TORONTO — Sara McIntyre started her side business by accident.
The Toronto-based law clerk had been making soaps in her spare time as a hobby. After crafting a few for a coworker, she realized they would sell — so in 2016, she invested a bit of spare money into supplies and launched Sara’s Soaps and Candles.
She began trading her products on Bunz, a Toronto-based online bartering platform, but eventually McIntyre built enough of a following to sell them through her own website and at markets. Though she has shifted from soap to candles, McIntyre says she sells hundreds of the $25 items per month: all on top of her day job.
For McIntyre, monetizing her creative output was an empowering way to fill her time, build her network in Toronto and earn spare income. She’s one of a growing number of Canadians taking on “side hustles,” thanks in part to the ever-growing gig economy.
Running Sara’s Soaps and Candles takes up one to two hours each day, and it took a few years before the business reached profitability. Though it felt overwhelming at times, McIntyre says she enjoyed the ritual of her craft enough that the early-stage slog was worth it.
“I’ve never stopped loving what I’m doing, and I enjoy it, and it’s kind of de-stressing in a way, too.”
Many young Canadians with spare time on their hands take to the internet or smartphones to pick up occasional work and increase their cash flow. Ride-hailing apps Uber and Lyft, courier apps Foodora and Skip The Dishes, dog-walking apps such as Rover and transcription apps like Rev have made this easier than ever to do.
These platforms allow users to take on as much or as little work as they want at any given time simply by logging in. It’s an ideal setup for someone with a variable work schedule who needs flexibility from an extra job, like sole proprietors, artists, and creatives.
The sector is growing. In a December 2019 report on the gig economy, Statistics Canada found the share of gig workers grew to 8.2 per cent in 2016 from 5.5 per cent from 2005, driven in part by those who combined this type of work with other wages or salaries. Canadians ages 34 and younger made up more than a quarter of gig workers.
But not all side hustles are equal.
The same Statistics Canada study found gig income is usually low, and that workers in the bottom 40 per cent of annual income distribution were about twice as likely to be involved in gig work as other workers.
But the appeal is often not the pay, it’s the flexibility.
The degree of flexibility is particularly ideal for those in creative pursuits, says Chris Enns, a fee-only financial planner at Rags to Reasonable, a Toronto-based firm that primarily works with Canadians in the arts and others he jokingly calls “money misfits.”
Enns says those pursuing a career in the arts — a field known for precarious nature and unconventional work schedules — can benefit from a side hustle that doesn’t require tremendous thought or energy but offers flexible hours.
“One thing that I hear a lot from actors and musicians and people that are gigging, while trying to build .125a career.375 … flexibility is a massive one,” Enns says. “The idea that I can get an audition tomorrow, run off and do it, and my income stream and my boss is okay with that news is a massive plus.”
McIntyre’s small business might not work for someone who needs flexibility. It works for her because she has a stable full-time job she enjoys. But many workers who are already juggling many balls might not have the energy to devote to taking care of inventory, tracking orders, and the other tasks that keep a business going. Driving for a ride-share service might offer what someone else needs.
Enns says the most important part of finding a side hustle is figuring out what works for you.
He suggests everyone considering side work first look at their options and figure out exactly what they need from it (factors like money, flexibility, and energy requirement should all be considered), and weigh this against how it might add to or subtract from their primary goals.
“Just really think about what are the values, what are the qualities that you want in a job,” Enns says. “Anything that can make us feel like we’re more in control, actually making the decision, as opposed to having decisions foisted on us, I think is really, really important.”