When you first hear the words “side hustle,” what likely comes to mind is a part-time gig spending countless hours of your down time slaving away for a few extra bucks. Or, I assume that’s what comes to mind for most people because that was my first presumptive thought upon hearing the words “side hustle” and “extra money” strung together in the same sentence.
I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that a side hustle is easy, because it isn’t. Familiarizing yourself with the ins and outs of earning extra income, numerous hours spent researching “how to start a successful side hustle,” doing it all on a small budget (or with no budget at all)…it can be confusing. But side hustles can also be quite straightforward if you’re serious about getting serious about your side hustle. Sound complicated? Well, it both is and isn’t.
A version of this article previously appeared on JacalynBeales.com.
The first thing you need to know before you continue reading this how-to spiel is what side-hustles are and the main purpose behind starting your own. Simply put, a side hustle is a project or job you perform “on the side” of your regular, everyday job in order to earn extra income whilst working on your true passion. The purpose of a side hustle is to allow you to literally work on a passion project or your dream job while making a few extra bucks and gaining the experience necessary to truly follow your passions. It’s called a “side hustle” because you do it on the side, spending downtime (such as weeknights or weekends) working on your hustle without sacrificing your day job or dependable income.
There are, quite literally, hundreds of articles on side hustles, ranging from how-to pieces like this one or guides on the best advice for starting a side-hustle from award-winning designers, creatives, or independent makers. In a world where entrepreneurship is growing ever more popular, side hustles are providing self-starters and would-be creatives the opportunity to actually pursue their passions without giving up a day job. But not everyone’s side-hustle will get them noted in Vogue or interviewed by some obscure-yet-insanely-popular digital platform. You can read article after article on starting your own side hustle, and certainly, those articles will be helpful. This piece is meant to give you a simple overview of how you can create and earn money from a successful side hustle as a freelance writer or content creator.
Before we dive in, it’s important to recognize that side hustles don’t work unless you do (sort of like how dreams don’t work unless you do; clever, right?). You have to be willing to put the time, effort, and work into building your side hustle, especially if you are looking to pursue and become successful with your true passion. If you’d like to be a content creator, freelance writer, or copywriter, a side hustle could open up many doors for you while earning you some extra cash. So, now that you know it won’t be easy to start a successful side hustle but that it is totally worth it if you’re willing to put the effort in, let’s get started.
Step 1: Figure out what you can offer the world.
Before you even begin setting up a side hustle or sinking lots of money into advertising your hustle, you need to first figure out what it is you can offer potential clients that would be of value to them. When starting my own side hustle, I began by sitting down and making a list of my creative talents/abilities in one column, with the benefits and value of each ability in another column. I took the time to really consider what I can offer to people that would not only provide the client with value but which would also allow me to practice and pursue my goal of being a full-time content creator. It turned out to be that my ability to create beautiful copy and content for the web and print were my two greatest creative assets; once I figured that out, I knew the type of services I could offer clients: copywriting and content creation.
It may be that what you’re good at is graphic design, but you love focusing specifically on logos, business card design, or creative templates for media kits. There’s a seriously rich variety of niches out there today for creatives, so regardless of what you’re good at, chances are you can find a marketable side hustle and clients to meet your creative abilities and area(s) of focus. For writers, it’s important to consider what type of writing or creative work you enjoy doing most, and pursuing that as a side hustle. For example, if you love blogging and already blog either for yourself, for brands, or for publications (digital or print), your side hustle could entail offering blogging services to brands in need of regular bloggers, businesses looking for blog ghostwriters, or magazines searching for niche bloggers to keep their online platforms up to date. The old adage that you can’t make money writing, even on the side, is dead. You simply have to begin by figuring out what kind of writing or content creation you love.
Step 2: Make a plan.
So, you’ve figured out what you’re good at and what you can offer prospective clients; awesome! But now what?
The idea behind making a plan is to figure out how you’re going to gain marketable experience writing or creating content that potential clients will actually want to pay you for, in addition to building a portfolio and getting yourself noticed. Initially, I rushed this phase because I thought simply advertising myself on another blog or posting an update about my new website to my personal Instagram would do the trick and gain me exposure; sadly, that isn’t true. Virtually every independent creator is online and on social media, marketing themselves; so you need to truly be prepared to stand out from the crowd and have a plan that will help you start off your side hustle right. When I learned my lesson and finally sat down to make a cohesive plan on how I was going to start my side hustle as a freelance writer/content creator, I made a list of what I had to do and how I was going to do it.
Here’s a sample of that list:
- Gain more experience – utilize free platforms like Fiverr, Upwork, and CloudPeeps
- Improve my social media presence – work within my niche and target my social media content to it
- Create a portfolio – keep track of the brands, businesses and independent makers I had worked with or was currently working for, including the nature of the work and the feedback from each project
- Then, create a website – develop my own site (using Squarespace or other CMS) to house my portfolio and contact options
- Advertise – spread the word about my services through social media, my website and word of mouth
This is just a very basic example of my plan, but the work I put into each step was tireless. Everyone’s plan will differ, and the steps you take towards building your side hustle will definitely have their own successes and setbacks, but having a plan in place is worth it. It will keep you organized and on track as you progress in the stages of creating your own side hustle.
Step 3: Once you have a plan, make a routine, and stick to it.
Ahh, the good ol’ routine. Everyone loves it, don’t they? Unless, of course, you’re trying to start a side hustle. You probably already work a day job, have to rise early each morning or sit in traffic during an hour long commute; the last thing you want to do is come home, plant yourself in front of a computer and work some more. I’m sorry to say it, but, that’s exactly what you’re going to have to do. It doesn’t have to be torture, however, to create and stick to a routine that actually works for you. Think of yourself as both a boss and an employee–create a weekly “work” schedule with time allotted to certain projects or tasks, then ensure you complete those tasks as per schedule.
You could, for instance, sit down every Sunday night and spend 20-30 minutes drafting up a list of tasks and time commitments in Asana, with notifications set to remind you when you have to “show up” to work on those tasks. When I started working on my side hustle, I used Asana to schedule a certain amount of time every Wednesday night, Saturday morning, and Sunday evening to work on tasks, projects, and advertising efforts. It kept me on track without burning me out and helped me stay true to the task of working towards my goal of having a successful side hustle. A routine with a well-thought schedule will also help keep you accountable to actually working on your side hustle; think of it as a kick-in-the-butt.
Step 4: Get out there and grab that experience by the horns.
The only way to begin gaining experience (or building on the experience you already possess) is to get out there and do the work. As a writer, content creator, blogger, etc. this can seem slightly terrifying, because there’s so much competition in the world of online writing and content creation, and few of us know where the heck to start. For one thing, you should be aware of the multiple services available for writers and other content creators that cater specifically to us. You should also familiarize yourself with how others are using these platforms to advertise their talents and obtain clients.
Let’s consider these creative platforms for a minute. Platforms such as CloudPeeps, Fiverr, Upwork, PeoplePerHour, Elance and more all offer freelance writers, bloggers, content creators and virtually every other type of creative the opportunity to gain experience in their niche whilst earning extra income. But some of these platforms require that you pay for membership, and if you are operating your side hustle on a small budget (or none at all), it’s key to know which platforms work best for start-up side hustlers. My recommendations would be to try either CloudPeeps (free) and/or Fiverr (free). Both of these platforms allow writers and creatives to sign up and create profiles, service listings and bios for free, which means you can reach potential clients and side-jobs without having to spend a penny. I recommend starting with Fiverr.
And I’ll explain why.
Fiverr is a simple platform for all types of creatives which allows you to sign up, create a profile, create listings (called “Gigs”), and reach potential Buyers for free. The way Fiverr operates is by having Sellers create Gigs for virtually any type of service, setting the pricing for those services (starting at $5 and up, hence the name “Fiverr”), and work with Buyers to deliver those services or create custom ones based on Buyers’ needs. There are many upsides to using Fiverr to gain experience and build a portfolio of work:
- You create your own listings and set your own prices, giving you control over how much money you make and how much work you do.
- Fiverr is a free marketplace for creatives like writers and content creators to market their services without having to search for clients or pay for advertising.
- You control which jobs you do and which jobs you don’t.
- Buyers can leave reviews and feedback which you can use to consistently improve your services.
- Many Fiverr Sellers are able to make enough money on Fiverr that they can pursue their side hustle full-time.
One of the downsides of Fiverr is that the company takes 20% of each project/order you fulfill, which means you have to ensure you price your Gigs properly and accordingly to make enough money to make the work worthwhile. Through trial and error on Fiverr, I have been able to tailor my services and prices to a point where they are competitive yet fair to both myself and the customer. Fiverr allowed me to build upon the portfolio I already had while gaining valuable experience and earning extra money on the side. Because of my success on Fiverr, I was able to connect with many brands and referrals, enough to the point where I know operate my side hustle outside of Fiverr and have multiple clients both nationally and internationally which found me thanks to advertising, word of mouth, and social media.
In fact, when I was working with Fiverr as part of my side-hustle throughout the Summer between my university courses, I was able to earn well over $6,000 just from Fiverr alone, on top of what I made at my day job. The work helped me pay for a two week trip to Vancouver as well as my university courses for a semester.
Platforms like Fiverr and CloudPeeps may also help to build your confidence, which is key when you are just starting out with your creative side hustle and may lack the confidence to reach out to clients, market yourself, network, or take on a new project.
A few other methods of gaining experience for writers and content creators could be to reach out to blogs, platforms or magazines about contributing, approach a few brands with queries about helping develop their web copy, work with a family member, friend, or business acquaintance who may be in need of a content creator, or ask your boss in your current employment role about contributing to a company newsletter, weekly blog, or creative project.
Step 5: Harness the power of social media–and maybe improve your own while you’re at it.
It’s pretty common knowledge that social media offers just about everyone a free form of advertising. And considering we are all our own brand – especially if you’re a writer working on a side hustle – harnessing the power of social media for free marketing, exposure and advertising is key. For starters, clients will look you up on social media; this is inevitable. Potential clients want to know who you are, what you do, what you’re into and what you get up to. If your social media platforms – such as your Instagram, the most popular platform – are lackluster or do not really reflect who you are, what you like to do, or your creative side, this may deter clients. Sad, but true. I’ve had clients discover me through Instagram and have even had a few tell me they decided to contact me about working together because of the quality of my feed. You’d think maybe social media doesn’t really “matter” when it comes to your creative abilities, but research (and experience) indicates otherwise.
Start by going through your social media feeds – like Facebook and Instagram – and check them for any offensive or inappropriate content. You should then consider the cohesiveness of your platforms and whether they reflect who you are accurately. This is not to say you should change your Instagram to represent a fake version of yourself, or change yourself to be more social media friendly; rather, the point is to ensure your content is cohesive. If you are able to develop solid content for your own platforms, clients will likely feel reassured that you can do the same for them. This is true of your own personal blog (if you have one) as well as any captions, content or things you link to through social media.
When you’re ready to use social media to attract exposure, do hashtag research to find the best hashtags for your niche and ensure your Instagram bio reflects what you do and who you are. Instagram is the easiest way for potential clients to find you, and they do this by using hashtags and other search criteria. If you have a budget to work with, consider setting up one or two Instagram ads to market your services and if you have an email where potential clients can reach you, include that email in your Instagram bio. Connecting with like-minded writers and creatives on Instagram could also help gain you some exposure, especially if you interact with them and actually participate in the social media conversation.
Step 6: Consider creating your own website.
Okay, so this part can be a bit tricky. If you’re operating your side hustle on no budget, or a massive one, there are a plethora of options for creating a beautiful website which will showcase your portfolio, experience, biography and contact options. Wix and WordPress both allow users to create pretty websites using their own domain extensions and templates, for free. Other CMS (Content Management System) options like Squarespace require you to pay for an account, however, they are simple to use and are quite beautiful. So regardless of your budget, there are options.
A website may be helpful for writers or content creators who have some working experience under their belt and have a portfolio they’d like to showcase in a professional manner. Having a personal website also makes it easier for potential clients to find and contact you to inquire about working with you. They can get to know you and your work through your website. However, if you’re just starting out and do not yet have a large enough portfolio or budget to warrant a website, consider using a free portfolio platform like The Freelancer by Contently, Dribble, Crevado, or even LinkedIn. Such platforms allow you to showcase a portfolio, contact options and your small amount of work samples so that you at least have a point of reference if prospective clients would like to see your work.
If you want to network locally to get the word out about your side hustle, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram marketing work well. All of these platforms allow you create ads which specifically target a certain niche, location, demographic…you get the picture. A website is great if you have a decent-sized portfolio, but rest assured that the free options work just as well.
Step 7: Discover your advertising options.
Advertising is another one of those tricky things for side hustles, because not only can advertising be costly, but at times it may feel totally futile. I’ve heard from a number of creatives (including freelance writers) say that Facebook advertising, for instance, is virtually useless, while others mention their LinkedIn profiles get enough views to satisfy their marketing needs. But everyone’s needs are different, and so are our budgets.
My first piece of advice is to utilize free advertising tools for your side hustle. Again, social media acts as free advertising, and there are countless resources you can view online that detail how to use hashtags to get yourself noticed on social media, or how to craft a cohesive Instagram feed to gain exposure and larger followings. However, you can also advertise your services for free on many freelancing websites and can spread the word about your work that way.
If you have a budget for advertising your side hustle, consider opening an Etsy store and listing your services on that digital marketplace while taking advantage of Etsy’s advertising options. The marketplace now allows Shop owners on its platform to pay for advertising which boosts their listings and will help them rank more highly in search results. You could use Google Ads if you’re willing to put the time into figuring that hoopla out, pay for Facebook or Instagram advertisements, pay to have your services advertised on a popular blog or platform, or pay for a local ad on LinkedIn.
Your advertising efforts will work through trial and error; typically, no one nails the perfect online ad on the first try. However, most platforms which allow for online advertising have built-in analytics tools which show you the strengths and weaknesses of your ads and how they perform, so you know for next time how to more accurately craft your ads for greater exposure and response.
Step 8: Commit to quality work without sacrificing your soul.
I personally think this is the most important aspect of running a successful side hustle, even if your goal isn’t necessarily to pursue your hustle full-time, but to earn extra income for travel, leisure, etc. Clients want to know their money is being well spent, and often they will be vocal about whether the quality of a creative’s work meets or exceeds their expectations. It’s totally fair for clients to want to exercise control over how the work is done or produced, and because many clients are spending money out of pocket or from a company/brand budget, it makes sense that they want quality work for their dime.
So you should definitely be committed to each and every client you work with. Regardless of whether you found a client on Fiverr, CloudPeeps, LinkedIn, or from in-person networking/word of mouth, you should provide every single client with stellar customer service and awesome work. That’s a given.
But you shouldn’t sell your soul doing it. See, here’s the thing: you are still a human being. As a freelance writer or content creator, many people will assume you live the life of SJP in Sex and the City, and that you have unlimited time to sip cocktails, have lunch with friends and be tied down by few responsibilities. For the majority of us, however, that’s simply not true. Ask just about any freelance creative, and they’ll likely tell you that people have a skewed perception of what their daily life must be like. You may work with the odd client or two who assume you have unlimited time to devote to them, and that client only. It’s important to be upfront with each client about your mutual expectations, time commitment for each project, costs, and the length of the project.
If you ever do get into a situation where you feel taken advantage of by a client, are being overworked for little pay, or are not given what you’re owed, ensure you have a mature, honest conversation with the client about the expectations of the work. Having contracts in place to ensure the working relationship is fair for all involved is key, and there are various resources which allow you as a freelancer to create legitimate contracts for clients and your services. I would certainly recommend having a plan in place whereby you know how to interact with clients, properly lay out the expectations of each project, ensure all parties are aware of costs, and stick to a schedule/deadline for the work. Doing so will help ensure you deliver quality work and earn the income and positive feedback you need to succeed.
Step 9: As you grow, accommodate your growing needs.
As you gain more experience, work with more brands, take on more projects and see your side hustle grow, it’s important to stay focused and grounded. Just because your side hustle takes a bit of time to grow, to see success, or to earn you your first paycheck, doesn’t mean you should immediately give up; like I said before, a side hustle only works if you do. But as your side hustle grows and you see revenue and success from it, always ensure you’re not losing focus from the end goal. Whether you simply want to earn more income or would like to pursue your passion full-time, do not get lost in an easy routine or stale work ethic. Allow your side hustle to grow with its own growing needs.
As you earn more income, consider whether you need to advertise more or improve upon the marketing methods already working well for you. If your social media presence is growing and you’re gaining more clients through it, consider where you can tweak and improve your presence to grow even more. Think about offering a new service that aligns well with the ones you currently offer but which may target a new niche of prospective clients/customers. And, if you feel your skills could use an update, consider taking an online course for writers, copywriters, content creators, bloggers, etc. to refresh those skills. You may even want to branch out and begin contributing to magazines or platforms as a writer or blogger “for fun” to take the edge off of doing this for a living. It’s important to accommodate the growing needs of your growing side hustle.
Step 10: And don’t forget to be professional.
Everything from your email address and bedside manner, to the invoice system you use and the payment methods you accept can impact the professionalism of your side hustle. You shouldn’t, for example, use your high school email address of [email protected] to conduct business transactions with clients. Your invoice template should not be a Word document with Comic Sans and a couple of lines accounting for payment amount and a signature. You probably shouldn’t be accepting checks or money orders. And when conversing with clients, it’s a good idea to avoid typing like you would text a message, using short forms like “Lol” or “Omg,” and being unprofessional overall.
There are many resources to help you create professional invoices, a business email, a proper payment system and stellar communication through email or message. A few of my favorites are as follows:
- PayPal (Business) – you can easily set up a business account on PayPal which allows you to create professional, clean, and clear invoices you can send electronically to clients or customers and receive payment; connect a bank account in minutes
- Zoho Mail – create an account using a new or existing email address, or one tied to your website’s domain, for a professional email and an inbox which is seriously easy to manage
- Grammarly – this Google extension helps proofread your emails and messages to ensure proper grammar and sentence structure, so you can send professional and properly-written emails to clients
Regardless of what kind of side hustle you create, I hope this simple how-to guide can help you get started and set you on the right path towards creating a successful side hustle!
Do you have a side hustle? Can you relate to any of this advice?
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Related: 5 Best Pieces of Career Advice I’ve Ever Received (and One I’m Still Waiting to Hear)
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