How college students are turning hobbies into side hustles — and extra cash – CNBC

CNBC’s “College Voices 2020” is a series written by CNBC fall interns from universities across the country about coming of age, getting their college education and launching their careers during these extraordinary times. Janelle Finch is a senior at the University of Missouri in Columbia, majoring in journalism with an emphasis in TV/radio reporting and anchoring with minors in Spanish and sociology. The series is edited by Cindy Perman.

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The coronavirus pandemic left a lot of students in unemployment limbo – they were sent home from school and many of their internships or part-time jobs to help pay for school were canceled. Meanwhile, bills still needed to be paid. So, they have had to look for new ways to generate income without leaving their homes.

The unemployment rate for youth (16-24) is currently 11.5%, that’s down from a whopping 27.4% in April at the height of the pandemic lockdown but it’s still nearly double the overall unemployment rate, according to the Labor Department.  

Students have gotten creative while in unemployed, pandemic lockdown: When they weren’t binging the latest Netflix releases (you guys remember “Tiger King,” right?), they discovered new hobbies and re-ignited old ones – everything from sewing to braiding hair and making candles. And, for some, those hobbies turned into a side hustle that brought in some much-needed income.

Etsy, an online e-commerce marketplace for homemade goods, has seen its revenue double from 2019, as the pandemic and lockdown drove demand for everything from masks to jewelry, candles and other hand-made goods. The number of active sellers on the platform jumped 42% to nearly 4,000 from a year ago, Etsy said in its third-quarter earnings report. Rival Shopify said between April and June alone the number of new businesses on its platform shot up 71% compared to the start of the year.

More from College Voices:
How to launch a start-up while you’re still in college
5 tips for crushing it as a work-from-home intern
Job hunting amid the coronavirus pandemic: How to network … from your couch

Jonnette Oakes, a graduate student at the University of Missouri-Columbia, said the motivation to start her own business was her mother and her love for crafts. Oakes said her mom’s sewing skills inspired her to start making customized clothing for herself, which eventually became T-shirt company ShadedbyJonnette in May 2020. Oakes said her business started as general interests in creating fashion and wanting to occupy her time in quarantine. To reach more eyes, Oakes started selling her products on Etsy. In her first 3 months, she served over 30 customers and earned a $250 average monthly profit. Today, she channels her production operations through her own website. In the future, she said she hopes to take her business to an in-person store. Balancing life as an academic advisor, graduate student and running a business, isn’t easy, but Oakes agrees said her love for fashion is what keeps her business alive.

“Honestly, when I’m working on my business, I consider that to be my form of self-care,” Oakes said.

A side hustle is a great way to make extra cash – whether it’s to help pay student loans and other bills or just for extra spending money – though some can even turn into full-time gigs. 

Working in the gig economy can offer an array of different opportunities for extra revenue. More than one-third (39%) of young people (age 18 to 24) have a side gig, according to a CareerBuilder survey.

So, where do you start? 

The first step is to figure out what your skills are and then brainstorm ideas from there, Chris Guillebeau says in his book, “Side Hustle: From Idea to Income in 27 Days.”

“I think a lot of people think they need to go out and get new skills,” Guillebeau said in an interview with CNBC, “I try to help people understand that the skills they already have are enough.”

A good place to start is by doing a Google search, said Stacy Francis, a financial advisor and founder of Francis Financial.

“Start by asking yourself, what is my specialty?,” Francis said. Then do some searches around that to figure out what opportunities there might be. Maybe there are jobs already available — or maybe it gives you an idea to create your own.

That’s exactly what Brittany Bygrave, 3-year owner of Noia Butters, did when it came to starting her own business. 

“I started my business because I love natural beauty care,” Bygrave said. “That’s always been my passion and motivation.”

Bygrave is a 2019 North Carolina, A & T graduate. She started her own business as a junior in college, selling homemade body butters out of her dorm room. She said the idea came from wanting to support communities that didn’t have access to natural, self-care products.

Bygrave said while there is money in side hustles, young business owners shouldn’t expect much profit in the first few months. Now three years into her business, Bygrave said she can make anywhere between $300 and $700 a month. Her best month was earlier this year when there was a national call-to-action to support Black-owned businesses during the Black Lives Matter movement. She said she made $2,000 in one month and was also recognized by popular media figures. Bygrave said her advice for young business starters is to remember your “why.”

 “Start your business by having a focus,” Bygrave said. “Have faith and keep in mind why you started!”

Syracuse graduate student Lianza Reyes considered her “why” when she started her business — she wanted to be creative and create a source of revenue to help pay for school. A writer of 13 years, in the fall of 2019, Reyes decided to try and sell custom poems as a way to help pay for her graduate school applications. When she saw that people were investing in her writing, she decided to start putting more money into her craft by offering different options for cardstock and frames. July 2020, LinesbyLianza was born. Today, Reyes makes an average income of about $75 a month. This money goes toward rent, groceries, her business and her hometown community of Manila, the capital of the Philippines.

“I commissioned a few people from my home country to help create line art and post cards to support my poetry,” Reyes said. “This contributes to the exposure of my business and theirs.”

Lianza Reyes, founder of LinesbyLianza

Source: Lianza Reyes

Reyes agrees that passion is what fuels young businesses. Though, she said burnout is “very real” and she has to take into account how much of herself she can give to a project before taking a customer’s request. 

Reyes said in addition to running her own business, she also has a part-time job. While it isn’t always the easiest balance for Reyes, she said that being a writer and getting people to see her craft is worth the additional work.

If creating your own products and selling them online isn’t your thing, there are a ton of other options for side hustles – you just have to think about what skills you have and what appeals to you. Arizona State University identified 9 best side hustles for college students to take advantage of while still in school:

1.  Dog walking

2. Start a blog or vlog (video blog)

3. Test new apps and websites

4. Virtual assistant

5. Help people with their task list

6. Sell your clothes

7. Become an online tutor

8. Take surveys

9. Freelance work

And, there’s no reason why you can’t try more than one of these ideas – see what you like the best and what makes you the most money. 

One important step, Guillebeau says, is to promote your business every chance you get. A lot of creators aren’t always good at that – but that’s how you spread the word and get more business. An easy way to do this is to set up a Facebook page. 

In addition to paying your bills, Francis said starting a business in college can be a great way to start saving some money. As a 20-something, retirement isn’t usually at the front of your mind but when you invest your money, it compounds over time. So the sooner you start, the more money you have. 

“Putting money into a savings account or Roth IRA now, can lead to “quadruple” savings in the future,” Francis said.  “Side hustles need to be able to work for young business owners now and for the future.”

 “You don’t need to be a modern-day Steve Jobs,” Reyes said. “Just pick out something you’re passionate about and run with it.”

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