how to make money: get inventive

I started writing this a few weeks back when a girlfriend and I were shooting the shit and she mentioned finding alternative forms of making money to supplement her salary. I stopped myself from making lewd suggestions and we started brainstorming. Then I came upon this 2004 feature on my favourite producer and DJ James Murphy, who I actually heard live in Toronto late last year — a dream come true, GAH! He considers himself a failure, as he tells the Guardian, his greatest career regret being the time he declined a job offer to write for Seinfeld. Here I thought I had missed opportunities! Not quite….

Murphy had done a lot of random jobs – bouncer, call centre researcher, etc. It makes him sound so normal, as if we might have sat side by side in the same office. Maybe one day we would’ve talked about electronic music and decided to do a rough recording on my iPhone, one thing would’ve lead to another and….That’s how stuff happens, you know. I could be onstage at Coachella right now:P The point is that side jobs come and go, ultimately they may not define your long term goals but they can build character and your bank account. Side jobs can be a bit difficult in Dubai as we are usually only allowed to work on the visa of our primary employer or on a freelance visa. Here are some ways I’ve made money in the past, which I also call “hustlin'” (e’ryday).

Nightclub Photographer

Back in 2006 I was home from university for the Christmas holidays. I met a club promoter and his friend who ran a purse boutique store. They offered me a gig taking photos of clubbers on Toronto’s top 40 King West strip and hooked me up with a camera. Yup, I was “that girl” with the camera. It was fun — I got to meet a lot of strangers, many of whom got me to jump in on the photos with them. They paid me by the photo, though, and at the time I wasn’t so forward with approaching people so I didn’t make a lot of money. I’ve gotten better at this but more extroverted types would excel at it. 

Boutique Party Host

A few months later, in early 2007, I’d graduated from university and moved back to Toronto. My best friend Shaifa and I decided we wanted to have a ladies night with all the girls we had lost touch with. I was still talking to the [hot] boutique store manager and we convinced him to let us host our party at his store. “We’ll drink wine, eat cheese and let the girls buy purses, and maybe we’ll take a commission on the purses,” we told him, certain it was the idea of the year. One Facebook event and cheese shopping trip later, we waited in her Bay St. apartment for the 15 “attending” guests to arrive so we could go to the boutique. That’s when we learned that just because people say they’re “attending” a party on Facebook it doesn’t mean they actually show up. The five of us ended up drinking wine and throwing silicone bra padding at strangers from Shaify’s balcony.


Back in uni I once handed out Campbell’s Soup samples on a street corner. I was with a bunch of other students and my co-worker that day was a Cirque du Soleil dancer, who I found fascinating, of course. So when a week later my acting agent told me about a promo gig handing out Godiva chocolate samples in a luxury fragrance aisle, I was like sure, why not. I did it for a weekend but swore never again. I felt too inactive. I know girls who do this in Dubai, though, and seem to make a full career out of it. I think as long as you find a way to entertain yourself during the lulls then this can be a viable option.


Flea Market Table

One winter back in highschool my parents mentioned a deal they had on low-cost products that would sell well at the Pickering Flea Market. I, of course, started envisioning wads of cash being thrown at me and told my parents to have their warehouse pack up a van full of boxes for us. Myself, my cousin Dan, and my younger brother, who must’ve been about 10 yrs old at the time, woke up early one Saturday morning to set up a table at the flea market. We paid $200 for the whole weekend. On the first day, we made $30. We went home feeling dejected and told my mother, who also happens to be the best salesperson in Canada. She can sell a bag of shit to you and you’ll return the next day asking for more. She was sympathetic and joined us on Day 2. After adjusting our whole pricing structure, she stepped back and…sold every single item on the table. By the end of the day she’d made back our investment and then some. This is also when I decided I hated sales, which I’ve since changed my mind about. I like selling things I believe in. Last year a couple of girlfriends sent out a mass email asking everyone if they could pick up unused junk for a table they were setting up at the Dubai Flea Market. I know this was a success for them and I’ve heard talk of a revival.

Clothing Consignment

My brothers both played ice hockey in grade school and I also played for one year. By the time I was 15 we had all stopped and had a storage room full of dusty, expensive equipment. The idea of making more money out of unused items always attracted me, so I visited “Play It Again Sports,” a used sports goods store, and got a quote. I thought I could definitely rake it in with this deal. I might have been a little manipulative with asking my parents if I could do this, perhaps I brought up the subject when they were working or half-asleep, because apparently I was never given permission to sell any of it! Oops. This topic still comes up in conversation here and there, along with a reproachful head-shake from my mom. If you do go into consignment, make sure you’re selling your own stuff or something you’ve got permission to sell:) I currently have some unused designer items which I may put up for consignment at a local vintage store as a last resort, but I’m waiting for things to get really desperate….which, crossed fingers, they never, ever will…

Call Centres

When I was in university I was a call centre agent for 2 or 3 years and found it had really flexible hours that let me study and easily manage my extra curricular activities. I highly suggest this to anyone who’s patient and not aggressive with people, as customer service is not a joke and you will be treated like a punching bag by those on the other end of the line. It’s been years since I did this and come to think of it I’ve forgotten how hard it was. I used to be really considerate of other call centre agents but I just yelled at one today so I’m feeling a little guilty as I recall my own experiences.

Nonprofit Canvassing

One summer in Toronto I was back home from university and wanted to try yet another job. I had been going to a lot of bars with my partner at the time and it was not cheap for a student. I ended up being one of those really annoying canvassers on the street corner asking people to donate to the Sick Kids Foundation and Greenpeace. I was pretty good at it, actually, and was offered a manager position. I didn’t do it for more than a month or so, though. For some reason I didn’t feel right about it. I think canvassing for private ventures is OK since motives are all out in the open. I felt somehow disingenuous being paid to fundraise for these important nonprofit efforts, however, as there were many people who confided in me with moving stories of their experiences at the Sick Kids Hospital and how it changed their lives. I remember being almost in tears one day as I watched a bubbly little girl chase a balloon along Yonge St. I smiled at her father and he smiled back, looking at my Sick Kids badge, and said, “Sick Kids saved her life.” I’ll never forget that.

Home Product Sales

I ended up with a very strange job one summer while I was back in Toronto from university. The job specifically demanded actors as it involved doing presentations to sell a “magic cloth” and “magic mop.” I just Google’d it and see it still exists. It was very much like a live infomercial and it was creepy, the level of manipulative detail that went into these performances. I think we might have been asked to sign a confidentiality agreement regarding the training. Anyway, it was very difficult for me because I hated sales. The performance went almost exactly like this. I lasted a month, I think, after I figured out how to actually make sales. The only reason I lasted past the first presentation is because the product was actually good, so I believed in it. It also helped a bit with my acting, surprisingly, and possibly with all other public speaking I’ve done since. After doing that kind of thing for small groups, no audience will ever scare me.

I’ve now told you about all the short term, quick and easy gigs I did to make a few bucks. This doesn’t count the years of fast food service at Canada’s Wonderland and the Pickering Food Court, or the restaurant hostessing at Guido & Angelina in Montreal, and other failed attempts at being a waitress (I couldn’t calculate change fast enough!). The short term summer and Christmas jobs were perfect for while I was going back and forth and in terms of flexibility for the often unpaid acting gigs I did with community theatre groups and independent filmmakers. The funny thing is, my parents always gave me money on the side and covered all my major university and housing expenses, so I never needed any of these jobs. I  wanted to know I could be self-sufficient if the need arose, and completely independent at some point in my life. I guess I came out of it with the confidence that I have no issues getting my hands dirty (literally in some cases:/) and with a much better idea of my strengths and weaknesses.

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