Donna Meadows lost her office job when the recession forced her employer to cut jobs. Rather than look for another hard-to-find job, she turned to the computer and the internet for income. Donna signed up at LivePerson, Inc. a web site where clients pay for online time with a wide variety of freelancers who have skills ranging from tutoring kids to astrology. For a dollar a minute – a rate she set – Donna helps kids improve their study skills. She works about four hours daily helping clients, often in the evening so she can have her days free for fun.
Donna says, “Live Person brings me way more income than my old job, and I’m working fewer hours. Others have taken advantage of the site’s popularity as a portal for “spiritual advisors”, and offered their skills as psychics, tarot readers and astrologers to clients seeking advice. Using names such as Zohara and Madame Z, these online advisors are getting as much as $16 a minute. (Yes, that’s right, it works out to $960 an hour!) for analyzing dreams and forecasting whether love is in the cards.
Rather than put up with long commutes and unpleasant bosses, a growing number of people are going online to provide their skills to a broader marketplace, performing tasks for a fee. While there are many fee-for-service web sites out there, four are growing fast by providing real work for their workers and valuable skills for their clients.
The first, Live Person (www.liveperson.com) , provides a wide variety of experts on topics ranging from test prep to cosmetology to remodeling your house. Over 100,000 customers have used Live Person, and over 3,500 people make a full time living from being a “live person.”
Mechanical Turk (www.mturk.com) is a web-based service hub, run by Amazon.com, which pays workers to do a variety of tasks, such as data collection, labeling images or copying recipes. Mechanical Turk serves companies who need web-based help. For example, test preparation company Knewton, Inc. uses Mechanical Turk workers to participate in focus groups and take practice tests.
Stephanie Hurd uses Mturk to earn a part-time income to help pay for her family’s expenses. She has done everything from checking web sites to see if they are family friendly to transcribing web podcasts and videos, earning around $12 an hour for her time.
Mechanical Turk users even have their own web site, called Turker Nation (www.turkers.proboards.com ) that reviews tasks to find the ones that pay the best, and ranks companies to weed out the “slow pays” or warn about the companies that have caused problems with workers in the past.
Both www.elance.com and www.odesk.com find customers that will pay you to write short articles on a variety of topics from how to plant sod to finding the best ring tones for your cell phone. You can bid on writing jobs posted on both sites, as well as post your profile, listing your writing skills, samples and previous customers. Tracie Fuller, a full timer and single mom loves the flexibility of working with Elance and Odesk, but cautions that it takes time to build up the earnings.
For those with office experience, the field of “virtual assistants” is exploding as more employers, large and small, are out-sourcing administrative tasks to independent, web-based independent contractors.
Virtual assistants provide administrative, technical or related help to their clients from their home office. Most have a background as an administrative assistant, executive assistant, legal secretary, office manager or real estate assistant. According to the Virtual Business Alliance (www.allianceforvirtualbiz.com) , the average virtual assistant earns $40,000 to $50,000 yearly.
To find out more about this growing field, do a Google search for “virtual assistant”. Your search should turn up many companies who are looking for VAs to add to their database for future jobs. A book many newcomers to the VA world have found useful is “The 2-Second Commute”, by Christina Durst, available from Amazon.com and other bookstores.
There’s a whole new world of web-based opportunities out there, and the companies mentioned in this article can help you get started to sell your skills on the internet, in a niche that’s just right for you.