Many years ago, I got into self-improvement because I desperately needed to increase my fitness level. From there, I somehow came across Tim Ferris’ The 4–Hour Workweek, which lead me down a long road of trying various online side hustles. Here’s what I tried and how much I earned with each of them up until now.
1. Selling Stock Photos – My First Online Side Hustle
I admit, I didn’t really do this right. This was my first try at making money online and I thought I could sell some of my snapshots. I didn’t do any research and I just uploaded some photos I had already taken to Dreamstime.
One of the 3 photos I uploaded sold twice and I earned a whopping $0.62, which of course I never received – because I didn’t reach the platform’s payout limit. The picture that sold was of a Cenote in Mexico I took during a vacation there.
What you need to know if you want to do better than I did
Do some research first! You want to know what people are looking for before you take pictures or create illustrations.
Maybe I’ll give this another try someday, but I think for now, I have more promising side hustles to focus on.
2. Selling 3D models – My First Successful Online Side Hustle
This was another side hustle I initially didn’t do right, but you could say this was my “breakthrough” nevertheless. I had studied game development and during my studies, I had created plenty of 3D models for various school projects. It wasn’t until after I graduated that I found out that there are marketplaces online where you can sell 3D models. I cleaned up some of my models and offered them on CGTrader.
It blew my mind when one of them sold for $6.74. It’s possible to make money on the internet!
Current state of my 3D modeling online side hustle
After my first sale, I excitedly uploaded more models. Currently, I have 24 models on offer, most of them on Sketchfab and CGTrader. I also sell on TurboSquid and 3DExport, but on the former, the royalties are very low, and on the latter, I rarely sell anything.
About 3 years ago, I stopped creating new 3D models, but I still earn on average $20 a month from this side hustle. I know, it’s not much, but it’s 100% passive.
Up to now, selling 3D models has made me a total of $1,227.05 on all platforms.
Here’s a breakdown in screenshots from all the marketplaces I sell my 3D models on.
What you need to know if you want to sell 3D Models
Not everyone can create a 3D model, so I feel like competition for this is not as fierce as for the other online side hustles listed here.
The 3D modeling software I use, Blender, is open source software and everyone can use it for free, even for commercial use. You can learn 3D modeling with Youtube videos. Here’s the start of a great beginner’s tutorial on Youtube, the famous donut tutorial.
Finding out what’s selling might be a bit harder than for my other online side hustles. Your best bet is looking for 3D models with reviews on CGTrader. CGTrader also gives you some data on on-site searches. The more you rank up in their reputation system, the more data you get.
I really like 3D modeling and I might get back to this at some point.
3. Selling Printable Planners on Etsy – My Main Online Side Hustle
During the time I was selling 3D models, I found out that Etsy allows selling digital products and that some people are making good money doing so. By then, I had made my calculations and concluded that I would need thousands of 3D models to make a living. Creating a 3D model and listing it is an awful lot of work, so I figured creating printable planner pages PDFs is faster and the market bigger. I decided to make selling printable planners my third online side hustle try.
I opened an Etsy shop in March 2019, and in the coming months, uploaded 5 planner PDFs. I wasn’t selling much and lost hope that sales would come. So I let my shop sit idly for about 6 months.
Around Christmas, I decided to give it another go and uploaded some calendars (of course, way too late for calendars). The calendars didn’t sell, but suddenly, some of my other stuff started selling. In January 2020, I made a bit over $40, which motivated me enough to keep creating and uploading.
Then the pandemic hit and most of the world went into lockdown. E-commerce exploded and my shop with it. In June, I made over $400, which I thought was amazing for the less than 20 products I had in my shop back then.
My Etsy income in 2021
Now in 2021, despite having more than doubled the number of products in my shop, my revenue didn’t increase a lot. Last year was exceptional though, so I think it’s not fair to compare.
2021 to date I’m still averaging an Etsy profit of $350 a month. January was crazy with a profit of over $1000.
My all-time Etsy earnings
So far, I have made a total profit of CHF 7487,74 ($8156) by selling printable planners on Etsy. The number on the following screenshot is a lot higher because it’s revenue and Etsy charges a lot of fees after that.
What you need to know if you want to sell printable planners
It’s not easy money; competition is fierce and creating and listing planners is a lot of work as well. Also, on Etsy, customers are not shy to message you, and constantly getting good reviews is crucial.
However, if you hit just the right spot, a single product can make you a lot of money. This is my bestseller that made about $3’887 so far:
It took me about a day to create and list this product.
But in return, I also have products that have only been sold a few times, or never.
A lot of people use Canva to create their printable planners. I learned to use the Adobe Suite, so I prefer to use Adobe InDesign.
To find out what’s selling, of course, Etsy is the best place.
For me, selling printable planners is a fun side hustle and I will keep it up for now.
4. Selling Designs on Print on Demand Products – My Most Fun Online Side Hustle
This is by far my favorite side hustle. A good idea and an hour of creation and listing time can make you very good money. This is also the only side hustle where I started to get some income after only two weeks and little time spent working on it. Most importantly – it’s fun creative work and you can finish and upload a design in a short time.
I guess I was lucky though. So if you try this, you should have some patience and give it a few months before really expecting sales.
But what is print on demand?
Instead of printing a design on a big amount of products and hoping that it will sell, the designs are only getting printed on existing products once somebody orders them. The finished product doesn’t exist at the point when it’s ordered. Potential customers only see a so-called mockup of the product, a fake photo, that lets them see how it would look like.
How does this work?
Print on demand companies with marketplaces like Redbubble, Spreadshirt or Merch by Amazon let designers upload designs. They then display the uploaded designs on product mockups and show them to customers on their marketplace. When something is ordered, they print the design on the ordered product. Blank products are in stock, ready to be printed on. The companies also take care of the whole order fulfillment: payment processing, printing, shipping, and customer support.
In the end, the designer who uploaded the design gets a share of the profit. Depending on the platform and product, that’s usually somewhere between $0.50 (e.g. stickers) and $30. T-shirts sales usually pay around $2 to $6 for each shirt sold.
What products can you sell?
There’s almost no limit of products available for print on demand. From stickers, magnets, over posters and metals art prints to all sorts of clothing and jewelry, there’s some company out there printing on it. The biggest range of products is probably available on Zazzle, one of the oldest print on demand companies out there.
I started selling designs on Spreadshirt in 2019, and on Redbubble in 2020, and to date, I earned $2’606.
What you need to know if you want to try print on demand
Because print on demand is so easy to do, there’s a lot of competition. It’s not necessary to be a designer, even though it helps. One of my bestselling products is just a single word using a well-selected font. But that means print on demand is one of those online side hustles everybody can do, or at least everybody can try. Therefore most marketplaces are flooded with bad designs, and visibility for good designs is low.
If you decide to try print on demand, you’ll need to stand out with very good designs or find a niche that is underserved. Driving your own traffic helps as well, but that’s not easy (or cheap, if you want to pay for ads).
For built-in traffic, the best marketplace to sell on is Amazon with their Merch by Amazon program. But you have to apply to sell there, and getting in is basically a lottery. I’ve applied unsuccessfully 4 times so far. If you don’t get into Merch by Amazon, Redbubble is probably the next best option.
I made money with online side hustles. It’s possible. But don’t forget that I also had expenses: I pay for an Adobe subscription, various mockup and design resources, social media scheduling, paper and ink for test prints, and many things more. In total at the moment, I’m averaging about $500 profit per month.
There’s definitely good money to be made with online side hustles, but if somebody tells you it’s going to be easy, they are lying.
Still, it’s amazing. I can’t get enough of the exhilarating feeling when an order notification pops up on my phone.
If you are looking for other online side hustles to try, check out my list of More than 100 digital products to sell.