"I want a side hustle, but don't know what anyone would pay me to do"

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You want a side business, but you have no idea where to start.

Do you have too many ideas and can’t choose one?

No ideas at all?

Lots of “stupid ideas” that will “never work”?

I hear you.

When I was thinking about starting a side business, I spent a lot of time batting ideas around trying to think of something I could do on the side that people would actually pay me for and that I would enjoy doing.

My first stop in scanning for ideas was my professional training.  I hit a dead end there.  I’m a microbiologist.  Who needs one of those to come over and identify the microbes in their home?

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Exactly, no one.

I didn’t think I had that many skills that would easily translate into a freelance gig.

When I thought about my hobbies, the best I could come up with was taking people on guided birdwatching tours and teaching guitar lessons. I nixed those ideas pretty early on because not only did I feel I wasn’t qualified enough but they also just didn’t seem like things I wanted to turn into businesses.  Some things I just do for my own enjoyment and that’s all.

Beside those ideas, I thought about event planning, fundraising events in particular. I’d been working on a volunteer basis with a few nonprofits for several years organizing fundraiser events. In fact, one of these is the annual event I co-founded with some friends and has raised over $30,000 since 2010 for homeless teens.

But, I wasn’t happy with that idea for a business either.

I struggled for close to a year with this, going back and forth, back and forth.  Nothing I came up with sounded good.  I started thinking I was out of ideas.

What really helped at that point was asking myself, “What would you do for free?”, a question I’d seen in a career brainstorming exercise somewhere.

I thought about what I was already doing for free: handling social media for two small nonprofits

Not only was I doing this for free, I absolutely loved it. I literally jumped at any chance to help anyone with social media questions.  I would talk about it with anyone who was interested.  I’d even advised a few friends on how they could build and grow an online presence for their small businesses.

Then, I thought about my ideal situation with social media management.  If I could take care of anyone in the world’s social media, whose would it be?

I was (still am) obsessed with personal development podcasts.

So, now I had my target market:  podcasters in the career/personal development/personal finance space

Boom. I had a business.


I started a virtual assistant business serving “podcasters with purpose.”  I knew that in order for me to work with someone, it was absolutely critical that I believe in their mission (and actually enjoy listening to their show).

Now, my business journey is taking an exciting new turn.  Working with and being surrounded by inspiring and driven entrepreneurs who believed in the impact they were having in the world opened doors and opened my eyes to possibilities I wouldn’t have even thought of before.

My point in sharing this is to keep you from getting discouraged because this process usually isn’t quick. You won’t necessarily see your best ideas right off the bat. In fact, you more than likely won’t until you’ve gone through a couple rounds of brainstorming and evaluating.

Here are a few things you can think about to help the ideas start flowing:

  • What do you love enough to do for free? (What is something you are already doing for free?)
  • What do you spend your free time doing/studying/teaching/geeking out on?
  • What’s something you’ve had to struggle with and overcome that you’d never want anyone else to struggle through?
  • What do you talk about all the time?

Finally, get out there and talk to your friends, family, coworkers, and anyone else who knows you about what they see as your biggest strengths and skills. What would they come to you for help with?

Seriously.  Here’s a little assignment.

Do this now:

Call, email, or text 5 friends and ask them what they would trust you completely to help them with.

I can almost guarantee you’ll hear something you hadn’t thought of about yourself.

A lot of times, it takes getting someone else’s perception of us to see things in us that we don’t see in ourselves.

Once you’ve got your idea, just get started.  Take action.

Start telling people around you what you’re up to.

Start helping other people.

You’ll be amazed at what happens.  Even if this idea doesn’t work out.  You’ll learn enough in the process that it will all be worth it.  And the worst that happens?  You get to move on to try out the next idea!

I’ll let you in on a little secret:

No decision you make here needs to be final.

There are no “perfect ideas”, but the way to find one that comes close is to try a few out.

So get moving!

Leave me a comment and let me know how it goes!

Did you know that Hustle & Grind has put together a list of 50+ Side Hustle Ideas For Wantrepreneurs? If you want to get started but are struggling to find an idea – This Resource (click here) will help arm you with the ideas you need to launch a great side hustle. Order now – Pay what you want!

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One Comment

Cade James Davis

Great read Tracey, always looking for extra ways to make cash around the office. I just wanted to share something I’ve been doing recently. I run an office and have noticed that unused toner was piling up in storage. Looked into returning but that was no good. Tried out the site http://www.tonerconnect.net/ and was impressed. They had quick service and that payout was nice.


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