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Online side hustles offer experience, practical skills and added compensation for students

From Etsy shop creators to student ambassadors, University students seek real-world immersion in their own ways

<p>The virtual nature that has defined a large majority of interactions and activities since the start of the pandemic was an obstacle that these students took in stride while operating their businesses or working in tandem as brand ambassadors.</p>

The virtual nature that has defined a large majority of interactions and activities since the start of the pandemic was an obstacle that these students took in stride while operating their businesses or working in tandem as brand ambassadors.

Throughout their undergraduate college career, students are able to find a plethora of ways to make money while attending school — some find part-time jobs or participate in clinical experiments, while others can make money by renting out their parking spots during home football games. However, safety regulations wrought by COVID-19 have thrown a wrench in many of these typical in-person plans that would otherwise have helped students bring in an income. Despite this, some students have still found ways to turn a profit while doing what they love, pursuing avenues of entrepreneurship through online marketing platforms or becoming student ambassadors for certain brands, to name a few. 

Second-year College student Melanie Hauf capitalized on this possibility and created Boho Bodhi Designs this past summer on Etsy, the online commerce site that allows creators to sell hand-crafted or vintage goods to the public. Sellers can begin their shop for free and only incur minimal selling costs for choosing Etsy as their selling platform. For Hauf, this meant she could sell her hand-stitched beaded earrings, a passion that she had since she first learned to bead 10 years ago — from a woman she met at a bakery, whom she still remains in contact with today. The products on her site range in price from $15 to $35. 

“I’ve wanted to have an Etsy shop since middle school,” Hauf said. “I just never had enough time until this summer when the pandemic came. I couldn’t really leave my house or get a job, so I decided to make my own job … Nobody else really makes earrings like me so I figured it would be a good market that isn’t oversaturated.”

Because of Etsy’s online nature, Hauf has taken to social media platforms like Instagram to market her brand. Through her business, Hauf has been able to recognize the importance of marketing and networking tactics, as well as the possibility of forming a community with other like-minded creators.

“[Social media is] the main way I market — I network with other sellers and we support each other's products, and it’s become this really cool network of other businesses,” Hauf said. “I just kind of take it one day at a time … I’m still trying to figure out how to get more engagement and get people coming to my site.”

While the pandemic may have prevented certain regular college activities, it also gave students unexpected time at home. For students with side hustles, this time has also been useful to expand their already-existing businesses.

Fourth-year College student Madison Dillard found quarantine as an opportune time to dedicate more energy towards her Instagram-based home decor business —  It’s Made by Madison. Her site features various home decor items, including signs which Dillard letters herself —  ranging from $5 for small prints to $15 for panels featuring her calligraphy. Panel prices can also vary depending on custom requests. Dillard began learning calligraphy her senior year of high school and started to sell signs after her first year of college at her mom's suggestion as a way to help pay for a new transmission on her car.

Dillard also noted the marketing challenges for her business, including those that have come with a pandemic-induced economic recession. Like Hauf, however, Dillard has capitalized on her extra time spent at home to explore ways to increase marketing and engagement for her business.

“I have noticed that people are maybe less willing to spend money on things like decor that I’m making,” Dillard said. “But I have expanded my clientele through Facebook ads and extra postings since I have some more time.”

Besides running a business of their own, another up-and-coming side hustle that is popular with University students is working with companies to promote their products and services on Grounds.

Third-year College student Anne Yong works as media manager for Bumble through its Honey Program and is also a campus director for digital food delivery service goPuff. Some of her work involves promoting the brands on her personal social media accounts, which Yong found appealing due to her interests in social media. 

“I always really liked social media and I … thought it was super cute because [Bumble ambassadors] do a really good job of marketing,” Yong said. “I applied for the Honey Program three semesters ago, and I got accepted, and I started working with them, and I’ve had three different roles each semester. I started off as the marketing manager, then outreach manager and this semester I am a] media manager.”

Side hustles also have career benefits for students because they offer valuable practical skills that can be applied to an endless array of opportunities in the future. Whether students are running their own businesses or working for another, they are able to learn through these experiences while still in school. In Hauf’s case, customer interactions have taught her lessons that she would not have realized without the first-hand experience of operating her Etsy store. 

“I see it as an experiment to practice marketing and a good way to network and something that I genuinely enjoy doing,” Hauf said. “I’ve learned it’s less about what you think people want and more about what people actually respond to, and sometimes that’s surprising.”

Students interested in creating a business of their own or engaging with a company to create a side hustle can find plenty of opportunities, whether that be through larger companies seeking out campus ambassadors or through channeling their own creativity and passions by launching their own brand. Dillard offers advice to those contemplating the latter option, drawing on her own personal experience to encourage her fellow students to make their dreams of starting a business a reality.

“The longer you wait and try to make things perfect, the less likely you are to win people’s hearts,” Dillard said. “Just start. You will fail. You will disappoint people. You will procrastinate too much. You will make something you’re not super proud of. You will miss an order. You will do lots of things that feel like they’re the end of the world in the moment — but just take them as a learning experience, make it right with the client and move forward.”


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