Book Review – Start a Creative Recycling Side Hustle by James Dillehay

Creative side hustleStart a Creative Recycling Side Hustle by James Dillehay is subtitled, 101 ideas for making money from sustainable crafts consumers crave and in this book James is making a statement that there are opportunities in creating products from recycled materials and it has immense benefits too. The first statement in the book’s introduction is:


What if i told you there was money to be made repurposing old newspapers, aluminium cans, glass jars, and other waste destined for landfills

That statement might make you frown but from writing this book James certainly knows why he wrote that statement. James states some research figures and numbers from publications to back up his assertion that there is a market for products created from recycled items and off course it’s a business he also is part of. According to James he wrote this book for people who are:

  • Looking for a side hustle that’s cheap to start and has a lot of upside potential, such as helping the environment.
  • Already make and promote handmade products and want to learn more about selling them successfully.
  • Retired and need extra income and want an easy-to-mange business they can work on in their own schedule.
  • Entrepreneurs who agree that businesses, both large and small can make a difference and profit at the same time.
  • A parent, family member, or teacher looking for ways to create engagement with youth (he adds that – ‘students around the world are calling on everyone to do their part to fight climate change’).

He also believes that certain things might be holding people back from starting creative side hustles such as, believing they are not creative. James writes that he wasn’t either but he has certainly now made a success of it (in six months, he sold items worth $5700). Some might say they don’t have a business background. James counters this by writing that side gigs don’t need previous backgrounds to start, besides this book can be a guide to start your creative side hustle. Another hold-back may be, ‘you aren’t a salesperson.’ He says you can get good at marketing and sell your products without having to become a salesperson. He did. What about those plagued by self-doubt? Here is what James wrote in response to that:

When people buy stuff you have made with your own hands, it builds your self-esteem. If others like me – who started without skills or creative ability – can do it. you can do it, too.

After that he provides more information about why we should start creative side hustles including some of the benefits and more figures that back up it’s booming marketplace. He mentions that one of his inspirations for writing this book was a Facebook post titled, ‘Make America Greta Again.’ A post that came out of Greta Thunberg’s criticism of politicians to take caring for the environment more serious.

So what’s in this book then?

From a structural perspective, this is not a big book but it does have a lot of chapters, 22 of them. It also has 4 appendices. Below I have written top-level reviews of each chapter and provided some information on what is contained in the appendices.


In this chapter you will read about how to find creative products that are in demand. Doing this as James advises involves mining data from sites that sell handmade products. The two biggest sites are Etsy and Amazon Handmade. He mentions a site called which can be better used to search for products on Etsy.

There is information here on how to make those searches for products and there are some illustrated examples to learn from. Other useful sites mentioned are Ebay,, YouTube, Pinterest and Instagram. So there are enough sites mentioned here to get us started searching for potential products to make.

Others things that James discusses in this chapter are:

  • How to find recycled craft ideas by category (on Etsy).
  • How to find original ideas to sell.
  • How to market test  your product idea.
  • How customers give you product ideas.
  • How to make reproducible versus one-of-a-kind products
  • How to find raw materials.
  • Things to do to make your products stand out.


This chapter describes a fictional account of a venture and how it might look for a family. So the question being answered here is what your creative gig will look like if your family is involved. James believes this is a good thing since some benefits will ensue such as:

  • Earning extra money for the family
  • Opportunity for the family to bond through creative projects
  • Using the creativity involved to raise self-esteem

The rest of the chapter describes the fictional account of a family side hustle.


Here you will learn about some legalities of doing business, mainly for US residents. The four points discussed are:

  1. Choosing a name for your business
  2. Legal requirements: permits and licenses
  3. Accepting credit card payments
  4. keeping records / accounting


According to James:

This chapter teaches you how to impress shoppers with photos, promotional material, and packaging.

He further states that:

While your recycled products can sell themselves when displayed at art or craft shows, in other markets like selling online or to galleries and stores, images and presentations have to sell for you.

James goes on to discuss branding starting with branding cues. Under branding cues things discussed are:

  • Authenticity: small businesses have the opportunity to be authentic and unqiue.
  • Business name: once you’ve got your name, put it in all your promotional material.
  • Images: images tell stories. Images you will need, according to James are, product-only images with white backgrounds for online listing, how-it’s-made images, how-i’ts-used images and lifestyle images showing people enjoying the products.
  • Your artist story: origin stories about your creative venture. People relate to stories.
  • Logo and icon: these should convey a feeling of what you want to sell.
  • Your elevator pitch: In 30 words or less what do your products offer customers?
  • Fonts and colors: Use consistent colours and fonts.
  • Contact information: James writes that, ‘every message you send or promote should contain information on how people can easily reach you, including your website, phone number, e-mail and address.’

Discussed also are types of promotional material. The ones mentioned are, videos, business cards, hang-tags, thank-you cards, packaging, signs and banners, postcards, certificates of authenticity, and your voice mail message.

At the end of the chapter are a list of design resources that can be used to create promotional materials which include:


And to invest in professionally created materials, you can check the following for graphic designers:



How do you price recycled art and craft products? That’s what you will learn from this chapter. Following is a summary of what James discusses here:

  • Retail and wholesale pricing: explains the difference between the two types of pricing and places where you can sell both retail and wholesale.
  • Discovering how much shoppers will pay for products: Charge enough to cover your costs and also make a decent profit. You can research average price of items on various sites such as Etsy and Amazon Handmade, but sometimes people are prepared to pay more then the average price for items.
  • What it costs to make an item: According to James, ‘cost of good is what you spend to produce products you sell. Cost of goods includes all material, labour and overhead costs.‘ Each of these costs are described in more detail.
  • The pricing formula: The pricing formula that James describes here takes into consideration, labour, materials and estimated overhead costs which really calculate the amount the product was produced and what is needed to break even but you will need to charge more than that amount to make a profit. An example of a lamp is used to illustrate this pricing formula.
  • Your profit margin: It is important to consider your profit margin on goods which is the difference between the cost of goods and the asking price. Knowing your profit margin is important because it helps you decide how much you can spend on advertisements, whether you can afford free shipping to increase sales and whether you can hire help to support you with production to increase the amount of goods you produce.
  • Pricing one-of-a-kind items: If you are going to be making unique items which can be sold in places such as galleries, then James describes how he would go about pricing such items using a personal example.
  • Lowering your production costs: For lowering the costs of crafts production, James offers some ideas here. He sites the example of how he has found ways to weave better and faster through google searches which has helped him spend less time on weaving products that he makes. This can apply to other types of arts and craft products too.


You can guarantee that in any business book there will be an aspect that covers marketing so this chapter should not come as a surprise. James goes though the trouble of providing a list of 101 marketing-related actions  we can use under various categories. They are really more of an inventory of the actions to take to start and launch your business covering some of the actions that have been previously discussed in the book. Here are some of the categories with some of the actions:

  • Making products: design using colours that sell, create products using themes and promote sustainability.
  • Photos and videos: how-it’s-made images and videos, how-it’s-used images and videos and lifestyle images.
  • Biz startup: choose a catchy business name and set up an accounting system.
  • Pre-marketing: write your story and design a logo.
  • Pricing: your production cost and profit margin.

There is also a very short section on having a daily planner / marketing calendar. This is more of a suggestion to have one rather than how to create it.


Here James explores what is involved in raising through crowdfunding. Crowdfunding is an online way of raising money where the public makes donations or sometimes advance purchases to a cause or a business. Some tips for running a crowdfunding campaigned are discussed and there is also a list of the most common crowdfunding sites.


If you plan to sell your art and craft products at various shows and events then this chapter is for you. The lessons James teaches in this chapter are:

  • Types of events
  • Where to find events
  • How much shows cost you
  • How much you can earn
  • How to apply
  • Displaying your products
  • Accepting credit cards
  • Checklist for preparing

Some extra tips for successful shows are also provided. Two of them are:

  • Show up early to events.
  • Make it easy for customers to buy from you.


According to James, SEO is a good idea because it is one of the few ways you can market for free. It is a known fact that ranking criteria for search engines change regularly but James believes there are some consistent factors that will influence a web pages ranking. Some of these are:

  • Finding search terms that buyers use
  • Inbound links on other websites to your own website
  • Frequency of engagement your page receives from real people
  • Placing keywords and tags in the right places


According to James, Etsy has over 35 million active buyers browsing for products from 2 million sellers. If you want to start a side hustle selling arts and craft products then that is a place to be and James wants to help you start on Etsy. In this chapter he takes the time to show us how to start selling on Etsy. Topics he covers include:

  • Pre-setup steps
  • Setting up your Etsy shop
  • Product listings
  • Images
  • Etsy SEO
  • Your product descriptions
  • Sharing on social media
  • Customer service
  • Promoted listings
  • Market your Etsy store offline
  • What to do if sales are poor
  • Getting reviews and publicity
  • Blogging
  • Etsy apps
  • Mailing lists

These are a comprehensive list of topics to get you started with Etsy.


In the previous chapter the focus was on using Etsy for your arts and craft side hustle but what if you don’t want to use Etsy or you want to create another alternative to Etsy. This chapter provides us with information on how to do that. As James states:

Though Etsy may be the most popular market for handmade products, there are other options to help you grow your sales and broaden your online presence.

Other options that James lists are:

  • Amazon handmade (available to over 300 million shoppers)
  • Artfire
  • Zibbet

You can also set up your own website. And even though there are a lot of options, James suggest that you don’t need to stick to just one option. To help us learn about some other options,  information about the following is covered:

  • Selling on Amazon Handmade
  • Alternatives to Etsy and Amazon
  • Getting a domain-name website
  • Blogging


James suggests that having a blog to help promote your products is a good idea. Specifically he writes that:

Adding a blog to your marketing mix allows you to publish articles, images and videos around topics related to your handmade products and grow your email mailling list. Because search engines love new content, blog pages often rank higher in Google search results than static web pages.

Where to create blogs and some of the benefits of having blogs are mentioned here. Here are some interesting statistics that James sites about blogs:

  • 81% of U.S online consumers rely on advice from blogs (
  • 61% of U.S online consumers have bought something based on reviews from a blog (
  • Small businesses that blog get 125% more lead growth than those that don’t (ThinkCreative)

You will also learn about some tips for blogging success towards the ending of the chapter.


Here James gives us a quick run through things we can do to use social media as a marketing tool. He covers four areas:

  • Advantages of social media
  • Social marketing tips
  • Social posts scheduling tools
  • Get followers on your e-mail list

In the next four chapters, he delves into more detail about four of the more popular social media sites, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and Instagram.


These next four chapters are focused on on the best practices of the four listed social media sites. From these chapters you will learn about:

  • Building Facebook pages
  • Posting on Facebook
  • Facebook stories
  • “Buy sell” groups on Facebook
  •  Facebook marketplace
  • Setting up your profile
  • Creating boards
  • Gathering followers
  • Pinning
  • Setting up an Instagram account
  • Posting images
  • Videos
  • Instagram stories
  • Setting up your Twitter account
  • Growing your following
  • Tweets


Another way to grow your side hustle according to James is to sell wholesale. Selling wholesale involves selling to stores and galleries. If that is something you are interested in, then here James will show you how to prepare to sell wholesale, find wholesale buyers, work with stores and get recycled art into galleries.


Public art programmes are sponsored by states and cities to beautify public places with art and sculpture. These programmes funded by government can give people creating art and craft the opportunity to earn some money. James identifies some of those programmes that we can tap into.


Publicity as James describes it here is being mentioned for free in the media. This is free cost marketing though you don’t have control over what is said about you unlike paid advertising. But it can be a great way to help people know about your product. On the basis of that, here James discusses:

  • How to prepare before reaching out to media.
  • Types of PR
  • How to pitch to the media
  • News releases
  • Where to find media contacts
  • More tips for getting publicity


Your customer or mailing list makes it easy to market to people who have brought from you previously. Having an email list gives you the opportunity to start building a relationship with your customers to build loyalty. Small businesses that don’t do this find it difficult to retain customers. On that topic James discusses how to capture and work work with emails, reasons to follow-up, and treating customers well.


This is the final chapter which summarises or brings together what James believes to be the success pattern that leads to success in an arts and craft side hustle. The components of that success pattern are:

  • Your love or enthusiasm for what you do
  • Your story
  • The colours and quality of your product design
  • Your images
  • Your packaging
  • Your displays
  • Your profits margins
  • Your marketing plan

James write that:

Separately, they each play an important role. Together, they combine into a a dynamic synergy.

He ends this chapter by telling us that ultimately the success of our side hustle really does depend on us but using the things he teaches in this book will no doubt help.

Afterwards there are a number of appendices which provide extra information and resources. They are:

  • Appendix 1: Product photography – information on the types of photos that can aid sales.
  • Appendix 2: Find Art/Craft show and events to sell around the world – finding events to display your recycled products.
  • Appendix 3: List your products online around the world – information on places to list your products in different parts of the world.
  • Appendix 4: Recycle art contests – information on earning money through art and craft contests.

For those who want to start an arts and craft side hustle, this is definitely a good book to read. James clearly has a lot of experience in this area and has made some success of it too. So he has the right kind of experience to write a book. But even if your side hustle is not focused on recycled products, there are lessons that James teaches in this book that can be transferred to any side hustle. There is something in this book for all of us.

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