Helping people make money by selling their skills online has become something of a booming industry: From Etsy.com to Freelancer.com, dozens of sites have popped up in recent years. Their popularity proves that the dream of sitting home in one's pajamas and watching cash roll in is alive and well.
The reality, of course, doesn't often live up to that fantasy. Earning a living wage from a blog, for example, is downright grueling and, in today's online ad climate, almost impossible. The graphic design site 99designs.com has come under fire for driving down the price of artists' work, and many of the freelancers on sites such as freelancer.com live in developing countries, where wages are much lower than in the United States. That makes it hard for U.S.-based freelancers to compete for work.
Chris Hardy, 47, managed to overcome those odds. Hardy, who lives in North Carolina and repairs school band musical instruments by day, began selling his personalized messages in cartoon voices on Fiverr.com. The site allows users to buy and sell $5 products (such as an mp3 voice recording) and services (such as finding you 500 new Twitter followers). Some offerings are downright bizarre: "I will write messages on my lips and take photos for $5." Others, such as handmade drawings, seem far too labor-intense to sell for $5.
Hardy, though, has become one of the most successful Fiverr sellers, partly because he also takes advantage of the site's ability to "add on" products or services for more than $5. For an additional $50, he'll record not only his voice, but the sound of entire band, for example. He says he's earned more than $4,000 since opening his shop in September 2010. That cash has helped pay for his wife to go back to school. We asked Hardy to share some of his tips for other aspiring online earners. Excerpts:
How did you get started?
I was listening to the Clark Howard radio show and he mentioned something about Fiverr. I was curious, so I checked it out and thought it was fascinating. I started thinking, "What can I do for $5?" It took me awhile to come up with the gigs I've got, but once I came up with them, I thought, "This is great!" By December of 2011, it was almost like a part-time job for me.
What do you think made people buy what you were selling?
My first one was, "I will speak your message in a cartoon voice of your choosing." It's a personalized thing and pretty unique, and something people can use. Literally two weeks after putting up a gig on Fiverr, the Fiverr people featured it, and I got a lot more gigs. The second most-popular one is my standard voice over. I didn't lift a finger to promote my gigs--it helped that I was featured by Fiverr.
How much money have you made?
I just cleared the $4,000 mark and I started in September 2010. It seems like a constant stream of money is going into my PayPal account.
Given the time you spend on it, how much do you think you're earning an hour?
Recently I've been getting seven or eight gigs a night, and it takes me between two and three hours, but some of those have add-ons, so it might be more than $5. With lyric writing, it takes me half an hour to bang out lyrics, and Fiverr takes $1 for every $5, so I earn about $8 an hour, and I can add music for more money. It's probably closer to $30 an hour--not enough to quit my day job yet.
Do you have plans to expand?
If I could make a living off voiceovers, that would be cool. The way Fiverr goes, you don't need to run your own website. Because of the add-ons, you can earn more than $5.
What's your advice to other aspiring Fiverr sellers?
I'm a big fan of people using their talent rather than saying, "I'll get you 800 likes on Facebook." It needs to be useful and helps to have something tangible. If you over-deliver to customers, they'll love you for it. I might do two or three takes of the same thing and let them choose the best one.
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