Young people are side-hustling their way out of the cost-of-living crisis

Via Instagram (@lilymay)

Over half of Gen Z now have a second source of income, with online pursuits like dropshipping and UGC booming as options for making a quick, life-saving buck. But what exactly are they? And where do we sign up?

I’ve always had an entrepreneurial streak.

Whether it was forcing my mum to take me to her charity shop manager shifts when I was seven, or becoming hooked on selling my old Disney DVDs and Tammy Girl clothes at car boots as a teen, I know the appeal of earning a little extra to make ends meet.

But now, in a cost-of-living crisis where inflation has hit a 40-year high of 9.4 per cent, people are not just choosing to start a side hustle – they have no other choice.

The pandemic led to drastic changes in not just how we work, but how we feel about what we do. The Great Resignation witnessed vast numbers of people leaving their old jobs during Covid, due to mounting dissatisfaction and a feeling of stagnancy. The Pew Research Center found that this trend was greatest in young people, with 37 per cent of young adults leaving their jobs in 2021, compared to 17 per cent of 30- to 49-year-olds.

Now, stagnant wages and worsening inequality means that the poorest fifth of British households are almost 20 per cent less well-off than their counterparts in France and Germany. This is hitting young people the hardest, with over one in 10 students currently using foodbanks.

It’s no surprise, then, that a recent study found that well over half of Gen Z have recently started a side hustle to help deal with the impacts of the cost-of-living crisis. THE FACE’s Side Hustles series looked at the many small businesses being set up through the pandemic, from sandwiches to earrings to glassblowing.

But increasingly diverse – and very online – methods of accumulating dollar are growing. Cryptocurrency has been touted as one get-rich-quick method, but as big losers in last month’s crypto crash know, it’s not quite that straightforward. If you want something slightly more concrete, we’ve looked into some of the methods currently being used by young people, from e‑com sales to admin roles, to acquire the cash needed to get by.


Virtual assisting

Replying to emails and social media scheduling: this might sound like the job you do already. But this is also the daily routine of the remote-working, self-employed virtual assistant, who carries out admin tasks for business owners and entrepreneurs. Which, as proclaimed on Instagram by virtual assistant influencers (yep, that’s a thing) like Lily May and @socialgirlmagic, anyone can do – so long as you’ve got a basic portfolio of digital skills.

And that basic portfolio can pay: May claims to be earning upwards of £5k per month.

Even though you might not take home the same benefits of a salaried role, or be earning as much as May, it’s still a more flexible way of making a bit of extra cash. After taking an online course in virtual assisting she found on Instagram, Freya*, one virtual assistant we spoke to, started working as one this year, after the pandemic caused her small business to suffer.

I started as a virtual assistant because I felt like my experience running my own brand gave me enough confidence to be able to help other business owners with their creative duties,” she explains. It was a way of being able to balance my business alongside a more consistent income stream, which would still allow me to do both.”

Virtual assistants are hired by businesses or other influencers as a way of out-sourcing the time-consuming and tedious tasks. Which might sound great if you’re keen to make a bit of extra cash. But similar to the affiliate marketing boom, it’s uncertain how long it’ll take before the supply of virtual assistants completely outweighs demand.


User-generated content – you know, those brand videos made by influencers that look less polished than normal ads – is becoming increasingly popular. And they really work, apparently. According to research, 92 per cent of consumers trust user-generated content over traditional advertising.

But the difference is that UCG creators don’t share the content on their own social media channels – they supply content to brands. Millennials are the largest demographic creating this stream of content, with that cohort making up almost three quarters of all UGC creation. From unboxing new products to raving about apps, brands really do pay for this content.

Malvika Sheth (@stylebymalvika on Instagram) is a fashion and beauty content creator who dislikes the term user-generated content”.

“‘UGC creator’ seems to be more of a recent craze, and I find that it can be quite limiting,” says the Los Angeles-based digital creator. I’ve had the pleasure of working with brands in several ways. But I’ve built most of my credibility not simply by working with brands but rather creating a platform of my own that is aimed at empowering individuality through fashion and beauty.

From this, they might hire me to create content for their pages,” she continues. And while I thoroughly enjoy doing so, for me, it’s a spin-off. [So] calling myself just a UGC creator’ wouldn’t be accurate. The worst thing you can do to a creative person is limit them or put them in a box.”


Want to buy and sell products from the comfort of your bedroom? Say hello to dropshipping: a relatively new e‑commerce technique that allows just that: sellers identify low-cost products that offer a simple solution to your day-to-day needs or impulse desires. Think of those tempting yet unnecessary products you snap up in the TK Maxx queue. Then forget about the tediousness of actually standing in that queue.

From sunset lamps to satin pillowcases and jade face rollers, these items are often chosen for their virality potential, like the portable neck fan which had a chokehold on TikTok during the heatwave. Once they’ve selected a product, dropshippers produce content to promote it and then sit back and wait. When the orders (hopefully) flood in, the dropshipper buys the product from its original supplier, usually a site like AliExpress, and purchases it directly, ordering the product to be sent to the customer. Then they pocket the profit.

Sounds simple, right?

Well, not quite. The problem with dropshipping is that it tends to depend on the possibility of these items going viral. This makes it an unpredictable and precarious stream of income. What’s more, if your product is going viral, it’ll likely be picked up by lots of other dropshippers, who you’ll then have to compete with.

All of which has catalysed another side-hustle: dropshipping gurus coax TikTok users to purchase their e‑com courses teaching them how to effectively get rich quick. @biaheza (who has God bless the hustle” in his Instagram bio) sells one for $297, and professes to make around $80k a month. Sebastian Esqueda, who has 50,000 YouTube subscribers, is a self-proclaimed Facebook ad master.

So while dropshipping might appear to only require a phone and the internet to make it big, an investment into sales-generating digital marketing tools that operate behind the scenes come with a big price tag.

The hustle never ends.

*Name has been changed

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