There is no One True Path to financial freedom (nor through life generally).
This site is for grown-ups so I don’t tell you what you must do, I just tell you what worked for me. And some other stuff that’s hopefully helpful and interesting. You get to choose which bits to use in your own life.
I’m in favour of working flexibly and/or starting a lifestyle business as you approach financial independence. I’m also a big fan of entrepreneurship and the work of The Pop Up Business School who teach real people how to make a good living doing something they love.
But there is a lot of shite out there and many of the MAKE MONEY ONLINE!!! wheezes out there look like
scams a waste of time for people with proper jobs. I couldn’t bring myself to review all these schemez so when Hayden contacted me having done the research himself (and written a book about it)…well, I was interested.
Journalists can be…how shall I put this?…a mixed bag but Hayden is a friend of this site having previously written a very fair piece in Vice.com on whether it’s possible to save half of your income in London on a £30,000 salary (turns out it is). So here’s Hayden’s take on making money from online side hustles.
The Escape Artist
How feasible is it to earn a decent second income online, really?
Over the last couple of years I have sought to answer that question, foraying into the murky world of online side hustles for Vice.com. Starting out, I assumed most internet money-spinners were little more than scams, but the chance to make some quick cash online and then compound it by earning even more money by writing about the experience seemed like an easy win to me. Even if the side hustles turned out to be bullshit, I would still get paid for the articles. I’m sure The Escape Artist would approve of such shrewd rationale.
To my surprise, the majority of the cash-spinning strategies I tried did actually turn out to be profitable, though rarely did they give me money-for-nothing. Instead, it was a case of grinding out profits where I could, carefully avoiding scams along the way.
Two years on, I have made enough from my hastily hatched scheme to pay off my long-standing student overdraft and build a decent chunk of savings on top of it – and I have written up a guide to my success in a short ebook, Side Hustles: How to Make Extra Money Online, so that others might do the same.
The truth is, I was pretty rubbish with money before I started writing about it. Growing up, I was never that bothered about earning bags of cash or getting rich – not because we were financially comfortable, but the opposite. You often hear of rags-to-riches stories of entrepreneurs who started out with little or Del Boy-types pulling themselves up by their bootstraps, but I grew up used to not having a lot of money to spare and I assumed things would always be that way. I was the first person in my family to go to university and I took on eye-watering debt during my three years of studying (and heavy drinking) in London.
It was only a few years after I graduated – and landed a job with a half-decent salary at a newspaper – that I realised that spending 100 per cent of my income every month was not, in fact, a very smart way to live. I decided I needed to pay off my overdraft and build up some savings. A plan to make some extra money online was born.
My plan started the way all good journalistic ventures do these days: with a Google search. I quickly found hundreds of articles, lists, ebooks, blogs and assorted other websites offering ways to make money online. Some were obvious scams and some were out of my reach – it’s hard to rent a room on AirBnB when you don’t own property and Uber doesn’t let people who can’t drive offer piggybacks as an alternative – but I was left with a small selection of side hustles and online money-makers that I thought might be worth a shot.
They all had a couple of things in common: I could attempt them from home with little more than my computer and some spare time. I was also reasonably, kind of, hopefully, a bit, maybe sure that they weren’t scams. And that was true, sort of.
Back in late 2018 I started my series of articles with a piece on matched betting, which is widely touted as a money-spinner across the internet. I was sceptical at first – raking guaranteed profit from bookmakers sounded too good to be true, but the more I read up on it the more it made sense. By taking advantage of the many free bet offers that bookies use to attract customers and compete in a crowded market it really is possible to guarantee profit.
The trick is in using a betting exchange, a sort of marketplace where gamblers can bet with each other, to ‘lay’ or bet against the result you stake with the bookie. It’s a bit confusing at first, but it doesn’t take long to make sense of it and there is a lot of free teaching material available online. I threw myself into matched betting for a month, completing as many sign up offers as I could and came away with £500 at the end of it.
It wasn’t easy – I was working a full-time job at the time, as well as freelancing for Vice, and matched betting ate up any remaining spare hours that I had. It is time consuming to find suitable games to bet on, let alone the process of signing up to and verifying your identity with multiple bookmakers. So, not money for nothing, but a decent kickstart for paying off my overdraft.
After I wrote the matched betting article for Vice, I continued casually completing offers in my spare time and eventually moved onto casino and bingo sign up offers. These follow a similar idea to matched betting, but are even easier to complete and can in some cases be quicker and more profitable.
The UK’s liberal gambling laws are pretty bad news if you’re a latent gambling addict, but for people who are able to stay disciplined profiting from sign-up offers can be easy. Because it is such a competitive market, online casinos all run offers to stand out and lure potential customers onto their platforms – and by taking advantage of them I was able to build a steady second income. With my student overdraft paid off, I started building some savings.
After my luck with the casinos and bookies, I decided to try something different and plunged into foreign exchange trading for another article for Vice. My idea to start trading forex came about because of the coincidence of a couple of things: the sheer number of adverts selling forex as an opportunity to make easy-money on the internet and the conclusion of Brexit. At the time the pound was all over the place and I thought I might be able to capitalise on it. I was wrong.
Forex turned out to be a bit of a misstep in terms of earning cash, though it did make for a pretty interesting investigation into the murky world of online scams. There are a huge number of people on the internet purporting to help inexperienced FX traders turn their trades into profit and many more who use their own supposed profits in forex to promote themselves.
Because of its reputation as an easy-money-maker, retail forex trading has a whole scam industry surrounding it and I spoke to some of the people who use social media to pray on rookie traders. They promise big returns on trading tips, but many offer bad advice or simply vanish after taking a mark’s money. Although I did not get scammed per se, I was rubbish at predicting movements in the price of the pound and I soon gave up trying to turn a profit on the world’s biggest financial market. Forex made for a good story, but not a good income generator.
After forex, I pressed on with some of the more reliable, though admittedly more boring, ways of earning cash online. I kept on with the matched betting and casino promotions as and when there were decent offers available and I also tried my hand at clickworking, a term coined to describe various processes including filling out forms, data entry, answering surveys and many other digital tasks that companies will pay you to complete.
It does pay, but it is as boring as it sounds and I did not get an article out of it. I made around £200 filling out surveys and clickworking, but put in over 50 hours in total, which boils down to a rate of roughly £4 per hour. Some surveys paid a couple of quid for ten minutes work, but they were not regular enough to keep the rate above minimum wage. As for clickworking, I found it tough to find enough paying gigs to make it worthwhile. But I added my £200 to my savings pile, which was growing nicely.
At this point I stumbled across the Financial Independence, Retire Early (FIRE) movement. While not technically a way of earning a second income, I liked the idea of giving the frugal life a go for a month to see if I could quickly add to my savings.
It was January at the time, which seemed like an ideal month to try to save half my pay. After a long four weeks I managed to grind my way to saving £1,000 – slightly over half my after tax monthly income at the time. It was hard work, but it was also eye opening. I noticed how much pointless stuff I bought during an average month: clothes, food and things for the house were all easy to cut back on.
Like I said at the start of this post, I was rubbish with money before I started writing about it and learning about FIRE was one of the big things that helped me think differently about my income. While I did not agree with everything that fans and devoted followers of the FIRE movement told me, it did give me a fresh outlook on money.
Although I did not continue to save half my income – which felt like too much of a sacrifice now for a future that may not happen – FIRE did teach me to be much more prudent with my cash and gave me some great ideas of how to invest the money I had earned through my online side hustles.
So, while I did not start out with much of a strategy for making money online, I did stumble across multiple ways of earning cash online and the FIRE movement offered great ideas on what to do with it once I had banked it.
And this is the basis of Side Hustles – a simple guide to building up a pot of savings for people who are a bit crap with money, as I once was.
Books professing ways of making money online are fertile territory for scammers and bullshitters, promising get-rich-quick schemes or five steps to making your first million, but Side Hustles is more modest than that. Reading a book is never going to make you millions, but I hope this one can give you what you need to make some extra cash online.
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