The Year-Long Side-Hustle Experiment

About six years ago, a friend and I set out to try out some popular “side hustle” ideas that cost nothing to start. This was after hearing the same question over and over from friends on social media and via email about whether or not you could really make money doing some of these common suggestions.

This came at a pretty good time for me, given that we had slipped backward again financially in our family, and were in foreclosure. Like my readers and friends, I too was interested in knowing if any of these would work for me.

How did this Side Hustle Experiment work?

The two of us proposed to try different side hustles that allegedly take a little time and to focus on one of these per month.

Amazon Ebooks

The first thing I did was that which I considered being easiest to start right away. I had been formatting some of my ebooks to Kindle format, so I uploaded them to Amazon to see how that all would work.

Initially, this worked quite well, affording me an easy $100+ per month until 2016 when Amazon changed how they paid authors. I’m sitting on my ebooks right now, trying to decide what to do with them now that I only get paid if someone finishes most of my book on their kindle.

Squidoo Lenses and Hubpages

Next, as an author, I focused my attention for the next three months on writing “Hubs” and “Lenses” on two popular writing platforms, which pay you based on page views.

Because I already had a blog with some readership, and I understood principles like SEO, I figured I could make this work easily. I set a goal for myself to write a fresh lens and a hub every day. So basically, two articles per day.

I was pleased with myself for getting the work done that I set out to do. I created two per day. I also tried to do some promotion on social media. In the end, I only earned about $30-50 per month. Now, given how low our income was at the time, this was a blessing, but it wasn’t really worth the level of work I put into it. Thankfully, I continued to earn some residual income from the Lenses and Hubs for several more years before It slowly dwindled.

Swagbucks and Surveys

Swagbucks isn’t really a home business or Side Hustle per se. Swagbucks lets you earn points (“Swagbucks”) when searching using their search engine, or while doing other tasks like watching videos on the site. In exchange for these Swagbucks, you can purchase gift cards to places such as Amazon. I found that in order to earn any significant amount, you had to do far more work than it was worth on Swagbucks, and you needed people who signed up under you.

For Surveys, the same was true. Most surveys I didn’t qualify for after entering my demographic information. Apparently, most corporations don’t care about the opinions of middle-aged women who live below poverty in rural America. Who knew?

Mystery Shopping and Rebates

Mystery Shopping is a fun gig. I was supposed to spend a month doing mystery shopping. The funny thing about this was that I only qualified for two mystery shops in our whole area, so that didn’t work out. I earned $150, which wasn’t too shabby, but I felt like I spent a significant amount of time trying to qualify.

More recently (apart from the year-long side hustle experiment) I have worked with small coffee shops as a mystery customer, taste testing and testing out the new baristas. Again, not really making much money but I do get to visit all kinds of coffee houses, so there’ that.

Rebates were also a double-edged sword. You have to buy stuff to get rebates, and usually, the stuff you have to buy is not expired coffee in the ding and dent store, as I normally did at the time.


Using apps such as Retail Me Not, Ibotta, and Ebates are super helpful if you are buying something more than the bare necessities. Well, Ibotta also works for some groceries too, which is nice. I earned around $20 per month using that app, and continue to earn around $20-40 a month with Ibotta. But unless you are a shopper, the others don’t help much except around Christmas. Ebates works well with many household necessities, and a wide variety of things I use, which is nice.

Promoting One High-End Affiliate Product

I thought that this particular side hustle idea had a significant amount of merit. The idea was to find one high-end product with an affiliate program with a generous percentage and promote the heck out of it. For me, this was a specific WordPress Theme that a client had bought and needed me to figure out and install.

I thought this would be the perfect thing for me. I could not only make money promoting this product (at $50 commission a pop), while also side promoting the service of configuring that for you.

I made $0.

Disappointing. I actually spent six months on this one, taking me far over the “year of side hustle experiments”. Even my hubby got involved. Nada.

Amazon Affiliate Program

Using my own blog, which I was in the process of rebranding to Thoughts and Designs, I tried to promote my favorite products that are sold on Amazon on a blog.

This did okay, but not great. I think it had the potential to do better, but my brain was mush by this point, and in hindsight, I have thought of some better ways I could make this work.

Eventually, while I was doing a big rebranding and changeover, Amazon dropped me as an affiliate because I hadn’t had any clicks for a while. I’m hoping they let me back into their little club again once the rebranding is over.

Print on Demand with Zazzle and CafePress

Both Zazzle and CafePress are print on demand companies that allow designers to sell products that they have designed in their marketplaces. These products include custom t-shirts, hoodies, hats, buttons, bumper stickers, tote bags, etc.

Zazzle has a larger selection, and nicer interface, and allows designers to have a store for free.

Initially, neither of these did squat for me. I actually was dropped from CaféPress for no action on my account.

Eventually, when I least expected it, in the middle of me working a part-time seasonal job away from home, my Zazzle took off several years after I had abandoned it (of course). Apparently, one of my products caught someone’s eye, got shared around, and is now my top seller. Very strange, but delightful. I’m now a “pro seller” on Zazzle. Go me.

I’ve written more about Zazzle in several other posts here, and you can check out some of my designs in Zazzle over here.

There were extenuating circumstances of my brain turning to mush and not functioning optimally. I have to imagine, now that I’m on the other side of it, that this played a role in my lack of success in many of these.