We live in a capitalist society intent on grinding down the human spirit into sellable parts. As such, for many people it is no longer enough to work a steady, full-time job in pursuit of debt-free financial security. In this nightmare of a reality built from panic attacks and crushed dreams, we must side hustle.
The peddling of hustles is, in itself, a hustle. Numerous TikTok and YouTube creators promise to reveal side jobs that have allegedly netted them thousands. These videos often rack up significant views as the proletariat attribute their desperate financial situation to having an incorrect grip on their own bootstraps.
To be fair, the dreams spruiked in such clips are incredibly enticing. Rent in some U.S. cities is increasing by up to 40 percent, while inflation in the country has hit a 40-year high. Having a reliable set-and-forget source of passive income would be a much appreciated help in a world that has made crumbling to pieces a habit.
As such, I decided to put some of these side hustles to the test, evaluating them by four criteria: Ease of setup, time, maintenance, and, of course, profit.
There are countless TikToks extolling various different side hustles, and many share similar ideas. Three oft-repeated hustles include creating an atmospheric YouTube channel, selling planners on Etsy, and publishing a coloring book on Amazon. Each of these side hustles can allegedly be set up at little to no cost, and advocates claim they could earn you thousands in extra income every month.
If this were true, I might be able to give up my career as a reporter, abandon all discourse, and finally log off for good. It's a powerful motivator.
The Atmospheric Soundscape YouTube Channel
The concept of the YouTube soundscape side hustle is simple. Grab free video, free audio, and free video editing software. Edit your assets together and upload it to YouTube. Monetise your YouTube channel. Profit.
Soundscape YouTube videos are one of the most easily accessible balms we have to mask the anxious misery constantly pervading our brains. Steady rain, crackling fireplaces, and the gentle buzz of a quiet cafe are all noises people often play to trick their brains into believing the world is kinder than it is. As such, there is no shortage of lengthy atmospheric soundscapes on YouTube, with popular videos racking up millions of views — and millions of potential ad placements.
Finding a free editing program was straightforward enough. After a brief search online I opted for HitFilm Express, which seemed both easy to use and suitable for my modest needs. I then raided Pixabay and Pexels for my video, audio, and even my YouTube channel's profile picture. These websites host considerable collections of media that anyone can use for almost any reason, free of charge and without needing to give credit.
However, while Pixabay has a significant selection of rain sound effects, finding audio that is unobtrusive and will loop relatively seamlessly takes time. So too does finding a visually appealing video that matches your rain sounds. I eventually selected a suitably soothing downpour and paired it with a clip of a teacup in a window, which I later discovered was already popular with other would-be YouTube entrepreneurs.
Using HitFilm Express to remove the video's black frames, I duplicated it alongside my audio to create my six-hour rainy magnum opus. The video then took 11 hours to export, and created a file that was over 60GB.
I was not done yet though, because the video then took all night to upload to YouTube. Well, theoretically. In practice, it actually took two nights to upload, as my failure to verify my email address meant I was not authorized to upload videos longer than 15 minutes. I wasn't informed of this restriction until my entire six-hour video had finished uploading, so my first upload was rejected in its entirety and I was forced to start over.
The result was that it took several days to get this side hustle set up, by which time I was more than ready to start raking in that sweet, sweet YouTube cash. Yet it was not to be. It turns out that in order to monetize your channel, you needed to be part of the YouTube Partner Program. And to be eligible for the YouTube Partner Program, you needed to fulfill four criteria. Namely, have 1000 subscribers, 4000 hours of your public videos watched within the last 12 months, two-step verification must be turned on, and you can't have any Community Guideline strikes.
Three days after I'd uploaded my soothing rain sounds, my video had three views. Two of them were me.
It has gained one more view in the many weeks since, but I'm still a long way off from 4000 subscribers. Would I earn more viewers if I had a regular upload schedule? Probably. However, in a flooded market, it's unlikely my significant time investment would yield any returns for a very long time — if it ever did at all.
I also have a full time job, and do not relish the idea of spending my limited free time nurturing an assuredly doomed enterprise.
The Etsy Canva Planner
The Etsy planner side hustle is more direct in how it purports to earn income. All you have to do is design a planner in Canva, list the digital file for sale on Etsy, then sit back and wait for customers. It's the Field of Dreams approach to side hustles. Build it, and they will come.
This side hustle got off to a better start than my YouTube endeavors. As far as browser-based graphic design tools go, Canva is incredibly versatile and easy to use, though it still took some trial and error due to my lack of familiarity with the program. For example, I initially didn't realize there was a grid option I could use for my calendar, and had been placing each square individually. But once I explored a bit and figured out some tricks, I was able to easily make attractive monthly, weekly, and daily planners within a few short hours.
I decided to make two planners: a blue one because the color is apparently great for productivity, and a coral one because it is pretty. Playing around with my design was actually quite soothing, and I would have been happy to keep making more. Unfortunately, the Jenga tower of my life is not stacked in such a way that I can abandon all responsibilities in favor of designing cute stationery.
The primary drawback of this Etsy Canva hustle is the cost. While Canva can be used for free, a Pro account costs $14.99 per month. You can create a decent planner for free, but a Pro account gives you access to additional features such as the resizing tool, which is invaluable for replicating the same design in multiple formats. I took advantage of Canva's 30-day free trial to resize my work, but it's something to keep in mind if you want to keep making planners.
Etsy's fees are more unavoidable. The platform charges 20 cents to post or renew a listing, which is only active for four months. If that time expires or you sell your item, you'll have to pay another 20 cents to relist it. On top of that, Etsy charges a 6.5 percent transaction fee when the item sells, as well as a processing fee of three percent plus an extra 25 cents.
So if I sell my planners for $1.50, I can expect to make a maximum of 82.75 cents per sale. Meaning that selling 100 planners will net me a grand total of $82.75.
That isn't even mentioning taxes. Upon opening my Etsy store, I was surprised to discover the planner I'd priced at $1.50 was actually listed for $1.65. As I'm based in Australia, the platform had automatically added Australia's 10 percent goods and services tax to my listing. This makes sense, but it would have been nice to get a heads up while setting up my shop so I could adjust my customers' prices accordingly.
Etsy also doesn't allow you to offer variations on listings for digital products, meaning you'll have to create an entirely new listing and pay another 20 cents if you want to sell your blue and coral planners separately. Other sellers have circumvented this restriction by categorizing their digital products as physical, which enables them to include multiple variations in a single listing. However, this means they have to manually email their planners to customers rather than it being automated, so it isn't a set and forget scheme.
I'm not about that life, so I bundled all my blue and coral, A4 and A5 planners into one listing. It has been live for over two months now, and so far I have not made a single sale. As such, my profit for this hustle is negative 20 cents.
Despite the significant drawbacks to the Etsy side hustle, I did find designing my planners fun and engaging. There's just something satisfying about selecting the optimal shade of blue for your silly little boxes, like building a tiny oasis of order in a chaotic world. If Etsy listings were free I might actually design and upload more planners as a self-soothing pastime, until my store filled with hundreds of anxiety-induced variations to suit every passing whim. This is probably why there's a fee.
The Digital Amazon Coloring Book
In my most fanciful fantasies, I dream of what I'd do with just a fraction of Jeff Bezos' hoarded wealth.
According to Forbes' real-time billionaires list, the Amazon founder and chairman's net worth is over $148 billion at time of writing, making him the third richest person in the world. Just 0.001 percent of Bezos' wealth amounts to $1.48 million. This is more than enough to purchase a very comfortable home for a large family practically anywhere in the world, plus thousands left over to take care of their needs such as food, clothing, heating, and education for a considerable amount of time. It's a literally life-changing sum that Bezos would never even miss.
Meanwhile, I'm trying to finance a mortgage by selling digital coloring books on Amazon.
Coloring books became a trend several years ago, as adults took to the meditative activity. This created greater demand for such books, which some side hustlers aim to take advantage of.
The idea is that you provide the line art while Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing takes care of printing it into a coloring book and shipping it, so you don't have hundreds of unsold books cluttering up your home. It's a nice idea. It's also considerably more difficult if you aren't an artist.
Of all the TikTok side hustles I attempted, the Amazon coloring book hustle was by far the most difficult. Though I could source images from Pixabay, its license doesn't allow you to just straight up sell images without altering them. I therefore downloaded free image editing software Gimp in order to filter Pixabay's photos and turn them into line art — which did not pan out at all. The resultant images were messy sketches entirely unsuited to coloring in, and I could already practically see the enraged one-star reviews.
Pixabay does have vector images, which are much cleaner and have bold lines, but I wasn't convinced I'd be able to modify them enough to satisfy its license requirements. Instead, I spent a few days trawling through a slew of other websites promising free line art, such as Publicdomainvectors.org, Openclipart, and FreeSFG.org. Yet despite my extensive searching, I couldn't find enough suitable free images to even make a booklet. I wasn't even satisfied I had clear rights to all of the pictures I did have.
In the end, my attempt at the Amazon coloring book hustle didn't even make it off the ground. But in an incredibly saturated market, I didn't truly expect anything to come of it. Besides, even if I had made a sale, my measly income would have been further reduced by Amazon taking a cut. The house of Bezos never loses.
Passive income side hustles are a lovely dream, but so is receiving a windfall inheritance from a long lost relative, or being swept off your feet by an asexual billionaire. You're far better off spending your weekends relaxing, performing household maintenance, or searching for a job that pays better. Better yet, consider working with others to mitigate and dismantle the capitalist cogs crushing all our souls. Build a mutual aid network with your neighbors, join a union, attend protests, and vote. It may feel less direct than starting a YouTube channel, but it'll definitely do you more good.