5 Ways to Plumb Your Talents for Money During the Pandemic

Two women make fun faces for a selfie.
Victoria Cavalcanti (left) and Taylor Citek temporarily lost their jobs as bartenders, so they started telling corny jokes for $5 tips. Photo courtesy of Victoria Cavalcanti and Taylor Citek

Out of boredom or necessity, you may want to make some extra money during the coronavirus. But with so many go-to side gigs on indefinite hold, it’s hard to know where to turn.

A good place to start: the mirror.

“Look within yourself and look kind of hard because all of us have skills, all of us have talent and all of us have things that we can do,” said Brendan Smith, a coffee connoisseur who was forced to change up his side hustle and day job due to the coronavirus. “The way to capitalize on those skills isn’t always obvious.”

Here we’ll outline several steps to help you monetize your talents. If all goes well, you’ll still be seeing returns long after the pandemic calms down.

1. Take Stock of Your Talents and Skills

Last summer, The Penny Hoarder interviewed Chris Guillebeau, bestselling author and host of the podcast Side Hustle School. He had a lot to say about monetizing your talents, and much of his advice holds up surprisingly well during the pandemic.

“I’ve never, after about a 10-minute conversation, come across a person that doesn’t have a marketable skill,” he told The Penny Hoarder. “I know that not everyone out there is going to have a huge business. But I do think it’s about uncovering that skill, adapting it and applying it to this new economy.”

Both hard and soft skills are fair game. It’s great if you know how to use pivot tables on Excel, but don’t forget about communication or critical thinking skills. And don’t be discouraged because you don’t have a specific credential. Many valuable skills don’t require any credential at all. Take humor for example.

When bartenders Victoria Cavalcanti and Taylor Citek’s job duties completely changed and their weekly hours dropped 40 to about 15, they found a clever way to monetize what typically earns them tips: their personalities.

They created an Instagram account called Jokes for Babe, where Citek yells corny dad jokes to Cavalcanti, who is caught off guard as she toils away in the background. It’s great situational comedy and provides people a much-needed laugh in anxious times. The icing on the cake is that each joke earns them a $5 tip.

“It’s hard for me to just ask for money without anything in return,” Citek said, but the jokes are the perfect medium. “You give something. You get something.”

2. Consider Your Customer

Think: What do your potential customers need right now?

You may crochet beautifully and dream of launching your gig. But right now, the general public isn’t likely to stock up on $200 handmade afghans. Your product needs to be relevant to people during the pandemic. What could those crocheting skills be used for instead? Perhaps unique facemasks.

A man teaches coffee brewing over Facebook Live
Brendan Smith’s side gigs giving coffee tours and working as a DJ have slowed way down. So he’s used Facebook Live to grow at-home coffee sales for his day job as an outreach coordinator for Batdorf & Bronson Coffee Roasters. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

“Find out where your customers are. Find out what they need. Find out what you can learn,” Brendan Smith said.

Smith is an outreach coordinator for Batdorf & Bronson Coffee Roasters. On typical weekends, he also hosts craft coffee tours as a side hustle. Both gigs rely on in-person networking and coffee tasting, which don’t comport with social distancing.

“For a lot of people their coffee habit has moved from going to coffee shops… to now ordering it online, having to brew at home,” he said.

So Smith followed the customer by pivoting to home-brewing techniques, tutorials and recipes that he now shares online through social media posts and live-streaming videos.

When the owners of Trinity Yoga Studio Ray and Janel Norton transitioned their practice online due to the coronavirus, they wanted to make it easy for snowbird members who may only use the internet for email.

“Technology is not natural to a lot of people,” Janel Norton said. “We filmed my husband Ray on the computer, step-by-step,” and he walked their customers through the process of accessing the pre-recorded yoga classes.

3. Pick a Platform

A computer monitor shows a man doing Facebook Live.
Smith records a Facebook Live session about how to brew coffee from his company’s office. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

Depending on the service or product you’re selling, you’ll need to pick a platform to reach customers online. You can always go the route of a standalone website. But you may want to hold off on that until you have an established customer base.

For general freelance work, you can get started with one of these freelance websites. Upwork, Fiverr and Freelancer are among the most popular. Freelance sites generally take a 20% fee for each sale.

For selling products, Amazon, Ebay and Etsy are among the most popular sites to sell stuff online. Fees work differently for each website. But here’s a look at three common types:

  • Listing fees: Etsy, for example, chargers 20 cents to list each item in your virtual store. If you have large quantities of one type of item, you will be charged per sale.
  • Transaction fees: These fees are typically percentage based. Depending on the category of your item (i.e. household goods or technology), Amazon might charge between 3% and 45% of the sales price.
  • Subscription fees: Most e-commerce websites have monthly memberships with additional perks. Some memberships waive listing or transaction fees if you pay monthly instead.

These websites are general options for most types of products and services. Before signing up for the first website you see, dig into more specific platforms such as online English teaching or virtual tutoring websites.

If your talent doesn’t have a clear monetization method, consider using Patreon, a crowdfunding platform that connects fans with content creators. The Penny Hoarder spoke to a cake decorator and a webcomic artist about how they use Patreon to make money, but the website also caters to podcasters, video gamers, comedians and much more.

Find out where your customers are. Find out what they need. Find out what you can learn.

When choosing the right platform, “we had to find something that works for our members,” Janel Norton said.

They landed on Mindbody, a content management system that caters to gyms and wellness centers. It allows them to integrate their yoga memberships and class cards online, but they’re still looking for the perfect fit.

They say the most important part is doing your homework.

“See what your audience is using and see what your competitors are using,” Janel Norton said.

4. Make It Easy for People to Pay You

Many freelance and e-commerce websites have built-in payment systems. If you’re selling outside those sites, you still want to make it as easy as possible for people to give you their money.

Citek and Cavalcanti, the joke-slinging bartenders, monetized their idea by using Venmo. Citek got the idea when she saw local out-of-work bartenders posting their Venmo information on social media, requesting donations.

When she posted her dad joke idea on social media with her Venmo information, she started receiving way more tips than expected.

“The first day we had 15 [requests] come in right away. I thought, ‘oh, that was a fun way to make 30 bucks, 40 bucks,’” Citek said, but it snowballed fast. “It just took off, and it brought people a sense of positivity.”

Having a common peer-to-peer payment method — or all three — is a free or low-cost way to monetize your side gig. Credit and some debit card payments accrue fees, around 3%, but bank-to-bank transfers to friends and family are typically free. Merchant accounts, for larger-scale operations, also accrue similar charges, usually with a 30 cent fee tacked on per sale.

Facebook Messenger offers a free payment system as well. Paired with Marketplace, it makes buying and selling things locally quite seamless. Just be sure your deliveries and in-person sales are contactless.

5. Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

Novel doesn’t always mean better. You don’t have to come up with a stellar new business idea or side gig. The skills you’ve already learned or honed in previous gigs can transfer to existing ones.

For instance, Uber fares are plummeting, but some sectors of the transportation industry are booming. Those customer-service and driving skills are applicable to other gigs that are in high-demand right now.

Instead of driving for Lyft, you could be delivering packages, groceries or pizzas in a matter of days thanks to expedited hiring initiatives.

Adam Hardy is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. He covers the gig economy, entrepreneurship and unique ways to make money. Read his ​latest articles here, or say hi on Twitter @hardyjournalism.