it,” Jones says. In addition to creativity, successful side-giggers have confidence, grit and “lots of energy,” says Julie Austin, a serial entrepreneur who teaches a “Create Your Own Job” course for people who want to make money on the side. “If you pick something you really love to do anyway, it'll never feel like work and will actually energize you.”
Here are six promising side gigs that offer easy entry and the possibility of significant extra cash.
Start an Etsy Store
If you’re crafty or creative, chances are you’ll find a market for your wares on Etsy. The site is known for connecting artists and artisans with customers (I’ve purchased handmade Christmas stockings for my kids and hand-painted letters for my youngest child’s bedroom there). But it’s also a place to sell vintage items, craft supplies and any kind of handmade goods, including clothing, shoes, stationery, curtains, bedding, frames, furniture, even homemade deodorant, like the Jones’.
“If you have any hobby, you can create a product that connects to it and sell it on Etsy,” says Estee Cohen, who often trains Spanish-speaking housekeepers for her friends and now sells her Maid Easier magnets, which help the housekeepers and employers to better communicate with each other. Within the first few days of posting her magnets, Cohen sold 40 sets at $10 each.
To find success selling on Etsy, positive customer feedback is essential, Cohen says. “Each one you sell, encourage people to write positive feedback,” she says. “The best thing you can do is communicate with customers and deliver on time. Word gets around if people are unhappy.”
Become a Photographer
My favorite family photographs were taken last fall by a woman who works in a doctor’s office all day and takes photos at night and on weekends on her family’s farm. Her work is less expensive than a studio photographer because she has little overhead, but she’s making a healthy side income.
To start a photography business, take time to “understand the fundamentals behind photography,” says Jenna Bechtholt, who started taking photographs on the side in 2012. “If you really want to make money as a photographer, you can't just pick up a random camera with any lens and shoot portraits in automatic mode.” At a minimum, Bechtholt recommends having a reliable camera body, a few lenses and an understanding of manual mode.
To gain experience and training, Bechtholt suggests working for free (at first) for other established photographers as an assistant or second shooter. “This is a rare opportunity to watch other photographers in action,” she says. “You are able to see the techniques they use and begin to understand a bit more about how to work with clients.” As with any craft, practice makes perfect. “You can read all you want online, but if you don't get out and practice you will never improve,” she says.
The amount you can earn as a side-gig photographer varies. Bechtholt started out shooting engagements and family photos, doing about one shoot per week and charging $125. Today, she charges $300 for portrait sessions. “If you are really hustling, you can do up to four shoots a weekend, two mornings and two late afternoon,” she says. “During the summer months, when sunset is in the late evening, you can book clients during the week for evening shoots.”
Start a Food Business
Love to cook? Why not cook for money? Many states have a cottage food law, allowing for legal home processing of food, says Mimi Shotland Fix, author of “Start & Run a Home-Based Food Business.” While you’ll need to research your own state’s rules, most of the homemade foods that are legal to sell are items that do not need refrigeration, such as brownies, cookies or granola. For instance, Fix’s advice has helped start food businesses such as Kitchen Blessings Baking, Banana Moon Baking Company and Blue Ribbon Hearth, which sell homemade cookies, breads and scones at local farmer’s markets, restaurants and shops.
The amount of cash you can expect to earn with a home-based food business depends on your market, local competition, your skill level, the time you commit to the venture and “most importantly, the ability to price products correctly,” Fix says. Before starting, she recommends writing a business plan, figuring startup costs, learning to price products and creating a marketing plan. “The business part of making and selling food is not always easy and not that much fun, but if you want to succeed it has to be done,” she says. “To just start baking and selling without a plan is a recipe for disaster.”
If baking and selling aren’t for you, consider preparing entire meals and hosting dinners in your home. A number of online marketplaces for such home-hosted meals have sprung up, such as Cookening and EatWith.
If you love animals, pet sitting and dog walking are two options for side jobs that can be both enjoyable and profitable. Austin knows four people who walk dogs on the side, and two of them, after being laid off from their regular jobs, have managed to make enough money as dog walkers to avoid going back to full-time jobs. “One of them now makes over six figures a year and has two employees,” Austin says.
For more occasional work with pets, consider dog sitting. Austin has another friend who pays a sitter $100 per day to stay at her house with her dog while she’s away. If you’d rather stay at your own house, consider one of the online marketplaces for pet sitters. Through sites like Rover and DogVacay, you can “host” dogs or other pets in your own home while their owners are on vacation.
Become a Coach
Coaching and consulting jobs are in demand and make ideal side projects for people who work in other jobs. There are success coaches, life coaches, retirement coaches, career coaches and transition coaches. And while there are training programs available such as The Coaches Training Institute and the Institute for Life Coach Training, the coaching industry is unregulated and virtually anyone can get into it — although that may be changing, as many in the industry are seeking to make certification a requirement for coaching practice, says Lisa Orrell, a success coach known as The Promote U Guru.
Whether you are certified or not, “you need to have experience related to the industry or people you want to coach,” Orrell says. “If you want to be an executive coach, you should have been a corporate executive in your career so you can relate to your clients. If you want to be a business coach, you should have owned your own business, or run a business, of any type, for a significant period of time.”
Most coaches offer sessions via phone, so they can work with clients anywhere, and provide email support between sessions. That flexible scheduling makes coaching a viable side gig for people who work full-time day jobs.
Austin, the serial entrepreneur, also works part-time as a coach for entrepreneurs and inventors and as a sponsorship coach for speakers and artists, got into coaching by doing it free for inventors and entrepreneurs “until I got to the point that I could start charging for it,” she says. “Then I started asking for testimonials from the people I helped. The next thing I did was go straight to the people I could help, like LinkedIn groups for inventors and social media. Eventually word of mouth took over.”
Teach What You Know
Everyone is an expert in something, Austin says. And most likely, there are other people who would pay to learn what you know. Consider developing live or online courses, workshops or seminars in your areas of expertise. For live classes, partner with a local university or college’s community learning program or a local extension office. Online video courses can provide a better payoff than live courses because once they’re posted, people can purchase them at all hours and you don’t have to do anything but collect money.
Websites like SkillShare and Skillfeed offer marketplaces to post and sell your video courses. SkillShare allows a variety of classes in categories including advertising, business, design, fashion, film, food and drink, photography, publishing, technology, television and writing. Skillfeed focuses on courses in career-building skills such as Web design, photography, video editing and programming, and pays instructors monthly via PayPal.