16 high-income side hustles

It was 2014, and I was at a Starbucks inside of Terminal 21, a mall in the heart of Bangkok.

I’d only been working for about 45 minutes, but already I felt exhausted. Working seemed to take a lot more effort when I was my only boss.

Still, I powered through. This was my first major translation job — my first profitable side hustle — and I didn’t want to mess it up.

Luckily, the editing company in Tokyo that gave me the job liked my work, and since then I’ve had dozens of writing, translating, and editing jobs with them. Here are some of the books I still get royalties from:

I had recently quit my full-time job teaching English in Tokyo, and this one side hustle wasn’t enough to live on. So I also started teaching English online through a Japanese company similar to Preply and italki.

My third and final source of income was a blog about learning Japanese. First, I monetized with the JapanesePod101 affiliate program, then I sold a PDF through a site similar to Gumroad, followed by courses on a course platform. Eventually, this blog evolved into the education platform NativShark.

Side hustles have supported my livelihood for the better part of a decade now. As I begin to delegate more and more work at NativShark — no longer working 7 days a week — I find myself starting to have a little bit more free time.

Which means it’s time for a new side hustle!

I’m tempted to keep these ideas to myself. I’m not sure which ones I’ll end up pursuing. But it’s fun to think I could help someone out there achieve financial independence.

I can always come up with new side hustles later, anyway. ^_^

Let’s get started.


This post contains affiliate links. Here is the full disclosure. Below, I’ll talk about some unique strategies for using (ethical) affiliate marketing in side hustle projects, as well.


What qualifies as a “high-income side hustle”?

Most of the side hustle idea lists I found online seem… meh.

They list opportunities that have terrible time/revenue ratios, require exceedingly high amounts of resources to create, or are so commonly known that they hardly deserve to be on a list at all.

Let’s do something different.

Side hustles do NOT qualify for this list if they:

  • Are not repeatable. For example, being a handyman on TaskRabbit or Thumbtack. The job is slightly different each time, which means that you spend time figuring out what you’re going to do. Worst of all, you have to find new clients all the time.
  • Have low income potential. It’s really easy to start driving for Uber or taking surveys on Respondent. But they don’t pay very well, and they…
  • Cannot be scaled to businesses. Typically, it’s quite hard to get high income from a hustle unless you can (eventually) delegate the work to other people.
  • Require an existing audience. You can make a 7-figure income with a good podcast or YouTube channel… but that’s probably not gonna happen in your first couple of years, let alone your first several months.

If it’s on a platform, it’s a race to the bottom

Rent out your garage on Neighbor. Find kids to babysit on Care.com, dogs to walk on Rover, or houses to housesit on TrustedHousesitters.

These are all attractive offers because the barrier to entry is super low. It only takes a few minutes to set up a profile and start to (try to) make money.

But if your profile is floating in a sea of other profiles — people who will take less money, who don’t know their own worth, who have a more impressive résumé — the person on the other side of the transaction won’t know who to pick.

Thus, they’ll choose one of the cheaper options.

This happens again and again until everyone is working for the bare minimum they can accept. This makes any side hustle that places you up for sale right alongside your competitors less attractive, particularly when your goal is high income.

If you want more, be different.

1. Paid newsletter

This article you’re reading was originally written on Substack, which is a platform for running a newsletter. They make it incredibly easy to turn your newsletter into one that people have to pay for. I later moved this site to Ghost, where you can do the same thing.

If I wanted to charge for (parts of) this newsletter someday, I could do so with the click of a button. For now it's free, though:

But, I can’t charge money for a newsletter. What do I know!

To that I would say:

In an entire month, could you not come up with some information that is worth a total of $1?

If you can make me laugh once or twice a week, I’ll happily pay you $1 a month. Bonus points if I learn something along the way.

Or you can start a curated newsletter. Don’t make me sift through social media and news sites for the type of content I want. Find it for me. If you do a good job, I’ll pay you some money for it.

Start by asking friends and family to subscribe. What excuse can they give if it only costs $1 a month?

But I can't write!

Then make it a podcast instead of a newsletter. You can use Ghost and Substack in the same way for this as well. Then:

  1. Improve the newsletter/podcast.
  2. Grow a bigger audience.
  3. Increase the price… or monetize in other ways. For example, you could sell courses, access to an exclusive community, or consulting services. Or do a bit of…

2. Ethical affiliate marketing

With affiliate marketing, you refer your readers to certain products, and you get a commission if a purchase is made.

The first money I ever made online was by selling an audio program for Japanese back in 2012. Since then, I’ve made over $100,000 through that single affiliate program.

⚠ If you're not careful, affiliate marketing can come across as super sleazy.

All too often, people end up recommending products that they personally don’t want or pay for.

I give myself two rules for affiliate promotions:

  1. Don’t recommend it unless you personally paid for and like it.
  2. Mention things you haven’t paid for if they seem interesting, but don’t say they’re good if you’re not actually sure.

An example of #1 would be JapanesePod101. I started recommending it to readers back in 2012 because I was using it and liked it. At NativShark, we eventually stopped recommending it because we didn’t think it was the best option for our students.

You could copy what I did exactly. Start a newsletter about your Spanish-learning journey and market for SpanishPod101… if you like it. Or study something else.

Sometime in the next few years, I want to try selling things on Amazon. When I do that, I will probably create a newsletter on Substack or Ghost about my journey to figure out this whole selling products on Amazon thing.

In that newsletter, I’ll talk about the product I’m using, which will be Amazon Selling Machine (ASM). Aside from the fact that this program seems well-respected, it has really lucrative commissions on its flagship product and its starter guide, 1 Product Challenge.

If the product ends up sucking, I won’t recommend it.

Maybe those affiliate links will be enough to monetize the newsletter. Or maybe I’ll end up selling the newsletter itself, if it becomes profitable. With any luck, my new Amazon business will also start making me money.

By weaving in several routes to monetization, success becomes more likely.

Be careful that you follow rules with affiliate marketing. The links in this post, for example, have affiliate links. So I need to mention that, and I throw in my affiliate disclosure for good measure.

3. Selling plants

A few years back, I read a book called Year-Round Indoor Salad Gardening.

I followed the book’s instructions exactly, and I was consistently rewarded with healthy, nutrient-dense, soil-grown microgreens in under a week with only a few minutes of effort. I grew too much, actually, and I ended up giving most of it away.

Then, again and again, I’m grocery shopping, and I see packages of sprouts that are selling for $5+… sprouts that look smaller, less healthy, and less delicious than my own little containers of sprouts that were costing me well under $1 to grow.

Hey, I thought, I should grow a bunch of these in a spare bedroom then sell them. If I grow and sell 100 per week, that’s like $1,600+ per month in profit!

I was too busy with my other businesses, so I didn’t pursue it any further than that. Since then, I have since seen other people get into the microgreens business, and if you look online, there are a number of courses showing you how to do this. I’m not convinced a course is necessary, though. This path to profitability looks pretty straightforward.

If I were to do this I would avoid selling my greens at farmer’s markets — or any place where I have to waste time standing around waiting for customers to find me. Instead, I’d try to set up weekly deliveries with customers, both individuals and businesses, and ideally get them on monthly payment plans.

Maybe I’d rent an extra apartment where I could grow these. If it didn’t work out, I could always use the apartment for rental arbitrage (more on that later).

Although this would likely be less profitable than microgreens, what I’d really like to do is grow a bunch of plants, then sell all of them in a single day.

I read about a guy who did this a few years back. (I can’t find where, sorry.) He grew a bunch of plants in pots. Then he had a yard sale where he sold them all… and he made about $20,000!

I know my dad has tomato and pepper plant growing down to an exact science. I could convince him that we should set up a few hundred potted plants on a drip system in his yard, then we let them grow. When they’re starting to produce fruit, we send out flyers and put up signs all over the local community, and we have a 1-day sale where we get rid of them all.

Since the ROI on growing a plant from seed tends to be really high, I can’t imagine that we’d lose money on this, even if it didn’t make us a ton of cash. And I’d get to spend more time outside breathing in the fresh air, watching nature do its magic, and listening to podcasts.

Sounds like a good deal to me.

4. Ad creative service

  1. Go into a service like Adbeat.
  2. Research companies in a specific niche.
  3. Find companies that aren’t advertising well (or at all).
  4. Go into Canva and make some ads based on their competitors’.
  5. Reach out to the company. Show them ads that are stealing their customers, along with ads you can make to prevent this.
  6. Sell your service.
  7. Outsource the labor.
  8. Repeat.

You’ll be more likely to get clients like this if you also offer ad management services. That is, if you run and manage their ads for them in platforms like Facebook, Google, and Bing.

For example, you might find that there is a specific search term which you found in Ahrefs that gets a lot of traffic. And a company you’re targeting has or could have a good article for that search term… but doesn’t show at the top of the results in Google.

In your pitch, you show them the exact article, ad (with text and copy), and targeting in Google, along with an estimate of how much traffic it would bring them, how much that traffic would cost, and what it would be worth to them. Sounds like a pretty good sales pitch to me.

To do all of this well, though, there is a lot of learning that must be done.

Learning? No! I want money!

Good luck with that, my friend.

Anyway, studying digital advertising is a good investment if you want to improve your ability to make money. There are plenty of courses on this kind of thing on Skillshare. And probably a lot of other places, too.

When you know how to make companies more money, they’ll always be happy to pay you. At NativShark, we pay an advertising agency several thousand dollars per month to manage our ad campaigns… because they make us more than that.

I’ll give you $100 if it’ll make me $105.

5. Product giveaway manufacturing

Speaking of high-value skills to cultivate, this one is huge:

Finding and making deals with manufacturing companies abroad.

I mentioned Amazon Selling Machine earlier. Most people studying with that product will probably use Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA). FBA is the program in which you can sell your products on Amazon, and they do all the shipping and stuff for you.

FBA is super competitive. You have to study keywords, trends, and most of the time it’s a race to the bottom because other people desperate to make money will keep trying to undercut you on price.

But just figuring out how to get products manufactured gives you a huge opportunity: You now have a valuable skill that others don’t. And you can market it in interesting ways.

One possible approach:

  1. Pick a type of business, ideally one selling high-ticket products or services. For example, car dealerships.
  2. Find a manufacturer overseas to make a giveaway product for this type of business. For example, tire pressure gauges.
  3. Put company-specific branding on the product. For example, make up a fake car dealership name and logo, then have the manufacturer put it on the samples of your gauge.
  4. Go into the business. Show them your product sample. Explain how giving this to customers when they make a purchase will keep you in their mind for years and years to come:
    Every time they check their tire pressure, they’ll be thinking, “Golly, I’m so thankful I bought my car from Larry’s Luxurious Leopard-Painted Car Lot.” And they’ll be back every time they want to buy a new car.
  5. Get them to buy hundreds or thousands of the product. Sell at a markup.
  6. Get the product manufactured and shipped directly to the business.
  7. Repeat.

Why would I compete with the dozens of companies selling $15 tire pressure gauges on Amazon, when instead I could just sell 1,000 of them to a car dealership at a better markup?

I’m sure there are lots of other ways you could leverage this knowledge and ability to work with manufacturers. There are better client/product combos than the car dealer/tire pressure gauge example I gave. What are they?

I personally would never do this business because making cold calls on businesses to sell them stuff sounds like my worst nightmare. Here again, we see a skill that, if cultivated, would make you more valuable than other people (myself included).

6. Piano tuning

Talk about an industry with low competition (for now). Most of the people selling this service are going the old fashioned route.

Thanks to technology, though, you don’t have to know how to play piano in order to do this. Instead:

  1. Buy a piano tuning kit.
  2. Get a tuning app on your smartphone.
  3. Figure out how to tune a piano. (Here’s one free course I found.)
  4. Train your sister (or somebody) how to tune a piano.
  5. List your business on Google Maps and Yelp.
  6. Send out your piano tuning minion(s).
  7. Take a cut of their payment.

That guy in the free course I just mentioned made about $1,700 his first month doing that, and he just advertised on Next Door, Thumbtack, Craigslist, and Facebook Marketplace.

I don’t want to trade my time for money, so I would find people to do it for me. Since you can get around $75-150 per piano tuning, seems you could just pay someone a nice hourly wage, instead, then take your cut off the top. Send them out with a mobile credit card reader (e.g. from PayPal or Square) so the payments go right to your bank account. Pay them as contractors.

They’ll be very excited to work with cool tools like these, which you can buy on Amazon:

For marketing, what I might do is pay some people to put big stickers or magnets on their cars for my piano tuning business. When we were living in San Diego, this is how we found the guy who tuned our piano, and he told me he gets a lot of clients just from the big stickers he has on his car. I think we paid him around $135, if I remember correctly. He was there for under an hour.

7. Be a good marketer of an everyday service

We had just moved to Oregon, and we didn’t know a single person in the state.

We wanted to find a good housekeeper, but it was pretty hard to find any person or company that seemed legitimate, trustworthy, and affordable near our house.

We ended up taking our chances on some random company we found online… and they turned out all right, but it was nothing special. Until then, I had always gotten a housekeeper based on word of mouth. But this time I had moved to a place where I didn’t know anyone, and I couldn’t find the service I wanted.

Even today, after four years, there are hardly any local cleaning companies showing up in this area in Google Maps:

Seems like a well-marketed housekeeping service could do quite well, depending on your area. For example, this guy Chris did this in Washington D.C. with his company Think Maids. They seem to be doing about $60k in monthly revenue, and he only works on it 5 minutes a day.

What niche is underrepresented in your local market? What is being marketed poorly or not at all? Which niches have no businesses using services like Podium to maximize convenient communication with customers?

Pool cleaning? Lawn aeration? Clothing alterations? Parking lot striping? Mold removal? Pressure washing? Plumbing?

  1. Figure out how to do the job.
  2. Train and pay someone else to do it.
  3. Market it better than anyone else.
  4. Scale up your company.

Don’t want to run one of these companies? Then maybe you should make them your customer with…

8. Online presence management

  1. Go into Google Maps.
  2. Zoom in on an area you’re familiar with.
  3. Search for a certain type of business in that area.
  4. Find businesses in that same area and industry that don’t have their profile set up properly (hours, reviews, links, phone numbers, etc.).
  5. Write a quick report on how they’re failing to compete and missing out on potential revenue.
  6. Offer to fix this all for them… for a monthly fee.
  7. Upsell other marketing help, like their Yelp presence, promotion strategy, and so on. If they don’t have a website, offer to build and manage one for them. Same for their social media presence.
  8. Repeat steps 2 through 7.

It’s natural to want to do this for restaurants in your area, but they’ll probably have their profiles set up nicely. I have found that home service businesses are particularly lacking — carpet cleaning, window washing, pool cleaning, painting, etc.

Phone numbers are missing. Review counts are low. There is no website.

If the competition looks particularly weak in an industry, you could even start that business (#7). These businesses with a low cost of entry tend to be popular for side hustles. Things like window washing, knife sharpening, etc. The equipment to get started is pretty cheap.

But I wouldn’t pursue window washing, knife sharpening, or whatever unless there appears to be a lack of skilled competition. Competing with a window washer who has been at it for 20 years and has his online presence set up well just sounds tiring and challenging. I’d rather fill gaps in the marketplace. More on this below.

9. Share economy strategizing

This is not a specific type of side hustle but rather a thought experiment.

It seems like every single day there is some new app that utilizes sharing.

Rent out the field behind your grandma’s barn on Hipcamp. Rent out your garage on Neighbor. Rent out your power saw on N̶e̶i̶g̶h̶b̶o̶r̶G̶o̶o̶d̶s̶… err, Home Depot.

I’m certain that if you are creative, there is a way utilize this change in the market to make more money than you pay for access to something.

If you bought a house in a suburban neighborhood, could you not rent out the pool to one of your neighbors, the bedrooms to everyone on your street who needs an office now that they can or must telecommute, the garage to someone who needs to store their doll collection, the driveway to the guy who needs to park his boat somewhere?

Maybe.

Seems like some laws might pop up that get in your way eventually. But maybe that’s just an assumption I’m making. If it’s legal to grow marijuana for recreational use in your state, maybe you could rent out a guest bedroom to the couple down the street so that they can do a little indoor gardening. Or maybe you’d get arrested for it.

That’s for you to figure out.

If you look hard enough, there are creative and lucrative approaches to the sharing economy that still haven’t been popularized. If I had one to write about here, I’d probably have to remove it from this post a year later after everyone else found out about it and the potential ROI dropped.

Be careful with any well-known share economy hack. For example, a few years ago, I remembering hearing about a guy leasing a fleet of cars, then renting them out on Turo. He was making six figures per year.

But then a lot of people started doing this, and I’m sure his revenue went down. Then COVID-19 hit, and Turo rentals dropped. Not sure it’s such a good opportunity now.

And maybe we’re about to see a lot more people doing this with camper vans and RVs they rent out on Outdoorsy and RVShare.com.

As soon as something like this gets popular, revenue will go down… and you might still be stuck in a lease for that vehicle, which would suck.

Still, if you’re early to a certain type of share economy hacking, you can make quite a bit of money before other people see the opportunity.

10. Rental/AirBnB arbitrage and co-hosting

A lot of people are starting to do this:

  1. Find a property that you think would be great for AirBnB — or a great property that is not being marketed well.
  2. Partner with the owner.
  3. Take your cut.

Partnering might mean renting the property on an annual lease, then renting it out (with the owner’s permission) on AirBnB. Or it might mean hosting the property — dealing with the renters and marketing — then sharing profits with the owner.

I see the biggest opportunity for this abroad, especially in regions where English skills tend to be low. The 60-year-old man living down the street from me in Tokyo might want to rent out his house on AirBnB — or be willing to let me do so if I rented it for a year or more — but he doesn’t speak English and can’t be bothered to figure out the technology.

In Japan, specifically, what appeals to a traveler looking for accommodation is often different from what increases the value of a home for a Japanese person. An old — albeit spacious — home with Japanese flooring in an area inconvenient for commuting to work (but not necessarily for commuting to sightseeing), for example, can be less to rent than a boring-looking modern home near a supermarket.

So you can find a 3-story, 5 bedroom, 3 bathroom house with rooms like this:

…for about $2,300 a month.

This particular house is near Minami-Senju Station. There’s not a whole lot going on around there, but it’s only a 4-minute walk to the station, and it’s a 7-minute train ride from there to Asakusa, arguably the most popular tourist area in Tokyo:

Most Japanese renters don’t want a house with 5 bedrooms. They don’t want a place that was built 29 years ago (very old for a house in Tokyo). So the rent isn’t that high. But to a tourist it’s everything they want:

The feel of staying in a Japanese home. Close to tourist attractions. Conveniently located for airport access and getting to other areas around Japan. A highly affordable option when splitting the nightly fee (several hundred dollars) with the 6 people you’re traveling with.

There is probably a way to make these deals with an owner, outsource the actual work of renting out the places to someone other than myself, and then just take a little bit of the profits for a minimum amount of effort.

If this is so simple, why isn’t everyone doing it?

Because it’s a hassle. You have to find owners who are open-minded, who are willing to both work with foreigners and try something they’ve never done before.

If it were easy, everyone would already be doing it. You won’t find the word “easy” in the definition of the word “opportunity.”

Questions to consider:

  • What do you know about a particular housing market that a tourist wouldn’t?
  • Where is there a gap in perceived value between renters and travelers?
  • Where are the property owners who would be willing to try something different if they just heard my proposition?

AirBnB aside, rental arbitrage can also be done with traditional housing. I was listening to an interview on BiggerPockets once, and a real estate investor talked about how he made a lot more money from rentals when he rented out the individual bedrooms instead of the entire property.

Take that, along with the fact that a lot of property owners just want to hire a management company and not deal with tenants. Now you approach one of these property owners, say you’ll get them higher returns and be their property manager, and then you rent out the individual bedrooms of the unit.

Be sure to charge the standard 10% property management fee… or maybe a little more. ^_^

11. Podcast/YouTube publishing service

There are amazing podcasts with massive followings… that don’t have a website.

Most of the ones that do… don’t have show notes, let alone transcriptions.

There are streamers making healthy incomes on Twitch… but they’re not editing their stream recordings and putting them on YouTube.

Or you get podcasters publishing their podcasts on YouTube, but with no thumbnail, no links in the description, no strategy to build an audience.

I’m not criticizing these people. They might just be doing one thing very well, and they don’t have the bandwidth to also do all these other things well.

That’s where you come in.

  1. You find the podcaster with the huge following but no website, the podcaster who only uploads to Apple Podcasts but not Stitcher, Spotify, SoundCloud, YouTube, etc.
  2. You say, “Hey, I’ll build a simple website for your podcast and make sure all episodes are uploaded to all platforms. If you’d like, I can also create show notes and/or transcriptions.”
  3. “Great! I’ve been meaning to do this, but it just seemed like such a hassle.”
  4. Here is my price list. My agency charges a fixed monthly fee based on the options you choose.

Maybe this just means setting up and managing an account for them on Captivate, Castos, Transistor, Buzzsprout, PodBean, etc. Maybe it means uploading audio and notes/transcripts to a Substack or Ghost site (extra money if your client also wants to use a custom domain name). This is a nice option because it’s easy to send out an email for each new episode, but it lacks the bells and whistles of the podcast hosting services.

For the transcripts, you could use a service like Rev.com. Or you could split the audio in Audacity, upload segments of it to Mechanical Turk, and get the transcript assembled in a flash for a fraction of the price.

For the YouTube editing and thumbnails, maybe you’re doing it all yourself with Adobe products (and maybe Canva, if you can’t use Photoshop), or maybe you’re outsourcing via Upwork.

If most of this work can be done with these external services, how can I hope to charge for it?

By saving your client time and energy.

Just because you’re a great podcast host, or an entertaining streamer, that doesn’t mean that you want to deal with all of this extra work. I personally know how to do all of these things, but I would never do them myself if I had a podcast. My time is too valuable to me. And I wouldn’t mind if the person or agency who organized all of it for me was taking a little bit of money for their troubles.

12. Creative arbitrage

Arbitrage is the practice of taking advantage of a price difference between two or more markets. Buy some dude’s TV you saw on Craigslist for $300. Sell it tomorrow for $600.

Some people will shop clearance sales, then find products they can sell new on Amazon for a markup.

I recently came across Flee Market Flipper, people who claim to be making a significant income doing this at flea markets, specifically.

I don’t like this business model. The lack of stability — maybe you’ll find a few great deals this month but none next month — means that they’re hard to systematize… which means it’s hard to outsource the work… which means I’m getting paid in exchange for my personal time and effort, again.

That doesn’t mean we have to completely eliminate arbitrage as a side hustle strategy, however.

Consider the storage space beneath my parents’ house. It’s filled with stuff — some of it valuable, some of it junk. And my mom has been talking about cleaning out the storage for years.

But cleaning out a storage filled with junk is a bitch. It’s a whole weekend of physically and emotionally exhausting work.

Then on one fine afternoon, she finds a flyer from your business in her mailbox.

We will clean out and organize your garage, storage, closets — anything!

There is a price list on the flyer, and it’s only $200 for something like the storage under her house. What a deal! Not only that, but they’ll take away anything you don’t want for free in addition to organizing the things you want to keep.

My mom is stoked. She calls and books an appointment.

You dispatch your minions.

They clean out the storage. A 10-year headache for my mom has disappeared in the blink of an eye.

Your Lead Arbitrage Assistant sells the valuable items my mom didn’t want on eBay, Craigslist, etc.

Print more flyers.

Send out more minions.

Sell more stuff.

Make more moms happy.

13. Top-tier freelancing

A few times in this article, I’ve criticized sites that allow you to offer your services right alongside other people with similar skills… as it ends up being a race to the bottom.

There are exceptions, however.

I’ve hired dozens of freelancers over the years for my various companies. More than anything, I’ve had to hire writers, editors, translators, and voice actors.

Coming from the other side of the transaction, I’ll tell you this:

90% of applicants make it extremely easy for me not to hire them.

Freelancers…

  • Suck at following instructions.
  • Prioritize finishing the job over doing it well.
  • Copy and paste text into applications.
  • Don’t read the job description!
  • Don’t research the person or company posting the job.
  • Don’t exhibit an understanding of the value they will bring to this person or company.
  • Charge too much.
  • Charge too little.

There are also little tricks to standing out. On Upwork, your cover letter gets sent to the job poster as an email. Your profile page does not. So if you only write a sentence or two in your cover letter, you’re probably not going to get the job. I don’t want to examine the profile and work experience of all 75 applicants. I want to hire the 10 applicants who are making my job easy as the hiring manager.

I won’t get into the details of what niche you should focus on, but I would look for one that:

  • Cannot be done by a non-native speaker of your language.
  • Requires special training, skills, or equipment.
  • Seems to fetch a high hourly rate.

Don’t worry about how many other people are marketing themselves as freelancers for that particular niche. Most of them are making the mistakes I described above.

One example of a potentially lucrative niche — although it has been gaining more popularity of late — is voice acting.

Since I work in language education, I’ve hired many, many voice actors over the years, most of them for NativShark. We made a job posting about a year ago on Upwork for a native Japanese speaker to record some sentences. It specifically said in the instructions that we would NOT accept recordings done with a smartphone. They had to be done with a USB microphone.

Then 80% of the audio samples sent in the applications were .m4a files… which means they were recorded with Apple devices (i.e. iPhones, most likely)! We’ve completely given up on hiring Japanese voice actors via Upwork because of the lack of qualified talent. Fiverr isn’t any better. But I do see some voice actors making good money selling these services, even though we think their quality is too low.

How can you differentiate yourself?

To give one more example, let’s say that you’ve trained yourself to be a bookkeeper. Why not specifically market yourself as a bookkeeper for small- to mid-sized SaaS companies? Instead of just putting your profile on Upwork and waiting for jobs to come in, you could then seek out these companies and ask if they need bookkeeping help.

If anyone had done this for NativShark in the last 12 months, we absolutely would have hired them. We needed someone to clean up our Quickbooks data, help us keep our finances organized, and remove one more item off our plates. You could have been the person to offer this. And you could have outsourced the work to a trusted freelancer and kept the slight markup you added to the price. We wouldn’t have cared because our problem would have been gone, which is all that matters.

14. Ghost publishing company

Robert Ludlum died in 2001.

But the sprit of Jason Bourne was so strong inside of him that he kept writing the Bourne thrillers from the grave up until 2017.

Wait, that can’t be right…

*googles*

Ah, the books after he died were ghostwritten. That is, someone else wrote them, but his name appears as the author.

Your favorite politician probably gets their books ghostwritten, as well.

I’m not going to recommend that you go out and market to people like this. The pro ghostwriters have studied this craft a lot longer than you, and it would take a while to catch up.

Still, you don’t have to be famous in order to meet these criteria:

  1. You want to sell a book for marketing purposes.
  2. You don’t want to write it.

It’s pretty hard to make money from writing books. If you get a publisher to help you, they’ll take most of the money. If you self-publish, you can walk away with higher margins… but there’s a higher chance that you will mess up the writing, editing, cover design, marketing, advertising, etc.

Writing a book that doesn’t make you a lot of money can still be beneficial, however, because it provides:

  • Legitimacy
  • Marketing

You write the book on How to Get Your Precious Pup to Stop Licking Her Paws… and now you’re the expert on the subject.

Additionally, people who have a dog with this problem are now more likely to find you… and your miraculous dog-stops-licking-its-paws medicine, or whatever it is you sell.

But you don’t know how to outline, edit, format, or publish a book.

Then you get an email from me.

I was reading through your blog, and I saw that you have many highly informative articles on how to get a dog to stop licking its paws. If you’d like, I could put all of this valuable information into a published book that I ghostwrite for you. The book could bring a lot of additional traffic to your business.

You are excited. When your bitch sister Rebecca finds out that you’re a published author, she is gonna be sooooooooo jealous. Then you see my terms:

  • Nominal up-front fee, and
  • Revenue share

You have a few questions, but I answer them all by honestly laying out how this is a win-win for us. You pay me. I (have a contracted worker) write the book, then I publish it. You start marketing it to improve your legitimacy and whatnot. We share the revenue.

I don’t make a lot of money for a single book this way — maybe about $100 a month. Luckily, I’ve produced 200 of these books so far, so I’m pulling in about $20k per month.

Would it work out this way?

I’m not sure. But it seems worth a shot.

If you’re the owner of a construction company, wouldn’t you like to have a stack of your books sitting on your display table at the next trade show?

If you’re a yoga instructor on YouTube, wouldn’t you sound a lot more legitimate if you could mention your book on Sexiest Yoga Poses?

If you’re a wedding photographer, don’t you think you’d get more clients if you were the author of a book called How to Find a Skilled Wedding Photographer?

But writing and publishing books isn’t your expertise. Wouldn’t you love it if someone offered to do it for you?

15. Driveway oil change service

You see a few cars lined up outside the drive-thru oil change place.

Look at those chumps, lining up for oil changes. My time is too valuable for that, so my oil change guy comes right to my driveway. Man, I am so f*&%’in productive.

The fact that you binge Netflix during this valuable time of yours is beside the point. (We can’t be masters of attention management every day.)

The reason you get to turn your nose up at drive-thru oil change chumps like me is that you met Martha. She put a flyer in your mailbox that said:

I’m Martha, and I’d love to change the oil in your car. My prices are fair, I’ll never try to upsell you something you don’t need, and I’ll change the oil right in your driveway. Here are some pictures of me with my family and reviews of me on…

You get the point.

What if Martha actually worked for you? Your company does all the marketing, appointment setting, and logistics. Martha just goes to a different list of addresses you give her each day.

And customers pay you a small monthly fee so that you change their oil every few months.

Oh, and you employ 20 Martha’s.

Sounds plausible.

16. Vending machine service

Living in Japan has made me obsessed with vending machines.

Back in the US, you mostly see vending machines inside of places. Maybe in the waiting room at the auto repair shop. And all over school campuses.

In Japan, vending machines are… everywhere. And they look a lot more enticing, as well:

Later this morning, I’m going to have a strategy meeting with some of my coworkers at NativShark. I would love to ride my bike into town and grab a coffee from the coffee shop, but I probably wouldn’t make it back to my webcam before the meeting started.

Luckily, the house across the street from me has a vending machine that sells all kinds of delicious canned coffee. So I’ll just get one of those. I’ll be out of the house for maybe 60 seconds.

Why don’t we have this everywhere?

If I have a home or business in an area with high foot traffic, why don’t I have a vending machine sitting outside, right next to the sidewalk? Maybe there are some laws in your area that prevent this? Or is it an issue of crime?

Finding that out is Step #1 of this side hustle.

If you find that it is legal/safe, then it seems like a pretty easy sell to me. You find potential property owners/renters that have prime vending machine real estate. You ask them if they want to make some extra money with a vending machine.

Maybe you charge for the machine itself, maybe you own it, or maybe there is a split of this cost. But whatever you do, make sure you get a share of the money being spent on beverages. And your company also gets paid to keep the machine fully stocked.

It’s revenue that scales, which is what I like.

Small bonus that I would get to pick out tasty drinks and snacks along the way.

Bonus side hustles

#1: The meta-side-hustle

  1. Create a profitable side hustle.
  2. Create an online course on Thinkific about how to make money from a side hustle like yours.

#2: The meta-meta-side-hustle

  1. Sell your meta-side-hustle business for 3-5 times annual revenue.

#3: The meta-meta-meta-side-hustle

Nah, I’m just kidding. ^_^

I don’t know how to do any of this

I don’t know how to partner with manufacturers overseas, set up a website, blog, or newsletter, find a vending machine manufacturer, design and print a marketing flyer, set up a drip system for some potted plants, bake a perfect cheesecake, blah blah blah.

That’s the idea.

If the skills and resourcefulness required to build a highly lucrative side hustle were common in everyone, there wouldn’t be any highly lucrative side hustles.

The side hustles listed in this article should seem difficult or scary to the average person. If they’re not, you’re going to have too much competition as soon as other people realize what you’re doing.

I’m reminded of this excerpt of an Eric Thomas speech:

I can make more money. But if you take the knowledge out of my head and take the experiences that I have, I am broke, I am nothing.

If you attempted one of these side hustles, and it didn’t work out, but you managed to pick up some valuable skills like FBA, using Ahrefs or Canva, or hosting a podcast, then you will be better prepared for your next attempt at a side hustle.

If you’ve finished a bunch of courses on Skillshare about Facebook and Google ads, you’ll be better at marketing the next business you start, and you’ll have a fallback profession you can do if you lose your current job.

Once you’ve learned a wide variety of valuable skills, the range of opportunities available to you will expand. I never imagined I could start my own education software company, but my cofounders and I kept learning, and now we have NativShark.

What’s down the road for you? How can you expect to get there unless you start acquiring new knowledge and skills today?

How to actually make money from a side hustle

Pick one and just do it already.

It doesn’t matter if you succeed or not. Most of your attempts to make money will fail. That’s certainly true of me.

And remember: Don’t be active. Be productive.

Active:

  • Reading articles like this one
  • Looking for new side hustle ideas
  • Reading books about the type of side hustle you want to pursue
  • Fantasizing about making more money with a side hustle

Productive:

  • Asking someone to pay you money for a service, even if it doesn’t exist yet
  • Running some ads for your product or service, even before it exists
  • Ordering samples from a manufacturer
  • Paying thousands of dollars to a mentor who will hold you accountable. Being teachable. Doing the things they tell you to do
  • Hitting publish on your first email newsletter, even if you have zero subscribers
  • Emailing a friend and personally ask them to share and subscribe to your newsletter

In the words of Seth Godin:

If it doesn’t ship, it doesn’t count.

Now, there is nothing wrong with being active. Just don’t prioritize it over being productive.

Want more ideas?

I would love to send them your way: