According to recent studies, at least 38% of Americans have one or more side hustles. A good side gig can supplement your income or even replace it entirely. Depending on your goals, you also could use the extra cash to pay off debt faster, invest, create an emergency fund or save up for major purchases like a home.
If you’re interested in taking on a side gig, you have many options based on your skill set, lifestyle and interests. But not all side gigs are created equal, and some aren’t worth the time — or financial — investment.
Here are some of the most popular side hustles that you should avoid.
Becoming an online survey taker usually comes with a low barrier of entry, which is part of the reason many people choose this as their side gig. Along with this, there are many legitimate websites and platforms — like Swagbucks and Survey Junkie — where you can earn money through taking surveys.
The downside is that very few people earn a decent amount of money doing this. For example, Survey Junkie pays out, on average, $40 monthly to users who take three surveys a day. While surveys are generally short, the time spent might not be worth the money.
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“While people can get some decent coffee money from taking surveys, the amount of time you have to put in isn’t worth it and is better spent building up a more lucrative side gig, like a blog or an Etsy shop,” said Chelsea Clarke, owner and founder of HerPaperRoute.
Sebastian Jania, the owner of Ontario Property Buyers, added, “With surveys, oftentimes there is a cap to the amount one can do per day or they end up costing money to be able to have access to more surveys.”
Not only can this limit your earning potential, it also can cut into any money you do make.
Major companies such as Uber Eats and DoorDash tout themselves as being great ways to earn money — enough, sometimes, to replace your regular income. Many of these companies have minimal requirements, such as a clean driving record and reliable transportation.
But it’s not as easy as you might think to earn money through this type of side hustle. The main reason? A lack of strategy and planning.
“Many side hustles are only worth it if you optimize for making money. In other words, rookies with no plan tend to make very little money,” said Scott Lieberman, founder of Touchdown Money. “Food delivery through apps like DoorDash, Instacart and Uber Eats isn’t worth it for many people if you don’t have a strategy. Accepting every request is a recipe for failure.”
That doesn’t mean you can’t earn some money, though. “The key is to deliver food during peak times such as dinner time and lunches for office buildings,” Lieberman said. “Going across town to fetch someone a Big Mac will waste your gas and time. Food delivery apps typically are more worthwhile for people who live in densely populated areas, because they can make many deliveries without running all over the place.”
Before getting involved with this type of side hustle, calculate your earning potential alongside your potential expenditure. Expenses like gasoline, car maintenance and taxes can add up quickly and negate any benefits you might see.
A multilevel marketing company is essentially a marketing strategy that lets you earn money by selling products to others, while recruiting them to do the same. Depending on the company, you could be selling anything from cosmetics to kitchenware to life insurance.
While MLM companies are legal, there’s a fine line between them and pyramid schemes. For many people, the high earning potential isn’t worth the risk of getting involved in something shady.
Of course, not all MLM companies are bad. Some — like Avon or Tupperware — can be decent side hustles if you do them right.
“When it comes to MLM companies, it is very easy to paint them all with the same brush,” Jania said. “MLM companies can be an effective way for someone to generate a side income, but typically doesn’t come overnight.
“Further, in many cases, these ‘business opportunities’ involve most people learning new skills such as sales and persuasion. While they can help one generate a strong additional income, it is important to note that for most people looking for a side hustle it means that they need money now, rather than in the future, so they may not be a good fit at all.”
Content mills — like Upwork or Fiverr — are legitimate places to get started and make some money as a freelancer. These platforms act as a sort of intermediary between you and the client, making it easier to find paying work than if you had to do it on your own.
However, this side hustle comes with its share of problems, ranging from low pay to inconsistent gigs to unrealistic expectations. Some content mills even require you to do unpaid work or pay money to access gigs.
“While there are legitimate companies out there that will pay you a fair wage for your time, you’ll need the right qualifications and experience to get in,” Clarke said. “For many captioning/writing/editing companies that anyone can get into, they pay well below minimum wage and just aren’t worth it.”
Many people view photography as an easy side hustle when, in reality, it takes time, dedication and money to become successful and earn money in this industry.
Jane Goodrich, CEO and founder at Picsello, said, “One mistake that I see in our industry is the perception that photography is an easy side hustle. It is actually a business with a lot of costs and time associated with it. It is perceived as ‘quick cash,’ but once you add up all the time and costs that go into running a photography business, it is in no way an easy side hustle.”
According to one study, many photographers end up spending roughly 55% to 65% of their revenue on business-related expenses.
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