4 tips for a successful side hustle in 2020, from NYT bestselling author Chris Guillebeau


If your goal in the new year is to earn extra cash, but you feel you're not cut out for a side hustle, you're wrong, says Chris Guillebeau, author of the New York Times bestselling book "100 Side Hustles: Unexpected Ideas for Making Extra Money Without Quitting Your Day Job."

People who succeed at side hustles tend to have two traits in common: curiosity and the willingness to experiment, according to Guillebeau, who has encountered hundreds of side hustlers. "And the good news is, they are both traits that can be nurtured! There's nothing innate about any of this," he says.

"Most people would never think of selling pubic oil (like these guys who have a six-figure business), or making penny portraits of Abe Lincoln (like this guy, more than $40,000 in profit so far). ... And if they did happen to think of it, most people wouldn't follow up. So that's why I think those two traits are essential," he says.

Guillebeau shared the knowledge he's cultivated while becoming an expert in the art of a side hustle. Here are his four tips for getting your ideas off the ground.

1. Realize that if your idea is already being done, that's great

If your idea for a start-up is already being done, that's actually a good thing, says Guillebeau. "It's often a good sign if someone else is doing something similar, because that shows there is market interest in it. It's a big world out there [so] don't worry about what other people are doing."

If you're worried someone is going to steal your idea, you shouldn't be. There is very little value in coming up with ideas, he says, and in fact, 99% of the value is in making ideas happen.

"Once you learn the skill of generating valuable ideas, which isn't terribly difficult, your real challenge lies in the execution. So don't worry about telling people about your ideas. The people who could actually profit from them are too busy with ideas of their own."

This guy makes six figures a year with his dog walking business

Video by David Fang

2. Remember you don't have to spend money to make money

"A side hustle is something that should increase your income, not deplete it," says Guillebeau.

If money is what's deterring your launch, think again. "The whole thing people hear about how 'It takes money to make money' – maybe that's true in some parts of the startup world, but not the side hustle world. Starting with limited resources should be a source of pride, not one of shame," says Guillebeau, who also hosts a daily podcast called "Side Hustle School."

In his book, Guillebeau tells the story of a teen named Leah Lynch who learned to breed rabbits to pay her way through college. Her initial investment was only $300, and her earnings were $8,400 annually. Her idea was successful because she took the time to talk to everyone she could find who knew something about the industry. She then used Craigslist to post free adds to get the word out.

Another subject in his book, Scott Keyes, spent just $350 to launch his website Scott's Cheap Flights.

Keyes was a political journalist and he often traveled for work. Through his work travels, he became an expert on frequent flyer rewards, so he started sharing that information with others, growing a business that takes in seven figures annually.

These brothers turned their side hustle into a successful cafe in Manhattan

Video by Neha Dharkar

While you might become a full-time side hustler, that's not always the goal. Depending on the amount of time you put into it, you might only make a small profit, but every little bit goes a long way.

"In more than 1,000 episodes of Side Hustle School, we've seen hundreds of stories of people who start their project without spending any money at all. In some cases, they spend small amounts money (a few hundred dollars, for example) but this isn't something that needs to be expensive at all," he says.

3. Don't depend solely on one platform

If you're an artist or you're crafty, it might make sense to join an online marketplace, like Etsy, Society6, or Redbubble. If you're offering a skill like social media management, you may launch a start-up on a platform with an established reputation, like Fiverr.

There are more avenues than ever to launch a start-up with the rise of the gig economy. From Uber to Upwork, the options are endless, and those are a great place to start but not necessarily a place to stay forever, says Guillebeau.

A side hustle is something that should increase your income, not deplete it.
Chris Guillebeau
author of '100 Side Hustles: Unexpected Ideas for Making Extra Money Without Quitting Your Day Job'

"Those sites/platforms and others can be helpful because they are very easy to get started with. You can list a product for sale or a service on offer in less than an hour, sometimes a lot less. I think it's usually good to experiment. The challenge is that ultimately if you build your business on those platforms (YouTube is a bit different from all the others mentioned), then you are ultimately dependent on the platform. In the long term, most people I've profiled who started on Etsy or Fiverr or similar ended up going off-platform as their business grew," he explains.

There's an important distinction to be made between what Guillebeau considers a "starter idea" as a side hustle and a "next-level idea" as a side hustle. A starter idea, for example, is driving for a ride-share company, while a next-level idea is coaching ride-share drivers.

And using these services comes at a price. Ebay, for example, takes a 9% cut from sellers, while Amazon takes 15% and Etsy takes 5%. If you are selling a service, sites like Fiverr that connect you with clients take a 20% cut.

4. Use your side hustle to get ahead at work

If you're worried about your employer finding out about your side hustle, you should assess the risks on a case-by-case basis, Guillebeau says. Some people like to keep their side hustle pursuits private, because they worry it will appear they're not as invested in their day job.

But sometimes the opposite is true, and there can be benefits to telling your boss.

"One of my favorite stories is of this woman who earns six-figures making personalized candy hearts for Valentine's Day," he says. "Because the business is seasonal — and because she likes her day job in marketing — she chose to keep doing both. Her boss knows about the business and it's actually led her to get a promotion and a pay raise. They know that she's working for them because she wants to, not because she has to. That fact makes a huge difference!"

How this teenager built a successful business while still in high school

Video by David Fang

Turning a side hustle into a full-time job isn't for everyone, Guillebeau says. "There's nothing wrong with continuing to do both for a long time. A lot of people do that."

But if you do have aspirations of making your side gig your main job, make sure you set yourself up for that. Start by detailing your everyday expenses. Make a list of essentials like rent/mortgage, utilities, food, and, if applicable, child-care costs. Then look at variable expenses like dining out and entertainment.

Guillebeau says his rule is that you can make the leap "when you feel confident that you can earn enough to live off — not necessarily matching your day job income, but enough that you don't worry."

More from Grow: