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Starting Your Side Hustle as a Student

Updated on January 17th, 2022
How a Startup Works

You don’t have to be an adult to earn income on the side. Hunting around the web, you can find stories of young kids turning their hobbies into a business. By the time you reach high school or college, earning money on the side is easy. While you may be busy dealing with quizzes, tests, homework, and the drama of school, if you can find just a few spare hours every week, you can turn your spare time into an income. If you are a student and want to earn a little more spending money, a side hustle may be exactly what you’re looking for.

Side hustle versus part-time jobs

When I was in high school, I worked a part-time job at the local Target store. It made me enough money to pay for my car insurance, gas, and a new Playstation 2, but it was not an extremely lucrative job. I enjoyed my coworkers and what I did, but ultimately I was just a cashier and shelf stocker getting paid by the hour to make someone else a profit. That is the case with virtually every job where you have a boss: you work hard to make someone else a profit.

When you side hustle, you keep all of the profit. You also learn important entrepreneurial lessons that are impossible to understand in the classroom. If you think you want to own a business “someday,” it’s time to figure when someday is going to happen. There’s no time better than the present. I juggled a few side hustles in high school including building my first websites, selling coupon books to offset the costs of my Boy Scout camping trips, and babysitting neighborhood kids. But I had grander ideas as well, some of which didn’t come to fruition until I had a few more bucks to throw at startup costs in college and beyond.

I didn’t get rich side hustling in high school, but I didn’t focus on it nearly enough for it to have succeeded. Between school, youth groups, friends, and my part-time job, I had little time to dedicate to the business. While there is a risk you won’t earn anything, a side hustle is a great alternative to a part-time job.

Start small and test several ideas

I earn six-figures today thanks to what began as a side hustle, but my online business didn’t start that way. My first real income from my current business came from a small $10 sponsorship on my blog nearly ten years ago. I tested that along with several other business ideas along the way, most of which resulted in income below $1,000 per year. However, a few business ideas did take off and lead to a noteworthy income:

  • Freelance writing – My current primary income that brings in around $10,000 per month.
  • Freelance website development – I made about 20% of my income from website work when I left my job.
  • Denver Flash Mob – A fun business I started with a friend a few years back and took over solo later on. I made about $5,000 per year from this business for a few years, and still make a few hundred dollars every few months when we book an event.

These businesses grew around my interests and hobbies, so they were a good fit for me. Everyone’s interest and skills are unique, however, so writing, websites, and flash mobs are likely not for you. It is up to you to find out what business ideas do work for you. Then start a few of them at a low cost and test what works for your schedule, skills, and income goals. Gig type hustles like dog walking, graphic design, and babysitting are often great hustles for students.

Repeat what works and grow your business

After leaving my job, I quickly found that I was making about 80 percent of my income from writing and 20 percent from website projects, but my time was inverse with my income. I was spending 80 percent of my time on website work and only 20 percent on writing. I recognized a clear 80/20 rule opportunity to earn more. So I began to wind down my website business and put more focus into my writing. With that, I was able to roughly triple my income from the days when I freelanced as a side hustle.

For me, it was clear that writing was working and websites were not working quite as well. By putting my focus into repeating what worked, I was able to grow and scale my income. I had a little less variety in my days, but I was making a heck of a lot more income working fewer hours. That’s a big win if I’ve ever seen one!

Stop growing to keep your focus on school

I have both an undergraduate finance degree and an MBA in finance. I firmly believe that I would not be where I am today without the great education I received. Like with most anything in life, you get out what you put in when it comes to school. While your side hustle is an exciting way to earn real dollars, it should not come at the expense of your education. Keep focused on school while you are a student, as that is your primary job. Remember, your business is just a side hustle.

You probably know stories of people like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg who quit school and went on to become some of the wealthiest people on Earth. The reason you know those stories is because they are rare. They don’t happen that often. Odds are your side hustle won’t bloom into a major business, so having a solid degree to fall back on is vitally important. Work hard at school and do as well as possible. That will open many doors for you in the future, both entrepreneurial and otherwise.

You may be a millionaire in the making

The experience you gain from side hustles could lead to major successes in your life. I blogged as a side hustle for years before it grew into a five figure monthly income. The same goes for many business owners. In the book Rich Like Them, the author knocks on random doors in the richest zip codes in America. One thing that many of the richest Americans have in common is business ownership. You can make a nice living working for someone else, but if you can build a business that scales and earns a profit without requiring hours of your time, you are on track to something special. There are millionaires all around us who look just like us, but because they capture the profits from their small and midsized businesses, they end up with a millionaire lifestyle.

School is a time to learn about a lot in life, and running a business is not except. While you may not be running your business for a class, you can learn a lot and make a few bucks while doing it. If you have entrepreneurship in your blood, there is no better time to start than the present.

Eric Rosenberg

Eric Rosenberg

Eric Rosenberg is a personal finance expert. He received an MBA in Finance from the University of Denver in 2010. Since graduating he has been blogging about financial tips and tricks to help people understand money better. He is a debt master, insurance expert and currently writes for most of the top financial publications on the planet.

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