"If you're lucky enough to still be employed, you probably are working from home, which means that you likely have some extra time," Patel says. "At the very least, the time that you usually spend commuting to work, you can use to develop a side hustle. And, if you are unemployed, you definitely have more time."
Being productive, and launching a successful side hustle, certainly helped his career and bottom line. Over the last 10 years, Patel has founded and served as CEO of Prep Expert, one of the nation's fastest growing SAT and ACT test preparation companies; after pitching the company on the ABC show "Shark Tank" in 2016, he closed a $250,000 deal with Mark Cuban. Simultaneously, Patel attended college, earned his MBA at Yale and his medical degree at the University of Southern California, and completed his medical residency.
Instead of feeling discouraged by the job market, think of the downturn as a chance to learn a skill that is in high demand, Patel says: "Starting a side hustle from home right now is actually one of the biggest opportunities."
Here are three in-demand side hustles that Patel suggests that can pay very well and require minimal training.
How much you can make: $22,500-$127,000 a year
Cost of certification: $100-$150
The coronavirus pandemic has created an increase in demand for freelancers with an expertise in digital marketing, Patel says. "It is cheaper than ever to advertise on many paid advertising platforms because a lot of the larger companies are pulling back on their ad budgets, which means that a lot of small-to-medium-sized businesses, such as Prep Expert, are actually increasing their advertising budgets."
As a digital marketing freelancer, you can make more money than with other freelance gigs, such as graphic design, Patel explains. Those kinds of jobs can often be outsourced to people in developing countries, he says. "And what happens with that is you're competing with a lot of freelancers that are willing to take a lot less money, whereas digital marketing, especially if you do it on a pay-per-performance model, you can really make a lot if you do good work for businesses."
Freelance digital marketing specialists can earn between $22,500 to $127,000 a year, according to ZipRecruiter.
To get started, your best bet is to get certified through programs run by Google or Facebook, Patel says, which offer their own free educational training programs called Facebook Blueprint and Google Ads. The courses range in duration from five to 50 minutes. Facebook recommends spending six months learning the material, while Google estimates its program takes 40 hours.
Once you've taken Google or Facebook's free courses, you must pass an exam to get certified, which costs $100 on Google and $150 on Facebook. Both certifications are valid for a year. To look for a gig, Patel suggests using UpWork, an online platform that connects freelancers with businesses or individuals looking for workers.
How much you can make: $5,000-$9,000 a month
Cost of certification: $300
Voice recognition software has and will continue to create tremendous earning opportunity, according to Patel: "I kind of think of it as, you know, owning a website in 1995."
Billionaire investor Mark Cuban, who is also Patel's business partner after he secured Cuban's investment on "Shark Tank," agrees there's money to be made in voice technology. In fact, Cuban has even said that this is the side hustle he'd start if he needed to up his earnings.
While voice technology devices like Google Home or Amazon Alexa are already capable of tens of thousands of skills like reciting the week's weather forecast or allowing users to play trivia games, there are a lot of opportunities to create new capabilities, especially for users looking for niche information, Patel says.
Video by Stephen Parkhurst
Patel uses his own company as an example. Prep Expert is creating a test preparation voice application with a developer who specifically helps onboard education companies to Alexa. "I would take that model and help other types of companies. You know, whether that is gaming companies, or maybe a fitness app ... with directions on, you know, working out, etc. There could be all kinds of things that you could do," he says.
Amazon offers tutorials about how to code and develop new skills. These are tailored both for beginner and advanced coders. Once you've finished creating the skill, you'll submit it for a certification process before it can be published and widely distributed to Amazon customers.
Amazon doesn't publish payout sizes but Onix reports that some developers get checks of $5,000 to $9,000 per month.
"Alexa and voice in general is really emerging as a technology that people are going to use. I know, I definitely use Siri on a regular basis, now much more than I used to a couple of years ago, and I think kids especially are starting to use it more," Patel says.
How much you can make: $30-$200 an hour
The pandemic has created demand for extra educational support from anyone who is proficient in K-12 subjects including foreign languages, math, science, literature, and English, Patel says. "There's a huge, huge need for it. I've talked to many other founders of educational companies and everyone is seeing a spike in demand, especially with the uncertainty of school reopenings around the country. As you know, many parents are looking for additional educational enrichment for their students," he explains.
The earnings potential for an online tutor varies depending on the subject matter, Patel says. "Tutoring for academic subjects, I'd say pays usually in the range of $30 to $40 an hour, and then test prep tutoring usually ranges around $70 all the way to $200 an hour."
Prep Expert uses stringent criteria when vetting tutors, Patel says. "Our requirement is if you're going to tutor for a standardized test, you need to score in the top 1% of that test." But Wyzant and GoPeer will onboard you as a tutor "simply by validating you have expertise in the subject you're teaching."
You don't necessarily need to have a degree in education to become an online tutor, he adds. Many platforms accept industry professionals or they'll use your college degree, test scores, or grades to validate your application.
"I think there are really going to be two types of people that come out of this," Patel says. "The large majority of people will have spent this time pursuing hobbies, recreation, watching movies, and relaxing. Then I think there is going to be another smaller bucket of people who spend this time developing skills, developing side hustles, and really working."
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