Those Tiny Little Crowdsource Jobs Can Pay Off Pretty Big
Way back when I was a single mom in the aught-0’s, and social media was just a gleam in Ma and Pa Zuckerberg’s eyes (or actually a snot-nosed middle-schooler on some soccer field in Dobbs Ferry), I was doing micro gigs before they were called micro gigs. Back then, eBay was a tiny community of dedicated cheapskates, half.com was a paradise for used-bookaholics, and Craigslist — well, Craigslist remains one of the greatest places to find ways to make money fast, including some you’ve never heard of and some you’d never put on your resume.
I did it all: sold my baby’s airline-approved traveling carseat as soon as he didn’t need it, bought my ill-advised-second-wedding gown, sold it again when it was time for good riddance, dumpster-dived a bunch of Lionel train pieces and sold them to other eBayers, rented my driveway to a guy who’d relocated to DC to work for Obama, pimped out my own bedroom on odd weekends through AirBnB, and cleared something like $30 a month selling old books.
America was not yet bursting with the dubious yet abundant benefits of the so-called sharing economy. Fiverr, Rover, TaskRabbit, Wag, Instacart, Uber, Lyft, Doordash, etc. etc. were still years away. And while most of this was actually a kind of poor woman’s arbitrage, not micro-gigging — which is defined as very small, quick tasks that pay very small returns but accrue over time — this experience of making tiny bits of cash from many sources 20 years ago has prepared me for the modest pleasures and marginal survival benefits of today’s micro-working platforms. In fact, I was an early adopter of Amazon MTurk, joining in 2007, though I barely used it until last fall.
Honestly, I never knew until I was stone-cold-broke how important an extra $20 a month can be, and how hard I am willing to work for it.
Micro Jobs Are Perfect If You Already Have a Job
Ever since September 2018, when I realized how very not okay we were financially, I’ve been angling for ways to make bank. After cutting all the expenses we could possibly cut, our family still had to make more money.
Initially, I thought, what’s the big deal, I’ll just pick up a little editing, do a little writing, get a couple of small clients, work on this blog (which I am determined to one day monetize the fuck out of, and which just cleared me $3.18 in June! Huzzah! ). I even looked into getting a few paying sponsors for the sporadic little podcast my brilliant but equally exhausted sister-in-law Rebecca Flowers started, with me as a permanent guest.
But here’s the thing: I have a job. It happens to be a very hard and fulfilling job, one whose hours sometimes stretch to 70 per week, and one that I love. After a few months of trying to get up before 5:00 am like all those tools tell you to do, I realized I couldn’t do substantive work for extra money, and I also could not sustain the hours.
Microtasks: Little Tasks Add Up to Big Money
While I was looking for The Next Big Thing, I’d been studiously loading up on little things. Imagine my surprise that first month when I made $80 here, $20 there, and…pretty soon it added up to real money. Here’s what I did.
Amazon owns everything, it seems. I admit, it can feel a little spooky on the Amazon MTurk platform, doing small jobs that are just this side of being automated. The name of the service has its roots in 18th Century Hungaro-Austria, when an inventor named Kempelen Farkas created a chess-playing gizmo to impress Empress Maria Theresa of Austria. It was portrayed as a completely mechanical automaton that could outplay humans at chess. In fact, it was built to have a human chess master concealed inside, a secret never revealed by its several owners during the 80 years of its existence. It was destroyed by fire in 1854. Its secret was told in the pages of Chess Monthly soon after.
Just like its namesake, Amazon Turk operates in part from the need for human beings to be involved in seemingly automated tasks. Example: Those receipts you might snap on your phone for credits? Someone has to read them in order to help “educate” the algorithm in the app that recognizes text and numbers. Or how about all that intricate, lifelike movement in your favorite online game? Those deft moves are powered by thousands of people who are photographing their feet or marking photos to show where and how elbows and knees bend in certain tasks. Ever wonder how Pinterest is sorting images by interest? Amazon Turk workers are reviewing and marking images every day.
Other tasks on Amazon Mechanical Turk are more clearly human in nature. I’ve found a happy niche taking surveys and doing university studies. It’s repetitive, to be sure: I can’t tell you how many times I have typed my age (kinda old — too old for some surveys), described how liberal I am (very), shared my salary range, or shown where I think I am on the ladder of privilege (a four). I’ve also indicated at times whether I believe black cats are bad luck, or that we can communicate with the dead, or that equality for all people is a pipe dream (I don’t, I might, I don’t). I find the university surveys to be more predictable, rewarding, and valuable than the market surveys, for reasons described in the next section.
A whole culture has sprung up around Amazon MTurk, with a subReddit that’s mostly just entertaining but does contain advice, especially for newbies; another Reddit and Slack group that is a little more focused on channeling opportunities to Turkers; review and task-support sites such as TurkerView that help you navigate away from toxic “requesters” (the name given to people who put tasks on the site), and activists who are both Turkers and watchdogs for this odd microindustry alongside other gig industries (one of my favorite to follow is Kristy Milland).
The benefits of MTurk accrue as you rack up more approved “Human Intelligence Tasks” (HITs). Starting out, it’s easy to choose unwisely and get HITs rejected by choosy or unethical requesters, so choose with care and expect to spend a couple of months working up to anything more than a few dollars total. That said, I have earned $375 since January, and over $500 total, and now that I have more than 1,000 HITs under my belt, I have access to higher-paying HITs.
Even a modest investment of time can add up — admittedly, in pennies. It has its ups and downs, and some people report not being approved to work because the platform’s gotten pretty crowded since 2007. But I have found it thoroughly worthwhile and even a little bit fun. Apply here.
Other Survey Sites
I just signed up with Vindale and have earned $2.00 so far. They pay out in $50 increments, so it will be a while before I see a return. As I am waiting, I experience a difficulty I’ve also had for certain requesters on Amazon: market surveys are sometimes run by an aggregating requester who makes you qualify — unpaid — again and again for 10 or more minutes, often without returning a single survey you can participate in. How this works (or doesn’t) is that you are repeatedly asked your age, your income, your geographical location, and/or your politics or health status or other lifestyle information, and some factor — usually age, I think, or income — disqualifies you, so that you are then put through another qualifying questionnaire, all without compensation. It’s frustrating, to say the least. I’m getting a lot of that on Vindale so far, but I’m willing to give it a try for a while longer. Many other sites exist for survey-taking for cash; a quick Google will find you a few.
I earn between $10 and $50 a month using UserTesting, which also puts you through many unpaid qualifications before finding a match. Once matched, you are testing the usability of a website, recording yourself with the audio recorder the site asks you to download. You have to be willing to download this software and to share your screen and voice during testing. There is also a fair amount of frustrating non-paid qualification involved, so even though you are paid $10 per test, don’t dream yourself into hundreds of dollars per month. It’s designed not to happen that way.
You need a PayPal account to receive payment from UserTesting. I don’t consider it a major source, but when I have time to sit with the application open doing other things, I put it on background.
Receipt Hog collects information about your shopping habits in exchange for credits you can cash in. It’s one of the few apps that I can load onto my iPhone 4s (although its latest version is not so good for me now). As soon as I move to a new phone, I’ll take on a service like iBotta, as well as keep Receipt Hog. The payback is a bit slow for the effort, but it’s good clean fun and I like the cute little pig graphic, which changes its attired each month in some new way that reflects the season.
So far, I have earned $15 for about the first six months of use, and am currently carrying a balance of a little over $15 in redeemable cash. So, for the average small family, your rebates probably do not amount to more than $40 per year at best. Still, that’s real money. And the pig’s cute.
About a month after signing up for Medium’s Partners Program, and after giving up on the process because of my tiny numbers….I made money!
Three dollars and eighteen centavos, to be exact.
It’s a start. I’m kinda psyched, to be honest. This happened during a month when I posted not one single thing, so what can happen if I actually provide content for a change?
Chegg Tutoring (not a microtask, but full disclosure)
I have to be honest: Chegg Tutoring has not been a dream come true for me. Maybe because what I teach is English, and what people mostly need is math; or maybe because I just can’t sit and hang out for the hours required to catch requests, or maybe just because there are too many tutors and too few students, but in all my time as a Chegg tutor, I think I made a few hundred dollars for some very hard, human-intensive counseling, coaching, and editing.
The one great thing that came through Chegg (and great it was) was that I met, counseled, and edited an absolutely wonderful young attorney from another country who was here on a fellowship. We found the platform extraordinarily bad for in-person meetings, however, as it is designed for online learning. Where is the tutoring service for real contact?
I’m not currently on Chegg because it’s just not compatible with a full-time job, but if you are freelance, part-time, or a full-time teacher, you may want to check it out.
Full disclosure: I briefly tried the VIPKid platform, one of several geared toward teaching English to young kids in China. I have friends who swear by it, but I found the training curve and technical capabilities too daunting (they expect you to design an actual classroom and learning props, for example. For pros and cons by a highly experienced and beautifully contoured YouTuber, click here).
There are many more ways to hustle some extra cash, I’d love to hear your suggestions in comments. Whatever you do, start somewhere and Don’t lose your nerve.
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