How AI can make common side hustles more lucrative
Artificial intelligence still has a long way to go before completely taking over most human jobs. But it can already make some side hustles easier and more lucrative, primarily by saving people time.
“Automation, I think, is the key to reducing your workload,” Sean Audet, a food photographer who uses generative AI tools like ChatGPT to write emails and business plans, told CNBC Make It earlier this month. “When a client first reaches out to me, I need to be able to quickly deliver a bunch of information about services and costs … in a nice, succinct and personalized way.”
Time is particularly valuable for side hustles, where your bandwidth is limited by definition. Some gigs that can benefit from current AI platforms are highly lucrative, too — paying up to $100 per hour.
Notably, few — if any — of today’s AI tools are “set it and forget it” style programs. Chatbots tend to output robotic-sounding language, and can “hallucinate” sentences that are simply wrong. Image generators still struggle to nail small details within larger pictures.
Those errors can occur from even simple prompts. In March, researchers from Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley asked ChatGPT 3.5 and 4 — OpenAI’s free chatbot and an updated version available to paying subscribers, respectively — to identify prime numbers. In June, they did it again.
The results varied wildly, from 2.4% accuracy (ChatGPT 4, in June) to 97.6% accuracy (ChatGPT 4, in March), the study reported.
Still, editing an AI’s language can be faster than writing multiple paragraphs from scratch, Audet said. Here are three common side hustles where you can already save time — and make money — by using AI.
Nicole Cueto, a New York-based public relations consultant, makes money on the side by helping people plan their vacations — booking flights, making reservations and planning excursions. She also has a profile on travel agent platform Fora, where she earns commissions when clients book hotels and experiences through her recommendations.
In January, when Cueto started her side hustle, she spent five to seven hours planning one day of vacation. Using ChatGPT as a refined, filtered version of Google cuts her “research time in half,” she says.
“I’ve been to Paris a thousand times, but if I have a client that wants to discover the depths of the city from an old school perspective, I don’t really know how to do that [from personal experience],” she says. “So, I’ll type in, ‘Give me a budget-conscious guide to Paris that incorporates historical neighborhoods where politicians lived in the 1880s.'”
Following ChatGPT’s proposed itinerary without further research would be risky, but Cueto says she doesn’t mind doing the fact-checking. It’s still more efficient than other search engines, she adds — and saving time means taking on more clients and making more money.
Today, Cueto makes an average of $670 per month from her side hustle, according to documents reviewed by CNBC Make It. She works 10 to 20 hours per week on it, making her rates roughly $42 per hour, she says.
Even as AI may replace human jobs, it can create new ones: Some companies have started hiring part-time content assistants, whose job is to generate blog, newsletter and social media posts using chatbots — and then fact-check the results.
These jobs, which are also referred to as AI content editing, can pay anywhere from $20 to $100 per hour, experts say.
“You can literally copy and paste in a transcription and say, ‘Turn this [speech] into a 700-word blog article that has five tips,'” Angelique Rewers, founder of small-business consulting firm BoldHaus, told CNBC Make It last month.
Rewers called AI content assistants “the biggest new side hustle,” adding that assistants should proofread anything they aggregate from ChatGPT to “make sure that it’s not gobbledygook.”
The barrier to entry is low, Rewers said. ChatGPT is currently free to use, and aspiring side hustlers can learn to effectively generate prompts on YouTube.
The job is starting to take off on freelance platforms, too, Upwork vice president of talent solutions Margaret Lilani told CNBC Make It last month.
“We’ve seen a high demand for this category of work,” Lilani said. Employers “are looking to build up the supply of freelancers who can support this demand.”
In some cases, when AI saves you time, it’s more useful to reinvest it in your future profits.
Audet, a trained fine dining chef, realized he had a knack for photography while substitute teaching a “Pastry Arts” class at Red River College in Winnipeg, Canada. He turned his side hustle into a full-time gig in 2020, and says he now regularly uses AI to craft emails and build business templates.
In the short term, he’s spent as much time practicing his AI prompts as he would’ve spent writing the emails and templates himself, he says: “It’s almost like having an assistant that you have to be really, really, really specific with.”
That means Audet isn’t making more money due to AI yet. In the long term, those skills should pay off more lucratively, especially as the technology improves, he says.
Audet has also dabbled with generative AI on photos, through programs like Midjourney. The technology allows him to swap out backgrounds, fix small imperfections or change the color of objects — but not to a degree that he’s ready to use it on professional projects.
“You’ll sometimes get surprisingly good results … but if the technology can do like 90% of the job, that’s not good enough when you’re working with clients paying a lot of money,” Audet says. “So the impact of it on my business is still relatively low.”
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