Recently, while brainstorming with a reader who needed to supplement her regular full-time job, I made a quick list of the ways I've done that in my life. I wanted to help her discover what others might pay her to do at odd times of the day and on weekends.
PROCESS SERVER. I worked as an independent process server for a company that attorneys hire to have subpoenas delivered in their civil cases. Whenever I had a couple of hours to spare, I'd pop into the office, pick up a stack of subpoenas and head out to attempt to "serve" unsuspecting defendants in civil lawsuits.
My mission was to find the defendant and then address said person by name (Laura ... Laura Smith?). By law, I was required to make sure I had eye contact, wait for that look of "knowing," and then hand off the document. Even if the person refused it -- turning to walk (run?) -- I could legally assert that the person had been served.
The best part? I got paid $35 per attempt to serve. That means that if I knocked on the door and no one was home, attempt complete and back into the stack that document would go for a future attempt. I could easily "attempt to serve" two or three subpoena's per hour. The service loved me because I was available at odd times, such as late at night or early on a Saturday. Process servers are legally required to serve papers in the correct manner laid out by their state. Process serving laws differ by state. But basically, if you are an adult, have not been convicted of a crime and can engage strangers in a warm and friendly way, you, too, could be a process server in your spare time.
PIANO TEACHER. I got started young, at age 15, as a student teacher in a music academy. I loved it -- not so much the teaching but the $5 per lesson. My little students did well, and soon I was teaching on my own at home after school. Teaching private piano lessons was the way I worked to pay my way through college. At one point, I had 72 students, giving each one a 30-minute lesson per week.
You may not play the piano, but I'll bet you're really good at something. Cooking, organization, gardening, cleaning, stenciling, knitting, computing, driving -- the list could go on and on. Figure out how you can teach that skill to others. The greater your need to earn extra money the more creative and better at teaching you'll become.
LAUNDRESS. When I discovered that several friends were taking their husbands' dress shirts to the laundry and paying $1.50 per shirt to have them washed and ironed, I got really good at washing and ironing men's dress shirts. I offered to do a better job in less time for half the price -- 75 cents per shirt, quite a bargain back then. I was fanatic about correct laundering and ironing, using starch as requested, and offering to hand them back either on a hanger or properly folded. It was fun and something I could do while my kids were napping and (shh!) while catching up on my soap operas.
You may hate ironing men's shirts but love to do something else that your peers would pay you to do for them. Figure it out. Then make sure you beat their expectations and the price they would pay elsewhere.
WEDDING AND FUNERAL MUSICIAN. I could not begin to tell you how many weddings and funerals I have played. And boy, do I have the stories. At one wedding, the bride sobbed so long and loudly that she never did "repeat after me." The groom ended up doing it for both of them, as she never could fully gain her composure.
Another couple got the giggles as they approached the altar. They could not stop laughing. Of course, it was infectious, and once the minister began to chortle, that kinda ended the whole ceremony. I carried the day, playing softly behind the entire fiasco until every last person was out of the church. I've always wondered whether the couple hit the reception bar on the way in.
My all-time favorite story is the wedding when I, at the organ, and a pianist were instructed to begin playing love songs 30 minutes before the ceremony was to begin. And we did. But there was still a very long line of guests out the door and down the street -- waiting to get in and moving at a snail's pace because each person had to sign the guestbook before entering the church.
We gave each other that "keep going" signal as we started over with our lovely repertoire of pre-ceremony music. After more than an hour of this impromptu repetition, the place was finally packed, and we nearly fell off our respective seats.
You may not be a musician, but that thing you teach? Book yourself to perform it -- as a service. Let everyone know you're available to organize, clean, cook, stencil -- whatever it is. If you're good at it, charge slightly less than what you find to be a fair price; you will not want for business.
Mary Hunt's weekly column, "Everyday Cheapskate," can be found at creators.com.