Recently, while brainstorming with a reader who needed to supplement her regular full-time job, I made a quick list of the ways I’ve done that in my life. I wanted to help her discover what she does well that others might pay her to do for them.
Years ago, when I discovered several friends were taking their husbands’ dress shirts to the laundry and paying $1.50 per shirt to have them washed and ironed (I have no idea what the going rate is these days, but I’m sure it’s outlandish), I got really good at washing and ironing men’s dress shirts. I offered to do a better job in less time for half the price—$.75 per shirt, which was quite a bargain back in the 80s.
I was fanatic about correct laundering and ironing, using starch as requested, and offering to either hand them back on a hanger or properly folded.
It was fun and something I could do while my kids napped and (shhh!) while catching up on my soap operas.
You may hate ironing men’s shirts, but you love to do something else that your peers would pay you to do for them. Figure it out. Then make sure you beat their expectations and the price they would pay elsewhere.
I worked as an independent process server for a company that attorneys hire to have subpoenas delivered in their civil cases. Whenever I had a couple of hours to spare, I’d pop into the office, pick up a stack of subpoenas and head out to attempt to “serve” unsuspecting defendants in civil lawsuits.
My mission was to locate the defendant and then address the said person by name (Laura … Laura Smith?). By state law, I was required to make sure I had eye contact, wait for that look of “knowing” and then hand off the document. Even if the person refused it, I could legally assert that I had completed the mission.
The best part? I got paid $35 per attempt to serve. That means if I knocked on the door and no one was home, attempt complete and back into the stack that document would go for a future attempt.
I could easily “attempt to serve”—or actually serve a subpoena—two or three times per hour. The attorney service company I worked for loved me because I was available at odd times, like late at night or early on a Saturday. Plus I took some kind of personal pride in accepting and completing my mission.
Process servers are legally required to serve papers in the correct manner stipulated by state law. Process serving laws differ by state. But basically, if you are an adult, have not been convicted of a crime, and can engage strangers in a warm and friendly way, it’s possible that you too could be a process server in your spare time.
At age 15, I was hired as a student-teacher at the Kincaid School of Music in Spokane, Wash. I loved it—not so much the teaching, but the $5 per lesson. My young students did well, and soon I was teaching independently, at home after school.
Teaching piano lessons was the way I paid my way through college. At one point after I married, I had 72 students, giving 30-minute individual and group lessons per week. That was completely nuts and not a schedule I would recommend for anyone, but it’s what I did.
You may not play the piano, but I’ll bet you’re really good at something. Cooking, organization, gardening, cleaning, sewing, knitting, computing, driving—the list could go on and on. Figure out how you can teach that skill to others. The greater your need to earn extra money, the more creative and better teacher you’ll become.
Wedding and Funeral Musician
I could not begin to tell you how many weddings and funerals I have played. And boy do I have the stories.
At one wedding, the bride sobbed so long and loudly, she never did “repeat after me.” The groom ended up handling the vows for both of them as she never could fully gain her composure.
Another couple got the giggles as they approached the altar. They could not stop laughing. Of course, it was infectious, and once the minister began to chortle, the ceremony ended in short order. I carried the day, playing softly behind the entire fiasco until every last person was out of the church. I’ve always wondered if the couple hit the reception bar on the way in.
My all-time favorite story is the wedding when I, at the organ, and Tom at the piano, were instructed to play love songs 30 minutes before the ceremony began. And we did.
But there was still a very long line of guests out the door and down the street, waiting to get in. The line moved at a snail’s pace, due to each person needing to sign the Guest Book before entering the church.
We gave one another that “keep going” signal, as we started over with our lovely repertoire of pre-ceremony music.
After more than an hour of this impromptu repetition, finally, the place was packed as we nearly fell off our respective perches.
Get a Side Hustle
You may not be a musician, but that thing you teach or do very well? Book yourself to perform it—as a service.
Let everyone know you’re available to organize, clean, cook, stencil, shop, hang wallpaper (it’s back in vogue, you know); dog walk, babysit, hairdress, mow lawns, pull weeds, run errands, bake cakes, design websites, wash windows—whatever it is.
If you’re good at it and charge a fair price, you will not want for customers.