View all Personal Finance articles

How to Successfully Side Hustle in the Post-COVID Era

The pandemic has shifted not only the way people work but how they view stability in the workplace. Here's how COVID-19 impacted the gig economy and how you can get started with side hustling.

Photo by Garrhet Sampson on Unsplash

Participating in the gig economy can help you shore up funds when you're in between jobs. Side hustles can also bring greater financial stability during normal times.

Think of it this way: If you work for a single company and you are let go, you'll lose 100% of your income. But let's say you side hustle with five clients or gigs, and each of them makes up 20% of your pay. If you lose one side gig and are down to four, you only miss 20% of your income.

Side hustling is also a great way to rake in extra cash even while you have a full-time job. And it can also be a way to supplement your pay if you have a part-time job. With the financial uncertainty millions of folks have seen during COVID-19, it can be a better route to provide greater security.

As you might expect, the pandemic has created shifts in side hustling—and also provided a financial cushion for those who didn't have one.

"The pandemic revealed how helpful it is to have this dynamic marketplace, where people can find work in literally a matter of hours," says Kathy Kristof, founder of SideHusl.com, an independently owned review site of ways to make money in the gig economy. "For people who didn't have emergency funds, side gigs turned into something of a safety net."

Let's take a look at how the gig economy changed during COVID-19, how one can get started side hustling, and also how to use that additional income to boost your financial wellness:

A pivot toward online side hustles and the rise of digital creators

Covid decimated many types of travel and entertainment side hustles, from serving in restaurants and at events to tour guiding and working at camps and resorts, explains Kristof.

But as you might expect, other types of side hustles thrived. "Online tutoring went gangbusters, as did—no surprise—delivery," says Kristof. "Artistic endeavors also saw a huge boost, from funny t-shirts to puzzles. Artists used sites like Etsy, Society6, RedBubble, FineArtAmerica and Printful to make a small fortune. "

The pandemic also brought rise to remote side hustles like social media management, virtual assistants, online consulting, and coaching, adds Daniella Flores, founder of I Like to Dabble, an online platform that helps people start their side hustle business. "Think of the launch of blogs, vlogs, and podcasts like never before, '' says Flores. "The pandemic forced not only America but much of the world into a new kind of 'creative' technological revolution that made it so much more possible and accessible for many to start new ventures and find success online as content creators," says Flores.

Start with a brain dump

Flores recommends starting with a brain dump. First, create two columns. Next, "dump" all your skills into the first column. In the second column, list which skills could possibly translate to an online side hustle. Below that, jot down side hustles that seem interesting.

"Go through the lists and highlight what stands out to you, what makes you smile, and what sparks ideas in your head," says Flores. "The money goes where the most passion and creative energy flows."

Focus on your strengths

Kristof points out that it's important to focus on what you are so passionate about that you can do it better than everyone else. If so, look around for ways to make money at that.

Let's say, for example, that you're an awesome cook. You can earn some cash by either cooking for others —or teach others to cook—and earn a nice living doing it. Or you can start your own home bakery side business. Have a knack for organizing? If so, consider being a virtual assistant, or advertise your organizational services on platforms such as Thumbtack or TaskRabbit.

Depending on the side hustle you want to endeavor in, the market could be saturated. To stand out from a sea of equally eager and qualified folks, think about what makes you unique. For instance, let's say you want to offer editorial services. Instead of being a general researcher and proofreader, do you have experience in a certain niche? Or do you have a journalism or English degree?

Choose something you enjoy

"There are side hustles that are uniquely suited to almost every interest and skill set," says Kristof. That's because side hustling gives you an opportunity to choose something you like doing. Plus, if you are passionate about something, you'll be motivated to develop your skills and excel at it.

Tap into something you really enjoy doing that could also help break up the monotony in your everyday life. If you spend your days looking at spreadsheets but love to draw, consider selling artwork or design templates online.

Look for side hustles that require a low commitment upfront

If you're just starting out and are strapped for cash, you don't necessarily want to invest a ton of time and resources on a side hustle. Instead, look for gigs that either require very little equipment and materials or ones that you have some experience in.

Let's say you have some experience tutoring. If so, then consider being a virtual tutor. Or, if you have a theatre background, you might find a fun gig being a virtual babysitter, where part of the job entails entertaining kidlets.

Once you have a proof of concept, or after you've made some money, then you can ramp up how much investment and time you put into it.

Find ways to monetize things you are already creating

Want a passive side hustle? Think about something you might already be creating that you could sell online as a digital product, suggests Flores. For instance, Flores provides the idea of creating budgeting worksheets. "Many people love creating spreadsheets and graphs to stay on budget, reach savings goals, track income, plan for retirement, and more," says Flores. "If that's something you also love doing, think about how that creative energy could create an extra income stream for you."

For instance, you could create a standard template of these spreadsheets and graphs using free software, then sell it as a product on Etsy, says Flores. "Those sorts of products are actually very popular on the platform, and worth exploring."

Use social media platforms to your advantage

During the pandemic, there was also a surge in the popularity of TikTok, points out Flores. "TikTok quickly became an educational platform and assisted in the rise of these new online creators and side hustlers in a new and exciting way," she says.

You don't necessarily need to be a TikTok guru. Instead, choose what comes naturally to you that you might enjoy. You don't need to go full throttle on all social media platforms. You might end up spreading yourself thin and do a half-hearted job.

For instance, if you are selling crafty items and are a visual person, then Instagram might be your go-to platform. If staying on top of current events and creating and engaging in dialogue might be your strength, then Twitter might be the social media platform for you. If you love to impart your wisdom to others, then educational clips on TikTok might be for you.

Make that money work for you

To make the most of cash earned from your side hustle, start by exploring what you can do to optimize your earnings. If you're struggling financially and need it to cover bills, that certainly takes priority.

But beyond that, see if you can sock some of it away. Even $50 a month could help, as that adds up to $600 a year. Consider going on a spending fast where you spend money on just the bare necessities. That way, you can accelerate your savings.

If you're on the fence about whether to put any "extra" money toward an emergency fund or to pay off debt, it's typically a good idea to squirrel some beans away for a rainy day first. Why's that? Well, if you don't have an emergency fund in place, then should an unexpected cost arise, you'll need to resort to debt. In turn, you'll only be digging a deeper debt hole.

Consider it as a long game

A survey revealed that in 2019, 73% of those who side hustled earned an average of $200 a month, and the majority of folks earned an average of no more than $500 a month. You might not get rich overnight, but you'll be building the inroads for successful side hustling.

There is no one size fits all to any financial journey nor side hustle experience, adds Flores. "Everyone's lives and goals look different. Don't get stuck in a perfection or comparison trap when starting—start now with what you have, where you have, and then tweak as you grow your side hustle," says Flores. "Starting out messy seems scary, but in my experience, the best way to learn is by doing."

A final note: Now that the world is getting back to semi-normal, start looking around for side gigs that you like and would want to do—not just need to do, suggests Kristof. "Use some of those to build up emergency reserves and, also, to learn more about the market and how you can use it to your best advantage," she says. "In the off-chance that another emergency happens down the road, your knowledge about navigating the gig economy will come in handy."

Jackie Lam

Jackie Lam is a personal finance writer whose work has appeared in Salon, Business Insider, and GOOD.