- Several jobs related to sex and dating may seem unusual or unethical but are entirely legal. Such jobs include sex consultation, affair facilitation and online dating profile ghostwriting.
- Other jobs that may seem unusual stem from industries that were once frowned upon or illegal. These jobs include cannabis consultation, penny stock trading and, in some states, brothel ownership.
- Other seemingly strange jobs might only appear weird because their industries are somewhat new. Jobs in cryptocurrency are great examples.
- This article is for aspiring entrepreneurs and anyone else who's interested in business ideas that might seem strange but are entirely aboveboard.
When you think of a job, maybe you think of an office setting full of intensely focused employees. Many people grow up with this image of work, but it excludes other jobs that can bring fulfillment and financial stability.
Some unusual jobs in unfamiliar or dicey industries may seem dubious or unethical at first, but if the people working in them willingly speak about them, they're likely legal. Their work probably benefits plenty of people as well. We'll explore seven examples of jobs in industries you may not have realized are completely legal.
1. The madame
Susan Austin runs not one but two legal brothels in Nevada. Her establishments, the Mustang Ranch and the Wild Horse Adult Resort and Spa, are more like large resorts than so-called "houses of ill repute." Although Austin's services may not be typical, her company's marketing efforts aren't that different from anyone else's.
"There are many challenges, as you can imagine, running two legal brothels," Austin told Business News Daily. "I'd say the biggest one is getting the word out to potential new guests that we're here, we're safe, and our ladies are the most welcoming and wonderful in the world. Nevada law prohibits us from advertising, so we've had to work around that constraint with varying degrees of success."
Working around an advertising ban requires the business to do a lot of non-sex-related promotions to drive interest.
"We provide guided tours to groups and individuals interested in the rich history of brothels in America, particularly ours," said Austin, who owns both establishments with her husband, Lance Gilman. "We host many, many social and charitable events in our houses as well as motocross and off-road competitions on the exceptional courses we helped build adjacent to our compound. I do radio, TV, and print interviews regularly, which have brought a lot of guests to our websites as well as our houses." [Related: 12 Tips for Building an Effective Business Website]
"It's all about perception," Austin said. "We provide a fun, sexy, welcoming experience for our guests. Everyone's welcome to come out, have a drink in our bars, order some food, meet our ladies and simply enjoy their visit. Of course, they're certainly encouraged to spend some private time with our ladies, and most of them do. Sex and the 'experience,' like love, are inextricably intertwined."
Did you know? Even in areas where brothels are legal, regional authorities may prohibit them from advertising and marketing their businesses.
2. The sex consultant
Andrea Adams-Miller calls herself "The Sexuality Tutor."
Did that get your attention? Yes, that's right – she teaches people how to have good sex … and improve their relationships, of course. But try explaining that to someone on the subway.
"Often, when society hears 'The Sexuality Tutor,' they are taken aback," Adams-Miller said. "Their initial impression is discomfort with the blatant terminology and their preconceived notions. However, the discomfort quickly changes to intrigue and curiosity with a desire to know more, followed by their personal declaration or confession of a problem in their own lives."
After the shock subsides, Adams-Miller explains her calling further. "I ease their initial shock by following up with 'I assist others in achieving healthy relationships and healthy sexuality by revealing to them the secrets to ignite the spark, fire, and passion in their lives.'"
Adams-Miller said that while her business might sound like it's strictly about sex, it's really about helping people learn to communicate with each other better.
"These lonely or hurting partners needed someone they could trust to talk about their personal, intimate lives without judgment or shame so that they could figure out solutions to gain the love and intimacy they desired and deserved," she said.
Adams-Miller's marketing plan includes several tools. She has a radio show, has authored several books, is an avid user of social media and frequently appears as a "sexpert" in the media. She also offers counseling via face-to-face meetings, phone, email, chat or video conference.
Despite Adams-Miller's very public appearances, her most valuable marketing tool is her ability to keep things private.
"I offer a safe place for [clients] to talk, confess or cry without judgment and without preconceived notions on how they should live their lives," she said. "I validate them without shaming them, without being embarrassed over terms a person may use, and without being surprised by behaviors that a person may desire to engage in with their partner. Lastly, I give them the right to receive honest feedback, unconditional respect, and utmost confidentiality, so they feel safe, secure, and heard."
3. The affair facilitator
Noel Biderman was never surprised that some people find the mere existence of the website Ashley Madison, which he founded, a little offensive. Biderman's comments here came before he resigned as Ashley Madison CEO in 2015, in the wake of a data breach scandal that left thousands of users' personal data at risk.
Ashley Madison's initial purpose was to help married people cheat on their spouses by finding willing partners on the site. Since the data breach, the company has rebranded itself to focus on "open-minded experiences" and "exploring moments." It also tries to cater more to women, who had been underrepresented on the site.
When he was at the helm, Biderman tried to run Ashley Madison ads during NFL games, but he wasn't allowed. He said he was also banned from buying key search engine terms such as "infidelity" for certain search engines' pay-per-click advertising programs.
"I know where my audience is, but I'm not allowed to reach them," Biderman said at the time. "I don't get to advertise [during the] Super Bowl or the evening news. Society has accepted they can promote alcohol and glorify violence. You're allowed to advertise erectile dysfunction products, but society makes a morality judgment when it comes to marriage."
Biderman, who invested $200,000 to start the company, said Ashley Madison's setup allows people who want to have affairs to do so in an environment where everyone knows they are married. Rather than pretending to be single on a site like Match.com or eHarmony, Ashley Madison users lay their cards on the table.
"The reality is, there are people who are married who want to stay in the marriage for their spouses, for their children, but the bedroom has become celibate," Biderman said. "Those people are looking for intimacy and sexual fulfillment."
Biderman pointed out that Ashley Madison isn't just about allowing like-minded people to find each other; it's also about creating a digital platform for communications that leaves less detectable evidence than an email or text message, both of which Biderman called "digital lipstick on the collar."
"The bottom line is that we know affairs happen. Society seems to acknowledge that. Running a TV commercial is not going to convince someone to have an affair. In fact, it may keep people from going to prostitutes or having workplace affairs," which, Biderman said, can be more damaging.
In case you were wondering, yes, Biderman is married. While he and his wife, Amanda, said they were happily married and monogamous in previously published interviews, leaked emails from the 2015 Ashley Madison hack revealed that he'd carried on extramarital affairs.
Perhaps he was prescient when he said, "You can be a divorce attorney while being married. You have to understand how and why people have affairs. If I woke up in a sexless marriage, I would probably stray before getting divorced. I think we accept that there are strip clubs, massage parlors, prostitutes. It's reality."
4. The online dating ghostwriter
A job can seem a bit dicey without being illegal, and online dating profile ghostwriting is a great example. Sure, you probably wouldn't want to admit on a first date (or anytime later) that someone else wrote your dating app profile. And you really wouldn't want to admit that someone was posing as you in conversation. But there aren't any laws banning either of these activities.
For instance, people who struggle to speak or write English may hire an online dating ghostwriter to complete their profile. In other cases, English speakers who struggle with writing might hire an online dating ghostwriter to liven up their profiles. Other people on dating apps may hand the keys to a ghostwriter if they're boring in conversation.
Online dating ghostwriters often find work through popular dating sites or freelance markets. Discretion is typically a key part of their work, as are sharp writing skills.
5. The medical marijuana marketing specialist
While medical marijuana – and cannabis use in general – doesn't carry the stigma it once did, the industry still deals with misconceptions.
Elizabeth Robinson's medical marijuana communications firm, Grow Room Communications, treats marijuana like any other item to be marketed. She runs her firm with a few strict marketing tropes in mind.
"This is a medicine," said Robinson, whose firm is based in Denver, where medical marijuana has been legal for more than two decades. "And the industry needs to act more like the pharmaceutical industry in the way it presents itself."
Misconceptions about the medical marijuana industry have historically abounded – mainly that it's just an excuse to use marijuana for recreational purposes – but such perceptions are rapidly fading. Robinson and many others like her have helped change that perception by assisting companies – including medical marijuana dispensaries, technology providers, schools, social networks, web designers and growers – with improving their public image.
Robinson's goal is to help these businesses communicate a cohesive and on-point message that marijuana is legal in many places.
"If the wrong people go onto the national stage to deliver this message, they are going to precipitate negative perceptions," she said. "This industry is made up of a lot of professional businesspeople who are transforming it." [Related: Cannabis Industry Growth Potential for 2022]
Robinson's services go beyond marketing and public relations. Her company also guides medical marijuana firms through the traditional business development process, helping them brand themselves, find the best equipment, and collaborate with the best business partners.
"We need to approach this industry with the same level of professionalism that you would in any other business," Robinson said.
Key takeaway: There's no reason you can't help people in a stigmatized but legal sector start a business.
6. The penny stock trader
While penny stock trading is a lucrative business, there are significant and deep-seated negative connotations surrounding the industry, said Peter Leeds, who calls himself "The Penny Stock Professional." According to Leeds, "pump and dumps, promotional stocks, widows being tricked out of their money, the mafia, spam emails, and scams" are just a few of these connotations.
"Penny stocks are the lowest-priced shares on the stock market," Leeds said. "... Penny stocks – and some even trade for fractions of a penny because they are not worth a full cent per share – are not regulated very well at all, and they spend a lot of time trying to cast their company in the best light. This leads to a lot of misleading info as they try to put lipstick on a pig."
Most penny stocks actually pay promotional companies to go around and push their shares to potential investors through rumors, free websites, and spam emails, he said. Unlike these companies, Leeds' penny stock trading firm makes its money legitimately.
"I – and my team – uphold a very high level of ethics," he said. "Unlike just about everyone else in our industry, we find only the highest-quality penny stock companies that have strong fundamentals, proven management teams and growing revenues. We do not take bribes or compensation of any kind from the companies we review, and we put all emphasis on protecting investors and educating them."
Leeds said his company focuses on finding the 5% of penny stock companies that are great investments, making his service very lucrative to his customers.
"Millions of people invest in penny stocks," he said. "Few talk about it. Even fewer make money at it. Yet, done right, trading penny stocks can be very lucrative."
7. The crypto meme artist
Perhaps 10 years ago, you wouldn't have guessed that bitcoin would be widely known. Its success has stemmed in part from online cryptocurrency communities that absolutely love memes. As a result, other cryptocurrencies – more than 16,000 exist, though not all are active – may hire crypto meme artists. Yes, meme artists.
A recent job listing from the open-source crypto platform Gitcoin provides a great example. This listing sought a candidate who has "great vibes, and already spends way too much time on Twitter and Discord." In other words, this candidate would be someone who knows their way around a crypto meme.
More seriously, Gitcoin sought someone with online community management experience and a passion for open-source projects. The point is, even seemingly ridiculous jobs require concrete skills and a robust resume. But the Gitcoin job's final directive said as much about the listing as its requirements. "[T]ell us about your experience managing another Discord community," it ended, "and send some 10/10 memes."
Max Freedman contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.