What Is a Side Hustle? (+ Best Practices for a Successful One)

With more than 44 million workers in the United States working outside of their traditional jobs, chances are you've heard the term "side hustle." But what is a side hustle, how much can you earn, and how do you get started? In this article, we'll cover all of those questions and more.

According to research by Bankrate, there are three main reasons people choose to start a side hustle:

  • Disposable income (34%)
  • Making ends meet/paying for regular living expenses (30%)
  • Savings income (27%)

One of the reasons millions of people turn to a side hustle is that they're generally pretty easy to start. You decide what you want to do and sign up online or download one of several different side hustle apps that make it delightfully easy to build an empire doing what you enjoy. But that doesn't mean that starting a side hustle is without effort.

If you want to earn a decent income from your side hustle or turn your side hustle into your main hustle, you'll need to put in the time, energy, and sometimes money. If you start driving for Postmates or Uber, for example, you'll be paying for gas, parking, upkeep on your vehicle, and spending time driving. If you're trying to maintain a full-time job too, you might find that you don't have as much time to devote to your side hustle as you thought you might without getting burnt out. In a survey conducted by Harvard Business Review, researchers found that survey respondents spent an average of 13 hours each week on their side hustle, spread across four days.

Now that you know a bit more about what draws people just like you to start a side hustle, let's get into a bit more detail about what a side hustle is and how you can get started. We’ll finish up with details about some of the most popular side hustles right now.

What Is a Side Hustle (+ Best Practices for a Successful One):

What Is a Side Hustle?

A side hustle is work that you take on outside of your traditional job to make extra money. Sounds simple enough, right? And it is. A side hustle is literally just work you do "on the side" of your normal job. A side hustle can help you earn additional money to grow your savings, pay bills, or take part in activities you love doing but can't afford with just your traditional job—like traveling! All it takes is a little time and effort. Plus, as you'll see, you can turn hobbies or things you enjoy doing already into side hustles.

How Much Can You Earn With a Side Hustle?

A side hustle can earn you quite a bit of additional income. Some side hustle ideas require larger time investments so you're going to be limited in the number of clients you can take on. According to a survey by The Ascent, the average side hustler earns an average of $625 per month from their side hustle. Of course, there are also those who earn thousands of dollars per month from their side hustle, too. It all depends on the side hustle you choose and how much time you have to devote to it. Working as a tutor you might earn $14–$22 per hour but you could potentially earn a few thousand per month running Facebook ads for small businesses.

What's the Difference Between a Side Hustle and Passive Income?

Side hustles are generally considered "active income," that is, income you earn from time or effort put into a job. This means that you have to take an active role in earning the money. Some side hustles, however, are or can become passive income.

Passive income is money you earn without doing a whole lot. Many opportunities for passive income involve making an investment of time or money upfront. For example, you could invest your money using passive income apps like Fundrise or Stash, rent out your home or car, or create and sell an online course or other digital information products.

What to Look for When Choosing a Side Hustle

What makes a side hustle a great opportunity? There are literally thousands of ways to make money online, so it's important to root out the scams and leverage only those side hustle opportunities or gig economy jobs that are really going to make you money. Here's what makes a side hustle worth a look:

  • Flexible schedule. If you're planning to keep your side hustle truly a side hustle (meaning you're going to keep your traditional job), you'll need to make sure that your side hustle offers you the flexibility to set your own hours.
  • Pay matches the effort. If you're looking to make a quick buck, blogging might not be for you. If, however, you're interested in building up a long-term business from your side hustle, blogging might be the perfect fit. There are bloggers like Adam Enfroy making tens of thousands of dollars every single month.
  • You actually enjoy it. Don't start a side hustle doing something you don't enjoy. Chances are, you already have a job that you're not too happy with, so why fill your "off" hours with more work that you hate?

Side Hustle Best Practices

To make starting your side hustle easier, here are a few side hustle best practices. Following these three best practices will set you up for success and keep you out of trouble with your boss and tax authorities.

Avoid Conflicts With Your Traditional Job

Before you start investing time, money, and energy on your side hustle, make sure that it doesn't pose a conflict of interest with your traditional job. Read through your employee handbook to make sure that your employer doesn't prohibit employees from starting their own businesses or put a limit on the type of work you can do outside of your job. If your side hustle is even remotely related to your traditional job, you'll want to make sure that your job is okay with it.

Be Realistic

Working a side hustle can easily become a full-time job, especially if you work your side hustle gig from home and double especially if you love what you do in your side hustle. Remember, unless you're turning your side hustle into a full-time job to replace your existing job, you don't need to be putting in full-time hours. Take the time to create a schedule that works for your traditional job, your family, and your mental health. Set up business hours for your side hustle and set boundaries so you're not working outside of those hours.

Pay Your Taxes

Working as an employee means that your employer is responsible for withholding taxes from your paycheck. When you work a side hustle, that's not the case. You'll need to keep track of how much you earn from your side hustle, track your own business expenses, and maybe even pay quarterly taxes. It really helps to work with an accountant to ensure that you're paying the taxes you need to pay—and paying them on time—so you're not caught with a big tax bill and late payment fees at the end of the year.

Most Popular—and Profitable—Side Hustles

There are tons of side hustle ideas and side hustle tools you can use to start your side hustle. Think about what you enjoy doing and there's probably a way to monetize it. If you're not sure, you could take on a few different side hustles to see what earns you the most and makes you the happiest. Let's take a look at some of the most popular and most profitable side hustles.

Start a YouTube Channel

Earning Potential: $15,000+/year

The highest-paid YouTube stars make millions of dollars every year. You probably won't, but that's okay. You can still earn a nice extra income from your YouTube content. And, you can start a YouTube channel with just your smartphone if you don't have the money to invest in a high-quality camera and microphone. There are even several free video editing tools out there you can use to add graphics, titles, captions, stickers, and other elements to make your videos more engaging.

When you're first starting out, we recommend focusing on getting more YouTube subscribers and increasing your watch time. Once you get to 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 hours of watch time, you'll be able to monetize your YouTube channel using Google AdSense.

Create an Online Course

Earning Potential: $100,000/year

Creating online courses is a great way to generate passive income over time. You build your online course using one of the easy-to-use online learning platforms available and sell them. If your online course is self-paced, you can put in the time to create the course upfront and let it run.

If you want to create an online course, choose a topic that you're knowledgeable about and take the time to pack your course full of value for your students. If you don't have the audio or video equipment to create videos up to your own expectations, check with your local library or university library. They sometimes have the equipment you can use to record your courses. For editing, you can either hire someone to edit the course for you or check out these video editing tools that make it easy to do it yourself.

Start a Podcast

Earning Potential: $10,000/month

If you can't tell by now, providing educational and entertainment value is an enormous opportunity for a side hustle. Starting a podcast is another way you can earn money by sharing your interests or knowledge with others. Like YouTube, you'll want to focus on growing your podcast listener base if you want to start earning good money.

Podcasts have awesome earning potential and you can also sell ads or promote affiliate products to earn even more. Plus, with a podcasting app like Anchor, you can start to monetize your podcast right away—for free!

Become an Influencer

Earning Potential: $200,000/year

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past few years, you know what an influencer is. Influencers are social media marketers who make money through sponsored posts, affiliate marketing, and selling their own products. While Instagram is the most popular social media platform for influencer marketing, wherever there's social media, you'll find an audience and an opportunity to earn.

It's not hard to become an influencer, but it does require time and effort to grow your following, create engaging and interesting content, and reach out to businesses you want to partner with. There are also different types of influencers, ranging from nano-influencers to celebrity influencers, and you can become a sought after influencer with just a few thousand followers. Plus, no matter what you're interested in, you'll probably find an audience who wants your content and businesses who want you to tout their wares.

Run Facebook Ads

Earning Potential: $10,000/month

Running Facebook ads or Google ads is a great way to earn a really good living from your side hustle. And, running ads doesn't require any special training. You just need to convince potential customers that you can create good looking ads with smart copy.

Become an Affiliate Marketer

Earning Potential: $10,000+/month

Affiliate marketing is a side hustle we love because it has great earning potential without having to make enormous investments. You will need a website (maybe more than one depending on how many different types of products you want to promote) and site hosting. Other than that, it's just a matter of taking the time to promote interesting items using your affiliate links. You can find an affiliate program for just about anything but we recommend joining an affiliate marketing network to make it a bit easier. You can also check out products you already love and use to see if they have an affiliate program you can join.

Wrapping Up

No matter which side hustle you choose, you'll want to make sure that you have the skill and passion to get it done. While starting a side hustle isn't hard to do, it can be hard to stay engaged in your side hustle if you don't enjoy it or it's not giving you the return you thought it would. Even if you find that your chosen side hustle isn't doing it for you, you have plenty of other options to choose from. Happy hustling!

About the Author
Jacinda Santora is a copywriter, marketing consultant, and owner of JMS Copy. She enjoys using her SEO expertise combined with experience in and a deep love for all things marketing to create high-quality marketing-related content