Unconventional side hustles

Side hustles are a great way to earn additional income and pick up unique job skills. Here are some of the more unusual side gigs that can make you money.
Unconventional side hustles
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In my article “Uncommon freelance jobs,” I spotlighted some of the more unconventional careers freelancers have built by becoming everything from professional bridesmaids to fortune cookie writers.

But you don’t have to go all in with any of these unusual jobs to enjoy the perks (and money) that come with them. A lot of freelancers have a few side hustles they can pick up whenever they’re between clients, need to raise money for an unexpected expense, or just want a fun activity to pass the time.

In this article, I’ll share some of the stranger side hustles I’ve done. I’ll also go into how much income you can earn from each one, how to get started, and how freelancing software like Hectic can help manage your side hustles.    

Mystery shopper

Have you ever dreamed of being a secret agent like James Bond? Well, they won’t send you on world saving missions, but mystery shopping companies will let you perform some (legal) espionage, test drive fancy cars, and go undercover at casinos — all on someone else’s dime!

As a mystery shopper, I visited shops, restaurants, banks, apartment complexes, salons, and car dealerships to secretly assess the business’ customer service, cleanliness, and efficiency. After making a purchase, getting my hair cut, or eating a meal, I wrote a report on how long it took for a server to deliver my order, how friendly a car salesman was, or how an employee mentioned a new promo offer. 

Occasionally, I taped a conversation, took photos, or even video recorded a meeting. And while some mystery shops only required me to make a phone call, a few needed me to stay overnight at a resort and assess their bars and room service — after which, all my hotel charges were “mysteriously” erased and my expenses reimbursed. 

During my time as a shopper, I was paid as little as $5 to eat at a restaurant and as much as $300 to pose as a patient at a hospital. Some gigs only offer reimbursement for a shop — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you get a free meal or groceries out of the deal.

In general, I feel mystery shopping is best done as a hobby, although I do know of some people who’ve turned this into their full-time job. Detail-oriented people with good memories can do well at this side hustle since you need to write good reports and remember everything about your encounters with different employees. If you feel this describes you, visit the following websites and sign up:

One important tip: no mystery shop company should require you to pay to receive assignments. Legitimate companies also do not require you to take on a specific number of jobs. If you come across these scams, do not work for these businesses.  

Product tester

Would you like to play a part in developing high tech gadgets? Then being a product tester could let you play with all the cutting-edge toys — and pay you for doing it!

Becoming a professional product tester isn’t hard. All you need to do is do a Google search for a market research company like Fieldwork and see if they have any offices in your area. After signing up to be a participant in their focus groups, you’ll receive emails inviting you to participate in paid market research studies, including product testing.

Many of these studies require you to fill out a questionnaire to see if you fit the demographic profile of the person these products are being marketed for. Depending on your age, gender, interests, and other factors, you may be asked to evaluate new tablet designs, VR technology, or even medical gear. Some studies need you to try out the products at a specific location while others will have you take the gear home and evaluate it over a period of several days or weeks.  

In the past, I’ve participated in studies that paid anywhere from a few hundred to a couple thousand dollars. Unless you fit the profile of a lot of target customer groups though, you probably won’t get these gigs all the time.  

Taste tester

Whether you consider yourself a “foodie” with a discriminating palate or just someone who never passes up a free meal, becoming a freelance taste tester can be a tasty way to spend your free time.

You’ll want to look up “market research companies” or “taste test centers” in your area to see where you can find this work. Some taste test centers can also be found in your local mall or shopping center. Once you sign up for their email list, you’ll receive offers to come down and try out a new breakfast sandwich, ice cream flavor, coffee drink, or soda.

Before each test, you’ll fill out a survey to make sure you’re the type of person who enjoys the food being market tested. Later, you’ll share your opinion on your meal through verbal and/or written feedback. While all the taste tester jobs I’ve had have been on-site, some taste testers get to take food home with them to evaluate. Payment can vary — maybe $40 for a 20-minute test — but you do get a free lunch!

TV panel study participant

Want to check out TV pilots before anyone else? Being a TV panel study participant let me view new sitcoms, reality shows, and dramas — and tell network executives exactly what I thought of them!

Many of these studies put you in front of a monitor and have you turn a dial back and forth to indicate how invested (or bored) you become with a show as you watch it. Some of the better-paying studies also require you to participate in a focus group with other viewers where you can give detailed responses on how you felt about the story, production values, and each actor’s performance.

It’s not just sitcoms that need to be evaluated either. You may provide feedback on new commercials or political ads. Payment can vary, with some companies paying only in coupons while others offer cash or prepaid debit cards worth over $100 

CBS Television City Research Center at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas offers regular TV screenings. You can also find TV studies through market research companies.    

Book flipper

Online bookdealers build their inventory by buying books cheaply at thrift stores, library sales, and estate sales and then “flip” or sell them on websites like Amazon for a profit. If you want to do this as an occasional side hustle, however, you can sell your books immediately with an app like Bookscouter.com.  

Bookscouter scans the ISBN barcodes found on the backs of most books, looks up multiple buyback companies that offer cash for books, and shows you how much each company is willing to pay you. If an offer looks good, you can buy the book, resell it to the company online, and then ship it to the company using a free shipping label they let you print out. 

This way, you won’t clutter up your house with books and still maintain a steady cash flow. I’ve made several thousand dollars this way, which I detail in my free eBook, “Make $1000+ a Month Selling Used Books Online WITHOUT Amazon.”

Haunted house actor

Back in 2019, I auditioned to be a “scare actor” or “haunt” for one of the professional haunted houses in my area. Rather than spend all my time in one role like my fellow haunts, I ended up playing several different monsters, including a walk-around killer clown and mummy who interacted and took pictures with guests in lines. Other nights found me inside the house as a pop-scare actor who leapt out of the shadows to frighten guests.

Being a scare actor gave me a new perspective on haunted houses. While guests may only spend a few minutes in the house, a “haunt” needs sufficient stamina to stay in the same spot for hours waiting for unsuspecting guests. You also need to carry plenty of water as the strain on your body can dehydrate you quickly. Being professional and on time is a must to let makeup artists and costumers get you ready. Shifts can be long and haunts are generally paid around minimum wage for a 5-day work week.

Challenges aside, being a haunt is a lot of fun and puts you in touch will a lot of professional actors and performers who come back every year to participate. This isn’t just a seasonal job for Halloween either. Some communities and amusement parks offer haunted houses at multiple points in the year, giving scare actors additional employment opportunities. Want to learn where those opportunities are? Network with your fellow haunts and learn where else you can scare people for cash!

Using Hectic for your side hustles

Trying new side hustles can be a lot of fun, but keeping track of all the companies you need to work with can be a hassle. You’re already making a huge time commitment growing your regular freelance business, so any side hustles you include shouldn’t add to your stress.

That’s where Hectic comes in. With this app, keeping track of your expenses, maintaining a workable schedule, and keeping financial records for taxes is easy. Freelancers need to do a lot, and having an app to help manage your workflow while you run a freelancing career with multiple side hustles keeps your life from being too overwhelming. See how Hectic can make your freelancing life better today!

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Michael Jung
Michael Jung has been a freelance writer, entertainer, and educator for over 20 years and loves sharing his knowledge in online articles. He also enjoys writing movie, TV, and comic book content and is developing a series of fantasy novels. Feel free to connect with him through the links below!
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