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How to Start a Side Hustle: Going Beyond the Basics

How to Start a Side Hustle
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This guide covers how to strategically choose and start a side hustle that aligns with your goals, whether you’re interested in quick cash, a fulfilling outlet, or eventually turning your side hustle into a full-time income. 

Some of the concepts we’ll cover include:

  • Quick cash vs. long-term gain. We’ll help you understand the upsides and downsides of gig jobs like Uber and DoorDash, which offer quick money but limited growth. This is compared to other side hustles that may start slow but have better potential. 
  • Quality over quantity. We’ll discuss why focusing on one scalable side hustle is more beneficial than spreading yourself thin over multiple smaller gigs.
  • Learn as you earn. The guide emphasizes choosing a side hustle that not only puts money in your pocket but also helps you acquire new skills and build meaningful connections in your field.
  • Ride the wave. We’ll talk about why it’s advantageous to specialize in a high-growth field, as success often comes more easily when you’re part of a rising industry trend.
  • Validate fast and free. Learn how to test your side hustle idea quickly and inexpensively to ensure it’s a good fit.

My Own Side Hustle Case Study

After my second daughter was born and medical bills began to pile up, I knew I had to take quick action to generate additional income. Time was limited, sleep was a luxury, but the need was immediate. 

I signed up for Upwork (formerly Elance) as a freelance writer, initially focusing on becoming a copywriter, as copywriting was a skill I was eager to master. At that time, I already had experience as the tech/marketing guy at my day job, handling our business website.

I leveraged this background to offer a unique package: landing page copywriting coupled with basic design, effectively becoming a one-stop-shop for clients. 

Eventually, I found an untapped niche, specializing in Unbounce landing pages — a new (at the time) software platform that simplified landing page creation. Despite having no formal design training, I landed clients that are now worth billions.

However, a tough lesson came one Christmas season. I was juggling my day job, freelancing, and caring for my sick kids when a client refused to pay for extra work I had done. That was my turning point.

I decided to pivot again, combining my experience in financial services, writing and design to launch this website. Initially aimed at bringing in an extra $1,000 per month, this side hustle, after real-world testing and refinements, transformed into a full-time income source that has sustained my family for over five years.

Why Start a Side Hustle?

A graphic comparing the short and long term benefits of different side hustles.

People often associate the term “side hustle” with gig economy platforms like Uber, Instacart and DoorDash. 

These apps offer a quick cash infusion and are excellent for meeting your short-term financial goals — say, a getaway with friends or paying down your high-interest debt.

But if an influx of immediate cash isn’t your primary goal, thinking long-term is smarter.

A well-selected side hustle can be more than just a financial booster — it can serve as a stepping stone in your career, enriching your skill set

Skills like writing, video creation and public speaking provide short-term financial gains and long-term benefits that extend to various career paths.

What’s unique about skill-based side hustles is their ability to scale. 

Take freelance writing, for instance. It can evolve from a part-time online gig into a full-time income — or you can even turn a freelance writing side hustle into a multi-person content marketing agency.

This means you’re not just earning extra cash, but strategically investing in your future (both in skill development and financial growth).

Another compelling reason to dive into a side hustle is the practical learning experience it offers, especially in emerging fields where traditional educational systems lag. 

For example, if you’ve been helping run a podcast or mastering TikTok ads, you’re gaining skills that many employers are now actively seeking but which are not taught in traditional settings.

Increasingly, employers value experience over formal credentials. 

So, by engaging in these innovative side hustles, you’re not merely making money but also reinforcing your job market resilience. 

Whether learning the ropes of podcasting or becoming adept at TikTok advertising, the right side hustle can provide a financial boost and professional security.

Step-By-Step Guide to Starting a Side Hustle

A graphic showing a step-by-step process for starting a side hustle.

Jumping into a side hustle might be tempting for quick cash, but strategic planning can offer you so much more. A carefully chosen side hustle diversifies your income, enhances your skills, expands your network, and fosters personal growth. 

All these benefits could lead to a significant increase in income, whether through your side hustle’s success or its evolution into a full-fledged business.

Here’s how you can approach setting up your side hustle for longer-term success.

Step #1. Picking The Right Idea

When brainstorming side hustle ideas, you’re not starting from scratch. You already have many skills and interests to tap into. 

The key is to identify them and think of ways to monetize them. Don’t worry about perfection at this stage — let the ideas flow freely.

Here are three avenues to explore for potential side hustle ideas.

1. Leverage Your Current Professional Skills

Your day job has already equipped you with skills to serve as the foundation for a side hustle. Are you in tech? Consider freelancing as a tech writer or consultant. Work in healthcare? There’s a demand for telehealth consulting and medical writing. 

If you’re a teacher, you have a unique skill set that’s perfect for various teacher-friendly side hustles like proofreading, creating lesson plans, and tutoring. 

2. Capitalize On Your Passions

What gets your heart racing in your free time? Whether it’s animals, fitness or sustainable living, your passions are key to unique side hustle ideas. For instance, an animal lover could start a pet care service, while a fitness enthusiast could offer personalized training sessions. 

3. Explore What You Want to Learn

Finally, are there skills or fields you’re curious about but have yet to have the chance to dive into? This is an excellent avenue for side hustle ideas. There are many opportunities to learn and earn — whether it’s becoming proficient in ChatGPT and other AI tools, learning the art of media buying, or mastering social media marketing. 

A good exercise here is to list three current skills, passions, or topics you’re curious about. Then, develop the most straightforward idea to turn these into a service you can offer.

Step #2. Evaluate Your Idea

Once you’ve considered various aspects of your potential side hustles, it’s time to distill that information into a simple scoring system. This will help you objectively evaluate each idea based on what matters most. Here’s how you can do it.

Identify Important Factors

List the factors that are crucial for you. While the following list includes common considerations, you might have your unique criteria to add:

  1. Time-to-profit
  2. Income potential
  3. Time required
  4. Learning potential
  5. Fulfillment

Customize Your Scoring Scale

Typically, you’d rank each factor on a scale of 1-10. However, you can customize the weight of each based on your priorities. 

For example, if you’re a retiree looking to make money, you might give that factor a maximum score of 20 while keeping the other categories at 10. 

Conversely, the learning potential might carry the most weight if you’re 18 and eager to develop high-income skills.

Create a Table

Create a table with the side hustle ideas on the left-most column and your chosen factors along the top row. You can do this using a spreadsheet for ease of calculations.

Side Hustle IdeaTime-to-ProfitIncome PotentialTime RequiredLearning PotentialFulfillmentTotal Score
Freelance Writing7859635
Pet Care Service67431030

Evaluate the Top-Ranking Ideas

While the highest score might indicate the best match, consider the top three. Are there similarities? Knowing this, are there more ideas that you have?

Using this objective framework tailored to your priorities makes you more likely to pick a side hustle that brings financial gain and aligns with your long-term goals and lifestyle.

Step #3. Create an Offer

Many people have unique qualities that can help them stand out in the market. But too often they fail to emphasize these traits and instead offer generic services that place them within a sea of competitors. 

Here, clarity is your best friend. 

Being explicit about what you offer elevates your service and eliminates the guesswork for your potential clients.

Take, for example, our dog-walking and freelance writing scenarios.

Instead of merely saying you offer “dog walking services,” specify what that involves. 

  • Your deliverable could be: “A 30-minute walk, plus basic obedience training and a photo update, up to three times a week.” 
  • For the freelance writing example, instead of just offering “content creation,” your deliverable might be: “Two 1,000-word, SEO-optimized blog posts per week in the pet-care niche, including one round of revisions.” 

By being this specific, you make it easier for clients to understand the value you’re providing and how it’s different from others in the market.

Once you’ve nailed down your deliverable, integrate it into a succinct and compelling elevator pitch. This short pitch will be your go-to description across client interactions, from networking cold emails to pitches on Upwork. 

Step #4. Test Your Offer

Before securing clients, you have to get your offer in front of the right people. 

The process isn’t just about showcasing your skills; it’s about highlighting the specific problems you can solve for your potential clients. Personalization and precision are your best assets for getting noticed in a crowded marketplace. 

Here’s a step-by-step guide to accomplish just that:

  1. Choose an outreach platform. Start by selecting a platform where your target audience is active. It could be LinkedIn for professionals, Instagram for visual services, or even targeted email for a focused approach.
  2. Craft the pitch. Write a brief but compelling pitch focusing on the problem you solve for clients, not just the skills you have.
  3. Send the pitch. Use the chosen platform to send your pitch. Personalization is key; tailor your message for each prospective client.

Step #5. Pivot-Based on Feedback

The quickest way to refine your service offering is to get real-world feedback.

If your initial outreach isn’t garnering the response you’d hoped for, don’t be discouraged; use this as an opportunity to tweak your approach. 

Maybe your core idea needs fine-tuning, or a different audience would be more receptive to your offer. 

The key is to test fast and pivot based on actual market responses.

In many cases, the real-world feedback will illuminate nuances in customer needs you hadn’t considered. 

For instance, perhaps you discover that busy professionals in urban settings are more interested in your dog-walking service than families in suburban areas.

These insights allow you to fine-tune your offer, tailoring it to meet specific, unmet needs in the marketplace. Remember, predicting what people want is difficult until you put your offer out there and see how they respond. 

So test, iterate, and pivot as needed.

Summary and Key Takeaways

In a world where financial security is no longer guaranteed by a traditional 9-to-5, side hustles offer a viable path for immediate cash flow and long-term career development. 

The key is to choose wisely. 

Gig jobs like Uber can provide quick cash but they offer limited growth, whereas skill-based ventures like freelance writing can evolve into a scalable business. 

The goal of this guide was to equip you with a comprehensive framework — from ideation and evaluation to pitching and pivoting — so you can launch a side hustle aligned with both your short-term needs and long-term aspirations.

Drawing from my own journey, where a simple freelance writing gig on Upwork evolved into a full-fledged business, I can vouch for the transformative power of a well-chosen side hustle. 

Balancing immediate needs with the drive for professional growth led me to develop a scalable business that has paid the bills and provided for my family. 

By proactively identifying your goals — whether that means earning quick cash, skill development, or personal fulfillment — you can better align your side hustle choices with what you want to achieve

Choose wisely, execute strategically, and don’t be afraid to pivot based on real-world feedback.

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R.J. Weiss
R.J. Weiss, founder of The Ways To Wealth, has been a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ since 2010. Holding a B.A. in finance and having completed the CFP® certification curriculum at The American College, R.J. combines formal education with a deep commitment to providing unbiased financial insights. Recognized as a trusted authority in the financial realm, his expertise is highlighted in major publications like Business Insider, New York Times, and Forbes.


    1. I stumbled upon your very interesting and insightful website. I tried Uber Eats and Shipt for about six weeks this summer. Although I made about $600 between the two, I put nearly 800 miles on my car.

      One day, a few months ago, I got to thinking, realizing I am not far from retirement and wondering what I can start doing now and take it into retirement.

      I’m 61 years old and have a manufacturing and warehousing background. I don’t have too many passions that could come into play here. However, two options that have piqued my interest are proofreading and data entry.

      My current job only allows me two days and a couple of nights after work to get something started. Any suggestions you may have would be greatly appreciated!

      1. The best way to learn and grow is by doing. In your case, diving in and testing the waters on platforms like Upwork and Fiverr can provide a practical insight into the freelance market, especially in the fields of proofreading and data entry. These platforms are conducive for exploring and understanding the market demand for your skills, given your limited availability around your current job.

        Setting up profiles and offering your services in niches that align with your background in manufacturing and warehousing (or other hobbies) could uncover unique opportunities. For example, there may be companies in need of proofreading for technical documents or data entry tasks related to supply chain management. By engaging in real projects, you’ll get a clearer picture of what works for you, and how to tailor your services to meet the needs of potential clients. This hands-on approach will not only help you build a portfolio but also gain a better understanding of the freelance market dynamics, which will be invaluable as you transition into retirement.

        Here’s some articles to help:

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