With the economy deflating faster than my ego at a school reunion, I’ve been thinking about padding my income. That means a side business, and one that won’t get me fired from my day job. But what side business is easy, profitable, and won’t require a time machine? Because if it doesn’t meet those requirements, I may be better off getting into Forex, or spending time
on Skyrim on family.
First off, let’s discount multi-level marketing (MLM). With few exceptions (e.g. I suffer severe brain damage and convert to Satanism), you will not find me involved with that garbage.
A side business must never interfere with work or family. That means not having handling a million calls, or having to push products on colleagues and relatives. In my opinion, it should also focus on short term objectives (e.g. making enough to pay off a particular bill, or to meet a down payment on the house). Here are five valid ones:
- People’s Association Trainer
- Hobby Card Seller
- Personal Tutor
- Arts & Crafts
1. PA Trainer
Singapore’s community clubs (or community centres) are run by the People’s Association (PA). If you have something useful or interesting to teach, like dance or calligraphy, they might want you on board.
When you register as a PA trainer, you get to pitch your own course, the timing, and the per-participant fees. That makes it easy to find something that fits your schedule. Since you’re not paying for the venue, and most CCs are conveniently located, you’re getting a good deal out of it.
The two challenges are (1) getting PA to accept your application, and (2) attracting people to attend. If you have a Diploma, Degree, or work experience, getting acceptance isn’t hard; it’s mostly about tweaking your fees and timing. Attracting people, on the other hand, may mean setting up a simple website or posting fliers. That’s a cost of about $200, and some time.
I have a friend who runs guitar classes at the community club, and makes about $720 a month.
2. Hobby Card Seller
This was the first successful side business I ever ran, and it made me about $1200 – $1500 a month. So I kind of have a soft spot for it.
Hobby cards are collectible cards, which can be anything from Fleer sports cards to Pokemon or Magic: The Gathering. The main attraction is how easy this is. Buying a whole box of cards costs around $135. But selling the rare cards would net me about $250 at least. I’d buy about 10 boxes at a go, and slowly sell the contents over two months. Some of the cards I’d keep, as a form of speculation. Once the cards stopped being printed, their value would climb, sometimes hitting $350 – $1500.
The downside is you have to learn the market. That means a few months of trawling websites like E-Bay, or visiting local card stores. It’ll take you about four months of staring at price lists to understand the business.
3. Personal Tutor
This usually works during exam time ( like during ‘O’ levels). The trick is to avoid PSLE (Primary Six) students, and focus on JC or Upper Secondary students.
PSLE is too sensitive a time, and younger children need to adjust to their tutors. JC students just want someone who can do the job, and Secondary school students will wish you dead regardless of what you do. Obviously, tutor someone in a subject relevant to you, or one that you were at least good at.
Prepare to fork out about $200 for exam papers and assessment books. Most tutors also pack spare exercise books, name cards, and a bad attitude. You can make a fair amount tutoring, based on your qualifications. But to stop it interfering in your day job, keep it to exam months.
This is another side business I’ve done myself. As you probably know, university is like a pleasant stroll. Through hell. Between paying student loans and stretching out that liver, there’s barely time for project work. That’s where the fact-checker comes in.
When I came out of college, me and a bunch of “entrepreneurs” made about $700 a month from this. We’d help students with the references in their essays and assignments. That involved checking attributions, dates, and putting together the bibliography.
There are more interesting things you could do of course. Like watch a sloth die of old age. But for $120 a paper (varies based on length), it’s worth a few hours in the library.
Some students will invariably ask if you can do the whole project for them. That’s unethical, and you shouldn’t offer to charge $350 or more based on the amount of work.
5. Arts & Crafts
The top Arts & Crafts for business are knitting, custom jewellery, and paper engineering. This is an “easy” side business insofar as you have talent for it. See, my paper animals are so good, the SPCA would fine you for losing them. But if the only thing you can fold is a napkin, maybe look at the other options.
The real upside to doing jewellery or wedding invites is that you have a tangible product. The initial investment is steep (up to $2000 for something like faux jewellery), but so is the subsequent pay-off. Remember, Crocs started this same way.
Paper engineering is a hidden gold mine. While time consuming (it takes about two years of weekends to get good at it), the materials are…paper. And some cutting materials. Less than $50 will set you up. But show your stuff to wedding planners, and they go ga-ga. You can rake in $500 – $1000 with invites, and more for pop-up books.
Ryan Harvey, British Council Singapore, magoexperto, elemenous, Wonderlane, AForestFrolic
Do your run a side business? Comment and tell us about it!