John writes in:
Recently, you mentioned in this article that you’ve set up some additional income streams to the point “where any income stream can go away and it won’t really adversely affect my family.” — I’m curious to know what they are and how you’ve achieved that.
I’ve been listening and reading up on multiple income streams for a few years now and from what I understand they are really hard to build for people with full-time jobs and young children to the point they would start providing a decent income.
Building new income streams takes a lot of work. Starting any kind of side gig takes a great deal of effort and that new income stream often doesn’t make a whole lot of money at first. It takes a great deal of continuous effort to start seeing results, and even then, it builds slowly. Most people give up before that.
It’s even harder when that income stream is a passive one. Most people think that a passive income stream means that you just make something, throw it out there, and profit from it. Sure, you can do that, but you’ll make income in a trickle.
So, let’s say you’re a busy person like John or myself. You have a main career with a full-time job. You have a family with children. You have all of the other maintenance of daily life. You have (hopefully) some semblance of social connections as well, and perhaps a hobby or two. Those things added together can eat up almost all of your day. How can you possibly build new income streams?
Over the past few years, I’ve been tackling this exact problem in a number of ways, with reasonable success. I’m going to describe some of these initiatives in detail, but for now, I’m not going to mention specifics. Why? I’m trying to build these things without using the audience I have for The Simple Dollar, because that would be an advantage that others do not have, and I intend to write about each of them in full detail once they’ve had some more time to mature.
Speaking of The Simple Dollar, let’s start with that one.
The Simple Dollar started as a “side gig” for me back in 2006 when I felt the urge to start writing about my financial turnaround. It struck a chord and eventually grew into my full-time work. The Simple Dollar was a website I started completely on my own. I was able to earn an income from it by placing advertisements on the site, as well as using Amazon affiliate links when I would talk about a book or other product that had positively impacted my life.
Why it works well as an income stream: It’s easy to set up, for starters. Anyone can start a blog using Blogger for free, or you can host it separately using something like Squarespace. Adding advertisements is easy, too, using tools like Google Adsense, and you can join Amazon’s associate program to generate a bit of income when you describe a product and people click through to Amazon’s site to learn more about it. It’s low-cost, too, as you can basically start all of this for free.
Why it can work well for busy people: You can define your own posting schedule and make it nice and slow if you wish, though a slower posting schedule usually does mean that it’s harder to build up a lot of visitors (which you need to make money) because you simply don’t have a lot of articles for people to search for and find. You can pick your own topics as well. Another advantage is if you decide to take a break, your archived writings will continue to earn income for a while, though that income will slowly decline over time.
Why it doesn’t work so well for busy people: It takes a ton of consistent work to build an audience for a blog. Not only do you have to write on a very consistent basis for quite a while, you also have to put in the footwork to find communities in which to talk about and share your site with interested parties without being a spammer (which can result in very negative things for your site). Writing consistently takes a ton of work; building an audience takes a ton of work. You need both to succeed with a blog.
Another challenge is that you have to be focused on a particular topic. Websites that wander from topic to topic almost never find an audience. This means that you have to choose a topic that’s going to consistently provide something for you to write about all the time and then stick with that topic (and similar topics).
It’s a lot of very consistent work. Now, this can work well for some busy people who have highly consistent schedules, which I did when I was first starting The Simple Dollar. I locked in a very consistent daily routine that gave me a block of time each evening to work on the site. This site was built in the evenings after long days at work, and often in those evenings I was holding a baby on my shoulder while clicking a mouse or bouncing a toddler on my knee while typing.
Another challenge is that it’s hard to earn a lot of money unless you have a pretty big audience. You need thousands of consistent readers (or else lots of well-regarded pages in Google for people to find via lots of different searches) in order to be able to make consistent money via advertisements. Until you have that, you won’t earn a ton of money. My first year or two with The Simple Dollar showed monthly income that’s better described in pennies rather than dollars.
Should you do it? If you have a good broad topic in mind, enjoy writing short essays, and can do so quite often and with relative ease, blogging might really click with you. This describes my own writing style quite well. However, it takes a long time to start earning an income from blogging and you will need to do some self-promotion.
Now, we’ll move on to some of the other potential side gigs for busy people, many of which I have direct experience with and others which are drawn from the experiences of close friends. Right up front, let’s be clear: I have experience with each of these, but I’m intentionally not talking about specifics at the moment because I don’t want to “spoil” their results by using The Simple Dollar as a platform to advertise them. I want to, in the future, be able to write about the results a person can achieve without being able to leverage something like The Simple Dollar to help it grow. When that happens, you better believe I’ll talk about the exact things I’ve made, but until then, I’m going to speak in more vague terms.
A YouTube channel is something that anyone can create. It’s a collection of videos uploaded to YouTube made by the same creator (or team of creators) that people can subscribe to and watch. You might, for example, make a series of cooking videos or pocketknife review videos or videos on hunting tactics or videos discussing the latest events in the NBA. It’s generally a good idea to have a consistent theme to your videos. These videos earn income through advertisements placed before and during the videos by Google (and some popular channels can earn income through product placement arrangements). Many YouTubers earn additional income through Patreon.
Why it works well as an income stream: It’s very easy to get started. Starting a channel is free. You can make videos and upload them to YouTube on a smartphone or virtually any computer with a good internet connection, and once they’re uploaded, they stay there forever. You can define your own video creation schedule, too.
Why it can work well for busy people: Much like blogging, you can pick your own production and posting schedule and you can pick your own topic. You don’t even have to worry at all about hosting issues – your only real worry is making videos and then promoting them. Another advantage is that you can take breaks from creating videos and your older videos will continue to earn revenue for quite a long time.
Why it doesn’t work so well for busy people: Video production can take a lot of time. Even though you’re posting at your own pace and schedule, it can still take quite a lot of time to come up with an idea for a video, plan out the content, film it, edit it, and post it. Making something look halfway decent also takes some video editing skills, which you may have to learn before you even start.
There’s also the issue of promotion, which is something we’ll come back to time and time again. To make money off of online content you create, you need viewers, and to get viewers, you have to promote what you’ve made. That means spending the time to get involved with a community that would be receptive to your videos. Of course, if you’re making videos on things you already enjoy, this should be relatively easy and fun, but it still takes a long time.
And, again, much like blogging, it takes a substantial audience to make more than pennies with this. You either need a lot of videos or a healthy handful of really, really good videos to start building an audience and that means a lot of work before you really earn much money at all.
Should you do it? If you have a good topic in mind and the idea of making videos about it seems fun to you, then this can be a good hobby. However, as with many of the ideas here, you should expect that you won’t make much money for quite a while, and you will need to do some self-promotion.
Podcasting centers around recording audio programs and releasing them via the internet for others to listen to as they choose. You simply list your podcast with various services, record episodes, release them, and then people who use those services can discover and listen to your podcast. I like to describe it as “independent talk radio.”
Why it works well as an income stream: It’s fairly easy to record a podcast episode; you can even do it on a smartphone, though the audio quality would be relatively poor and that should only be a method for getting started. You just need a website to host your podcast, which is easily done at Squarespace, so it’s not too involved to actually publish your episodes. The actual recording, editing, and publishing doesn’t take too long at all per episode. If you enjoy having conversations about a particular topic, it’s a ton of fun.
Why it doesn’t work so well for busy people: Most of the same challenges with other formats for earning money pop up here. You need to be consistent with it (though you can get away with a pretty infrequent schedule when podcasting), and you won’t earn much money for a while, if ever.
I’ve found that with podcasting, the need for consistent day-in-day-out work is less than with some of the other models discussed here, but it’s actually harder to get income going with it. You basically have to find your own sponsors; if you’re lucky, they’ll find you, but you’ll probably have to go find businesses that would be interested in advertising on a podcast on your topic and work something out with them. At first, it won’t earn you much money, because your rates are wholly dependent on your listenership. You can also use Patreon as an income stream, where your listeners pay you a small amount per episode.
So, while the actual content production of a podcast is relatively easy on a per-episode basis, you do need consistency, and it’s fairly challenging to find people to pay you for doing this, at least compared to other strategies listed here.
Should you do it? If you like the idea of recording a talk radio show on a topic you love, podcasting is a great hobby that can earn an income stream along the way. However, it’s fairly hard to get the ball rolling with this in terms of income generation, though the actual content production isn’t incredibly hard. I found podcast content to be the easiest to produce (after blogging) among the options here.
Another strategy for building some side income for yourself is to write ebooks and sell them, either through Amazon’s Kindle store or through other venues, including your own. You simply write a book on your computer, edit it so that it’s worth reading, format it correctly, and upload it (assuming you’re using the Kindle store). It’s then listed on the Kindle store and people can buy it, download it, and read it.
Why it works well as an income stream: This is very much a “work at your own pace” kind of side gig. You can write and edit at whatever pace you like. Once you do upload a book, it’s there for good and will be found by people searching through the Kindle store thereafter. There’s virtually no up front cost, either.
Why it doesn’t work so well for busy people: Your book basically won’t sell at all on its own. You have to promote it, perhaps more than any other option here. If you want it to consistently start selling and to build up a following who will consistently buy your ebooks, you’ve got to get the word out there about your books, and that starts with writing great descriptions for your book, finding lots of online communities to actively participate in, and talking about your stuff there in a non-spammy way. That’s a lot of additional work. I’ve personally found that promoting ebooks takes more promotional work than the other avenues here.
So, while the actual writing is probably the least intense option among the ones listed here, the work needed to promote the books is quite large in order to be successful.
Should you do it? Do you like to write long-form items like books or novellas? If that sounds appealing to you, this is a great avenue to do just that. Just be aware that in order to make significant money from this, you have to be willing to invest significant time in promoting your books. They’re not going to make a mint all by themselves.
Standalone websites are websites that serve as an information resource about a specific topic. Typically, these websites are supported by ads and exist solely to serve up detailed information about some relatively narrow topic that people might be interested in that isn’t really covered elsewhere. For example, you might make a website that offers detailed notes on all of the hiking trails at a national park near where you live or offers up detailed notes on how to get started with a particular niche hobby. Once you make such a website, you’d simply promote it a little and mostly look for ways to get it linked to from other sites in order to start welcoming visitors from Google, who will view the ads and earn revenue for your site.
Why it works well as an income stream: Once you actually have such a site established, it requires very little irregular work to keep earning income and even slowly grow that income. A website that’s bringing in Google traffic tends to keep bringing it in provided you update the site every once in a while with fresh info, which you can do irregularly. Hosting websites like this is extremely cheap, as almost any web host is up to the task. You can also sell sites once they start earning income if you want to completely get out of the equation, which is harder to do with other opportunities. That’s the big advantage of using this as a money making tactic.
Why it doesn’t work so well for busy people: It takes a lot of time to make a website with a bunch of pages that thoroughly covers a niche topic. You need some basic web design skills, too. After that, you’re going to invest a ton of time trying to get some links to that site built up, especially from reputable places. All of this occurs before you earn a dime and while you’re paying for site hosting for your site.
For this to really work, you need to have some writing skills and motivation, some limited web design skills, and a strong desire to self-promote, a mix of things that many people don’t have, and you’ll also need to be willing to dump in a lot of up-front time, though it doesn’t need to be regular time.
Should you do this? If you’re interested in writing some detailed guides to specific topics, building standalone websites is a great avenue for this. Just be aware that it is a fairly slow process to make it profitable. This is a good route if you find yourself with bursts of time here and there to devote to it rather than consistent time.
‘Chore Synergy’ Businesses
What if you don’t want to do any sort of online business? Most real-world businesses usually require a ton of consistent time, which make them a nonstarter when it comes to very busy people. The only approach that seems to work well in a busy lifestyle is what I call “chore synergy” businesses; things you can do that synergize really well with things you’re already doing.
For example, if you walk your dog for a mile or two every day, simply picking up some dogs along that route, walking a big loop, and then returning them would just extend your dog walk a little bit and earn you some money. A door-to-door laundry service that’s along your work commute would allow you to pick up laundry and drop it off during your commute, do it at home, and then return it in the mornings before work, again right along with your commute. The idea is to “synergize” things you’re already doing.
Why it works well as an income stream: It involves a relatively low time commitment, as it usually just increases the time you spend on something you’re already doing. Once you have some clients, it’s actually a rather effortless way to earn more money. Most of these types of businesses involve very little cost to you outside of the time and energy involved.
Why it doesn’t work so well for busy people: You have to have a good idea that people actually want, then you have to promote that idea, then you usually have to actually execute that idea, all before you ever see a dime. You will have to worry about things like billing and so forth. You’ll also be expected to consistently stick with the task you’re promising to fulfill and any time you step away from it, you’ll have to clearly notify your clients or else drop the business. It won’t earn any residual income if you step away, whereas the other options will.
Should you do it? If you can identify a task that you can synergize really well, like a laundry delivery service or a dog-walking business or a basic lawn mowing service, and you’ll actually enjoy adding more of that task to your life, then a synergistic chore business might be a really good fit for you. If you loathe your household chores, avoid this one like the plague.
If you look through this list, you’ll see that many of the ideas have some things in common. They tend to involve a lot of work at your own pace that won’t earn a lot of income up front, but can build into something that earns good money over the long haul if you’re patient. They tend to have very little up-front cost, so that if it doesn’t work out, you don’t have a deep financial investment. They tend to be able to produce some level of residual income if you walk away from them for an extended period or for good.
All of those are factors that work well for making a side gig for busy people, particularly the “low up-front financial investment” and the “work at your own pace but consistently” aspects of it. I have obviously found success with The Simple Dollar following this pattern and I’m currently exploring projects in almost all of these areas.
If any of these sound interesting to you, start by writing up a side gig business plan for that idea. Use that opportunity to figure out the ins and outs of actually pulling off what you have in mind in terms of how to actually do it, what the real time commitment is, and whether you could fit it into your life. Be sure to consider the drawbacks I’ve discussed here and how you will overcome them, as well as other drawbacks you discover.
You may just find that a side gig does fit well in your busy life and it can provide another income stream for you.