3 Questions About Small Side Gigs – Answered

The “gig economy” has exploded in the last few years, with many people seeking out opportunities such as Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, and other such tools to earn money in their extra hours — or even to turn a gig or two into their full time work. COVID-19 has also played a role in this evolution, with many people seeking side gigs where they can earn a few dollars while in lockdown or choosing to socially distance.

The opportunities are endless — but do they all work? Do they all make sense for everyone? Here are three questions from readers about side gigs, focusing on small ones that can be done from home.

In this article

    Is Mechanical Turk worth my time?

    Jenna writes:

    My roommate spends a lot of time doing Mechanical Turk while watching Netflix and encourages me to do it too. Is this a scam? Can you make any significant money doing it? Not clear how much she makes.

    Mechanical Turk is a crowdsourcing marketplace run by Amazon. Essentially, companies use it to crowdsource small tasks, such as content moderation (is this content OK?), surveys, identifying the presence or absence of certain things in an image, and so on. Often, the data from these tasks is used in AI research to help teach, for example, automatically driving cars how to identify certain things on the roads, but they need humans to process lots of images and identify things that are present in them.

    A while ago, I spent several hours using Mechanical Turk. I concluded that it was very difficult to earn minimum wage from doing tasks on the site if I did them in a highly focused way. The reason was because the tasks were really simple, but individually paid very little, so even if I applied a lot of focus, I still spent a lot of time jumping from task to task. The tasks honestly did not require a whole lot of focus, either — they were very simple.

    For example, one task that I spent time doing was categorizing images — did this image have a car in it, yes or no? I’d earn a penny for each one I identified. That wasn’t much, of course, but I could do it in a fraction of a second without breaking attention. If I could go through one of those every, say, 15 seconds for an hour while watching Disney+, I’d end up with $2.40 that I didn’t have before. Not great, but not nothing.

    There are tasks that pay more than that, but they require more attention. Often, you’re asked to write several sentences on some topic, like a review of a company. This requires more time and more attention and pays a little better for your time than the image-sorting task, but unless you can churn out words really quickly, it’s not a really good use of your time.

    In other words, it’s a way to earn a dollar or two per hour doing those tasks while you’re at least partially focused on something else. If you’re watching Netflix and paying half-attention to it while looking at social media, you could instead pay half-attention to Mechanical Turk and earn a couple of dollars. It’s not as interesting as social media, perhaps, but it’s at least somewhat profitable, and you can do it while sitting on your couch without any special skills whatsoever.

    Is Fiverr a good opportunity?

    Damon writes:

    I have been unemployed since September when my company had to downsize. I was let go not due to cause, so I have high hopes of finding work again. Until then, I need to pay the bills. I have been looking at Fiverr. Any thoughts on it? Is it a scam?

    It’s not a scam.

    Fiverr is something like a more skilled version of Mechanical Turk, turned on its head. On Fiverr, you offer up a skill you can perform and a price you’re willing to be paid for it. Typically, the skill is a relatively quick and simple instance of something you’re trained to do. For example, if you’re a copywriter, you might put a listing on Fiverr charging $10 for a 500-word article on a topic based on keywords chosen by the client. If you’re a graphic designer, you might charge $40 for a basic logo.

    If you’re listing your services on there, you’re likely choosing tasks that you can do really quickly that might take someone else more time to pull off, and you’re making money by saving them time. If you’re in a field or have some sort of skill that allows you to produce a certain kind of content quickly and better than the average person off the street, you can make money on Fiverr pretty efficiently.

    For example, an experienced graphic designer who wanted to make some extra money might go on there and advertise that they will make a logo for you for $50. That person is skilled in graphic design software from previous jobs and gigs, so they can make something decent in Illustrator really quickly. Someone hires them and describes what they want and they’re able to create a decent logo in, say, 20 minutes. After a few revisions that take maybe an hour of their time, the client is happy and they’re $50 richer.

    If you are looking for jobs where you use your full skill set and are producing results that demonstrate the full breadth of what you can do for a significant amount of pay, you’re probably not finding those opportunities on Fiverr. Rather, Fiverr is perfect for a task that’s very simple with your skill set, but may be difficult to nearly impossible for someone without that skill set.

    Are small online freelance gigs resume-worthy?

    Marcus writes:

    I have been doing jobs at Fiverr and Elance to keep the lights on. How should I mention this work when sending out resumes? Should I include them in my portfolio?

    In terms of a resume, you should describe this as a freelancing period. You can mention specific clients if you wish, but be selective about the ones you choose. Choose clients to highlight that will show off good examples of your work. This might mean that you work particularly hard on some of the more promising gigs to make them resume-worthy, or it might just mean that something you dashed off quickly turned out really well.

    You want your portfolio to include your best work. Are these gigs your best work? Are they things that, if you showed them to someone hiring in your field, they would be impressed? An endless portfolio of everything you’ve done is probably not the best choice, as much of it will never be reviewed. Instead, focus on curating your portfolio down to a handful of items that represent your best work. For inspiration, look at the portfolios of people in your field that you respect. How large are their portfolios? Aim for a similar size, selecting what you use based on quality. Refer to the specific client rather than Fiverr or Elance.

    We welcome your feedback on this article. Contact us at inquiries@thesimpledollar.com with comments or questions.

    Trent Hamm

    Founder & Columnist

    Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 and still writes a daily column on personal finance. He’s the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press, has contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and his financial advice has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.