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Where to Find Your Next Side Hustle Idea, with Nick Loper

Presented by Wealthsimple

Welcome to The MapleMoney Show, the podcast that helps Canadians improve their personal finances to create lasting financial freedom. I’m your host, Tom Drake, the founder of MapleMoney, where I’ve been writing about all things related to personal finance since 2009.

Are you looking for ways to make more money? It seems that everybody’s got a side hustle these days. Perhaps you’ve thought about starting a side hustle of your own, if only you had a few good ideas.

Joining me on the show this week is Nick Loper, founder of Side Hustle Nation, and host of the popular Side Hustle Show podcast. Nick knows a thing or two about using side hustles to pay the bills, both large and small. Whether you’re looking to make an extra $50 per month, or wish to build a ‘rent erasing’ side hustle, this episode is for you.

According to Nick, if you’re wanting to make extra money, it’s best to go where the cash is already flowing. Websites like eBay, Kijiji, or Amazon have established marketplaces that allow you to participate in the earnings without an upfront investment. Nick shows us how he’s made money with these sites and others over the years. Some have paid him enough to cover his Netflix subscription, while other side hustles have covered the mortgage payments.

Nick refers to the side hustle snowball – the concept of starting small and then building momentum with side hustles. One of Nick’s top side hustles has been the creation of digital assets, like online courses and books, even t-shirt designs, because they continue to pay passive income long after they were built. Speaking of passive income, Nick explains that there are basically 4 types. To find out what those are, make sure you listen in this week!

There are only a few days remaining to make your RRSP contribution for the 2019 tax year. Opening an RRSP through our sponsor, Wealthsimple, can get you a bigger refund while helping you save on investment fees. MapleMoney readers get $10,000 managed for free by opening a new account, or by transferring their RRSP to Wealthsimple. To open your RRSP, head to Wealthsimple today.

Episode Summary

  • The side hustle snowball explained
  • Covering small expenses with dividend investing
  • If you want to make extra money, go where the cash is already flowing
  • Building income streams using digital assets
  • Where Nick’s largest income streams come from
  • Figuring out your side hustle end goal
  • How side hustles can lead to better decision making
  • The 4 types of passive income
Read transcript

Are you looking for a way to make more money? It seems as though everybody’s got a side hustle these days. Perhaps you thought about starting side hustle of your own if only you had a few good ideas. Joining me on the show this week is Nick Loper, founder of Side Hustle Nation and host of the popular, Side Hustle Show, podcast. Nick knows a thing or two about using side-hustles to pay the bills both large and small. So whether you’re looking to make an extra $50 per month or wish to build a rental racing side hustle, this episode is for you.

Welcome to the Maple Money Show, the podcast that helps Canadians improve their personal finances to create lasting financial freedom. With only a few days left to make your RRSP contribution for the 2019 tax year, opening an RRSP through our sponsor Wealthsimple can get you a bigger refund while helping you save on investment fees. Maple Money readers get $10,000 managed for free by opening a new account or transferring their RRSP to Wealthsimple. To open your RRSP, head over to maplemoney.com/wealthsimple today. Now, let’s chat with Nick…

Tom: Hi Nick, welcome to the Maple Money Show.

Nick: What’s going on, man?

Tom: A while back you had written a post with this idea of the side hustle snowball. I thought it was a unique angle that I hadn’t really thought about. In my own progression while I was blogging, I started off big on frugality. I cut my bills. I shaved one degree off the thermostat. I thought that’s where I was going to save all my money and make some progress. I started to realize that increasing your income can go a lot further in making that a reality and your side hustle snowball seems to really make that attainable. It really breaks it down. Can you just dive right into it? What is this idea of the side hustle snowball?

Nick: You bet. Maybe this is phase two; you’ve done all of Tom’s a thermostat frugality acts, cut your spending and at least you’ve become more intentional about it. And once you’ve done that, write out your monthly budget. What are you spending money on every month? This is after cutting unnecessary expenses so it’s what’s left over. Then order them from smallest to largest. For example, really small expenses for me are my Dollar Shave Club membership, which is something like $3 or $4 a month. For my cell phone bill, I just switched to Mint Mobile which is $15 a month. Netflix is $10 or $11 a month. So stuff like that—itemizing it out. Life insurance is $13 or $14 a month. You go from smallest to largest. Everybody wants a side hustle that replaces their salary, pays their bills, pays their rent or pays a mortgage. That’s awesome. That’s the dream. And that’s going to be an item on our list if we can get there. But, like Dave Ramsey says, it’s more motivating to start with these small wins like how to erase the little expenses first.

Tom: So something small, like you mentioned with your Dollar Shave Club—which I’m going to need soon as well. With something like this, how do you approach that? How do you say, “I’ve got this expense; let’s find a side hustle that covers that.”

Nick: Basically, it’s about how you can make this free? Because it’s so small, one easy way to go about some of these lower ones might be to look at dividend paying stocks. This was really helpful for me as an investor, to get off the sidelines and into the game because I am like the most pessimistic investor. I think we’re due for a crash every month in my mind. And what helped me was actually a guest post that somebody wrote on Side Hustle Nation about dividend growth investing. He said, “Look, there are these companies that pay you dividends and they pay you every quarter. And for decades, they’ve increased how much they pay you.” They’re all household names for the most part. Companies like Coca-Cola, Chevron, AT&T and Target and stuff like that. That little mindset of shift of investing for the cash flow was really helpful for me to say, “I don’t care if the share price goes up, goes down. They’re going to pay me every quarter. And because they’ve been doing it for decades, I can be reasonably assured they’re going to continue to keep doing it.” That’s kind of how I’ve looked at erasing some of these smaller ones.

Tom: We’re big fans of dividend investing here. All the listeners are likely as well. Like you said, it’s something that continues to grow. Eventually, yes, you end up with the FIRE crowd that would like to live on all dividends so it’s a great thing to get started on. And you’re right, you don’t have to worry about that next crash. I’m kind of the same way where if it’s paying dividends, it’s paying dividends. Sure, they can cut the dividend, but that doesn’t happen too often.

Nick: Yeah, and when it crashes, the yield improves so you’ll probably buy some more.

Tom: Exactly. And the investment you’ve already made is kind of just on paper at that point. But a dividend still real money instead of this buying and selling game. So to continue down this path, what comes next? Let’s say your next expense is something like your Netflix account. What would you look at for that? Is it just more dividends or do you come up with a new kind of angle?

Nick: You can look at some of these existing marketplaces. I call this like my “buy button” theory. Basically, if you want to make extra money, go where the cash is already flowing. This could be something like eBay, Kijiji, or Amazon. It could be any number of places. Fiverr was an important one for me and several years ago in that this is a large and growing marketplace for freelance goods and services but also digital products too. I ended up creating a handful of digital guides where I actually turned some of my existing content into e-books that are for sale on Fiverr. People searching for certain keywords would see my products show up. Again, it was not a rent erasing income but a Netflix erasing income—or maybe a car insurance erasing income. Something where you can create it once, somebody buys it and the fulfillment happens automatically. Or in the case of Fiverr, you log in, send the person some attachment and you’re good to go. You can kind of scale from there with what other services might be interesting to this type of audience. They’ve shifted away from the digital products and have geared more toward being a freelance platform. One of my early side hustles was some freelance writing. I was getting paid $75 to $100 an article to do that type of stuff. Now, all of a sudden, if I do one of those a month several of these expenses go away.

Tom: Was that on Fiver as well or did you start to reach out to people?

Nick: It was through some outreach. That was a little bit of proactive pitching.

Tom: And you said Fiverr doesn’t really do the digital product anymore. Is that still allowed?

Nick: It’s still allowed. They just tend not to promote it as much. I don’t see as many sales as I used to for that stuff. The freelance service on Fiverr that did the best for me was some freelance book editing. There are a million other editors on Fiverr so my positioning was to be a nonfiction or business book editor. I wanted to really niche down and say like, “I don’t want to read your vampire romance or whatever, but if you’re talking about self-improvement, business productivity, I’m your guy because that’s kind of the language I speak.” That’s the stuff I like to read anyways. I actually read some really interesting projects as a result of that. And again, that was for just going where the cash is already flowing. Somebody took a chance on me—that was the first order. But you have to put yourself out there first. I really like Fiverr for the rapid testing capabilities. I think as a new seller you can create up to 10 offers where you say you will do this for this price to see what it gets. And they give you analytics on what gives you the most search impressions, what’s getting clicked on. It will tell you if nobody was searching for that (or if you got impressions for it). That way you can scrap those ideas and try something else until you find something that hits. Actually, I think this week on the Side Hustle Show there is a guy who started with one $5 gig and now has a full blown remote digital agency. He’s gone crazy with it.

Tom: You mentioned you can have multiple offers on there. I don’t want go too far down this Fiverr hole. But one thing I’ve seen is that it almost seems to be a search play where someone is really giving the same offer. It’s this task and this task. They’re both offering the same thing but they’re rewording it maybe to try and hit search titles or something like that.

Nick: Yeah, there are a lot of similarities there with what people are typing in which makes you wonder how you’re going to be discovered there.

Tom: So what is the next the expense for you is as you’re trying to knock these things off? I think we were in the utility area. Different bills like that?

Nick: A cell phone bill, gas or electric, that type of stuff. Along the lines of creating digital assets that can sell over and over again, one thing my wife and I have been involved in basically since we first heard about it in early 2017 is Merche by Amazon. It’s Amazon’s print on demand T-shirt arm. And now they’ve branched out into a bunch of other products. Amazon is just one player in this. There is Redbubble and Zazzle. You can even do this with Etsy. You can hook up your own Etsy store and drop-ship physical products where you never have to touch the inventory. All you have to do is come up with a design and upload the digital file to Amazon. They take care of everything. These services take care of everything else. Again, it’s not a huge income stream. I think our best month was $400 or $500. On average it would be closer to $60 to $100. But every little bit counts. We didn’t have to pay for air conditioning because we sold enough T-shirts. You’re putting in the speculative work upfront in coming up with these designs that hopefully someone else thinks are clever, funny or compelling. Then you’re collecting these passive royalties when they do sell.

Tom: This has been great so far. I just want to interrupt it for one thing I was thinking about. When I would get my annual raise in a career job, I had the same positive outlook even when it was small. You get that 1 to 2 percent raise in a year and figure at least it’ll pay another bill. But what you’re describing sounds so much more under control. You’re not just hoping for that 2 or 3 percent raise. You can literally say you’re going to add another stream of income to this instead to see where you land. I like the way you’re laying this out in that you can really just tackle this stuff on your own and come up with that solution to pay off a different item on your expenses.

Nick: You end up building these digital assets and diversified income streams. And you may find it through this process that you really enjoy doing something more than anything else. And you can double down on that. And maybe it is something that becomes the mortgage or rent erasing income stream rather than just focusing on if you can make $50—which would be fantastic.

Tom: And I want to get to that, because two of the big things we still have to tackle are food (groceries, restaurants) and rent. Let’s start with food just to keep giving people examples of what they can do, even though technically any of this stuff could be done. You could do Fiverr to the point of paying off a bigger bill but I like giving these smaller examples. So what do we do about a grocery bill?

Nick: We spend more on groceries now. Kids are eating us out of house and home so we spend a little bit more on groceries. Again, going down the digital asset creation realm, I’ve got a handful of titles for sale on Amazon. These are books I’ve written largely from existing content—not 100 percent. But it’s pulling stories from the podcast and repurposing those into book format. It’s repurposing stories and blog posts that would be relevant or fall under a consistent theme. Again, it’s tapping into Amazon’s marketplace of buyers and finding something to earn passive royalties from. There’s a whole art and science to self publishing. But just understand that my original exposure to self publishing was that I had a crappy looking website. If I wrote the book on the subject, people would come to the website, look past the design and think I must know what I’m talking about because I wrote the book on it. What actually ended up happening through the magic of affiliate link tracking on the website was, nobody came to the website, clicked on the book and bought it. Almost everybody with Amazon who searched for this keyword, bought the book and then ended up on the website. It was a really powerful eye-opening moment to the power of these marketplaces. Where can you get your offer, your product or service in front of people who are looking to spend money? The books are part of that income stream. I would call the “digital course” creation part of that income stream. I use a platform called, Udemy, for this or have for years. It’s udemy.com. And it’s one of the largest peer-to-peer education marketplaces which are still… It’s been over four or five years since I have published a course on there, but it still generates between $100 and $300 a month pretty passively. It may not completely cover our grocery budget with a growing family but I can supplement that with income from YouTube with unrelated videos. YouTube is a fascinating new frontier for me. Historically, it’s been kind of a placeholder image where you just roll the tape from the podcast. I’m experimenting with creating more YouTube specific content. And the funny thing is I’m up to something like $215 in ad revenue for the last 30 days which is totally unreal. Never mind how much time I had to spend to make those videos. It feels really exciting to me because it’s new. Some videos I created years ago generate these passive ad impressions, these ad clicks. They are things like how to stop Dropbox from eating up your desktop hard-drive space. I created a little video about that and it still gets views and impressions. Another one is how to create a folder in G-mail. Basically, if you’ve taken a problem and figured out how to solve it, make a video for that. Screen record it. People are searching for answers you have. Once you get 1,000 subscribers, you can turn on ads and start making this start making the grocery money.

Tom: There are a couple of things I like that you said there with Udemy and YouTube. Neither one sounds like you need this big brand. It’s very common in our blogging space where people say they’re going to create a course and put it on Teachable, which is a great service. But you still need an audience. Whereas something like Udemy or YouTube videos, you can just put it there and let those sites run some of the traffic to you. Is there a need to prime that at all? Do you need an initial push or can someone really just go live on these?

Nick: You’ve got to get to 1,000 subscriber threshold (I believe) to be eligible for YouTube monetization. So it may make sense to have a theme around your content instead of just saying, “Here’s a video of our cat. And here is a video montage from our latest occasion.” Instead, you should be looking at saying, “Okay, we’ll help you solve problems with your car… some troubleshooting.” I had a guest on the podcast with one of my all time favorite stories. His side hustle was repairing motorcycles. He had an ad on Craigslist where he said, “Don’t pay dealership rates or mechanic shop rates because I know what I’m doing. Bring it over to me.” His stroke of genius was filming himself doing the repairs. So now he had YouTube content and eventually started to sell full engine rebuild videos. Digital product sales eclipsed his actual “turning wrenches” income. Now it’s almost entirely time-leveraged, passive income streams on the back of YouTube video content. Companies seeing his channel are reaching out for sponsored content. He’s got those types of deals rather than sitting in his garage after the kids go to bed, fixing somebody else’s bike.

Tom: And how about Udemy? Is it something someone can just get on? How’s that work? I know very little about that.

Nick: Udemy has what they call, instructor analytics. As you’re just starting out, just type out several course topics you might be qualified to teach on which you know more about than the average person. And they’ll give you a score on how competitive it is. What the interest volume is like. You have to try to find that sweet spot; something that a lot of people are interested in but does not offer many courses on just yet. That may be the sweet spot. My best selling courses are on self-publishing. And there were definitely self-publishing courses out there when it came out in 2014, but it was one of the earlier ones that hit. The good news there is that there’s always new stuff coming out. There’s always new stuff to talk about it. You’ve got to be on the leading edge if you want to be the one to capture that market share before everybody else comes in.

Tom: And the last discussion point for giving people ideas is how do we conquer the big one, which is often rent or a mortgage payment? How do you make it big and get this side hustle income that’ll pay for that?

Nick: For us, it’s rent and daycare, basically. Preschool for the boys, these days, are our two biggest expenses. And for me personally, it’s sponsorships on the podcast, which definitely was not the case starting out. It was probably three years of doing the show before that came close to any sort of meaningful income. But it’s a long, slow burn. You’re putting in the effort in this admittedly speculative project. But it’s something that I really enjoy doing; scooping these stories. And it became a really big part of my identity and it’s something I would continue to do probably for free (don’t tell the sponsors) but that became a significant income stream for me. The other side of the coin that became a significant income stream for me was the blog side of it—the written side of it. And that’s through mostly affiliate relationships. You won’t see like display ads on the site even though that’s a totally viable route to go. But it’s affiliate relationships through the site. That’s something not totally passive because I’m putting in the time to write these articles and produce the podcast. But it’s time leveraged in that it takes the same amount of time to produce the thing whether 10 people pay attention to it or 10,000 people pay attention to it.

Tom: What’s the end goal here? When we’re replacing all these expenses, is it to quit your job and live the laptop lifestyle? What it the goal here?

Nick: That’s the goal for a lot of people. And it’s kind of the empowering moment. Rich Dad, Poor Dad calls it the rat race freedom number. When income from businesses or assets you control exceeds your expenses, you’re free. You have optionality where you didn’t have it before. You can keep working if you enjoy it, but you don’t have to. And for me, that was the biggest thing. Not being in control of my own calendar for whatever reason was really depressing. It’s like emasculating in a way. It just felt weird. It was like I had to ask somebody if I could take a day off. That just grated on me so looking for a way out was really motivating.

Tom: I’ve read studies that say when you have a little bit more financial freedom and options, like you said, you just make better decisions. If you get a little too stuck in a box where you rely on that one paycheck that barely pays the bills, you start making bad decisions with your money. But as you gain a little breathing room, you can sit back a little bit and invest some of the money and not just pay the bills. That, in itself kind of becomes the snowball with all your personal finances. It gives you some room to breathe.

Nick: Yeah, absolutely. If your personal profitability is the number one indicator of your retirement runway—the length of time you’re going to have to work, you can use any of these side hustles to become more profitable as a household. You can cut decades off your working career if that’s something that you’re interested in.

Tom: Great. So if anybody is just struggling to come up with more ideas because the ones we suggested aren’t for them, you have an interesting breakdown called, the four types of passive income. Can you just run through those? Maybe it will help spur someone into coming up with their own thing to slot in against a certain expense?

Nick: For types of passive income, number one is the one you’re probably familiar with; the idea of buying cash flowing assets. It takes money to make money. It takes money to make money kind of people are those who are passive income type number one. They’re buying dividend stocks and real estate which is totally viable. But the problem is it takes money. Number two is to build those cash flowing assets. And in my experience, that’s mostly been online assets. That’s been YouTube videos, the courses, the books, the digital products and websites you get traffic (on autopilot) from Google. That’s what I mean by building a cash flowing asset. And what you choose to build will depend on your skill sets. So instead of investing your money upfront, you’re investing your time and learning new skills and all that kind of fun stuff. Number three is to share or sell assets that you already have. Every new startup is the airbnb for something. That could be your spare bedroom. That’s a literal airbnb. It’s not 100 percent passive because you might have to hire a cleaning service and stuff but there are ways to time leverage that a little bit. There are car sharing services. There are pet sitting services. Members of the Facebook group are saying they did a healthy five figures last year just watching other people’s cats and dogs. So, if you already have a dog, is it really that much trouble to add one more to the mix? That was their attitude. On the whole, it was an interesting way of thinking of the assets you already have; your stuff, your time, or your space. There is probably a way to monetize that with relatively little time, involvement or investment. And in the fourth way is the overlooked way. And that’s what I call the reverse passive income. If you can save money by cutting a recurring monthly expense, that’s basically straight to your bottom line. All the other ones you’ve got to pay taxes on anyways. This one just goes straight to the bottom line. It is dollars saved. For us, that has been sticking with basic cable instead of buying all the sports packages. That means you’re not buying new cars or keeping insurance at a minimum. It has means recording from my kid’s bedroom. I would love to have a third bedroom but it’s going to cost us $15,000 a year. Is that worth it? So for the time being, we’re staying put and banking that reverse passive income in the form of savings.

Tom: Yeah, and that’s just great cash flow management. Going back to the beginning, I felt like I was hitting a level of how much I could cut but then saw there as income. It does go the other way. Your number four is, if you’re feeling like you’re hitting a plateau with income, you can cut your expenses and still kind of get the same net benefit.

Nick: Yes, you’ve got to play it from both sides with conscious spending and thinking of your household as a business—thinking like a CFO. I don’t know what the Canadian stats are but the US stats say the average savings rate is 5 percent. That means, out of every $100 a household takes in, they’re left with $5 leftover. They’re not running very profitably. And that makes me nervous because you see all the stats that show people cannot afford surprise expenses. If you think about profitability by bumping that up to 10, 15, 20, 50 percent through increasing income, like you said, the financial breathing room will make life a little more comfortable.

Tom: This has been great. Can you let people know where they can find you online including the podcast?

Nick: Of course. Would love to have you tune in to the Side Hustle Show where we dive into reverse engineering these different income streams from people who’ve been there, done that. And if you’re still on the hunt for a side hustle idea, sidehustlenation.com/ideas. That’s a good place to start. That’s my constantly updated laundry list of part-time business ideas with no opt-in required.

Tom: Thanks for being on the show.

Nick: You bet.

Thanks, Nick, for sharing so many great side hustle ideas with us. You can find the show notes for this episode at maplemoney.com/nickloper. Have you become a member of the Maple Money Facebook community? If you haven’t yet joined, I’d love to connect with you there. It’s a great place to ask questions and interact with other money minded folks like you. To join, head over to maplemoney.com/community, anytime. Don’t forget to tune in next week as Michelle Black joins the show to discuss her keys to successful goal setting. See you next week.

You build these...diversified income streams, and you may find that you really enjoy doing something more than anything else, and you can double down on that. Maybe that becomes the mortgage erasing income stream, or the rent erasing income stream, rather than just focusing on making $50/month. - Nick LoperClick to Tweet

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