Because it was Labor Day just last month, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about something many folks might have been doing that day: their side hustle.
When I was in college, I had a lot of little hustles (it was college, so I had a lot of down time).
I've written about my most interesting side hustles, like when I used to gamble online. Nothing focuses the mind like losing a thousand bucks on a single hand of blackjack (for what it's worth, I'm even on my two bets of over $1,000).
I also used to flip things on eBay, including bootlegged copies of the Transformers TV show.
Those side hustles never grew bigger, though. I didn't become a professional casino promotion chaser or an expert seller on eBay. I graduated, went to work and stumbled my way through an entrepreneurial streak of online businesses.
The internet loves the idea of side hustles because there are so many of them out there. With the advent of the gig economy, you can earn some cash on the side by, say, driving people around with Uber or taking small jobs through Fiverr.
There are, however, good side hustles and great side hustles.
Good Versus Great Side Hustles
Good side hustles let you to turn your extra time into money. These hustles consist of gigs like second jobs, ride-sharing and paid survey sites. If you work a job in which you can't put in extra hours, a side hustle is a way to extract more value from your free time.
Good side hustles are good because they enable you to earn more. You can use that money to pay down your debt or put more cash toward your savings -- we could all use more of that.
If turning spare time into spare dollars isn't a game changer for your financial situation, you can also consider great hustles.
Great side hustles are gigs that can become more than just turning hours into dollars. They enable you to build equity in an asset that can be an immediate or a future source of income.
The catch with great side hustles is that they are supposed to have a higher expected value. However, like doubling down on 11 in a casino, that's never a sure bet.
This is why the the perfect side hustle is a gig that not only has the potential to become more than a time-for-dollars trade, but also teaches you a valuable skill while you engage in it.
Know Your Why
Is this gig filling a short-term need, or do you want to build something long-term?
A good side hustle is inherently short term. You trade time for money and get that income immediately. A great side hustle has the potential to scale but doesn't necessarily generate income immediately. A good side hustle may better suit your needs because you can't wait on the income to build up a great one.
We must make decisions based on our circumstances. Don't feel like you're short-changing yourself by starting a good side hustle today because you need the cash, well, today (you can always build a great side hustle later).
Let's look at some prime examples of both good and great side hustles.
Good Hustle: Driving for Uber or Lyft
Driving for Uber is a good side hustle.
I've met a lot of fantastic people who drive for Uber because it's a way for them to monetize their commute. According to the U.S. Census, the average commute time is 26.1 minutes. That's nearly an hour each day!
Monetizing your commute is a great way to build a good side hustle. All you need to do is roll the dice and hope your next Uber ride doesn't take you farther away from home!
Driving for Uber is not a great side hustle because it's not scalable. You have to drive every dollar you earn and when you only have 24 hours in a day, there's an upper limit to what you can earn. It's great for earning some side cash, monetizing a commute or using up down time, but it doesn't scale.
Additionally, driving for Uber doesn't strengthen many career skills. It's not a complete loss in the skill-building department, though. You can improve your ability to make small talk (a nice social lubricant) as well as your driving and navigational skills, but it's likely not going to be a game changer on any front.
Great Hustle: Blogging
What's an example of a great side hustle? Blogging.
Like many pursuits, the fascinating thing about blogging is that there are so many layers to it. At face value, blogging seems to be just about writing. You have to come up with ideas, combine those ideas into an entertaining and engaging post and then format it in a readable, compelling way. It's a constantly evolving process.
Then, though, you realize that to get people to your site, you need to network with other bloggers in your niche, get involved in social media, learn a little about search engine optimization, integrate an email newsletter so you can reach those folks who discovered you site and want to learn more ... The list keeps going.
Much like chess, it seems simple and straightforward until you dig into it.
What you learn by blogging is what makes blogging great. Even if your blog fails, you can become a better writer, a better organizer of ideas, grow your network, and improve your understanding of social media and other online technologies, among other things. These are all skills that you can use anywhere and they're valuable by-products of your time and energy.
If your blog succeeds, it becomes scalable. Your blog can earn money while you sleep because it's a storefront that never closes. You can use that stream of income to build up your investments. Perhaps someday you can even sell your blog for a nice balloon payment that changes your financial trajectory.
In either case, you are better off.
Can good turn to great?
Yes, and very easily.
Caitlin Pyle was a freelance courtroom transcript proofreader who made a pretty good living at it.
When I interviewed Pyle about earning $17+ an hour as a freelance proofreader, I was fascinated by her journey into that world. It turns out I wasn't the only one.
It's the classic "good" side hustle -- you're proofreading. You get paid for a unit of work, which in her case was by the transcript page. You can scale a gig like this by hiring people, but nothing stops them from freelancing on their own.
So, how do you go from good to great? Teach people what you know.
Pyle now runs several courses that teach people how to do exactly what she did. If you have a successful side hustle that is going well, it's not a huge leap to decide you want to put your on-the-job training into a manual or course. You can then sell that course and take advantage of the size and scale of the internet.
In late 2016, Pyle revealed in her first-ever income report that she earned $1.7 million in just two years. That's a lot of proofreading.
Great side hustles are by no means easy... but the potential is certainly there.
The next time you're considering a side hustle, ask yourself why and make sure you start the right one.