OZY Readers' Favorite Side Hustles

OZY Readers' Favorite Side Hustles

By James Watkins


Because you’re a crazy bunch.

By James Watkins

We asked, you shared. For the past week, our original series The Evolution of the Side Hustle: How Gigs Are Killing the 9-to-5 has charted the changing nature of the daily grind as the digital economy introduces new ways to meet rent with innovative side gigs. Inspired by our coverage, OZY readers have been sending us stories of their own weird and wacky side hustles; here are some of our favorites.

Exploding Profits

My side gig is blowing things up. I work on fireworks displays for multiple companies as well as for events ranging from football games to touring rock concerts. I also make side money teaching courses to people who want to become licensed to handle pyrotechnics. One time while working on a Rammstein concert, I was sprayed with foam from a giant penis, but I got to have my picture taken with their lead singer after the show, so I’m not complaining. I used to work full-time on software quality assurance, but when the startup I had been working at went under, I made the move to doing special effects full-time. Since I’m freelance, I can shoot for multiple companies and work a decent number of shows over the course of a year, but I don’t make a huge amount of money from it: My overall income from pyro generally runs under $10K. —Brian Oberquell, 57, Vancouver, British Columbia

Stay Classy, Kansas City

I have a side hustle. You might say it’s kind of a big deal — I mean, people know me. Well, you get the idea … I’m a Will Ferrell impersonator! Moneywise, each gig is different; there really isn’t a standard fee structure. One time, a gentleman from London hired me to meet him and his girlfriend in New York City and jump out from behind a tree as they rode in their carriage through Central Park. We went all through NYC reenacting the escalator scene and the revolving door scene from Elf — we even popped into a coffee shop near Columbus Circle and yelled, “Congratulations, you did it, world’s best cup of coffee!” to about 25 startled people. After all the travel and fun on the weekends, I return to Kansas City and my career as marketing director for a consumer packaged goods company. —David Babcock, 48, Kansas City


Tips From a Lifelong Hustler

I could probably write a book about my life’s gigs. Currently, I breed purebred Siamese cats in order to help pay my property tax. Now that I’m retired, it’s a welcome addition to my income. In the past, my hustles have included dress making, drapery making, hand-knitting baby clothes and bikinis and manufacturing doll clothes (I once sold $30,000 worth at a local Christmas market booth). Back in the ’70s, for extra and absolutely needed cash between regular traditional employment, I cleaned houses, a hustle that eventually led to me starting a housecleaning business. Throughout this time, I was working normal jobs as a store manager in the Bahamas, dance teacher, flight attendant and sausage salesperson, and I helped develop a furniture and design franchise. Side hustles have liberated me from miserable employment and created economic leverage far beyond my social status. I have taught my children that the side hustle is an absolute life necessity. My sons all hustle in addition to their day jobs — one runs an internet free-range meat business, one is a wedding DJ and one does upscale design and painting. LONG LIVE THE HUSTLE! —Louha Magela, 69, Burlington, Ontario

Clowning Around

Years ago I was faced with the issue of needing to make money in my spare time since I could not make ends meet with my main job as an IT analyst for a big corporation. I eventually decided to do balloon twisting — it was something I could learn myself, even though it’s not real easy. I mastered about 10 basic balloon animals in six months. I then took a short course on clowning and branched out to learning some basic magic illusions. For the first 10 years I was only hired sporadically. Then I got a good website, and business really started taking off. I lost my day job in 2008 and decided to do more clowning to make ends meet. I retired from the corporate world and was available 24/7. Now I do about 100 gigs a year and charge about $100 per hour. —Doug Griffin, aka Lucky the Clown, 65, Dayton, Ohio

Gaming Goodwill

I buy used things and resell them. I purchase items from thrift stores or garage sales that have value that people miss, and I can identify because of what I’m interested in. I buy designer clothes, exclusive shoes, camera lenses and old compact cameras that I know are rare and then put them back up on eBay or Craigslist. I try to make 100 percent back on whatever I buy, so I probably make a profit of $1,000 every two or three months. By day, I’m OZY’s visuals editor. One time I bought an old VHS skateboard video for $1 from a Salvation Army store and sold it for $42. For Jordan shoes, the perfect situation is when you find a pair of Jordans from, like, 2001 that haven’t been retroed yet. Somebody really wants those shoes, and probably next year they’re going to retro that shoe, and then nobody wants the old ones anymore. You can pick up Jordans for $5 from a garage sale if people don’t realize their value and sell them for $150. —OZY’s own Sean Culligan, 26, Boulder Creek, California

The Pen Is Mightier Than the Coin

I am a government trial lawyer by day, and by night I fix and modify fountain-pen nibs. My customers either have something wrong with the way their pen writes — it is scratchy, the ink doesn’t flow correctly or it’s so bent it’s unusable — or they want to reshape the tip of the nib to change how the pen writes. Once you get good at this, it can be very lucrative: Modifications start at $40 and go up from there. Some take only 20 minutes to finish; others can be more. At pen shows I have had diplomats, government officials, NSA employees, a TV meteorologist and all sorts of other people sit down in front of me and ask for help with their fountain pens. —Joshua Lax, 34, Brooklyn