4 Unconventional Side Hustles That Helped Buy My First Flat at 24

 My student years were a very dynamic time. I was a full-time international student in the UK, coming from a low-income family — so I worked full-time alongside my studies.

There were times where I even had a side hustle on top of my usual job and student commitments, and others where I was juggling a few gigs, striving to generate an income, enough for me to live and also save money towards the purchase of my first home.

And I achieved that goal. Here are four of the side hustles I did as a student, which helped me along the way, that you can use additional ways to make money — and even turn into a fully-fledged business.

1. Pet Sitting

Pet sitting is my favorite side hustle I have ever done. Not only is it super enjoyable and very profitable, but it is also a social activity, designed for pet carers to connect with pet owners. It is for everyone, and anyone, who either has experience in taking care of animals and is very passionate, caring, and loving towards animals and a responsible being.

Pet sitting sites have been popping up like crazy in recent years, in response to market demand for pet care services. Some potential sites include PawshakePetBackerRoverWag!PetSitter, and Sittercity, but there are many others you could find. Like babysitting, it is also relatively easy to start simply by providing your service locally or within your personal network. Start by setting up a personal Facebook or Instagram page or placing some business cards in local post boxes. Chances are someone will need your services.

How much can you earn

You can earn between £10-£50 ($13-$66) per visit, depending on the type of services included, the pet you are taking care of, your experience, and the client demand and service supply in your area. A typical cat care visit would involve food and water replenishment, litter box cleaning, and a play session, and would not be expected to last more than an hour.

That said, this figure could also drastically rise if you are booked for services such as pet on-boarding, overnight stays, grooming, medicine provision, or long dog walks and training sessions.

What is good about it

  1. You choose your rates.
  2. You can select assignments based on your experience level and what you are comfortable doing.
  3. It is relatively easy to build a portfolio of reoccurring clients.
  4. You typically meet the pet owner and the pet before agreeing to the service, allowing you to back out if you find anything too intimidating.

What is not so good about it

  1. Pet sitting websites typically take a commission of your fees
  2. Can get busy over holiday periods
  3. The role is very responsible

Getting Started

To get started, you should create a listing and register to as many sites as you find operating in your area. Advertise your listing through social media, as well as locally. Frequently share photos with happy furry clients and maintain good relationships with the pet owners to build up trust and a portfolio of reoccurring clients.

2. Taking Part in Paid Research

No, this is not about the paid online surveys where you click your life away for cents (even though I did try that, too, with no success). By paid research, I am referring to market research panels, online or offline focus groups, in-depth telephone interviews, or product testing. Many companies still do market research using quite traditional methods, such as those listed above and need opinions from a diverse sample of participants to generate a statistically-valid study.

As a student, I enrolled in Taking Part in Research, where I was called for several opportunities. Assignments can range in duration, with some studies being a one-off, while others are ongoing. Sample assignments include: testing a website for accessibility and inclusivity (UK-based), product tests (US-based), online focus groups (global), and so on.

How much can you earn

Depending on the type of study or the specificity of the subject, participants in the UK can earn, on average, between £50-£85 for a 45-minute discussion.

What is good about it

  1. You get paid for simply providing your opinion.
  2. You do not need to do anything special to participate — you either are recruited based on who you already are (gender, age, race, ethnicity, sexuality, etc.) and what you already do (employed, student, your field of work, etc.), or you are not.
  3. Taking part in research is inevitable at some point. You just need to sign up for as many panels as you can.
  4. Payment is very high; the effort you put in is very low.
  5. In-person panels are enjoyable and even a way to meet people you might click with.

What is not so good about it

  1. While good when it happens, this source of income is highly inconsistent.
  2. You do not have control over how often you will be pooled for research.
  3. Once you are called in, you usually cannot negotiate the time or place of the study. If you are unavailable — you will be replaced.

Getting Started

Getting started is quite simple; you have to find websites or companies that do panel-based market research in your area and sign up to their panel. Examples of such websites are Taking Part in ResearchPeople for ResearchPaid StudiesFocus Group, and so on — there are hundreds of different companies and institutions that do this type of work.

Signing up involves providing information about yourself, such as your demographic characteristics, lifestyle characteristics, employment type, etc. Once opportunities come up, many companies will email you directly, with additional questions, or they might phone you as well. These additional questions are often study-specific and might involve more nuanced aspects of your life, such as How much time you spend watching TV per week? OAre you the decision-maker of your household when it comes to purchasing appliances? If you receive an invite after answering the follow-up questions, you just have to follow the instructions, and you are good to go. Payments are given by hand in in-person sessions or transferred directly into your bank account if the study was done over the phone or online.

3. Social Media Management

Working as a social media manager or assistant is becoming more and more common nowadays. With many companies realizing the value of having an omnipresent brand, especially smaller businesses, there is a market opportunity for people who have knowledge, skills, or experience in marketing, social media, or content creation to engage in a lucrative side gig their free time.

Services can include anything from one-time consulting, on-going content creation, and management of social media business pages. They can even include comprehensive re-branding strategies, including the creation (and management) of complete short- and long-digital marketing strategies, including logo, brand story, digital, and print marketing materials and content. I did all the above in a period of 2–3 years, working with businesses in a variety of industries, such as dental practice, nightlife, entertainment, influencers, and even a beach bar. The opportunities are endless. What you need, though, are skills in marketing strategy, content creation, graphic design, and possibly video editing and photography.

How much can you earn

It is very difficult to provide a projection as it entirely depends on your experience, your portfolio, and your soft and hard skills. When based in the UK, I charged about £10-£15 ($13-$20) per hour. In contrast, for my clients in Bulgaria, I was on a monthly salary of about £200 ($265) plus a fixed percentage of their sales, which at the end worked out to be upwards of £600 ($796) per month.

Your earnings could scale exponentially based on your performance, how you sell your services, and the clients you have worked with. It is also important to note that your rating scale by the skills you have, such as knowing the ins-and-outs of website creation or being a wiz at Adobe Creative apps, could be used as leverage to charge more. This article goes a bit more in-depth into the different routes you can take when setting up your rates.

What is good about it

  1. You could work entirely remotely.
  2. You create your schedule for the most part.
  3. It helps develop skills that are very easily transferrable into many industries.
  4. You are given a lot of creative control.
  5. You feel like your work makes an impact on an organization, which is very rewarding.

What is not so good about it

  1. It could easily become very time-consuming, especially if the clients require you to respond to comments (which they normally do).
  2. It can become very stressful, especially when you have multiple clients.
  3. It might not be suitable for you if you do not enjoy being on social media.
  4. You are required to communicate with the business’ internal and external stakeholders frequently.

Getting Started

I got started by sharing some interesting insights from what I was studying in my Business and Marketing degree in university with people from my network. It turned out that some relatives and friends who had small businesses would like some consulting.

At first, I did these pro-bono, ranking up a portfolio of about 2–3 case studies. After that, I started searching for part-time work using this portfolio and the hard skills I was learning at the time, such as graphic design, photo, and video editing.

If I were just starting again, I would make sure also to offer smaller consultations, such as one-hour video calls and 3-page recommendation documents on sites such as Fiverr, to get a consistent income and generate a larger collection of positive reviews for my services.

4. Freelance Academic Writing

This is by far the least glamorous of my side gigs, albeit the most profitable. Freelance academic writing typically involves ghostwriting on academic essays, but can also include doing industry reports for small businesses, doing skeleton essays and helping with the structure of academic assignments, or editing or marking written works.

Even though I consider it being a role with no less merit than any other in terms of the effort you put in and the results you can generate, I found this being the most emotionally-draining role I have ever done (inside and outside the ‘side gig’ universe). Not being able to take pride in my work or not knowing how it is used — which is typical for ghostwriting projects — is difficult to accept.

This article by Demian Farnworth very extensively debates the advantages and disadvantages, as well as the ethics of ghostwriting, and I recommend it to anyone considering this gig.

If you have to ghostwrite to make ends meet, fine. But beat a hasty path out of the business as soon as possible. — Demian Farnworth

How much can you earn

Rates depend on how many projects you take on, how you find projects, what they involve, and their level of excellence. When working part-time, I averaged between £500-£1,000 ($660-$1,329) per month. Writing full time can earn between £1,500-£3,500 ($2,000- $4,650) per month consistently, depending on the business or the season.

What is good about it

  1. You have complete control over the projects you take.
  2. It is profitable, especially if you have the skills required to do a good job.
  3. It can be very useful for generating the necessary skill-set for a research associate role, editor, or academic tutor.
  4. It is great for improving your knowledge of your industry and niche, as you are constantly researching various topics.

What is not so good about it

  1. You need a degree from a well-renowned university, as well as excellent research, critical thinking and academic writing skills
  2. If you source projects through a company, they will typically take a commission for handling client communications and site upkeep, which can be between 40–60% of the fee they charge the client.
  3. There is a lot of debate on how ethically your work is used, even though clients are warned not to pass-off your work as their own.
  4. You will have to live with the fact that some of your greatest research will never see the light of day, nor will it be published under your name.
  5. It is not good a good way to go about building a reputation as a writer or as an academic researcher.

Getting Started

If you are looking to get started with academic writing, I would suggest enrolling in a company that sources projects for you. Search for ‘freelance academic writing jobs’ and check out vacancies. You can also find plenty of work on Upwork.

In short, side gigs are great! Some are fun, others — not so much. I hope that this article was useful in guiding anyone interested in making money in ways that are not so frequently advertised. Whatever your motivation may be, use side gigs as what they are — additional ways to make money.

Devote yourself only to things you are truly passionate about. If the two align, consider this a blessing — you might even turn a side gig into a fully-fledged business.

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