The internet is full of articles on the side hustles you can start for free (or relatively tiny amounts of money). While it’s true that there are plenty of ways to bring inside cash that won’t require you to spend a lot of money to get them going, it’s also worth noting that, if you want these side hustles to be successful you really have to work at them. You can’t just declare yourself “open for business” and expect the cash to come rolling in. Here are a few of the things that you are going to have to spend your time and, yes, sometimes a little bit of cash, doing if you really want your side hustle to be a source of reliable income.
Even side hustles need websites. While it is absolutely possible to build a website for free on a free hosting platform, it’s better to spend a little bit of money on your own hosting. Buying your own hosting doesn’t have to be expensive. Most providers offer basic hosting for less than ten dollars per month. Buying your own hosting means you can use your own domain name, you can control which ads are placed on your site (if any) and how that revenue is handled, and you can be sure that your site is more secure than it would be if you were simply hosting it free somewhere.
A quick word about security: obviously you’ll want to find hosting with top notch security. You’ll also want to take pains to make sure that your own machines are protected as well. You don’t want someone hijacking your machines to send spam or grabbing your customers’ private information! You can get standard security software at around $100 that is specifically designed for small businesses. The security software stops threats in the cloud and filters your URLs for any viruses.
Unfortunately, we don’t live in a world where a business gets customers simply by existing. In the world we do live in, business owners–even when those businesses are side gigs–have to tell people that they both exist and that they are accepting new customers. That’s all that marketing really is.
A lot of the marketing that you will do for this side hustle can be done for free or for very little money. Posting on forums, listing your business in local directories, local SEO, social media, content marketing, posting fliers, is all (monetarily) free. And the few dollars you do spend can be on registering with your local chamber of commerce, buying ads online, etc.
If you’re feeling particularly creative you can try some guerilla marketing. Guerilla marketing is a fun and creative way to market your business in your local community. The point is: you have to spread the word. How you do that is up to you, the size of your budget and how much free time you have.
Make no mistake, the amount of money you earn from your side gigs is taxable. You need to keep track of every penny you earn so that you can report it to the IRS come tax time. The good news is that the money you spend building and promoting your business is tax deductible. This means that you have to keep very detailed record of every penny you spend as well.
You can absolutely do this for free, using a simple spreadsheet. If you’re not good with details or numbers, however, you might want to spring for some simple accounting and invoicing software. Quicken, Quickbooks, Freshbooks, etc.–all of these companies offer affordable methods for tracking your earning and spending. Some will even sync with tax software to make your tax filing go a lot more smoothly.
A quick word about taxes: as a business owner you need to pay your taxes quarterly in what are called Estimated Tax Payments. During your first year, you can base this number on how much you’ve earned so far. During your second year, though, your quarterly payments will be based on the last year’s income. The IRS offers free guides and advice for figuring out these numbers. Your local library will also likely have resources you can use.
The point is: no business is completely free. Even if you don’t spend a lot of money, you’ll spend your time on the building and serving process. The good news is that you get to choose how much money and time you commit to the project.