Side Hustles For Dummies
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If you’re thinking about jumping into a side hustle — or if you’ve already taken the plunge — you’re not alone! According to a study reported on Side Hustle Nation, 45 percent of working Americans — about 70 million people! — had at least one side hustle going. Even better: Another 60 million were thinking about jumping into the side-hustle game.

©Drazen / Adobe Stock

Side hustles aren’t only popular in the United States either. According to an article paid for by GoDaddy appearing on the USA Today website, 54 percent of people in the United Kingdom, another 54 percent of people in Singapore, and an astounding 77 percent of people in the Philippines had side hustles.

People start side hustles for a variety of reasons. For many people, money is the prime motivator. But to some people, the financial side of their side hustle is so secondary that it’s almost an afterthought.

So, why are you interested in a side hustle? Maybe it’s money, knowledge, or experience. Maybe you’re hoping to make a big career change. Maybe you’re looking to monetize a hobby or passion. Maybe you want a safety net in place in case you get laid off. Or maybe you’re trying to make ends meet after losing your full-time job.

How a passion becomes a side hustle

As mentioned above, you might start a side hustle based on a hobby or passion. For example of how this can lead to a fantastic opportunity, let’s consider a man named Sandy. He’s been a sports fanatic all his life. He played sports when he was young, and he collected sports cards and memorabilia. Today, a man with children and many responsibilities, his sports cards and memorabilia were stuffed in a box, somewhere in the basement.

Then, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sandy noticed that baseball cards, football, and basketball cards, along with all sorts of sports memorabilia, suddenly became wildly popular.

Many people were working from home, and many others unfortunately lost their jobs (but fortunately, millions of them started side hustles!). Overall, people were at home much more than before and had a lot of time on their hands, as well as surprisingly flexible work and personal schedules. For whatever reason, lots of people either discovered sports cards and collectibles for the first time or, as with Sandy, rediscovered their long-forgotten collections.

So, it’s settled: Sandy has selected his topical area and is going to start a side hustle related to baseball cards, primarily, but also including other cards from football and other sports along with other types of sports collectibles.

But exactly what kind of side hustle is this?

Sandy could, under the general umbrella of “sports cards and collectibles side hustle,” focus on any of the following:

  • Just baseball cards
  • Baseball, football, basketball, and soccer cards — but basically only sports cards
  • “Game-used” memorabilia, such as uniforms and hats, or balls and baseball bats
  • Autographs
  • Old sports books, almanacs, yearbooks, scorecards, and similar items
But wait! Sandy isn’t even close to being done with his narrowing down and filtering. He decides to focus on baseball cards. But what kind? The baseball-card world is divided into different eras:
  • Vintage (basically, older cards from before around 1980)
  • The so-called “junk wax” era from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s
  • Modern and ultra-modern cards that came after the “junk wax” era ended
Sandy decides to focus on vintage cards. However, he still has some more narrowing down to do! He could specialize in:
  • Individual cards
  • Cards for specific baseball teams
  • Unopened packs and cases of old cards (yes, they still exist)
  • Complete sets for a given year
Even if you don’t know the first thing about baseball cards and sports collectibles — and don’t care in the least about them, either! — you probably get the idea. Of course, Sandy isn’t limited to only one particular subcategory, or sub-subcategory, or sub-sub-subcategory, or… . But Sandy’s chances for side-hustle success go way up if he hasn’t cast too wide of a net.

Whether he plans to buy and then flip (sell quickly) vintage baseball cards, start a podcast about jumping back into the sports collectible hobby, or provide advice to other returning collectors to help them get the most value when they sell their collections, the more focused Sandy is, the better off he’ll be.

Sandy could also head right for the techie world for his sports collectible–related side hustle by focusing on non-fungible tokens (NFTs), a hot new area in the sports marketplace (as well as the art world and other areas of society).

An NFT is a unique “digital asset” (basically, an online image, audio clip, or video) that uses blockchain technology to essentially make that digital asset behave as if it were a physical “piece of something” that is actually owned by someone.

Sandy obviously doesn’t have any NFTs stashed away in those cardboard boxes up in his attic, but as he jumps into a sports-collectible side hustle, he absolutely could find something interesting and potentially lucrative related to NFTs.

If you don’t have a clue about blockchain or NFTs and you’d like to learn more, check out Blockchain For Dummies, 2nd Edition, by Tiana Laurence, or NFTs For Dummies by Tiana Laurence and Seoyoung Kim, PhD.

Sandy began his side-hustle planning the right way: by first selecting some area of interest and then narrowing that area down. No matter what your side hustle is going to be, you’ll almost certainly find yourself following the same narrowing-down steps. The table below shows a few different side-hustle topical areas and then, for each one, some of the underlying narrowed-down subcategories.

Side-Hustle Topical Areas Example Subcategories
Beauty and appearance Haircutting and hairstyling, women’s haircutting and hairstyling, hair blowouts, manicures and pedicures, eyebrow microblading, laser hair removal
Health and exercise Outdoor biking, stationary biking and spinning, hiking, weightlifting, resistance training, martial arts
Home-design services Furniture layout, kitchen remodeling, home exteriors, backyard design, firepits
Fashion Women’s clothing, vintage women’s clothing, jewelry and accessories, vintage jewelry

Even if you’re doing the “just something to earn extra money” version of a side hustle rather than trying to monetize an interest or hobby, you still need to do at least a little bit of narrowing down. Suppose you’ve decided to do some gig-economy delivery service. Do you want to also do shopping and then deliver what you buy at the supermarket or at other stores?

Maybe you just want to pick up food from restaurants and deliver the food to homes, with no shopping involved. Making this particular decision will help you decide between, say, an Instacart side hustle versus doing something with DoorDash or Grubhub. Or you may want to just deliver packages for Amazon.

You can “package up” as many different side-hustle ideas as you have time for or that make sense for you. You aren’t even limited to ones that are closely related to one another, such as baseball and football cards, or hair and eyebrow microblading. Be careful not to spread yourself too thin, especially as you’re first getting started in the world of side hustles.

Taking your side hustle to market

You’ve selected your side-hustle topical areas to focus on, and you’ve decided what sort of side hustle to do (providing a service, selling something, delivering content, or monetizing an asset). Guess what: Your decision-making still needs to march ahead! Now you need to decide how you’re going to take your side hustle to market and how you’re going to reach prospective customers.

You could:

  • Go to market totally on your own.
  • Leverage an online marketplace.
  • Join a multilevel marketing (MLM) organization.

Going to market on your own

You can start, build, and run a side hustle that is structurally identical to a full-time business. As another example of someone starting a side hustle, let's say a woman named Breanna went down this particular side-hustle road for her online boutique. She built a simple website and Shopify store and is doing her own social-media marketing.

Breanna lined up her suppliers and set aside a spare bedroom in her house to serve as a warehouse and shipping area. She processes customer orders as they come in and then packs and ships each outgoing package herself.

Breanna’s brother, Brian, is also in the side-hustle game, but he has taken a different route than his sister did. Brian is a software engineer who wants to do a little smaller-scale contract software development for his side hustle. So, whereas Breanna is selling physical products for her side hustle, Brian is providing a service for his.

But other than the product-versus-service and fashion-versus-tech differences, Brian’s side hustle is very similar to Breanna’s. He also built his own website and has been doing online targeted ads to drum up business. Basically, Brian’s side hustle mirrors that of his sister in terms of going to market as a microcosm of a larger business.

Leveraging an online marketplace

Rather than try to market and advertise your side hustle totally from scratch, you can get a head start by posting your services on an existing online marketplace that’s widely known and that your potential customers frequently visit to find providers for what you’re selling.

Keith is a software engineer at the same company where Brian works, and he also wants to start a software development side hustle. Keith, however, doesn’t have the patience to set up his own website or to do his own targeted marketing on social media to try to find business.

Instead, Keith lists his services on Fiverr, an online marketplace where people and businesses come to find contractors for software development, video editing and production, graphic design, market research, writing a business plan, or other professional services.

Many people like Keith use online marketplaces such as Fiverr, Upwork, Freelancer, Guru, and other sites as the foundation for their side hustles.

Online marketplaces aren’t limited to professional services side hustles, either. For example:
  • If you do dog walking or pet sitting for your side hustle, you can list your services on Rover, Holidog, or Puppy Friends Social Club.
  • If you provide home-related services, you can go to market through Angi or Thumbtack.
  • If you do freelance hair styling or tutoring, or provide dance lessons, you can post your services on the aforementioned Fiverr under the “Lifestyle” category.
Suppose Sandy decides his sports collectible–related side hustle will be to help other people figure out how much their long-forgotten vintage card collections are worth. Sandy could list “Vintage Baseball Card Appraisal and Valuation” on Fiverr under “Lifestyle” services.

In fact, if you happen to be a Pokémon collector, you’re in good company with other side hustlers who post that they’ll help you figure out how much your Pokémon collection is worth. Another side-hustle freelancer posts that they’ll appraise Peanuts (the comic strip with Snoopy, Charlie Brown, and their friends) collectibles.

If you can imagine a product or service, odds are that you can come up with a related side hustle!

Multilevel marketing organizations

MLM organizations — also called network marketing companies — are the most controversial topic in the world of side hustles. Some people swear that MLMs are the absolute best way to do a side hustle, while others swear at MLMs and regret the day they ever signed up for one. So, what’s the story with MLMs?

Suppose you’re interested in selling exercise clothing, activewear, and leisurewear for a side hustle. You could do what Breanna did:

  • Build your own website or storefront.
  • Decide which specific products you want to sell.
  • Find suppliers for the products you want to sell.
  • Figure out the tricks of social-media advertising to reach potential customers.
  • Pack and ship orders if you’re handling your own inventory.
On the other hand, you could find an MLM that markets the type of activewear and leisurewear that you want to sell and then join that MLM.

You don’t just sign up with an MLM, however. The term multilevel is part of the name for a reason. You typically become part of the sales network for someone who is already a member of that company (thus, the significance of the work network in network marketing). Further, as illustrated in the figure below, that network is constructed in multiple tiers, or levels, thus, the name multilevel marketing.

Diagram showing a typical multilevel marketing (MLM) hierarchical structure ©John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
A typical multilevel marketing (MLM) hierarchical structure

If you join an MLM, you make money from selling products to other people. But you also make money by bringing other people into the company and typically by receiving a small portion of the sales made by each person in your network. Basically, the larger your network, the more money you can make from products that other people sell.

The pyramid-like structure of the typical sales force within a multilevel marketing company is why many people view MLMs as a “pyramid scheme.” The full story is somewhat murkier.

If an MLM company has a viable product that its independent contractor sales associates — basically, a whole bunch of people doing side hustles — offers and sells to the public, then despite the pyramid-like structure the MLM likely isn’t a pyramid scheme in the classic financial fraud sense. But the key is that the company does need to have real products or services that you and others actually sell.

You need to do your homework and determine:

  • How to figure out if a given MLM’s compensation model is good for you
  • Whether you can make any money if you’re way, way down the sales ladder
  • How sales territories are allocated
  • If you’re required to purchase a monthly allocation of products, or if you can purchase products as you sell them
From a side-hustle perspective, MLMs have some interesting advantages and possible disadvantages. On the plus side, you can find an MLM for almost anything that you want to sell for your side hustle: clothing, health and wellness products, cleaning supplies, cooking-related products, makeup, and even (ahem) “adult” products. If you can imagine something, you almost certainly can find an MLM to join!

One possible drawback, however, is that if you join an MLM, much — maybe even most or all — of your selling will be to family members and friends. Before you head down the MLM road for your side hustle, think about the possibility of constantly pushing new products on your friends and family, or dealing with them as dissatisfied customers, or telling your sister or a parent that the automatic payment on their credit card was rejected last month — yeah, might not be a whole lot of fun.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Alan Simon began his first side hustle in 1982, doing consulting for small businesses and not-for-profits. He's been juggling a variety of side gigs ever since. Alan has been writing novels for 20 years and is currently the managing principal of Thinking Helmet, Inc., a boutique consulting firm.

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