Faced with lay-offs or lost income, and an uncertain future, millions of Americans have turned to side gigs to earn extra cash and cover the bills. Even some who’ve held onto their full-time jobs, but now work remotely, have taken advantage of the hours gained from giving up their commute to pursue side hustles and supplement their income.
In April, Jobvite, a talent acquisition firm, found 46 percent of workers surveyed said they planned to pursue a side job. And in a more recent survey by Opinium Research and financial wellness app Acorns (where I’m the Chief Education Officer), a third of respondents said they have now picked up a side hustle alongside their regular jobs. Another nearly 20 percent of workers said they would like to start one.
Often those side hustles serve simply to provide a little extra cash to cover expenses or to set aside in savings in case the economy worsens again. Personal finance site DollarSprout’s recent “Side Hustle Report” survey found 27 percent of respondents are relying on income from their side hustle to pay monthly bills. But in some cases, those pandemic side hustles—whether borne by necessity or opportunity— have turned into serious sources of income, even full-time businesses. We’ve profiled a few below.
An art director turned floral designer
At the start of the year, Skye Lin was art directing fashion shoots and planning a move to New York City. Then the coronavirus hit. “And my world all of a sudden became my apartment,” says Lin, who’s 26 and lives in Atlanta.
Lin, who’d worked previously as an installation artist and photographer, suddenly found herself quarantined, struggling for a creative outlet after the postponement and cancellation of planned photo shoots. To cheer herself up, she bought some stemmed flowers and began creating artistic arrangements around her home. After she posted a bright bouquet on her Instagram account, friends began asking if she could make floral arrangements for them, and offered to pay her. “And it spread from there,” she said.
She used what was left of her $1,200 stimulus check after paying bills to buy more flowers from local farmers and continued to make creative bouquets for friends and followers, and even to donate to front-line workers. “At first, it was just a way to cope and to express care for other people. I could see how it was making an impact to simply deliver flowers to someone,” she said. “I thought, can I keep this going?”
Then, during the week before Mother’s Day, she got 200 orders. “And I realized I had a business.”
Lin’s company, Pinker Times, now has a pop-up shop at Buckhead Village in Atlanta that offers bouquets and arrangements for purchase as well as dried flowers that customers can arrange themselves. (Lin also offers workshops in flower arranging.) Initially slated just to stay open for the summer, the pop-up shop will now be open through at least February. Lin says she now sells around 50 bouquets during busy weeks, many selling for more than $100.
She credits her success to her unique artistic background, combined with relationships she’s built with local farmers who source many of her flowers and a growing demand for bouquets to brighten our days—especially as the pandemic has resulted in many of us spending much more time at home.
“I didn’t have anything to lose when I started,” said Lin. “When I couldn’t get access to [fashion shoots] anymore during quarantine, I was narrowed to focusing my creativity on something as simple as flowers. Now I think that flowers are my favorite medium. This experience has shown me to be open-minded and to not limit myself. And I think it worked out.”
An engineer starts a junk removal business
Anders Helgeson was fortunate. He was able to keep his full-time job as an engineer after the pandemic swept across the nation and millions of Americans were laid off or furloughed. Because he no longer had to commute, and he wasn’t going out much during lockdown, he also had more time on his hands. He began to wonder if this was an opportunity to realize the dreams he’d long held of starting his own business.
“I wanted my own business, but I wasn’t willing to quit and sacrifice my salary. And I didn’t have the mental energy to do more work once I got home from work, even if it was for myself,” said Helgeson, who’s in his late 20s and lives in San Diego. “On weekdays I used to come back home absolutely exhausted and emotionally drained. Working from home solved that issue. I got…enough time to start my own business and to keep my old salary so I didn’t risk having to move back in with my parents.”
He and his now business partner, a friend in his early 30s, began by looking at what businesses had a low barrier to entry, offered them the chance to stand out from the competition, and had financial potential from the start. After tossing around ideas, they settled on one that seemed particularly timely as Americans were spending more and more time at home: junk removal.
“We already had two pickup trucks that we could use, and we are both relatively strong and otherwise physically capable—so a low barrier to entry. There are a ton of junk removal companies in any city, but not many of them have a nice website, online booking and payment capability, and great interpersonal skills,” he said.
The pair used money they’d earned earlier from buying used furniture, then cleaning, refurbishing and reselling it for a profit, and launched a website in July promoting “zero contact removal!”
Between stay-at-home orders, social distancing and remote work and schooling, Americans are spending more time at home than ever. And that’s spurred a surge in decluttering efforts and junk removal that Helgeson and his partner have benefitted from. Since July, the pair have made over $16,000 with very little advertising. And the orders have been growing. “We’ve certainly had people mention that since they’re home so much more often, they got tired of looking at their old furniture or whatever they’ve been intending to get rid of,” said Helgeson. “The pandemic gave us a better startup opportunity than we otherwise would have had. The intent now is for this to grow as the world hopefully transitions to normalcy in the next few years.”
A marketer and former teacher builds an SEO business
Brendan Hufford was working for a marketing agency when the pandemic hit this spring. “We had a lot of clients leave right away,” he remembers. “We laid off about half the team I was hired to lead.”
Hufford was not new to the idea of side hustling and the security that comes from a secondary stream of income. A 36-year-old former teacher and assistant principal, he’d started a website on the side a decade ago focused on Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, which he practiced. As it grew more popular, a photographer friend asked if he could help him improve search traffic to his site. “I had been studying search engine optimization [or SEO] and was able to help him grow his business,” he said. After he was asked to do the same for other photographers, he realized he might have a new business.
He’d begun to expand that SEO business already before the pandemic hit the U.S., launching an SEO site (SEO for the rest of us) and creating courses for business owners. But in March, as the coronavirus took hold in the U.S. and business at his agency shrunk, he went all in, expanding his business through Podia and adding a membership option.
A dad of four, who lives outside of Chicago, Hufford is still working his agency day job. But he hit an important milestone recently. “The money I make outside of my job is now equal to what I make at the job,” he told me.
He’s been making more than $7,000 a month from his coaching, courses and memberships and is now on track to earn six figures from the business this year. He credits his teaching background and years spent capturing the attention of teenage students for the growing success of his SEO courses.
“My little website cannot compete with some big sites on Google. But I can compete by taking my teaching experience and competing on YouTube and with my podcast,” said. “I’ve realized that I can be better at teaching SEO.”
He advises other budding entrepreneurs or side hustlers to leverage their unique skills and experiences, too. “It’s really about figuring out where the opportunity is and then doubling down on it,” he said. “Take time to look at what are your unique advantages? Look back at your career, and you’ll likely see that you do have some unique skills I’d wager other people don’t have.”