Top 5 online side hustles: A 31-year-old making about $34,000 a month explains how to get started with little or no money down and the pros and cons of each option

  • Sharon Tseung traveled the world for two years as she worked remotely from her laptop.
  • She now has a day job but has continued to run her online side hustles to earn extra income.
  • Each option she shares is something she tried herself.

In 2014, Sharon Tseung took a monthlong solo trip that opened her eyes to what she was missing out on while being tied to a nine-to-five marketing job. 

“I wanted to make sure I was living a life true to myself, and I felt like I needed to remove financial restrictions in order for me to make the choices I wanted to make,” Tseung said. “So essentially, in 2016 I quit my job and traveled the world for two years while building passive income streams to make these things a reality.”

While traveling, she worked remotely, accepting three part-time positions, including one from her previous employer. They allowed her to work from her laptop to manage and design ads. Over five months, she gradually transitioned into focusing on her side hustles full time.

She started by selling digital products in an Etsy shop she created. This was the doorway that led her to experiment with different options. She then turned to blogs, podcasts, and YouTube videos to find more ideas. 

Today, she earns an average of $34,000 a month from online side hustles, records viewed by Insider showed. Her earnings came from online courses she’s created, sponsorships, YouTube ad revenue, Merch by Amazon, affiliate marketing, and Etsy. Her website, Digital Nomad Quest, offers free tips and paid courses on how to do the same.

The new skills she developed while she traveled allowed her to land a job as a marketing manager at a startup with an annual six-figure salary. Tseung now juggles these side gigs with a day job, which she keeps because she enjoys her role as a manager, she said.   

Top online side hustles Tseung recommends 

The first option Tseung recommended for a beginner was to create an Etsy shop. She began by selling digital products, including Photoshop, résumé, and wedding-card templates — all skills that were self-taught by playing with the software and watching YouTube tutorials.

Digital products are great because the orders get fulfilled without needing to worry about a physical product. You can use various software, such as Photoshop or Microsoft Word, to create these products. Canva is a third option, and it has a free version. 

“I was shocked because I actually started making sales in the first couple of months, and I think this was before I started traveling,” Tseung said. “So I was like, ‘This is doable.’ I was only making like $50 to $100 per month or something, but it gave me that confidence that this can work.”

She was able to scale by continually adding more products and doing keyword research to optimize titles and tags on the listings of her products. Gradually, she began to use this skill to create her personal brand and branch off into promoting other platforms, such as her courses and affiliate-marketing posts. 

But you still need to deal with customer support, she added. And it’s important to give customers a good experience. 

The second option she recommended was Merch by Amazon because you could start with no money down. This service allows you to upload designs on different products, such as T-shirts. Amazon prints and ships orders, and the seller earns royalties. 

Although Tseung created her own designs, she said you could hire people to create art for you. This option is a little less involved than Etsy because you don’t need to handle customer service. You apply to the platform and are granted a few slots to create and post products. As you get more sales, you’re able to upgrade to create more products.

Tseung warned that with this option, you’d need to make sure you didn’t use anything that was trademarked. If you get a complaint, you’ll have a product taken down, and you may lose your account. Tseung said she had one T-shirt taken down for that reason. 

She uses the United States Patent and Trademark Office website to check whether anything she uses has been trademarked. 

Third, Tseung recommended making an online course. Anything you’re passionate or knowledgeable about can be taught and turned into evergreen products that can be sold for years after they’re released. 

Tseung said that depending on what you’re teaching, it may take a long time to create the curriculum. The first course she released was about how to earn income by selling on Etsy, and it took her a year to put it together. But she said that was because she wanted to perfect it. The time it takes may vary for everyone. 

She also didn’t promote or tell anyone she’d released a course, which limited her ability to sell it. She had to gradually work up the courage to be proud of her work and promote it. Also, people may not be interested in what you put out. That’s another thing you need to factor in, she said. 

It wasn’t until she put out her third course, one on out-of-state real-estate investing, that she got the hang of it and sales began to increase. The course was based on her own experience of owning 21 rental units

She uses Teachable for her courses because it allows her to use her own domain, and it has many features, she said. But Tseung also recommended checking out Udemy.

Fourth, Tseung recommended starting a YouTube channel. This option can open up numerous sources of income. Tseung earns ad revenue from her channel, but there are also opportunities for sponsorship deals. 

The cost per thousand impressions varies for each niche because it depends on what the advertiser pays for the ad space. 

Tseung warned that getting to a point where you could monetize your channel might take a while because you’d need to build up an audience and views. YouTube requires 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 watch hours. So make sure you’re doing it because you’re passionate about the topic. If you aren’t, you may burn out before you get to that point, she said.

Finally, Tseung recommended affiliate marketing, a process by which you earn commission every time someone purchases a product after clicking through a link you share. You’ll need to write and create valuable content to post these links to. This way, your post, whether it’s a blog or YouTube video, will turn up in search engines. 

“Even if you don’t have a huge follower base, you can actually make a lot through affiliate marketing as long as you get pieces of content that rank and people watch it through and they care about it,” Tseung said.

Tseung said passive income wasn’t something that you’d get right away. In the beginning, it takes time to build platforms, and that work may be difficult. In the long term, there’s potential for it to become passive, she said. She added that a lot of people have high expectations early on, and when they don’t see the returns, they give up. 

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