Do I even have to write an introduction to this post? Who doesn’t need more moneymaking ideas?
I am a strong believer that money can indeed buy happiness, especially if your unhappiness is directly caused by a lack of money. I also think the world will get better when women and people of color make more money and thus hold more power, because in a capitalist system, money does indeed mean power. Also, scotch is expensive.
So, while you’ve got some brainstorming time over the holidays (see last week’s Bullish: How to Attack 2014 Like a Badass), let’s talk about how to think of good moneymaking ideas, whether you’re looking for a new career or just want additional income streams on the side.
Here are some ideas.
Track your own spending
What did you actually spend money on in the last two weeks? Keep a list. Include boring, routine purchases.
How could your buying experiences have been better? Are there alternatives you would have preferred if available? What do you spend money on regularly without even thinking? What was your most annoying buying experience?
Try to think of an improved version or an alternative.
I once got an idea for a Christmas tree delivery service after watching a mild-mannered professor leave his home (I was tutoring his son) to go buy a Christmas tree. He seemed a little unsure of himself. A tweedy, fiftysomething professor is carrying his own tree, in a town in which you can have anything else delivered? I didn’t end up following through on this idea, but I’m still holding onto the world’s greatest Christmas-tree-delivery-service domain name: Treelivery.com. I’m totally going to sell that at some point.
I also love booking fitness classes online (moreso than I enjoy the classes, because I hate group fitness), which made me contemplate whether we should be able to sign up for other things via the same platforms. (I really, really hate phones, and calling to make appointments.)
I started EntitledCat after having a terrible experience with a local catsitter. I hired one employee and became a customer of my own business, to make sure it worked the way I want.
For a lot of boring, routine online purchases, I could be persuaded to switch to a business that was somehow more fun or convenient, or more socially conscious or matched my values.
The easiest sell in the world is getting people to switch to buying something from you when 1) it’s something they buy a lot anyway, 2) your offering is just a little bit better, and 3) switching is easy. Switching banks and gyms is hard, while switching smoothie shops or online office supply stores is easy.
Services for the very rich
I have often recommended providing services for the rich as a straightforward path to more income without straining yourself. By straining yourself, I mean annoying the living shit out of your friends and family, trying to get them to buy things they don’t want or can’t afford. Most people’s friends are pretty close to their own income level. Artists tend to hang with other artists. Etc. (See GetBullish: How to Make Money From Being Hip as All Fucking Hell.)
If you’re looking for extra income streams while keeping your full-time job, providing services to the wealthy is a great way to augment your income significantly with a minimum of time. In some cases, the fact of your full-time employment makes you more credible as a service provider. I once met someone who had hired a microbiologist to give microbiology lessons to a four-year-old. A kid who was basically at the level of “Frogs live in the water but they breathe air, just like us!” was getting the personal attention of a Ph.D.
If you are that Ph.D., you really only need one wealthy client to have a significant source of income. It might be hard to get an Etsy store to make $100 a week, but that’s easily achievable by providing basically any service to the wealthy.
Note that not all of the rich are good customers. I once fired a hedge fund guy as a client. He was cheap, argued about my rates, and made me ask him for money (and go through a whole big rigmarole of watching him write a check like I was robbing him somehow) rather than having a check ready when I came to teach his kid. KEEP IT CLASSY, WALL STREET.
I find that people who work for their money are often pretty into spending money to make their lives easier or more pleasurable, or to free them up to keep making money, whereas people who inherited their money are often more into conserving their money and being really cheap with the help. But those are wild generalizations, of course (and hedge-fund-guy was self-made). I’m just saying that being rich is only one qualifying factor. And sometimes working for an unpleasant, cheap rich person can be a great way to get that rich person to refer you to other rich people (the richer people are, the more they seem to want a personal recommendation from a fellow rich person, regardless of how many stars you may have on Taskrabbit).
Note: women are also more likely to tell others about products and services they’ve enjoyed (in my own experience, fantastically more so). I would be much more inclined to keep an unpleasant woman client than an unpleasant male client.
Once you are established, you can be pickier about your clients.
What is the most outrageous service you could imagine the rich buying? Think of something that would be easy for you to personally provide, but just so ridiculous that no one’s offering it. Is it so interesting and outrageous that the press would cover it? So crazy and luxurious that people who have more money than they know what to do with would at least try it once, just because they can? Great! Now you are a “book doula” for wealthy people’s memoirs, or a person who maintains home espresso machines and hand-delivers imported beans, or a “germ doctor” who sanitizes people’s doorknobs and keyboards. iPhone efficiency consultant? Juice cleanse sommelier? Fair trade tarot readings? Naptime consultant?
Or just offer some normal stuff that rich people buy anyway, and find a way to do it better. NYC has six-figure dogwalkers, and NYC has poor, struggling dogwalkers. Figure out what six-figure dogwalkers are doing right, and add just one tiny improvement.
Nothing is “frivolous”
We live in late-stage capitalism. Most businesses that Westerners are involved in are sort of frivolous and unnecessary. Somebody out there is making tons of money licensing the Iron Man character and putting his picture on little boys’ pajamas and novelty trash cans. Fast food restaurants keep competing to add more meat to their meat sandwiches. Many extremely wealthy people are involved in buying and selling other people’s bundled mortgages and shit like that that provides way less value to society than Iron Man children’s decor.
So please make no apologies whatsoever if you think of a way to make money from cats, glitter, shoes, or any other stereotypical girl thing that some shitty person tells you isn’t serious enough. You are always perfectly welcome to become a dry-shampoo magnate and then a great philanthropist. Sara Blakely is the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire (from Spanx). Quoth Blakely, “”My own butt was the inspiration.”
Novelty is overrated
You don’t need to come up with something completely new. In fact, you probably don’t have the advertising and PR budget to explain something brand new to people. There were actually lots of tablets on the market before Apple came out with the iPad, and even then, Apple had to push forward while we all made jokes about the menstrual connotations of the name “iPad” and some of us remarked that we couldn’t see the point. Now, there are plenty of good reasons to use an iPad. But no other manufacturer was able to convince the technology-buying public of this.
I’m a big fan of selling people something they already understand, but just changing one thing in an amazing way. It’s this thing you totally already “get” … BUT FOR KIDS. Or, BUT FOR BEGINNERS! Or, AND WE SERVE YOU COFFEE. Or, DONE REALLY FABULOUSLY SO THAT MOSTLY WOMEN AND GAY MEN WILL LIKE IT.
Take something that always seems to be provided in a macho way and provide it totally differently. (Cross-training workouts, anyone? Automotive accessories? Why can’t I buy that organizer that turns your passenger seat into a mobile office without having to go into an ugly store that smells like gasoline?)
How about a handyman service that’s provided entirely by women? (Motto: We will not creep you out when we are in your house!) Same with in-home tech support. I want a lady Mac genius to come over and make all my devices work better.
Here: couple Lesley and Kamau Ware started an art gallery that caters to first-time art buyers. (It’s an art gallery, which I understand … but I won’t feel stupid or poor there!) Lesley also runs an eco-friendly fashion camp for children!
Look for recurring purchases
A lot of the most clever-sounding business ideas are a little too clever. They’re so clever that people say, “Wow, that’s awesome! Maybe I’ll buy/do that one day. That would be amazing.” You know … one day.
NYC has a ninja-themed restaurant. I went once! It was an experience. And now it’s done. New York, of course, gets a steady influx of tourists, which makes this business feasible.
A workshop where a burlesque dancer teaches you how to be a vixen? That sounds fun, and it totally exists, but you’re probably only going to go once, and there’s probably not a lot of urgency. I don’t need to be a vixen right now. It’s a very fun idea, but I’d just prefer to sink my own time and money into something that people will buy more often, and forever.
Really easy investing
Starting a business isn’t for everyone at every stage of life (although I often argue that entrepreneurship should be thought of as part of the modern lifecycle — if now’s not the time, assume that time will come).
So, hey, let’s talk about investing.
If you can get a good 10% on your money, then $20,000 in an investment account will get you $2,000 a year, which is equivalent to a lot of people’s raises. That’s kind of great, especially since you don’t have to do anything and can’t get fired from your investments.
Obviously, most people reading this don’t have $20,000 lying around, but I mention that number because, to me, that’s the level at which investments really count as a source of income. So, keep that in mind for … eventually. It’s not an insane goal.
In the meantime, though, here’s a more achievable investment goal. You know how when you check your online account, you’re always sort of bleeding little bits of money? Various monthly services you’ve signed up for, takeout, coffees? Make it a goal to do that in reverse. It’s pretty cool when every time you check your account, it’s like, “Oh, $3.60 just arrived from somewhere.” And you just kind of shrug and don’t think about it much, the same way you don’t think much about a Starbucks charge on your card, except BACKWARDS.
You can get started investing in peer-to-peer lending on Prosper or LendingClub for $25 (LendingClub is bigger, but I find Prosper easier and more fun to use). If you’ve got $2,500 and invest in 100 loans at $25 each, you’ll be substantially diversified, but you can absolutely start with much less.
Microplace, a socially-conscious investment platform, will only make you 1-3% on your money, but if you want your money held by people who will use it well and then give it back to you, it’s a pretty good plan, and you can invest easily through Paypal. Literally, you send a $20 Paypal payment to help, say, a women’s cooperative in Guatemala, and then like a year later when you’ve forgotten about it, $20.40 magically appears in your Paypal account. Not really a significant source of investment income, but if you have trouble saving money, here’s a way to at least force yourself to save for 1-3 years.
Brainstorming versus executing
This is just an article about brainstorming. Later, you’ll have to make decisions, and figure out how to execute.
Some ideas, like Christmas tree delivery, are just too much hassle for the potential rewards.
Some ideas are a little too precious. Reject ideas that are more about your personal identity than about what people want to buy. If you’re imagining how impressed your friends are going to be, this very well might be the wrong idea.
Don’t jump on an idea until you can point to the people who are ready to buy from you.
But it’s healthy, in a capitalist society, to keep your entrepreneurial muscles active. Otherwise, you’re defenseless. Try for one moneymaking idea per day. With 365 days in a year, you’ll have plenty of ideas to pick from.