- Today, online tools make it simple to test the entrepreneurial waters with a side hustle.
- Insider compiled a list of the easiest side hustles to start based on low overhead costs and access.
- The list includes virtual assisting, freelance, resale, and teaching online courses.
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Today, online tools and platforms make it easy to test the entrepreneurial waters with a side hustle.
Startup costs for a digital business can be as low as the price of internet access, which encouraged many to launch their own businesses in the Great Resignation. Some have started selling homemade goods on social-media platforms like Instagram, while others are using expertise from previous jobs to freelance or teach online courses.
"You can become a freelancer so much easier now and have a better line to getting clients than we had before," Jacqueline Kirtley, a Wharton management professor, previously told Insider.
But with accessibility also comes more competition, cautioned Cynthia Franklin, a director at the Berkley Center for Entrepreneurship at New York University.
"The operative word there is hustle — you really have to hustle," she said. "You have to be super creative and very clever in how you get noticed."
Starting a side hustle is fairly inexpensive, so Franklin recommends dipping into multiple platforms to generate passive income, which is earnings that don't require regular work or maintenance to achieve. "Leverage and go deep in a particular area," she said. "Find ways to connect these various tools that make sense so that you can dominate your space."
Insider compiled a list of the easiest online side hustles to start based on the following criteria:
- Low overhead cost — Starting a business in any one of these categories requires a small financial investment, such as acquiring a small amount of inventory or paying for a domain name and website hosting.
- Accessibility — There's little to no red tape, like needing to get a bank loan or rent a storefront, to establish your business. Instead, you need to download an app, have internet access, or sign up for a monthly membership that won't cost much more than streaming Netflix.
- Remote work — All essential functions of the business can be done remotely and do not require a retail store or office to be efficient.
- Minimal expertise required — While educational resources are widely available, these categories require no additional degrees or certifications to get started.
1. Sell digital downloads on Etsy
If you're a skilled artist, graphic designer, or pattern maker, you can earn money selling your creations as digital downloads on Etsy. A digital download often comes in the form of a PDF, like wall decor you can print at home, instructions for sewing your own dress, or a custom decal you can place on a T-shirt. Once you upload a design, customers can purchase and download it indefinitely, meaning you don't have to worry about shipping or running out of stock.
"It's a nice way of avoiding some of the overhead that comes with having to ship and produce physical products," Franklin said, adding that Etsy businesses have an extra challenge to stand out because the platform is crowded with more than 5.2 million sellers. "There are a lot of really interesting, compelling products."
Digital downloads were the right format for Shelby Ashworth, who launched her Etsy shop in 2016. PaperDotInkDesigns sells handwritten prints and templates, and in 2021, Ashworth booked $2,494 in sales, which Insider verified with documentation.
2. Host online courses on Teachable or Skillshare
If you have expertise in a particular topic or industry, you can become an instructor and sell your online courses. Platforms like Teachable and Skillshare have an assortment of on-demand classes in design, marketing, business, finance, personal development, and more.
"Many people have skills that they may not realize would be very much attractive to someone else," Franklin said.
Aubree Malick quit her elementary-school teaching job in 2018 to become a virtual assistant, and now hosts online courses teaching others about virtual assistance. Malick generated $105,735 in revenue in 2021, which Insider verified with documentation.
3. Monetize your blog with affiliate marketing
Domain names are digital real estate and, with some work, buying one can be a fruitful investment. Some people also purchase blogs with low traffic, revamp them with better SEO, and then sell them for a profit.
Affiliate marketing — a type of advertising that pays one website host to refer visitors to their site — may not reap benefits right away, so Franklin recommends it for someone who already has a following or successful business and wants to generate additional revenue. "You're essentially selling your followers," she said.
Graphic designer Morgan Overholt started a tourism blog in 2020 and grew site traffic so she could monetize it through affiliate marketing. In 2021, her site generated $205,642 in ad revenue, which Insider verified with documentation.
4. Be a virtual assistant for other business owners
As more people start businesses, the market for virtual assistants has skyrocketed in tandem. You can leverage your skills in administrative tasks, content creation, communications, event planning, and writing to earn an average of $2,000 to $5,000 per month, according to a report from the US Association of Virtual Assistants.
"We're seeing this whole shift to remote working and appreciation for the ability to have teams that are dispersed, so virtual assistants are very hot," Franklin said.
Annalisa Abell helps small businesses with administrative tasks. She started her virtual-assistant company, Elevated Assist, in 2019 while working a full-time job. She booked six figures in revenue in 2021, which Insider verified with documentation.
5. Resale on Poshmark, Depop, Instagram, or Facebook Marketplace
Resale is booming as more sellers pop up across the globe to hawk thrifted apparel, home decor, and accessories. The secondhand market was worth $35 billion in 2021 and is expected to reach $82 billion by 2026, according to a report from resale company ThredUp.
Franklin advised resellers to pay attention to the fees each platform charges since they can vary. For example, Poshmark charges $2.95 for most items while Depop charges 10% on every sale. "Track your expenses and your time very closely to make sure that your side hustle is actually going to generate what you're hoping to generate," she said.
Nicholas Waskosky has been selling clothing and accessories on Poshmark since he was 14 years old and continued to run his side hustle while attending college. In 2020, he made $34,607 in sales on the app, which Insider verified with documentation.
6. Stream on Twitch, Popshop Live, and Instagram
Hosting livestreams can bring in extra cash for the time you already spend on a passion or hobby, like practicing an instrument, playing video games, or collecting toys. It can also be an additional revenue stream if you already have a business and want to increase sales or market your brand.
Franklin suggests that people who are interested in streaming find a niche community. "Identify people who are fanatical about something that you are very much interested in," she said.
Miguel Rivera turned his love for collecting FunkoPop figurines into a side hustle by streaming auctions on the live shopping app Whatnot. He earned $40,648 on the app between December 2020 and August 2021, which Insider verified with documentation.
7. Freelance on Upwork or Fiverr
If you've worked in a particular industry for some time, you can use those skills to do freelance work like copywriting, marketing, or web design through work-for-hire platforms Upwork and Fiverr. As more people start their own businesses, they'll need help with their websites, blogs, advertisements, and social-media campaigns.
Franklin warned that it can be tough to manage client expectations on these platforms, so keep track of how your rates justify the amount of time you spend on each project.
Freelance copywriter Jaime Hollander got her start on Upwork after working at major media companies for more than a decade. She built up her clientele, increased her rates, and now runs a six-figure marketing agency.
8. Monetize your art through merch and NFTs
Most artists don't make thousands from selling a few high-ticket items. That's why offering smaller pieces like prints, T-shirts, and stickers can make up a bulk of regular sales. Meanwhile, some artists have booked serious earnings by selling their work as NFTs.
While the market is relatively new, NFTs offer artists a bigger payout in the long term, Franklin said. "You get royalties on future sales," she added. "It's a brave new world, so while there is a lot of potential there, it's still pretty early."
Artist Isaac Pelayo sold 50 paintings in 2020 and made over six figures by the end of the year, according to documents verified by Insider. In addition to commissioned pieces, he sells prints and tattoo designs on his website.