Why do side hustles fail? In this article, I highlight 7 of the top reasons why, and I also provide tips to avoid or deal with them (particularly if you’re blogging as a side hustle). I’ve lived such failures as well as benefitted from my current side hustle. So this list is like a post mortem of what went right as well as what went wrong in my own personal experiences and observations.
Hopefully, you’ll find this article useful as a resource to help you decide whether to involve yourself in a side hustle in the first place, or to re-evaluate whether you want to continue with the side hustle you’re in right now…
Lack Of Passion
We generally get involved in side hustles because we feel like our current income stream is either insufficient or our way of earning that income is unfulfilling.
That said, engaging in a side hustle is not easy because you’re essentially devoting your free time outside of your primary commitments to do another job.
Unless this is an easy side hustle that doesn’t intrude on your free time and overall well-being (which I’d argue doesn’t apply to most people), you’re going to be working even harder before seeing an appreciable income from that other job.
If you’re not into this other job, you’re going to get sick of it real quick.
Therefore, it’s not likely you’re going to keep this up (unless your living situation forces you to work that second or third job).
Personal Examples Of Not Following My Passion In Business
I learned this lesson early on when my dad partnered with some of his friends to own a video store and rent out movies in the early 1980s when I was still in elementary school.
I remembered dreading having to help dad out by going to the video store all the way in Santa Monica (about an hour drive from LA’s suburbs).
Spending all day on a Saturday there when all my friends were doing typical kid stuff during that time sucked big time.
After about a year of this, even dad and his partners gave this up as they all had day jobs and they found that they really weren’t passionate about renting out movies in their spare time.
That’s not to say that you can’t do temporary side hustles if you can leverage it for something greater.
For example, I volunteered at a lab in university after I had gotten my undergraduate degree as well as a day job.
That effort allowed me to get my foot in the door to pursue higher education in graduate school (and then leverage the higher degree for better pay).
Although this lab job was part-time after I got off work, I wasn’t really into volunteering my time doing more engineering (there were other things I would rather be doing, especially after going through a full day of work).
However, I temporarily made it work over a period of about 6 months or so before I finally got accepted into the graduate program, eventually got my masters, and then leveraged that degree into a better salary as planned.
Nevertheless, if you’re going to side hustle for the long term, I highly recommend that you’re passionate about it.
Otherwise, you’re essentially side hustling for the short term, which is fine if that’s how you want to spend your spare time.
How To Follow My Passion Long Term In The Easiest Way Possible
In my situation, I figured out how to blog as a side hustle and make a decent income by simply sharing our travels chasing waterfalls, which I’m still cultivating to this day.
Keep in mind that this blog started in the year 2006! (though we’ve already amassed a library of experiences since 1999)
Of course, I also had to learn the ropes about how to make money off of that blog.
That was where investing my time and money on the right blogging and training platform was very important. (click here for the blogging and training platform I use)
I really wanted this side hustle to succeed since I was passionate about travel and hiking (especially to waterfalls), and I was willing to put in the extra time and effort for my blog, as a result.
Indeed, working hard for something I’m passionate about is infinitely better than slogging it out in something I’m not into (like the video store or volunteering at an engineering lab).
(Is “follow your passion” bad advice? Click here to see the controversy behind this saying)
Bad Time Management & Burn Out
The main reason why most people don’t get into side hustling is that your free time outside of your primary job or commitments is very limited.
For most people, it’s the evenings and the weekends that are available, and even that is further eroded into as a result of traffic, working overtime, doing chores or running errands, and still trying to sleep, eat, exercise, get cleaned up, etc.!
So adding side hustling to that already limited resource (i.e. your free time) is a tough juggling act.
And without making the time to devote to your side hustle, your endeavor will likely fail.
Heck, even if you do scrape out time for your side hustle, if you don’t manage your time efficiently, then you’ll likely get burned out.
And if burn out causes you to dread your side hustle, then that’s not sustainable, and the side hustle will ultimately fail.
Personal Examples Of Bad Time Management & Burn Out
I know my wife is having a difficult time starting her blogging side hustle even though she hasn’t been working a 9-to-5 job since the early 2000s.
I’ve helped her set up the infrastructure for her blog since early 2020, but she still hasn’t published content for it to this day.
That said, I’ve seen how her time management was such that she essentially prioritized house chores or buying products she thinks will improve her life (as well as that of the family).
So she spends a lot of time each day doing those tasks at the expense of not having any time left to work on her side hustle.
In my case, I’ve had burn out because I was sacrificing sleep in order to make time for my side hustling endeavors on top of my day job.
Instead of setting aside consistent chunks of time on my side hustle and paying attention to when I’m most productive doing so, I’ve found that the human body can only do so much before it needs to rest and recover.
Besides, trying to force productivity in the side hustle also can be counterproductive (you might end up writing jibberish when your body wants to sleep, for example).
Thus, I learned that I had to respect my body’s ability to think and function, and that forced me to really take my time management skills to the next level.
How Do You Avoid Burn Out?
So given my personal mistakes, I’ve learned that the best way to manage my time is to slowly build my side hustling tasks into my daily routine.
Like brushing and flossing or working out, if you can discipline yourself to do these things on a consistent basis, then you’ll be able to sustain it.
However, the moment you stop being consistent, the routine breaks and you ultimately lose out on the benefits of engaging in those routines in the first place.
The same is true for your side hustle.
If you’re not making it a habit to set aside time out of your day to devote to your side hustle, then that side hustle will fail.
To give you some examples, I’ve managed to devote time by…
- using time on public transportation to learn (by taking online classes and/or training modules)
- using my breaks at work to brainstorm or compose content
- devoting after-hours to work on the side hustle while I’m waiting out evening rush hour traffic
You’ll want to slowly build in one new routine at a time to see how it goes before adding more routines.
That way, you can evaluate how your body is responding to each change you’re making, and whether you can keep it going without burning out.
As you can see in both my wife’s example as well as my recent one, you’re setting yourself up for failure if you can’t intelligently incorporate side hustling tasks into your daily routine.
Unwise Spending Upfront
In addition to time being a finite resource, your money is also very limited.
So the inability to manage your money by investing too much money upfront (especially if you haven’t turned a profit yet) is my third reason why side hustles fail (let alone any business).
It’s easy to get caught up in the belief that you need to spend money on the right tools right off the bat to get your side hustle business off the ground.
However, the truth is that you don’t really need to spend money upfront to even get your hands dirty in blogging as a side hustle – particularly if you want to monetize that blog off affiliate marketing.
Besides, tying up your capital on assets when you’re not even sure it’s going to work will limit your ability to use or repurpose your limited funds.
This is especially true when you do come across something that has a higher chance of success based on new or emerging things that you’ve learned as you’ve immersed yourself in your side hustle.
Personal Examples Of Spending Too Much Upfront
To illustrate the point, in one of my failed side hustles where I tried to publish a guidebook about New Zealand Waterfalls, we spent a lot of upfront capital hiring an editor, a proofreader, a printing manufacturer, and printing about 3000 books.
All that upfront capital costed us well over $15k, and $10k of it was tied up in inventory from those 3000 books.
A lot of that money could have been better used for other purposes, but the lure of the economies of scale (cost per book) made us pursue printing more books instead of just settling for printing 1000 then seeing if we could reprint later on.
By the way, we had to remainder most of those books at a loss because we couldn’t sell that many books and it took up too much garage space.
Now granted, even though the book publishing side hustle failed, that venture wasn’t a total failure.
That was because while marketing those books, I learned that blogging about waterfalls instead of marketing a book about them was the better way to go, and that ultimately became my main side hustle.
Hey, nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?
Anyways, to further drive home the point about wasting too much money upfront, consider my wife’s struggling food blog, which still can’t get off the ground.
The reason why is because she got hung up on spending money on a food recipe theme, a logo, domain names, and plugins to print out recipe cards.
Keep in mind that she didn’t even publish any content like an about page or a blog post as she got distracted by what I’m calling shiny object syndrome.
Moreover, her belief and stubborness that she was right about her priorities (which is a total guess) also prevented her from taking the necessary training to roadmap her path to success.
How can you avoid wasting too much money upfront?
Well, going back to my blog as a side hustle, I could have saved all the costly trial and error had I stuck with the right training and hosting platform in the first place, especially since it was free to start out. (click here for my preferred web platform)
With that free membership, I could have gotten properly trained in affiliate marketing, build the blog’s infrastructure, and then decide at that point to upgrade and get a domain name while unlocking the rest of the training modules and classes.
I ended up learning the hard way that I probably didn’t need to spend so much on individual services like premium hosting, WordPress developers, email hosting, staging hosting, and a myriad of plugins, themes, etc.
That said, as painful as it was, I did learn a lot through that process (including a lot of the under-the-hood web coding stuff and system administration tasks that most people don’t even see).
It’s why I’m in position to share my experiences in this article as well as offering coaching if you do decide to give blogging as a side hustle a go.
Not Understanding Your Audience
At the end of the day, when you’re trying to make money, you’re inevitably providing people a service or product that they’re willing to pay for.
After all, if you look at your own situation, why should you part with your hard-earned money unless you’re getting something in return?
If you sell right out of the gate, you’re going to turn off your audience and they’ll bounce.
Wouldn’t you react the same way if someone did that to you?
Personal Example Of Not Understanding The Audience Or Customer
To further drive home the point, I know in my travels that I’ve witnessed this inability to understand the customer firsthand when I’d visit developing countries.
Given the level of poverty in those environments, it’s common to see touts aggressively trying to push products onto you (most of which you don’t need).
Even though they may be in more desperate living situations (so they have a harder time trying to better understand their audience), as a customer, the touting gets annoying very quickly.
Just imagine someone (actually lots of people) shoving their products in your face without taking no for an answer over and over again.
If you find that to be a turn off, then this is a prime example of how not to run your business (unless you want to drive your customers and/or your audience away).
How can you better understand your audience?
In the case of my blogging side hustle, if I’m not solving someone’s problems or helping to make their situation better, then I don’t earn money from them.
Think about the last time you went shopping or you went online to buy something…
You probably had a need or a pain point you’re trying to address, and whoever provided you the answers you were looking for would be the one that earned your business.
Therefore, you’ll want to do the research to see what your target audience is asking about and the solutions they’re looking for.
For if you don’t do that, then you’re just guessing and you may end up spending a lot of time and money devoted to something that can be a total waste (in addition to losing your audience).
There are tools for better understanding your audience such as Google (both the search engine’s instant feature and the analytics) as well as keyword research tools to get actual data on the behavior of your audience.
Going back to my waterfalls blog, I strive to provide good gear advice as well as travel advice concerning the activities that we’d naturally engage in.
After all, I’m such a customer or audience member myself so I know a thing or two about the problems I’m facing and how to overcome them while engaged in chasing waterfalls.
The bottom line is that there is a real person reading your content or needing some advice or even needing some product (if you’re working at a store).
As long as you keep that in mind, you should be able to avoid this common reason for a failing side hustle.
Not Focusing On High ROI Tasks
This particular reason applies if your side hustle involves running your own business (as opposed to working for someone else part-time on a second job).
The key point here is that you’ll want to be flexible with your priorities and not have so much tunnel vision that you can’t cut your losses on unproductive tasks and pivot right into doing the money-making activities.
This is especially true if you have a side hustle that isn’t making money, because you now have to ask yourself if you’re spending too much of your time on tasks that don’t yield you any return on investment (ROI).
Running your business focusing on the tasks that you only want to do as opposed to all the other (money-making) ones that you have to do will cause you to burn through your capital (and ultimately lose money).
Every worthwhile legitimate money-making activity has aspects of it that takes us out of our comfort zone.
It could be as scary as trying to convince clients about the value you’re offering, or putting yourself in front of the camera on a YouTube video, or publishing a blog post when you’re not sure how people will react to your content.
Sometimes you have momentum on a particular task before the analytics are telling you that maybe the task needs to be abandoned or re-purposed into something more worthwhile as far as monetization and ROI is concerned.
The bottom line is that you don’t want to dwell on the tasks that aren’t as important.
Personal Experiences From Working On The Wrong Tasks
I can speak from experience in my blogging side hustle where I’ve been guilty of spending too much time on unproductive tasks.
For example, I’ve wasted time indulging in writing itinerary posts as I prioritized them over reviews or how-to articles that would have been even more helpful and convert better.
I have hundreds of itinerary posts but far fewer reviews and how-to articles, and so that’s something I’m still trying to correct to this day.
Heck, both my wife and I have also been guilty of spending too much time (more like indulging) on Facebook and Instagram trying to share our waterfalls when they’ve only yielded a marginal improvement in engagement.
I think it’s safe to say after many years of trying to engage our audience on the socials in this way hasn’t been effective and should be de-prioritized.
Remember, you’re trying to earn money and run your own business.
So it makes sense to prioritize your activities for actually being in business instead of particular nuances and whims that really don’t matter in the long run (especially if you don’t have content).
How do you know what are the high ROI tasks to focus on?
This is where the training I’ve received has helped immensely to identify what has worked and what hasn’t. (click here for my preferred affiliate marketing training platform)
After all, the instructors have made the same mistakes or learned from trial-and-error, and they’re now teaching courses so you don’t have to make the same mistakes they did!
The training has step by step tasks while also emphasizing principles to adhere to in terms of providing value to your audience.
It was only after going through the courses and doing the tasks did I finally internalize what I should have been doing all along.
And it was only after pivoting and spending more time on the higher priority, higher ROI tasks did I notice that my waterfalls blog’s traffic and associated revenue increase.
Impatience / Giving Up Too Early
One way to guarantee failure is giving up, and it’s especially a tragedy if you give up too early without ever knowing if you would have succeeded had you stuck it out just a while longer.
So how long is “a while longer”?
Well to give you a sense of perspective, my blogging side hustle has been going on since 2006.
Of that time, I didn’t even start earning consistent income until after 2-3 years!
And I even went through a period where my website stagnated (and even declined) for some 5-6 years until I finally found some training that helped me turn things around for the better again.
Personal Experiences With Impatience
My impatience almost did in my waterfalls website because there was a period of about 5-6 years when it stagnated and traffic even declined over that time.
I knew that I had to migrate hosts as well as figure out how to reverse that trend.
But in the course of trying to make that happen, I found myself in a very painful migration process that took about 3 years to complete.
I had numerous moments where the money and time spent on it made me want to give up because the voice in the back of my head kept telling me it’s not worth the trouble.
Even after the migration was complete, the improved results didn’t even come to fruition for the first year (when I really questioned whether I wasted all my time and money on this blog).
But eventually it turned the corner, and now it’s earning quite handsomely.
Just imagine what a guaranteed loss that would have been had I given in to my inner voice?!?
How much time should you devote before giving up?
If you’re starting a new blog or website, you really have to give it your all for at least 6 months before you even start to notice any results (i.e. more traffic but not necessarily more money – yet!).
If you can only work at your side hustle part-time or on very limited time (it is the “side” part of your hustle, right?), then you’ll likely have to adjust your expectations.
For example, if I can only spend half of what I’d consider full-time (say a 40-hour workweek that I’d fit in after hours), then I’d have to expand those 6 months into 12 months or longer.
The bottom line is that if you’re engaging in any side hustle for the long term, you have to keep working at it as if you’re in it for the long haul.
Results aren’t guaranteed, and you’re really working on the faith that something will happen.
This is especially true since you don’t even know when, why, or how your efforts will turn the corner, but the persistence ensures you stay in the game!
By the way, the lure of get-rich-quick schemes (especially on the promise of some “secret sauce” that no one else knows) is a trap.
Everything that is worthwhile requires a lot of time and a lot of hard-work.
Giving up is a sure fire way to short-circuit any progress made, and it’s guaranteed to make your side hustle fail.
Heck, even if you are thriving and earning a stable income, there’s always something to learn and there’s always something to try out.
At the end of the day, the entrepreneurial spirit is all about giving things a go because you don’t know what is going to happen until you actually do it.
And you don’t know if (when) success is right around the corner so you really want to persist because you only realize the success if you’re still in the game when that happens.
Not Being Yourself
The last big reason why side hustles fail is that you’re not being yourself when engaged in the endeavor.
What do I mean by this?
Well, one way you may not be true to yourself is that you’re trying to mimick or copy someone who is more successful.
While there are things to learn from other people who are doing it better (or just differently), straight up copying them is not a good way to engage your audience.
After all, people can tell if you’re not being genuine to them, and that’s the fastest way to lose trust, which means you lose the business (whether it’s a sale, the repeat business of a customer, the retention of your audience, etc.).
Similarly, if you’re engaged in a side hustle that is not in line with who you are or who you identify with, then that side hustle is not likely to succeed.
After all, if you have to be someone you’re not when doing that hustle, then you’re not likely to be so schizophrenic that you’ll be successful in that hustle.
The only exception to this that I could think of would be that if you have some untapped potential that was either suppressed or you hadn’t known about.
Then perhaps that side hustle might bring out a total change in you that might be closer to who you really are, and thus you might thrive in the side hustle as opposed to what you’ve been doing previously.
Personal Experiences With Not Being Myself
Although I’ve mentioned it earlier on in this article, my Dad was not the kind of person who is a movie buff nor is he the type of guy who would stand behind the counter running a store.
It didn’t take long for him to realize this, and after giving it a go, he gravitated back to what he had been doing pretty well, which was being an engineer where he had subject matter expertise that people recognized him for.
I also remembered trying to help my wife with her travel agency business, where she had me distribute fliers as well as represent in booths at travel shows.
Neither of us had the personality nor the thick skin to take the amount of rejection or indifference when partaking in those activities, and it was why that didn’t last long.
Being an introvert myself, I know how hard it is to approach strangers, especially if they already have their guard up as they’re typically suspicious of your intentions.
So the same goes for writing blog posts or publishing YouTube videos, where it’s hard to be someone you’re not unless you’re totally making a long-term transformation in your personality.
While it’s possible to change your personality as well as how you deal with people, that comes with a lot of practice and time.
You’ll only want to do that if you’re motivated enough to put in the work to do so genuinely as a self-improvement measure.
Don’t do it just to put on an act in order to land a sale.
How can I make money if I’m not a natural salesperson?
The key thing you have to realize is that if you’re side hustling for yourself (like blogging, which I’m doing), you’re in the business of helping people.
You don’t have to be that extroverted sales guy to be successful.
You just have to genuinely be helpful to other people so that you gain trust and likeability.
Only then will people be more willing to listen to your advice and act on your recommendations.
Granted, extroverts tend to meet more people and have more fun in general, but when it comes to blogging as a side hustle, all you need to be is helpful and trustworthy.
In other words, just be your better self!
(Bonus) Fear Of Taking Risks
All of the above reasons for side hustles failing have to do with improper action (or lack thereof) when you’re already engaged in a side business.
However, what about those intrepid first steps when you’re starting out on your side hustle?
Let’s face it.
Running a business (let alone your own side hustle) means that you’re taking a risk.
After all, you don’t know if your efforts will succeed, and yet you invest your time as well as money on the hope that it will eventually pay off.
So if you’re afraid of taking risks to the point of being too timid to try things out, then you’re already behind your competitors who aren’t as timid.
That degree of paralysis will ultimately undermine your ability to run your own business because you’ve self-imposed a mental disadvantage that you must overcome.
All worthwhile endeavors require some degree of risk (otherwise it’d be too easy and everyone would be doing it).
That said, I can appreciate hesitancy in diving in head-first in unknown ventures where success is not guaranteed.
That’s why as far as blogging as a side hustle is concerned, I’d highly recommend trying out a reliable affiliate marketing platform that lets you test drive their platform for free for as long as you’d like. (click here for my recommended affiliate marketing platform)
Once you understand what is involved in making money off blogging through affiliate marketing through hands-on experience, then you can be in a better position to decide where you want to go next.
At that point, you could choose to decide…
- whether to upgrade to access all the resources or
- whether to try out a competitor to the platform you’re learning from or
- whether affiliate marketing isn’t for you and walk away
The bottom line is that if you find yourself in the position of being paralyzed with fear of failure or the consequences of failure, then you have to ask yourself: Am I going to regret not pursuing my passion?
At least by test driving this affiliate marketing platform, perhaps you can answer that question truthfully at no risk to you other than investing some time for yourself and what you want out of your life!
The main takeaway from sharing my experiences with side hustles is that they’re intended to be done on the side.
However, you never know where your endeavors will take you until you take action.
Although some people have managed to do it, I wouldn’t quit my day job until I KNOW my side hustle activities have earned enough to reliably replace most (if not all) of my primary day job income.
You may hear about the myriad of success stories, but you don’t hear about the many more that don’t succeed.
That’s the reality about making money online (or in general) – if it’s so easy, everybody would be doing it.
And even if you were successful, there’s no guarantees that it will continue to thrive as the marketplace (as well as your competition) changes and adapts with the times.
Heck, we saw from the COVID-19 outbreak that if your side hustle was thriving in the hospitality industry or in the arts, it could come to a screeching halt due to factors that were well beyond your control!
Nevertheless, it’s safest to keep leveraging whatever wins you have in your current situation until there’s greater clarity about where the side hustle is going.
That will take time, but one thing is for certain…
If you don’t persist, you’ll never know. And living a life of what ifs and regrets is not living.
So do try to live your best life, because it’s the only one you got!