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For Anyone Who Wants To Start An Online Side Hustle

My honest thoughts on a few of these side hustle ideas, based on my experience as a student who wanted to earn some money.

Photo by Hayley Mae on Unsplash

During the summer of 2021, I spent a couple of months obsessing over trying to find a side hustle. Perhaps this was because I just got out of high school and wished to start becoming more financially independent—though I also just wanted to find something to do that would make me feel productive. (I was feeling quite lost at the time, if I’m being honest.)

After much googling, I tried out a few. A couple months of struggling later, and I’ve learnt a lot.

I just want to mention that I’m not trying to discourage anyone from pursuing any of these side hustles, but I do want to show you that it isn’t easy to get started. We read a lot of articles (certainly I did) that make online side hustles seem like the perfect way to earn extra cash—which it can be for some people, but it isn’t as easy as it’s described to be. It can be difficult to get started, and I want to offer you some of my personal insight—for those anyone who’s like me and is intrigued by other people’s success stories.

Because I always got a little too excited at the beginning, I found myself disappointed and demotivated whenever I wasn’t seeing the results I expected. Maybe I would’ve been more successful in a lot of these side hustles if I were more patient with my progress. I want to help set realistic expectations of what it’s like getting started, so that you can figure out what works best for you.

With that being said, here are some of my experiences with the online side hustles that I’ve dabbled in.

Freelancing on Fiverr

Screenshot from the Fiverr website.

Fiverr is a platform where people can buy services—called “gigs”—from sellers, with prices starting from $5 (though most people charge more than that).

There’s a broad range of different freelance services offered on Fiverr—from graphic design to business consulting, web programming to personalized birthday messages from Jesus.

Within three months or so of selling on Fiverr, I managed to earn a whopping… $12! (I hope my sarcasm is coming through. But I’ll admit that, at the time, I was quite surprised to have earned anything at all.)

I offered services such as music transcription and custom, cartoon portraits. But all of my earnings came from one gig—creating ticket designs.

The reason I was able to earn my (whhh-opping) $12 was because I spent the time to find a gap in the Fiverr market. A service like creating custom portraits is very popular, which makes it highly competitive. You’ll show up on the 112th page, while other sellers with more orders and reviews than you do will be shown to buyers first. Designing tickets, however, is much more specific and with less sellers offering such a service, which made it a lot easier for my gig to get discovered. There’s also less competition, so potential customers were more likely to place an order for my gig than for others.

Fiverr is great for those who want to make some extra cash off of their skills, but it’s very saturated and competitive. It does take some time for people to start reaching out to you—I waited over a month to get my first order, and about another three weeks to get the second one.

So if you’re interested in doing freelancing on Fiverr, remember to have patience and niche down by finding a gap in the market.

Create and Sell Royalty-Free Music

Music makes people feel stuff. Music makes videos interesting. I think we can agree on that.

Filmmakers, YouTubers and others use music in their projects, and they need to get it from somewhere (without getting copyright claimed). If you enjoy creating/composing music and soundtracks, then this is where you come in!

There are several websites where musicians can sell their music—I tried out Pond5 (a stock media website). I composed two soundtracks (of drastically different styles—one was similar to Lo-Fi and the other one felt like meditation music, but if you were meditating in a jungle with human-eating birds…)

Photo taken by the author. I used Ableton Live to make music.

And guess what? I earned $0!

Well, to be honest—that’s more of a “me” problem. I kind of realized that I don’t really enjoy producing music as much as I thought I would. I mean, it was fun—but I stressed myself out too much. I only felt satisfied when I heard the final product, but I didn’t actually enjoy the process.

But the uploading process on the website went very smoothly, and they accept music of all styles. Overall, it was a great platform that was easy to navigate.

I do think that if you’re passionate about producing music and want to grow as a musician, then there’s definitely an opportunity to earn quite a bit from selling royalty-free music. Do keep in mind that you’ll probably need to continue uploading new soundtracks for a while (and will need to have a lot more than just 2 pieces like I did) in order to reach more potential buyers and start getting sales. But if you’ve got something to offer and don’t mind people using your music in their work, then I don’t see why you can’t try it out. If you’re a photographer, you can do the same with images and videos as well.

On the note of side hustles I had no success in…

Transcription

Listen to an audio and type out what you hear. Sounds easy, right?

That’s what I thought, and I was wrong! (Though, this time it’s really not a “me” problem—not entirely, at least.)

You first need to sign up to a transcription platform and take a quick test by transcribing an audio provided to you. Then, if you’re accepted, you can start taking jobs.

Every platform has different rules for transcription, so make sure to read each platform’s styles and formatting guidelines before you apply.

I applied to two platforms and got accepted for one called CastingWords.

I don’t know about other platforms, but for CastingWords, you earn different badges that indicate your level as a transcriber and editor on the platform, as well as the languages you’re fluent in.

You can look at what jobs are available and take the ones that you want. Different jobs pay different fees per minute, which I suppose is set by the client.

But the thing is, there are already many other transcribers who got there much earlier than you, who probably have taken more jobs and earned higher level badges. Imagine if you were to hire someone to do transcription for your project—you’d probably want a person who has more experience, right?

So, most of the jobs are going to those who are ranked higher in the system, based on experience and quality of work. Meanwhile, all the beginners are at the bottom, trying to fight over the few jobs that are available to beginners.

249 jobs in total and none available to a beginner like me. Screenshot from the CastingWords Workshop.

Did I get any jobs? No.

Should I have continued applying to more platforms to increase my chances of getting jobs? Probably. But I guess I wasn’t interested in transcription enough to look for more.

Anyway, if you have experience, are grammatically fluent and accurate in at least one language, or are more interested in transcription than I am—then this could be for you. Though, it’s probably best to try and get work from more than one platform (especially if you’re using CastingWords—just saying).

Print-on-demand

Print-on-demand, or POD, is “a printing technology and business process in which book copies are not printed until the company receives an order, allowing prints of single or small quantities.”

Of course, this is not only limited to books. There are many websites that allow you to create designs and upload it onto many different products—T-Shirts, hoodies, socks, mugs, notebooks… even pillows and socks.

Some POD websites include Zazzle, Society6, and Teepublic. But my favorite has been Redbubble.

Look, I’m no artist. But I do enjoy drawing and wish to become better at it. As someone who wants to go into medicine, I opened a shop that featured biology themed designs.

A screenshot of my first biology-themed shop on Redbubble.

Well, the problem was—no one wanted to buy them.

Firstly, I didn’t spend enough time and recourses to promote my work on other sites, so I couldn’t reach enough potential customers. Secondly, I think my theme was too niched down. I mean, there’s only so many people who would actually buy a magnet with a biochemistry pun.

One of my biochemistry magnet designs on Redbubble.

When I realized this, I decided to open up a second shop and create more generic designs and patterns. This way, I was able to reach a larger group of people who’d want to have my zebra-patterned mouse pad on their desks.

My design for a mouse pad on Redbubble.

I did have to join a few groups on Facebook to promote my designs in order to get more views on my page and let the algorithm do its thing. But my strategy worked — I got two sales!

A screenshot of the email I received when I made a sale.

That might not sound like much, but it does feel very rewarding to know that two people from different parts of the world liked and bought something that I designed.

I had to stop uploading designs for a while because I got caught up in other work, but I feel like if I would’ve continued uploading and promoting my new designs, I probably could have made a few more sales by now.

I’m quite happy with my experience on Redbubble, and it’s definitely something that you can earn a side income from. But you need to approach it (somewhat) strategically. Think in the shoes of your target customers—what kind of designs will people want? Which products fit with your design and which don’t? My rule of thumb was to ask myself: if I saw this product online, would I buy it? Would I want this pillow on my own couch? If the answer’s yes, then I’d upload my design.

For anyone who enjoys graphic design and has just as much—or more—artistic talents than I do (which is most people), then I’d highly recommend giving Redbubble a shot. If I could make a sale, then you probably can too.

Blogging

I started a blog last year, but then decided to shut it down after just a few months. I go into more detail about this in another article I wrote, but here’s an extract from that which explains my decision behind deleting my website:

Most of those famous bloggers online already had an audience, or they’ve been blogging since before the internet became as saturated as it is today. It’s difficult to drive traffic to your own blog if you do not already have an existing audience.

If I’m not just some 18-year-old, soon-to-be college student who barely makes enough money a week to buy my own food — then yeah, I’d still keep my website.

But there are costs to running and hosting your own website. And when you’re not making any money from it and don’t have other means to support it, then the costs can accumulate over time.

So, I decided it was best to shut down my website and save some money.

With more than 600 million blogs, the internet is very saturated. It’s much harder to get readers to your own blog if you don’t have an existing audience.

But there are alternatives: one of which is Medium.

Yes, you’re reading my writing from Medium right now. I’ve been here for over a year already and I honestly really enjoy it. The platform is quite minimalistic and the tools are very easy to use. But the main thing that keeps me going is my passion for writing—I can spend hours working on a piece of writing and not get tired of it. It’s actually quite therapeutic. I genuinely enjoy the process, and that’s important for something that you’re going to be working (almost) every day!

There’s a whole community of writers who appreciate and can provide constructive feedback on your work. You’ll be able to learn from others and grow as a writer. Medium is also very good about SEO (search engine optimization), so you have the chance to reach many readers outside of the platform as well.

Of course, with anything in life, you need to have patience and consistency. But after uploading more frequently, I began to see an upward trend in followers and views.

If you’re passionate about writing but are not sure about starting your own blog, I’d recommend you start with Medium first. Build an audience here, and then find ways to expand (if that’s something you wish to do).

There’s no real get rich quick way to any of these side hustles, so if you’re only doing it for the money, then maybe it’s not right for you.

I think it’s clear that I gave up on a lot of these side hustles way too early, and that’s mainly because I wasn’t enjoying them enough to keep on going. I tried them out, learnt about what I like and don’t like doing. Then, I diverted my focus onto work that I’m more enthusiastic about. And that’s okay.

The best side hustle is one that will work for youit is one that you will enjoy and will, as a result, be able to have patience and consistently put in the effort to do the work. Even if you don’t see immediate results.

But hey, if you’re curious about any of these side hustles and can afford to give them a try, then just go for it. You haven’t got much to lose.

Hello there! I’m A.X. — a soon-to-be theatre student in college who writes poetry and other stuff. Last month, I set a goal of reading at least one play per week, and I’m sharing my thoughts on each in theatre stuff. There’s so much we can discover & explore through theatre, so I welcome you to follow and join me as I share my insights on the life lessons we can learn from dramatic literature (and more)! If you’re interested, here’s something to get you started:

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A.X. Bates

A.X. Bates

Words can make a difference. Theatre student writing poems about life, society, and coffee. @axybates on Instagram and Twitter.

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