If you're a parent, we don't have to tell you how (really, really) expensive it is to support a family. According to the Department of Agriculture, raising a child born in 2015 will cost a married, middle-income couple approximately $233,610 from birth to age 17—and that's not including college. So it's no surprise that more and more moms and dads are turning to so-called side hustles to pay the bills, whether they already hold down full-time jobs or spend their days taking care of the kids. And it's not just about money, either: Side hustles can also provide an outlet for unexplored passions in addition to extra cash. Looking to get in on the action? We asked experts to share what parents need to know before starting a side hustle of their own.
"The most important factor to consider in starting a side business is why you're doing it," says Nick Loper, entrepreneur and founder of Side Hustle Nation. "Is it to earn extra money? What will that extra money afford you? Is it to exercise your creative side? Is it to try and build something meaningful in your spare time? Something that could eventually be your ticket out of your 9 to 5?"
Whether your goal is to put away money for your child's college fund, save enough cash to make some home repairs, or fund your DIY hobby, deciding how much you want to earn every month will help to point you in the right direction when it comes to choosing a project or business.
Furthermore, remembering why you started your side hustle in the first place will motivate you to keep going through any inevitable setbacks, Loper says. "Building a business isn't easy, and a lot of would-be entrepreneurs throw in the towel when the going gets tough. The ones that see it through are the ones powerfully motivated to do so."
Your first idea doesn't have to be your best, says Molly Beck, host of the podcast Two Inboxes: Interviews with the Side Hustle Generation. Allow yourself to try out a few different options until you hit on something that's both enjoyable and profitable.
"The best thing about side hustles is that because they are not your main source of income—at least for the time being—you can have the freedom to play around with different ideas before you land on one that pops," she says. So try as many different things as you want, as long as the cost of giving it a go is low (or realistic for your family's budget).
"The only way to find what you're passionate about is to try different things you might be passionate about and see what sticks," says Beck.
That said, if there's an interest or hobby that's already taking up all your free time, then by all means make that your focus. Are you always getting complements on your hand-crocheted scarves? Consider setting up an Etsy shop. Are your stellar baking skills the talk of every kid's birthday party? Try offering your services for local corporate events. These small starts can lead to big opportunities.
"The most common mistake I see is dumping a ton of time and money into an idea without any real concept of whether or not it's going to work," says Loper. "Start lean, get feedback, and repeat."
In other words, you'll want to make sure that your business is viable before you waste a lot of capital—or hours. Try an idea you know for sure has worked for other side-hustlers. For example, the "buy low, sell high" model is one that's been proven to result in profits, says Loper. So if you're a die-hard junker or thrift store hunter, you might consider selling some of your valuable finds on Ebay. For those with an eye for quality, it's an investment that could pay off.
Whatever you're doing, make sure that your initial investment is one you can afford to lose comfortably, as there's no guarantee you'll make it back. And be aware of the high start-up costs associated with certain ventures, like certain multi-level marketing companies, which may require sellers to purchase pricey "starter kits." or samples. (Speaking of MLM, if your community is already saturated with entrepreneurs representing popular companies, you could be in for some stiff competition—and might do better finding a different side hustle.)
“The beauty of the side hustle is it gives you a low-risk platform to validate your business ideas without spending a bunch of time or money,” Loper says. “All my best businesses have been started for $100 or less. It's the ones I spent thousands on that have backfired!”
Also known as "peer-to-peer commerce," some popular examples of businesses that are thriving in the "sharing economy" are Uber and Airbnb—and, according to Loper, they're one of the fastest ways to get started hustling. But even if being a driver or renting out your home aren't realistic options for you as a parent, there are plenty of other opportunities to cash in on this trend. Sites like ThredUp make it easy to sell those clothes in the back of your closet you haven't worn in months, while Teespring and Threadless allow you to create your own clothing designs and market them directly to buyers. Whatever your talent or resource pool, there's probably a way to monetize it.
One of the most common mistakes novice side-hustlers make, according to Beck, is telling everyone about their fledgling gig before making sure it's something they really want to stick with.
"Give yourself some privacy to refine the idea before announcing it to the world—or your Facebook feed," she says.
Of course it's important to spread the word—after all, that's the best way to drum up business—but jumping the gun can lead to more demands than you're ready to meet. (And on the flipside, sharing a link to website that's still glitchy or rough around the edges could give potential customers the impression that you're an amateur.) And if you should decide that the hustle you've chosen isn't right for you in the early stages, switching gears won't mean losing trust with your customers.
Whatever you choose as your side hustle, "the key, really, is to make sure you like doing it," Beck says. "If you like it, you'll find time to squeeze it into your busy day. If you don't enjoy doing it, you won't."