When you hear the phrase “gig economy,” you probably think of apps, like Uber, TaskRabbit or Instacart. But the truth is, there’s a whole world of side gigs out there, available online and off, for all sorts of people. With positions as varied as Courier, Lesson Plan Creator, Personal Financial Advisor, Search Engine Evaluator, Online Community Manager and many more, there’s a side hustle for virtually every different skill set and passion. And the best part is, it can often be pretty financially lucrative — especially if you take on a side gig on top of your full-time job. Say hello to extra income for vacations, shopping sprees or even those pesky bills that always seem to pile up.
But with so many options available, navigating which side hustle is right for you, how you enter the field and what the pay is can be intimidating, to say the least. That’s where Elana Varon, author of The Ultimate Side Hustle Book: 450 Moneymaking Ideas for the Gig Economy, saw an opportunity. Varon’s new book goes into the what, why and how of side gigs, as well as real-life stories from those who have taken them on. According to Varon, the benefits of taking on a side hustle are significant.
“Most people who take on a side hustle want the extra money, so that’s a big benefit. But if you’re exploring a new career, a side hustle can help you learn about other types of work you can do and get experience in the field. And hopefully, you’re able to spend your time doing something you enjoy,” Varon said. And for those concerned with work-life balance, don’t worry — there are plenty of side hustle options that don’t require working around the clock. “The beauty of a lot of side hustles today is that you can decide how much you want to work,” Varon added.
Glassdoor recently got the chance to chat with Varon to get her insight on what makes a great side hustle, how to balance full-time work with part-time gigs and some of the most surprising side hustles out there (think: mushroom farmer!). Here’s what she had to say.
Glassdoor: What initially inspired you to write this book?
Elana Varon: Side hustles have come out of the shadows, but with all that’s written about them, there wasn’t a comprehensive resource to help people figure out what they could really do, or how to go about it. Some side hustlers are entrepreneurs, but a lot of people are simply looking to make some extra cash, or finance a hobby. They can all use the book to get ideas that fit with their skills and interests, available time and financial goals, as well as get tips for finding and managing their gigs.
Also, I’ve been researching and writing for years about the impact of technology on the workplace. This book was an opportunity to dig into the flip side — how gig economy platforms, social media, recommendation sites and other technologies are influencing how people find work and earn a living.
Glassdoor: What do you think makes for an ideal candidate side hustle, and what are some of the biggest benefits of taking on a side hustle?
Elana Varon: The ideal side hustle is work that fits your skills, interests and available time, and that enables you to meet your goals. Most people who take on a side hustle want the extra money, so that’s a big benefit. But if you’re exploring a new career, a side hustle can help you learn about other types of work you can do and get experience in the field. And hopefully, you’re able to spend your time doing something you enjoy.
Glassdoor: Working a full-time job and taking on a side gig can be exhausting. What tips do you have for balancing the two?
Elana Varon: The beauty of a lot of side hustles today is that you can decide how much you want to work. So the first thing to do is have a concrete goal. It’s a lot easier to manage your time when you know what you’re trying to accomplish. Then be realistic about how many hours you have, so you can choose a side hustle that fits both your goals and the rest of your life — which includes sleeping. If you don’t get enough rest, your performance and your health will suffer, and not just in the long term.
So if you travel a lot for work, renting your apartment out on Airbnb might be a better fit than tending bar on weekends. If you’re a stay-at-home parent, caring for your children is your full-time job (even though you’re not getting paid for it), so you’re going to need a side hustle that you can work on when your partner is home or your kids are in school. There are some situations, of course, where people are going to decide to push their limits — maybe they have to cover an unexpected bill, or they’re launching a full-time business or they have to put in extra hours in their main job. But hopefully those periods are temporary.
Glassdoor: In writing your book, did you meet anyone who had made their side hustle their full-time job? What do you think it takes to successfully make that transition?
Elana Varon: I talked to a few people whose side hustles turned into full-time businesses, and some people started their side hustles with that goal in mind. If you want to take that route, you need a plan, and you have to be comfortable with the risks. From working your side hustle, you probably have an idea of how much money you can potentially make if you do the job full time, but most people won’t earn that much right away. One of the biggest adjustments people have to make when becoming self-employed is figuring out how they’re going to pay their bills — both for the business and themselves personally — while they’re building up their customer base and revenue.
You also have to be ready to spend a lot more time on the marketing, financial and administrative aspects of your business, or find someone to help you. We used to do our own taxes, but when I started my writing and editing business, preparing the returns became more complicated. So we hired an accountant who not only prepares our returns but also gives us advice.
Finally, if you have people who live with you or depend on you, make sure they’re on board. You’ll have to renegotiate household and (if you have kids) childcare responsibilities. You may have to cut back on your household spending for a while. And depending on what kind of work you do, it may be a while before you are able to eat dinner uninterrupted or stay off email while you’re on vacation — or even take a vacation.
Glassdoor: What common misconceptions do people have about side hustles?
Elana Varon: A couple of things: Most people are used to paying their taxes via withholding. They don’t get a W-2 from their side gig, so they don’t think about what else they might owe. But if you make more than a few hundred dollars from your side hustles, you have to pay taxes on those earnings. Because ridesharing and TaskRabbit have received a lot of media attention, there’s a tendency to think of side hustles as defined by work you get via apps or platforms. But a lot of jobs aren’t well-represented on gig platforms, at least not yet, and most people actually still get work the old fashioned way, through friends and colleagues.
Glassdoor: Is there anything that you learned as you wrote the book that surprised you?
Elana Varon: I was struck by how many people I talked to had serial or multiple side hustles. I expected it from Millennials, who in general are more likely to freelance than older generations and grew up assuming they would have multiple careers. But Gen Xers and Baby Boomers also told me about having a lot of different gigs. You might conclude from this that people aren’t feeling financially secure, and that was true for some. But I heard a lot of pragmatism. People saying, “Sure, I like this, but it’s still work, so I want to get paid.”
Glassdoor: What are a few of your personal top recommendations for side gigs? Are there any interesting ones you learned about while researching your book that you hadn’t before?
Elana Varon: I don’t think there are any universally “top” or “best” side hustles, because people have different skills, interests and goals. But monetizing assets you already have can get you a relatively high return on your efforts. I interviewed someone who lives in an urban neighborhood where there wasn’t much parking — on the street or off. For a while he had a house with a two-car driveway, which was rare. And since he had only one car, he rented out the unused half. He didn’t have to do any extra work other than putting an ad on Craigslist and talk to the tenant occasionally, so that was pretty close to free money.
Those kinds of side hustles, where you can get value from things that are otherwise idle are interesting because there’s theoretically no limit to what you can rent out — boats, clothes, tools, RVs. There has to be demand for it, obviously, but sharing platforms have expanded the possibilities. While I was doing my research, I also became fascinated with mushroom farming. Maybe you’ve seen the kits for growing a log of shiitake mushrooms in your basement, but it turns out that if you have enough space and enough time, you can raise a profitable little crop. It’s not for me, though. I have trouble keeping houseplants alive!
Want a few more side hustle ideas to get you started? Consider these options:
- Uber Driver
- Dog Walker
- Freelance Writer
- Web Search Evaluator
- Brand Ambassador
- Virtual Assistant
- Yoga Instructor
- Data Entry
Didn’t find the right position? Don’t worry — there’s a virtually unlimited number of options available, so if you haven’t found the right one yet, don’t get discouraged. Think about what you do best and how you can monetize it, and be sure to check out The Ultimate Side Hustle Book for more ideas!