How to start a successful remote side hustle during the coronavirus pandemic: An expert's best tips

Chris Guillebeau.
Photo by Erin and Bryan Sintos

Nearly 1 in 5 Americans say they have lost their jobs, and about a quarter of Americans say they have taken a pay cut since mid-March, as a result of the pandemic shutdown, according to a recent Pew Research survey. 

"During these unusual times, people are realizing the value of having a side hustle as an extra source for income," says Chris Guillebeau, author of "The Money Tree: A Story About Finding the Fortune in Your Own Backyard" and the New York Times bestselling book "100 Side Hustles: Unexpected Ideas for Making Extra Money Without Quitting Your Day Job."

Guillebeau, who also hosts a daily podcast called "Side Hustle School," has spoken to dozens of Americans since the onset of the pandemic who have joined the gig economy to supplement or increase their earnings from home

Lots of Americans are figuring out how to adapt to stay-at-home orders, he says. "There are a few things I have noticed that successful people have done to make this environment work."

Here's what Guillebeau has observed and his best tips for starting a successful side hustle to make extra income during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Start with what you know

When you're brainstorming ideas for a side job or freelance work, start with what you know. "You don't always have to do something different from your day job," he says. In some cases, you just have to figure out how to offer your skills or expertise using new virtual platforms

"I'm seeing that the transition from offline to online is much more feasible than people think. So many things you'd think couldn't be online can be," Guillebeau says. 

'Adaptability is a crucial part of success'

The pandemic has forced us to rely, largely, on virtual interactions. To start a side hustle in this environment, you have to be willing to adapt to this new normal, he says. "Adaptability is a crucial part of success."

A few weeks ago, Guillebeau interviewed a Connecticut woman named Brooke Thomas, who has been practicing Rolfing, a type of bodywork used to treat chronic pain, for 20 years. Prior to the pandemic, Thomas was dabbling in new technologies as a way to find clients. She hosted a weekly podcast for manual therapy workers and even branched out into offering guided live mediation sessions to an online community once a week.

When the pandemic forced her to shut her practice down, she adapted quickly and began offering live mediation sessions daily instead of weekly, charging members $20 a month for unlimited access. Since the pandemic hit, Thomas' venture has allowed her to earn $2,700 a month. 

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'Learn the skill of observation'

In addition to being adaptable, you have to "learn the skill of observation," Guillebeau says. Thomas' success, for example, is in part the result of her ability to see what people around her needed. "She recognized that people were stressed and craved a desire for connection," Guillebeau says.

When you're trying to launch a side hustle, use your observations to help you think ahead. Don't just recreate what exists. "Responding to a trend doesn't mean you're making face masks. ... If you start now, you're already behind. There are enough face masks to go around," he says. 

Instead, think about how this pandemic is creating a market for new products or services and how to meet that high demand, he says. "We already know this pandemic is creating pent up desire for human connection and people will want to get rid of their cabin fever."

I'm seeing that the transition from offline to online is much more feasible than people think.
Chris Guillebeau
Author of '100 Side Hustles: Unexpected Ideas for Making Extra Money Without Quitting Your Day Job'

Figure out what people need and how to give it to them

Akila McConnell, who runs Unexpected Atlanta, a food tours business, noticed people's need for comfort during isolation, Guillebeau says, and she acted quickly.  Because of the pandemic, her company could no longer give food tours, so they began offering virtual tours and selling food tour boxes in their online store with food treats local to Atlanta-based businesses.

"It's working because they're responding to the desire for community and to support small businesses that are struggling," he says.

Whenever there's a disruption, there are usually business opportunities. "Think about all of the industries that will change as a result of this. You're already seeing this with telehealth," he says. And "just look at Zoom and Peloton." Both are examples of companies that have grown exponentially because of an unexpected shift in behaviors, as more Americans work and exercise from home.

"There will continue to be opportunities that were not perceived before," he says.

Guillebeau suggests using your time at home to try out side hustle ideas and adapt for what could be happening in the next couple of months and beyond. "Ask yourself, 'What skills can I learn, what's next, and what can I do to prepare for the future?'"

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