Do TikTok “side hustles” really work?
Side hustles have always been around, like walking dogs, mowing lawns, or selling clothes on eBay, but have become increasingly relevant in the post-pandemic era. Gen-Z, in particular, seems especially interested in passive income—perhaps due to their entering the workforce during a period characterized by economic uncertainty, high costs of living and an increasingly competitive job market.
The creation of the internet and the technological innovations that followed suit gave way to “side hustles” the pre-internet generation couldn’t dream of, from Myspace celebs and “mommy bloggers” to viral YouTubers and Instagram influencers. The gig economy also expanded workers’ options for side hustles with on-demand driving, food delivery, dog walking and an increasing number of services growing even more popular.
A new trend emerging online, primarily on TikTok, touts even easier passive income opportunities with thousands of videos generating millions of views.
These videos sometimes promote traditional passive income streams like earning rental income from investments in real estate, mutual funds, stocks and more. Traditional gig economy platforms like Airbnb, Etsy and Uber also get their fair share of promotion on TikTok’s side hustle-related hashtags.
Many of the trending “side hustle” TikToks, however, offer get-rich-quick schemes with seemingly few barriers to entry. These include many income-earning techniques with hands-off strategies like selling digital print-on-demand products and Pinterest monetization to more demanding ones like drop shipping or teaching online courses. These schemes are more enticing and promise far bigger payouts than more traditional side hustles or investments, explaining some of their viral appeal.
The online explosion of interest in side hustles isn’t just a TikTok trend but is a reflection of the world in general, with data showing a massive increase in interest in freelancing and second jobs as the cost of living has skyrocketed. According to a survey of U.S. workers conducted by Fiverr, 73 percent of Americans plan to either start or continue freelancing in 2023.
This year, Salt Lake City was ranked the first best city in the country to start a side hustle. The LLC.org study looked at factors including affordability, smartphone and internet use, commute times, unemployment and hours worked to determine which city populations were best suited to take advantage of the side hustle boom.
According to a survey of U.S. workers conducted by Fiverr, 73 percent of Americans plan to either start or continue freelancing in 2023.
One of the trendiest side hustles promoted on TikTok entails using Canva or another free design software to create simple printable products to sell online. Printables include print-it-yourself designs that are usually listed on Etsy or print-on-demand products like notebooks and journals, which are printed and shipped to buyers through companies like Redbubble or Amazon’s Merch on Demand platform.
According to a study by Priceonomics, sellers on Etsy have some of the worst success of any major gig economy platform. Ninety-five percent of Etsy creators make less than $500 a month, with 76 percent earning less than $100 monthly, the study claims.
Utah local and TikTok creator Cody Dean, however, has found success in making and selling online printables using platforms like Etsy. Dean had no prior graphic design knowledge but uses online software to make his digital products.
“Leverage a social media platform like TikTok to have the chance to go viral,” Dean says. “When you promote your products, it is not ‘build it, and they will come.’” Dean also offers courses on various side hustles and growing a social media brand by promoting them.
Another creator, Taylor Couch, teaches her 246,000+ TikTok followers about her journey to success with a number of side hustles, sharing strategies and evidence of her earnings on the platform. Couch specializes in affiliate marketing and uses her Instagram and TikTok platforms to drive sales.
“In my first couple of weeks of starting a side hustle, I made my first sale. The second month, I hit five figures,” Couch says. “I’m not special. Anyone with a decent work ethic and computer skills can do this.” Couch also promotes her own courses on starting the same side hustles that brought her success on her social platforms.
Online, the space for sharing these strategies is growing increasingly crowded. It seems strange, then, that so many successful TikTokers are eager to share their secrets, potentially risking their position in the market of their side hustle of choice.
Though side hustles have never been trendier, the get-rich-quick schemes toted by thousands of TikTok users may be too complex to ever actualize, proving that the ultimate side hustle may just be hustling others into believing yours works. Finding success in a side hustle, even after buying into online guides or courses, is likely to be much more challenging and a more significant time commitment than advertised on TikTok by the growing wave of self-proclaimed side hustle gurus.
For creators like Couch and Dean, however, it’s working. “I just wanted to be successful,” Couch says. “I was really struggling to find a way to get there without sacrificing my entire life working for somebody else until I came across side hustle-tok. Then I figured out there are so many ways to become the boss you want to be. There are endless ways to make money online.”