How to Make Money

29 Smart Ways to Make Money on the Side in 2015

January 5, 2015
by Heather van der Hoop
Contributor

So you’re ready to start earning more this year? Whether you want to be more aggressive about paying off student loans, dig yourself out of credit card debt, or save toward a down payment or vacation, making extra money on the side is a smart strategy for working toward your goals.

While you could simply get a part-time job, I’m going to focus on entrepreneurial ventures — side jobs where you control your time and rates. Instead of working the shifts you’re given for a set wage, you’ll be your own boss, deciding what you do, when you do it and elow much you make.

Whether you’re thinking of starting a side business that could eventually become your full-time job or you just want to earn a little extra cash on the weekends, I’ve got you covered. How will you earn more money this year?

Freelance With Your Skills

Use the skills you’ve already developed — maybe even those you use at a full-time job — to earn extra cash on the side. While you’ll want to make sure you’re not competing with your employer (you can’t poach your company’s clients; read your contract to make sure you haven’t signed a non-compete agreement), you could earn a significant amount of money by working directly with clients.

You can start a freelance business with a huge variety of skills. I’ve outlined quite a few below, but there are definitely more options!

1. Write

If you’re great at crafting engaging blog posts or convincing copy, it’s time to put your writing skills to work. Writers looking to build up experience may want to start with content sites (though be warned, the pay can be extremely low) or by starting a blog of their own.

Got a few clips under your belt? Fantastic — it’s time to start pitching paying writing outlets. Check out this list of blogs that pay for posts, or this one of sites that pay you to write.

Research your target sites well before pitching their editors, and — I can’t emphasize this enough — read the guidelines. If the site wants you to pitch ideas, email the editor with a few ideas. If the guidelines ask for a draft, write a draft. If they want you to include a secret phrase in your email’s subject line, include the phrase. (I’m not making this up — many sites use this trick to screen out writers who don’t read the guidelines. No secret phrase means your email goes straight to the trash.)

How much can you make? Three cents a word for content sites, $50 and up for guest posts on paying sites. Some blogs — like The Penny Hoarder! — might even offer a bonus if your post performs particularly well.

2. Do Graphic or Web Design Work

Do you always know which colors complement one another best? Can you put together an amazing book cover or website homepage in 20 minutes flat? Is creating a beautiful blog header something you can do in your sleep?

Not only are you my hero, but you could be making serious cash from your skills.

Make sure your website or blog clearly states that you’re available for hire, and share examples of recent projects. If you can’t link to projects you did for your employer, mock up some designs on your own time. Ask friends for referrals, and consider offering your services on a marketplace like Elance. For more ideas, check out Mashable’s post on showcasing your freelance graphic design work.

How much can you make? Designers with a few years of experience and solid portfolios can earn $100 per hour, but designer Jessica Hische recommends avoiding hourly pricing in a detailed project pricing analysis in Fast Company.

3. Develop Websites or Applications

Can you build a WordPress plugin with your bare hands? Do you spend more time on Github than Facebook? If playing with code is your thing, you can definitely turn your skills into extra income.

The age-old business advice applies here: Find a problem and solve it. See a plugin that works, but not perfectly? Build your own improved version. Notice a recurring issue with a WordPress theme? Tweak it to find a fix. Want to be on-call tech support? Find a niche that needs tech-savvy help, and fill it.

Web developer Ben Meredith is a great example. “In the process of cobbling together a website for my church, I learned enough to get a degree in ‘how not to do websites.’ To save people from having to go through what I went through, I started writing down what I was learning.” The result is Church Web Help, a site “for churches who can’t afford to pay a full-time (or even part-time) webmaster,” which offers resources, training and custom WordPress sites.

How much can you make? High-quality freelance developers can charge anywhere from $75 to $150 per hour, says Meredith. You can easily double your rates for “crisis situations” or fast turnarounds, such as when a site has been hacked. In addition, the more specialized and server-side you are, the higher your potential rates.

4. Take Photographs

Shutterbugs, this one’s for you. If you have a decent camera (no, your iPhone doesn’t count), a basic understanding of photographic principles and experience with photo-editing programs, you could earn money taking photos.

Whether you’re keen to start a side business as a portrait photographer, would like to capture memories as a wedding photographer, or simply want to sell your pictures through a stock photography website, earning money as a photographer is a popular side hustle.

If you’re pursuing the portrait business, find clients through word-of-mouth and by posting an online portfolio on your own website or on Flickr. Breaking into the wedding business can be challenging, but start with word-of-mouth for that as well. Ask friends who are getting married whether their photographer could use a second shooter, or offer to spend a few hours taking engagement photos they can use on their wedding websites.

For stock photography, look into the submission guidelines on microstock websites like istockphoto.com or shutterstock.com and check out the advice for beginners on Everything Microstock.

How much can you make? As a family portrait photographer, Susan Shain charged $100 per session, which involved about three hours of work, though she noted this was for friends and family. “I haven’t pursued this as a serious side business, but if I did, I’d probably charge a lot more.”

Wedding photographers charge a wide range of prices depending on location, experience, style and demand. A full-day wedding shoot in Whistler, Canada could cost between $1,500 and $6,500, and photographer JP Danko estimates that high-end wedding photographers can charge $9,000 or more per wedding.

Stock photography websites often pay between 15 and 50 cents per photo sold, though some photos can sell for up to $60, according to Pop Photo.

5. Offer Calligraphy

Do you have beautiful handwriting? Have you mastered the art of the perfectly crisp pen stroke? Turn your calligraphy skills into cold hard cash by offering freelance calligraphy services. While handwritten envelopes, place cards and signs are most common for weddings, you may also be able to drum up business from baby showers, birth announcements and milestone birthday parties.

Expert calligraphers recommend practicing constantly, investing in quality tools and taking an introductory course. Find clients by promoting examples of your work on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and connecting with other calligraphers for potential referrals.

How much can you make? Hand-lettered envelopes run $2 to $5 each on Etsy, and signs go for $50 or more. Depending how much time you’re keen to devote, especially in the run-up to the busy wedding season, you could earn a fair amount of cash. Look at what other sellers are charging to figure out how to set your own rates.

6. Paint Murals

Skilled with a paintbrush? Earn extra cash while making your neighborhood a little more beautiful. Whether it’s showcasing an iconic view on a prominent downtown building or decorating a child’s bedroom, mural painting is an often-overlooked creative side gig.

Start by asking friends and family if any rooms could use an artistic makeover; perhaps a plain room could use a cool update before a baby arrives, or a baby-themed room needs redecorating as its owner enters elementary school.

To find other clients, ask satisfied customers for referrals and list your services on sites like  FindaMuralist.com.

How much can you make? One muralist charges $60 per hour, while others charge $10 to $20 per square foot or even $200 per square foot.

7. Officiate Weddings

Look outside the “hard” skills like your ability to write code or take amazing photos — can you talk to anyone? Are you a great speaker? Do you love celebrating love? Consider a weekend side gig as a wedding officiant.

Your business set-up will vary based on your state, and the legal requirements vary, but officiating weddings could be a fun side hustle. Once you’ve performed a few weddings for friends or family members, ask them to mention your availability to other couples they know.

How much can you make? Yvonne Doerre, who has officiated about 20 weddings in the DC area, usually charges between $300 and $500 per wedding.

8. Babysit or Nanny

Yes, this counts as freelancing — knowing how to wrangle children is certainly a skill! Parents, oldest siblings and former camp counselors: this one’s for you.

Whether you want to look after school-aged kids on Saturday nights or help tired parents as a night nanny, you’ll find lots of opportunities to use your childcare experience to earn cash. Look within your circle of friends and acquaintances first, as parents are more likely to trust someone they know. Ask friends if they know anyone else who could use a few hours to themselves, whether it’s to grocery shop without toddlers or simply to head to the gym.

How much can you make? Average rates for babysitters start at $12 an hour, according to The Boston Globe, but vary depending on the market — you could earn more for watching more kids, working late nights or simply living in a bigger city. Night nannies can earn between $15 and $25 an hour, depending on location and experience.

These are just eight of the many ways you can turn your skills into lucrative freelance businesses. And we’ve only scratched the surface of ways to earn money on the side…

Make and Sell Art and Crafts

Plenty of people earn extra money from something that started as a crafty hobby. Whether you love knitting, felting, soap-making, woodwork or metal-smithing, there’s likely a market for your creations.

Sell your crafts online, through your own website or on Etsy, to reach customers around the world. Look closer to home by pitching your products to local stores and renting a table at flea markets, and target a niche market by signing up for a dealer’s table at conventions.

What can you sell? Here are a few ideas.

9. Carve Walking Sticks

Using wood you’ve harvested from your own property, a friend’s or public land, create one-of-a-kind walking sticks. Adding special touches like stones, mirrors or leather straps will help you charge more.

How much can you make? It depends where you sell and how fancy your walking sticks are. Simple sticks could sell for $8 at flea markets, but fancier options could bring in $60 each at craft shows or even more online, according to Steve Gillman.

10. Make Jewelry

Earrings, necklaces, bracelets, rings, crazy contraptions that wrap around your face — jewelry designers make all kinds of amazing products. Whether you work with metal, felt, old Scrabble tiles, origami cranes or even deer antlers, you’ll likely find a market for your work.

How much can you make? It depends on what you sell, but remember not to price your pieces too low. Make sure to cover the costs of materials, time, shipping, listing fees and other costs. Keep an eye on craft forums for advice from experienced designers and sellers on what sells well.

11. Create Holiday Crafts

Yes, I know the winter holidays are over. Start practicing holiday crafts now for next year, or create similar options for other holidays. While there may not be quite as many craft fairs before Valentine’s Day, Easter or Halloween, many people and businesses decorate for these holidays.

How much can you make? Anywhere from $11 for simple garlands to $80 for a wooden wreath, according to Etsy. Be creative and experiment with different price points to see what works for your creations.

12. Paint, Sculpt, Draw, Print and Make Art

Consider what other crafty creations you could sell. From screenprinted T-shirts to framed prints or comic books, find a creative product that works for you. Think outside the box here: Sculptor Aaron Lewis creates and sells latex monster masks for $60 to $400 each, depending on the design.

Package Your Knowledge

Are you great at something? Know a lot about a particular program, activity or hobby? The beauty of creating a digital product to share your knowledge is that when people ask for advice, you can point them in the direction of your ebook or course — where your knowledge is nicely packaged up and ready to go.

And the biggest bonus? You create these products once, and earn money from them with every sale.

13. Write and Sell Ebooks

You know enough about a subject to write a book, right? Writer Jeff Goins advises that ebooks be around 20,000 words, though many ebooks are even shorter.

Outline your ideas, then fill in your sections with more detailed advice. If you already blog about a particular subject, you may be able to turn your blog posts into a book! When you’re ready to sell, consider whether you’d prefer to sell through your own site or use a platform like Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing or Apple’s iBooks.

How much can you make? Writer Steve Gillman has earned more than $2,000 from a short, self-published Kindle ebook; Amazon pays writers 70% royalties on ebooks priced between $2.99 and $9.99. Here’s a guide to royalty rates on other platforms.

14. Create an Information Product

More complex than an ebook, an information product is often a package of resources that provides in-depth advice on a particular subject. Sometimes including video or audio recordings in addition to text, info products pack a lot of training into one package, and their price often reflects that.

For example, Chris Guillebeau’s Unconventional Guides generally include a PDF ebook, additional resource sheets, checklists, audio and video interviews with subject experts, and other tools.

How much can you make? Depends on your niche, target market, authority and information. For example, Guillebeau’s Upgrade Unlocked guide to luxury travel on a budget starts at $39. Authors Joanna Penn and Roz Morris sold their How to Write a Novel training for $99 (before recently discontinuing it due to new EU VAT laws).

15. Launch an Online Course

If you’re keen to try a different format, try creating an online course. You could work through a platform like Udemy or Pathwright, or through your own website. Here’s a great explanation of how to get started, from Halina Zakowicz at I’ve Tried That.

Create a course around any skill — or element of a skill — you can teach. Whether it’s mastering a piano concerto, planting a cost-effective vegetable garden or leading a killer workout, pick something you’re great at.

How much can you make? On Udemy, your earnings often depend on your category; IT-related courses are often priced between $50 and $100, while cooking or music courses usually cost less than $50. The average instructor earns $7,000 a year on Udemy, reports Forbes.

Teach and Tutor

If you’ve ever been a teacher, or you’re an expert on a subject, share your knowledge with new students as a tutor, coach or instructor. Whether you’re explaining high-level algebra or how to hit that perfect arpeggio, instructing community college students or eight-year-olds, your teaching skills could help you boost your monthly income.

16. Tutor Students

If you’re great at a particular subject, consider tutoring students for extra cash. This is an especially lucrative option for those with advanced education or training in a particular subject. As Leah Thayer noted in her post on teaching home-schooled students, her clients love that she’s a writer and can share real-world experience while explaining grammar and syntax concepts.

Whether you start your own business or join a tutoring agency, focus on higher-level subjects like math, science or foreign languages; because this material is more challenging to master, parents are less likely to be able to support kids themselves, recommended Thayer. You’ll likely have less competition and be able to command higher rates.

Find clients through word-of-mouth, though Thayer has also had some success with using Craigslist. Meet your clients at their homes or at local libraries or coffee shops. Be prepared to share references and even a background check to prove to parents that you’re trustworthy.

How much can you make? Private tutors often earn between $13 and $20 an hour, depending on age and experience. You could earn more if you have advanced degrees or live in a big city.

17. Start an Online Tutoring Business

You’re not limited to your local community; use online tools to connect with students outside your region. Connect with clients using tools like Skype, or use platforms like Google Helpouts or WyzAnt to connect with new students. You may not need to get a background check for these jobs, but you will have to prove your education or expertise in a field before starting.

How much can you make? Tutors on Google Helpouts often charge $15 to $25 an hour, and Google’s commission is 20%. WyzAnt says its tutors charge between $30 and $60 an hour, and the site takes a 40% commission.

Update 3/24/15: Unfortunately, Google just announced that “Helpouts” will be closing down on April 20, 2015. 

18. Give Lessons

Whether you’re a champion chess player, an accomplished violinist, or a wizard at creating the perfect smoky eye, chances are someone wants to learn your skill.

Share your expertise through word-of-mouth; make sure friends know about your awesome abilities. If you’d like to teach something that might be useful for students, such as music, art or chess, ask your tutor friends to recommend you to their clients. Head online to reach a wider range of clients: use Google Helpouts to connect with customers, or start your own Youtube channel by uploading short videos that teach small, bite-sized elements of your skill.

How much can you make? Earnings vary depending on your skill and how you teach it. On Helpouts, you might earn $25 for a 30-minute lesson, while a Youtube channel might bring in a couple hundred dollars in ad revenue if you get enough views.

19. Design an Adult Education Class

These programs go by many names, including continuing education, adult education and community learning, but have one thing in common: they pay instructors to share expertise with local students. Classes are diverse, ranging from Spanish language to making bead jewelry to cheese making, and are usually offered by local community colleges or school boards.

Keen to try it for yourself? Search for “adult education classes + [your city]” to see where classes are offered, then get in touch with the host organization to pitch a class of your own.

How much can you make? Adult education programs may pay hourly, a percentage of student fees, or a flat rate, according to Steve Gillman. His wife earned $20 an hour teaching Spanish at a local adult education program.

20. Lead Fitness Boot Camps

If you love being outside and working out, why not lead boot camps in a local park? For  fitness buffs, this could be a simple way to earn a decent amount of cash in an hour or two on weekend mornings.

Design a simple program using bodyweight exercises and what’s available in your local park; get creative with stairs, benches and even sand. Start by offering the class to friends and family on social media, and encourage people to bring a friend.

How much can you make? Mike Thorpe recommended charging $10 per person for an hour-long boot camp — if 10 people sign up, you’ve just earned $100 an hour!

Make Money From Your Body, Brain and Opinions

Yes, you can get paid simply for being yourself — though you’ll have to decide whether these particular gigs are right for you. Whether you’re happy being a human guinea pig or you’d prefer to stick to sharing your thoughts on a product, these side gigs can add some extra cash to your wallet.

21. Sign Up for Focus Groups

Share your thoughts on products and services with the teams behind developing and marketing them, and you could earn cash or gift cards for your time and feedback. You’ll want to sign up with several focus group companies to maximize your chances of being called for a group.

How much can you make? While some focus groups pay $250 or $300, the vast majority pay less. Participating in focus groups is a fun way to earn extra cash, but probably shouldn’t be your only money-making venture.

22. Participate in Research Studies

Researchers studying new medical treatments or human behavior need to test their ideas on subjects, and usually those guinea pigs get paid. Whether you’re open to testing new pharmaceuticals or prefer to stick to psychological studies, you could earn extra cash as a test subject.

This option is especially handy for those who live in major cities or near large universities, but those who live rurally can also participate through online trials. Here’s a great list of where to find clinical trials.

How much can you make? Anywhere from $10 to more than $5,000, depending on the time commitment and invasiveness of the study. Be sure to read the fine print, as some university psychology research subjects are only compensated with college credit.

23. Become a Standardized Patient

Is your acting Oscar-worthy? If you can pretend to be sick well enough to fool a medical student, working as a standardized patient could be a fun side job. You’ll get paid to help students practice diagnoses and bedside manner.

Find these jobs at large medical schools or on online job boards like Indeed.com. You’ll need to be healthy, over 18 and likely available during normal business hours.

How much can you make? Standardized patients can earn between $15 and $20 an hour, according to Catherine Alford.

24. Try Art Modeling

Yes, you will likely need to be naked. But posing for art students in a legitimate class can be an interesting and lucrative side job.

To find these opportunities, skip Craigslist and head to local colleges, adult education programs, art schools and even galleries. Ask whether they offer drawing classes and ask about live model gigs.

How much can you make? Art models often earn around $20 or $25 an hour.

25. Sell Your Body

Legally, of course. Moms have made news lately for selling extra breast milk, and sperm donation has long been an option for men. (Though, as Sean Berkley noted on Cracked, sperm banks are picky about who they’ll accept; you’ll usually have to be young, tall, educated and in good shape.) Young women could earn $5,000 or more as egg donors, though as one donor notes, by the time you’re finished the intensive process, you’ll likely feel you’ve earned every penny.

Need a less-invasive option? Selling your blood plasma is a simple option open to most people, as long as you’re healthy.

How much can you make? Up to $60 a day selling breast milk; $20 to $125 per sperm donation; or $20 to $45 per session selling plasma.

Get Creative

Not convinced any of the above ideas will work for you? Try one of these crazy jobs and weird businesses. Come up with a unique venture and maybe it’ll be a hit, like these out-there ideas. Which of your interests or skills could fill a need in the marketplace?

26. Cuddle for Cash

Samantha Hess gets paid $60 an hour to cuddle with strangers in Portland, Oregon. She’s not the only professional cuddler out there, either — Jackie Samuel runs a similar business in Rochester, New York.

While these businesses can be controversial (Samuel has been accused of prostitution, and another snuggling business in Wisconsin closed down after authorities suspected illegal activity), they’re an interesting example of thinking outside of the box.

27. Rent Chickens

You read that right: renting chickens to fledgling farmers is a growing business, according to chicken entrepreneur Tyler Phillips. The target market ranges from families with young children, to schools and daycares, to people wanting to test out the idea of raising chickens in their backyards.

Rental fees depend on the length of the contract, but renting out two hens, a coop and 50 pounds of feed could earn you $160 for four weeks or $395 for six months.

28. Make Pizza-Scented Candles

Traditional candles smelled too girly, thought 13-year-old Hart Main. Why not sell scents like bacon, pizza, dirt and sawdust? And that’s how Man Cans was born.

Main’s Man Cans have been featured in Time and Entrepreneur. Each candle comes in a real soup can and the company donates the soup to a local community kitchen. The website notes that Man Cans has donated 80,000 meals and each candle retails for $9.50, so this crazy idea could be worth $760,000.

29. Invent a Product

Rather than sinking your life savings into a product that requires a ton of testing and paperwork, try low-risk inventions that fill a need. Who could have predicted the success of the Pet Rock?

To generate ideas, try a few of these strategies suggested by Steve Gillman:

  • Combine Ideas (vacuum + bug control = motion-activated bug vacuum device)
  • Find New Applications (books become hollowed-out hiding places for valuables)
  • Find Problems to Solve (sore feet led to “Foot Petals,” a million-dollar business)
  • Challenge Assumptions (“bicycles need leg power” becomes a bike you row like a boat)

Create a low-cost prototype. Crowdfund on Kickstarter or Indiegogo, submit your idea to innovation lab Quirky, or simply bootstrap until you sell enough products to cover additional production costs.

Making money on the side is a smart way to pay off your debt faster or boost your savings account. Whether you start a small business, freelance with your existing skills or find a way to make money from a hobby, let this be the year you start earning extra money.

Your Turn: How do you plan to make more money in 2015?

by Heather van der Hoop
Contributor for The Penny Hoarder

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