5 Bad Side Project Ideas to Avoid

Don't sell your soul to earn a second income

Some ideas for side projects are just plain bad.

There are so many hustlers out there with long, alluring, search-engine friendly articles listing the “101 ways to earn a side income” or “make money online” that it’s ridiculous. And it makes it hard to sort through or evaluate the good ones from the wacky ideas.

Part of the problem is that there are many folks with single, solitary examples of one person who’s made money on the side through an obscure or unique approach to DOING SOMETHING, ANYTHING.

And while I’m all for creative ways to earn an income, someone has to be a voice of reason. Might as well be me.

I’m going to ruffle some feathers here and perhaps get flamed in the comments or on social media, but I’m okay with that. But I think there are a few bad side project ideas that aren’t worth what you have to pay to get started with them.

Five bad side project ideas to avoid like the plague:

  1. Networking marketing
  2. Life coach
  3. Virtual assistant
  4. Driving for Uber
  5. eBay Seller

There are some harsh realities about each of these ideas that people never share. The premise with Side Project Plan is to help you build an honorable and sustainable second income. I don’t teach get-rich-quick, but I also don’t recommend approaches that are fraught with danger.

But let’s look at the flaws and risks inherent with these five bad side project ideas and you can decide for yourself if you should avoid them or not.

1. Network Marketing

I am steering you away from this in order to protect your family and friends.

They don’t want to tell you what I’m about to say.

They have other friends in deep with networking marketing. And they have a hard time distinguishing when those friends who are selling essential oils, or workout clothing, or pots and pans, or cosmetics, or other trinkets, are just talking with them like a normal human being vs. when they’re going through a needs assessment in order to promote or sell a product.

They cringe when those friends marvel over how Essential Oil X helped their young son get through a long, rough night where he had a horrible fever, when they see the very next week that it was prayer that got him through a terrible chest cold. They see the same language being used and it’s just plain odd to them.

The core principle of networking marketing is leveraging friendships to generate a little extra money. When done poorly—and it’s done poorly a lot—it adds a dynamic that those who aren’t selling don’t want in their friendships, even when they wish for the best for their networking-marketing friends.

Reference here, here, here, and here.

2. Life Coach

This is a painful but funny read.

(It’s also a little saltier with the language than I will normally point you to.)

What does one do as a life coach? It varies from coach to coach. There are some who are certified, and some who eschew certification. I’ve written on expertise before, giving a few circumstances when proper credentials are called for. And yes, there are trade organizations who want to standardize certification for coaches in general.

The truth is, all of us will throw money at a problem we can’t solve ourselves if the problem is big enough. But my concerns with life coaching as a side project or side income are several:

  • The vagueness of the term and the outcomes that should come from it for clients
  • It doesn’t scale well if you intend to change lives in a meaningful way (it’s hard to serve a large number of clients simultaneously, with their diverse needs)
  • It’s challenging and time-consuming to find people who fit your ideal-client profile
  • It’s difficult to stand out online due to how crowded the space is (it’s an estimated $2 billion industry already)

When it comes to bad side project ideas, this one isn’t at the top of the list, but it’s not worth the pursuit.

3. Virtual Assistant

Serving as others’ virtual assistants has many challenges, in my opinion.

This person seems to love it. 

But I want to point out a few reasons most people should avoid this side project like the plague.

The income per hour of work is low. Many tasks are pretty menial and have hard and fast deadlines. You’re working with someone else’s guidelines—with their lack of specifics, their nit-pickiness, their unknown ability to handle stress, their moodiness, their changes in direction or approach or strategy, and their budget.

And what if you’re sick? Is it easy to go on vacation and/or work from anywhere? That’s the dream, is it the reality?

In some cases you may be personally responsible for managing your clients’ email. Do you want that responsibility?

In short, my feeling is you’re overly reliant upon someone else’s whims and demands. If you’re looking for truly fulfilling work where you can apply your talents, skills, knowledge, and experience, I would make that argument that you’d best look elsewhere.

4. Driving for Uber

I ride with Uber at least 5-6 times every month. I talk with the drivers I encounter. Here’s what they love:

  • Uber drivers love that they can set their own hours
  • They love that they’re not employed by Uber directly
  • They love that they can decide, on the spur of the moment, to “clock in” and earn some extra money on a weekend

Here’s what they hate:

  • They don’t like the horror stories they’ve seen of crazy riders attacking drivers
  • They don’t like the risk associated with picking up strangers
  • They don’t like the wear and tear on their personal car
  • They don’t like Uber’s public stance about not even wanting drivers in the future

I understand the opportunity driving for Uber represents when you’re in desperate need for extra money and your resources are limited.

But do you really want to be a taxi driver to make extra income? Is that the best, most noble use of your talents, skills, knowledge, and experience?

5. eBay Seller

I have a close friend who is the primary income provider for a family of six (plus a dog!) through his eBay business. He started it after his once-lucrative landscaping business was forced to fold in the 2008 recession. Great man, husband, and father.

He has found a way to thrive selling products on eBay by focusing on unique, hard-to-find supplies, hardware, and gear needed by niche audiences. But here’s what it took to thrive:

  • Significant upfront cash that he could put towards purchases
  • Time to let his auctions run, and re-list, and re-list again and again until those niche audiences emerged
  • A dedicated garage (and now, two warehouses)
  • A willingness to spend a significant amount of time shipping and handling goods
  • Years

He’s got an exceptional work ethic, attention to detail, no problems with the physical work, unmatched patience, and the space to put a lot of equipment and, well, stuff in storage until it finally sells.

Do you have all of those? If not, avoid this one. It isn’t at the top of the list of bad side project ideas, but the capital you need up front to make it work is too big of a risk.

Summary

There are many more bad side project ideas out there. I realize there may be really unique scenarios where you can find fulfillment, make a nice side income, and enjoy any of these five. It’s just that all the planets often have to be perfectly aligned for them to work.

My bias comes in wanting to speak to people wanting to make a credible side income through the big four: talents, skills, knowledge, and experience. People who feel like they could be giving back—and earning a side income in the process—by putting those four to work.

If leveraging those four attributes is important to you, avoid these five side project ideas like the plague.

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