Side hustles represent the new American dream: making more money, without going through the trauma of the job search process, or retraining for an entirely new career. But not every side gig is created equal. Pick the wrong one, and you could watch your time and money go down the drain, without a thing to show for it except frustration.
The good news is that once you know what you’re looking for, most bogus side hustles start to look a lot alike. In short, your grandmother was right:
- If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
- If you have a bad feeling about it, you’re probably right.
- If ethically flexible people are engaging in it, it’s an ethically dubious activity.
After a while, you’ll recognize a bad bet when you see one. To get you started developing your nose for bad-news gigs, we present these side hustles that rarely lead to riches:
1. The Super-Cheapo Freelancing Gig
Sure, this guy might have made $900 bucks in 10 days on Fiverr, and your cousin’s best friend’s babysitter claims to keep her lights on with proofreading gigs she scored on Upwork and Freelancer.com, but you can bet they’re working their fingers to the bone to make it happen.
It’s hard to make (or even supplement) a living when clients are bidding on your services for a few bucks. Plus, you’ll have to pay the site its cut – as much as 20% of your earnings, depending on which service you use.
Better to use your existing network to score some higher-paying freelance work. You’ll put in more effort beforehand, but your rate will almost certainly be much higher.
2. The Multi-Level Marketing Scheme
If you’re on Facebook, you’re probably familiar with multi-level marketing programs, which pay participants not only for selling goods like makeup, essential oils, or supplements, but also for bringing new sellers into their network.
Not every MLM scheme is an outright scam, but all demand a commitment not just to selling stuff, but to selling your friends and neighbors on selling stuff. Chances are, if you had the time to do that, you’d have time to get a second job.
3. The Online Yard Sale
Before you head to the comments to tell us about the fortune you made selling things on eBay or Etsy, a caveat: You absolutely can make decent money selling stuff online, provided that you have a constant supply of stuff to sell.
The reason this one makes the list is that many people think their basement or attic will provide an endless supply of money-making items, only to discover that their 1980s-era Star Wars toys went pretty fast, but no one wants a broken Holly Hobby mug or a pile of half-melted Crayolas from the same era.
Selling off your old keepsakes and unwanted items is a great way to generate a one-time cash infusion you can use to pay down debts. However, it’s unlikely to be a reliable, ongoing income source.
4. The Unskilled (But Suspiciously Well-Paying) Task
Stuffing envelopes. Product assembly. Processing rebates. All scams, and all well-documented by the FTC, which maintains a page on common work-from home scams, along with a link that allows people to report the same.
Bottom line: If a machine can do a task more cheaply and efficiently than a human, no legitimate organization will pay you top dollar to do it instead.
Best-case scenario, it’s a waste of your time. Worst-case scenario, you wind up with your identity stolen. Which brings us to our final bad-news side hustle…
5. The Gig You Pay to Start Doing
If you need to buy a kit to get started, it’s a bad deal, at the very least, and maybe an outright scam. Just as real modeling agents don’t require “discoveries” to cough up cash for test shots, real employers don’t ask contractors to pay before they earn.
If you’re asked to invest before you can make money, your investment is almost certainly the major revenue stream of the company. If you’re asked to share your bank account information, Social Security number, or other personal data, turn tail and run, before the scammers get a chance to put their real business plan into action: stealing and selling your identity.