How to Choose a Creative Side Hustle: Step-by-Step Guide

Choose Side-Hustle
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So, you know you want to start a side-hustle. You know you enjoy creating. Why not combine the two? You’ve probably already through of that which, is why you’re reading this post. There are a lot of ideas for digital creative side-hustles out there but how do you choose the right one for you?

To choose the right creative side-hustle think about what skills you have, enjoy or would be willing to learn and can stick at. Research into what provides the most income for effort put in and how long it will take to be profitable. Analyze the market to avoid high competition areas or identify unique opportunities.

If you find this article useful then you might find my post 35+ Ways To Make Money as a Digital Creative gives you some great example side-hustles to help you on your journey. Alternatively, delve into a bit more detail in my post How to Start a Digital Art Side-Hustle.

I’m going to run through a structured method you can use to analyze potential creative side-hustles. It will help prioritize the ones that best fit your needs and circumstances. Whilst this tool is helpful, the results should be considered as a guide only. It does however, help you to consider important topics that should be used to pick a good side-hustle.

Quick Summary

If you don’t have time to read the whole of this post then let me give you a quick breakdown of how to choose the right creative side-hustle for you:

  1. Conduct a skills audit – What do you already know how to do?
  2. List potential side-hustles – write a broad list. Keep an open mind at this stage.
  3. Evaluate the required skills for each side-hustle
  4. Conduct a skills gap analysis – Identify what skills you are missing
  5. Identify learning requirements – How much effort and money to gain the skills you need
  6. Evaluate time and resources required – Time commitment, base-level equipment, etc
  7. Analyze effort vs reward – Financial income against the time and resources required
  8. Time to profit – Research typical sales and how long they will take to pay off your set-up costs
  9. Competition analysis – How competitive are each of the side-hustles? Niche-down if required
  10. Join it all together – Review the results and choose a creative side-hustle that aligns with your goals and motivation

Carry on reading for more detail on each of the steps…

Step 1: Conduct a Skills Audit

The most important thing in choosing a creative side-hustle is to analyze what skills you already have. This way, you can either choose a side-hustle that fits your current skills or identify what you will need to learn before embarking on your chosen project.

To conduct a skills audit simply write a list of the relevant skills you have and then score them on a scale of 1-5 of how competent you think you are (1 being no knowledge and 5 being an expert). My suggestions for types of skill to consider are:

  • Practical creative skills – eg: photography, hand-sketching, graphic design
  • Non-tangible skills – eg: idea generation, attention to detail, persistence, organization, multi-tasking
  • Business skills – eg: marketing, project management, finance, e-commerce

Skill
Competency
Score (1-5)
Photography4
Organization3
E-commerce2
Graphic Design3
Skills audit example

Once you’re done, make a separate list of types of tasks you hate and want to avoid at all costs. Try and keep this list short as these must only include be deal-breakers that you would not ever wish to do. An example could be social media marketing.

Step 2: List Potential Side-Hustles

Make a list of creative side-hustles that you might be interested in. Try to make this as long as possible.

Keep an open-mind at this stage and don’t be too hasty in ruling anything out just yet. You might find it helpful to use my post 35+ Ways To Make Money as a Digital Creative.

Step 3: Evaluate Side-Hustle Skill Requirements

List the skill requirements of each side-hustle using the categories from the skills audit (practical, non-tangible and business) and score on a scale of 1-5 again.


Skill
Required Skill
Score (1-5)
Photography5
Organization2
Marketing1
Skill requirements per side-hustle – eg: selling stock photos

Step 4: Conduct a Gap Analysis

Now compare the scores from your skills audit and side-hustle skill requirements. Subtract the skills audit score from the side-hustle skills requirement score. Discount any negative scores (place a dash in that box) as this means the skill is either not required by that side-hustle or you already have the skill level required.

(Side Hustle Requirement Score) – (Skills Audit Score) = Skills Gap Score

This will give a number where 5 requires significant improvement and 0 or a ‘dash’ means you already have the skill required.


Skill
Skill Required
Score (1-5)

Competency
Score (1-5)
Skill Gap
Score
Photography541
Organization23
E-commerce02
Marketing13
Total1
Individual side-hustle skills gap analysis – eg: selling stock photos

Create a total score for each side-hustle and list them in order of low to high. This will help you prioritize which are most suited for you. Those with a low score mean that you already possess a lot of the skills required and have only a small amount to learn.


Side-Hustle
Skill Gap
Score
Side-Hustle 31
Side-Hustle 13
Side-Hustle 23
Side-Hustle 45
Side-hustle skills gap analysis totals

Those with a high score mean that you have to learn a lot of new skills. However, a high score does not mean you should avoid it entirely if you are willing to put in the effort but it might just take longer.

A side-hustle should not just be another day-job but a hobby that you enjoy which, also earns you money.

Now, providing your list of “tasks to avoid” only included deal-breakers, strike-through any side hustles that include something on that list. The reason for this is that you need to enjoy your side-hustle to stick at it. A side-hustle should not just be another day-job but a hobby that you enjoy which, also earns you money.

Step 5: Evaluate Learning Requirements

Now that you have a list of side-hustles sorted by skills gap, it’s time to look at how much time, effort and money is required to learn what you need.

For each side-hustle on your list, rate their learning requirements as either low, medium or high. Consider it the “relative barrier to entry”. This should be your evaluation of their difficulty to learn, compared to your available time and money.


Side-Hustle
Learning
Requirements (Low-High)
Side-Hustle 1High
Side-Hustle 2Low
Side-Hustle 3Medium
Learning requirements per side-hustle

As a guide, remove anything that results in a “high” unless, you feel you are happy to invest a lot of time or money into learning the skills. Be aware that there is an increased risk here that you may not see it through to completion. Don’t bite off more than you can chew.

Step 6: Evaluate Time and Resources Needed

Now that we have considered what is required to enter each side-hustle, let’s take a look at ongoing requirements.

Time

Consider what is required to create the “minimum viable product“. That means how long does it take to finish a whole book, video or piece of artwork. These can be scaled with putting in more time but if you don’t put enough in, you can’t sell half a painting.

Whilst very subjective, rate the time requirement of each side-hustle as low, medium or high. For example, I would consider making a product mock-up image as a “low”, a video tutorial as a “medium”, and a fully-illustrated book as a “high”.


Side-Hustle
Time Commitment
(Low-High)
Side-Hustle 1High
Side-Hustle 2Low
Side-Hustle 3Medium
Time commitment needed per side-hustle

Whilst we won’t remove any projects from the list here, compare the amount of available time you have, to that required for each side-hustle. I would steer-clear of the time-intensive projects if you have very little free time.

Creating something smaller that you can easily finish and sell on a regular basis will keep your motivation high and enable you to have a regular income that you can gradually scale. You can always move into more time-intensive products once you know your chosen side-hustle actually works.

Physical Resources

Buying the necessary equipment for a creative side-hustle may not be cheap, depending on your chosen project.

It makes sense to consider starting your business based on what you have available. For example, if you love photography and already have a camera, consider a side-hustle that can use that like selling stock images.

If you don’t have the equipment required then, your budget will dictate which side hustles are achievable. Just remember that you don’t need high-end equipment to get you started. For example, your cell phone camera will likely be more than adequate for a lot of video projects as a beginner.

Just remember that you don’t need high-end equipment to get you started

Research into the minimum equipment that you will need to get your side-hustle off the ground and write a sum of the financial value next to each one. As before, break the range up into three bands (low, medium and high) and assign them next to each project.


Side-Hustle
Cost of Resources
Needed ($)
Resource Cost
Ranking (Low-High)
Side-Hustle 1$100Medium
Side-Hustle 2$500High
Side-Hustle 3$0Low
Resources needed per side-hustle

For any ongoing monthly costs such as software subscriptions, make a note and we will come back to those later.

Step 7: Effort vs Reward

Let’s use your ratings for time and resources required from Step 6 here. For side-hustles that are very time-intensive or need investment into equipment, you’ll be looking for a larger financial reward.

That’s right, it’s time for more market research!

Take a look at what typical products are selling for and make a note of the average sale price next to each side hustle.

It doesn’t really matter what the actual values are but break the range up into three bands: low, medium and high. Assign these to each of the side hustles.


Side-Hustle
Average Product
Sale Price ($)
Sale Price
Ranking (Low-High)
Side-Hustle 1$50Medium
Side-Hustle 2$3Low
Side-Hustle 3$426High
Average sale price per side-hustle

Return on Time Investment

What you’ll now be able to do is highlight (literally go highlight them now!) the side hustles that provide high financial reward with a relatively low time investment.

Strike through those that have a low financial reward but a high effort. These will waste your time. Remember this is all relative – it doesn’t mean these are bad but it’s just a way of prioritizing your list.

Return on Financial Investment

Now let’s do the same thing for your financial investment.

Highlight those that provide a high reward for a low financial investment and strike through and that require a large investment but give a low financial reward.

Step 8: Time to Profit

The amount of time until you see a financial return might be critical for you. You could be after a quick buck or looking for larger returns even if it requires more work.

You will need to do some research on blogs and forums to figure out what kind of sales numbers you can expect to achieve.

Once again, this is very subjective and just helps to prioritize each of the side-hustles relative to one another. Add up your calculations from the previous steps for any financial costs of things you need to purchase (learning, equipment, etc).

Using your research into average sale price and amount of sales per month, calculate how long it will take to pay off your investments, remembering to subtract any monthly costs from your income.

After this you will be in profit, providing your income is more than your monthly costs (make sure you check this).

Note: To keep things simple here we are using Sale Price rather than Profit per Item, since we are evaluating digital side hustles where margins are very high. It’s more likely that you will have a monthly software subscription rather than the cost of materials per item (such as art supplies).

Time to Profit = (Learning Cost + Set-Up Costs) /

((Avg Number of Monthly Sales x Avg Sale Price) – Monthly Costs)

Assign a rating of short, medium or long to each item. If this factor is important to you then, remove any that are rated as ‘long’.


Side-Hustle
Time to Profit
(Months)
Time to Profit
Ranking (Low-High)
Side-Hustle 11 monthShort
Side-Hustle 224 monthsLong
Side-Hustle 36 monthsMedium
Estimated time to profit per side-hustle

Step 9: Competition Analysis

One of the most important stages is to check out what the competition is doing. How competitive are each of the side-hustles you are looking at?

Most side-hustles are likely highly competitive so you may need to niche-down and get a bit more specific. For example if you want to sell stock photos then perhaps you need to specialize in a type of subject easily accessible to you such as dogs or beaches.

Most side-hustles are likely highly competitive so you may need to niche-down…

Consider that if you aren’t able to offer a highly unique product then you can still get sales by marketing your product better than other creators. This might be something else you need to learn or require extra funds if you need to run ads, etc.

Rate your side-hustles on a scale of low, medium and high once again. If you are only seeing high-competition then break down your side-hustles into more specific ideas such as by photography subject or type of print-on-demand product.


Side-Hustle
Competition
(Low-High)
Side-Hustle 1High
Side-Hustle 2Low
Side-Hustle 3Medium
Amount of competition

Getting more specific (also called niching down) to reduce the amount of competition is a good strategy. Keep in mind that if you get more specific you run the risk of the market being too small to provide you with any customers.

A good guide to to check that there is at least some competition to demonstrate the market is viable but not so much that you will never get noticed.

Evaluate the Results: Let’s Put it All Together!

If you’ve made it this far then you should have a spreadsheet or table with a list of side hustles and information about all of the important categories we have discussed.

As I mentioned at the beginning, this method is to be used loosely and is just a way of helping you narrow down a potentially long list of ideas to those that can provide you with a good return on your time and money spent.

Ultimately, you need to choose something that you enjoy and you feel is achievable to sustain. Don’t be afraid to disagree with the results – just try to balance all the topics and pick the one that is right for you.

Ultimately, you need to choose something that you enjoy…

Another important thing to consider is motivation. You must be able to stick at your choice and that’s why it’s so important to pick something you enjoy.

Over time, your continuous effort will build up a body-of-work and your reputation online, causing your income to snowball. Consistency is critical!

And remember, whilst planning in advance is a good idea, don’t overdo it. Over-planning can be a form of procrastination.

Just start!

If you found this post helpful and want to learn how to scale your side-hustle into a full-time business then check out my post How to Turn a Creative Side-Hustle into a Business.

Featured image: Tomasz Zajda / stock.adobe.com