With more stores closing due to Covid-19, the days when you moonlight at a part-time side gig at a Gap factory store, folding T-shirts for a few hours a day during the holiday season, are long gone. Fret no more! Online freelancing platforms, such as Fiverr, have made trading services for profit a breeze.
In fact, one of my best-selling gigs helped me rake in over $2,000 within one month last January. In what follows, I will show you how I got here and tell you how you can take advantage of the “gig economy” without burnout.
My journey to Fiverr
I signed up for Fiverr three years ago when I was still in graduate school. I received a stipend generous enough to cover my living expenses but small enough that my monthly bills left me with no savings, so I was scouting around for opportunities to make extra money. Before I landed on Fiverr, I tried out a couple of other gig platforms–freelancer.com and Upwork.com. Neither was working for me. The user interface at freelancer.com is horrible to say the least. I put together a profile, took the tests to get certified (ugh, their tests cost), and sent out pitches to potential clients, to no avail. When my patience wore out, I gave up and moved on to a different platform. Upwork.com has a sleek, modern design, but it is still difficult to use from a seller’s perspective.
Founded in 2010, Fiverr provides an online marketplace for sellers and buyers to trade services like on an e-commerce website like Amazon. This “shopping” experience on Fiverr makes it a lot easier to buy or sell than Upwork and freelancer.com.
Learning the ropes
Knowing that I am good at writing and I like to deal with words, I started with two gigs: editing & proofreading and Chinese-English translation. I was not counting on harvesting big bucks any time soon, since I had no luck previously with either freelancer.com or Upwork. My gigs sunk deep among other sellers offering similar services.
Until one day, someone in Israel ordered my translation service. I was elated, even though the order was only worth five dollars, out of which 20% would go to the platform, leaving me with four dollars.
I don’t know how he found me or why he chose my service. I was simply grateful that he gave me a chance. It was a huge confidence booster! I started to research and try out different ways to increase my gig impressions:
- I read up on forum discussions to understand how Fiverr calculates gig impressions.
- I researched top sellers’ gigs to see what they share in common, which is most likely what they have done right.
- I priced my service slightly below the average price in the digital marketplace to attract more buyers.
- I revised my gig descriptions to ensure that they include key words most likely to be searched and that they most accurately and efficiently explain my services.
- I diversified my gig portfolio and created different gigs for specific audiences. For example, I have one gig for college application essay and another for job search documents such as cover letters.
- I advertised my gigs on Fiverr’s discussion forum and other social media sites, such as LinkedIn. I also reached out to clients through “Buyer Requests.”
A year after signing up, my business finally took off in 2019. Over time, my gigs have expanded from the original 2 to 12. I have to pause a number of them at times when orders are getting a little out of hand. One my best-selling gigs, “I will revise and edit your personal statement for graduate school,” keeps me busy for the entire application season. Over the years, I have built up quite a reputation for helping clients revise their personal statements or edit job search documents.
Having worked as a writing instructor and tutor, I am so happy that I could use my writing expertise to help more people advance their education or career even though I no longer work in academia. My service differs from other editors’ in that I truly spend time and effort getting to know their experiences in order to craft a more coherent and appealing narrative that presents them as desirable and qualified candidates. With my help, my clients have been admitted by top research universities, including Cornell, Stanford, Berkeley, Penn State, Michigan State, and more. The list goes on.
The advent of “the gig economy” has drawn widespread criticism. While many of us enjoy the convenience of ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft, the drivers’ staged protest outside Uber’s headquarters has alerted us to the not so desirable downsides of a gig economy.
Likewise, gig platforms are not without issues. Some major complaints filed against Fiverr include endless competition, low wages, and little stability. In the past, only multinational companies were able to set up factories to take advantage of the low-cost labor force overseas. Now, gig platforms have enabled business owners and individuals to scout talents in a global digital marketplace and pay whoever asks for the cheapest rate to get the job done. It may work great for buyers and some sellers from a developing country with a lower cost of living, but individual sellers based in the U.S. are destined to bear the brunt of this kind of outsourcing.
Make the gig economy work for you, not the other way around.
I did not escape from this type of competition at first. When I started with my translation gig, I offered to translate 500 words for 5 dollars, slightly below the average rate charged by other sellers. I spent at least an hour translating 500 words from English to Chinese or vice versa, landing me with an average hourly rate well below the minimum wage. There was no way that I could compete with sellers based in China for this same gig, not because my Chinese is not good enough, but because I would die from making 80 cents per hour.
I reconsidered my options. Considering that I have had so many years of experience in higher education, serving as an instructor, researcher, tutor, and administrator, I came to see how my background in Linguistics and English would really benefit my freelance career as an editor rather than getting fixated on the fact that I am bilingual and that I switch between two languages with ease. (It turned out that something people around me normally marvel at is nothing worth boasting about on Fiverr.) Because writing varies a great deal in terms of genre, purpose, and audience, I also diversified my editing gigs to accommodate different user demographics, writing purposes, and functions.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting that translation is not lucrative or that you all should move into editing. If you speak a rare language, chances are your translation gig would work great for you. All that I am saying is that you should not only evaluate your skillset and find out what you are best at, but also look for a niche market for yourself. After all, the beauty of freelancing is you get to choose assignments that make the most of your talents and reflect your true interests. No need to work yourself to death, which brings me to my second caveat.
Always plan ahead to avoid burnout.
Because I work extensively with college- or graduate school-bound students, my busiest season happens to coincide with the holiday season, from November to early February. For three or four months, I work around the clock to edit, revise, and rewrite my clients’ personal statements, resumes, writing samples, and other types of application documents. Orders roll in without a heads-up. Sometimes, I have to stay up late until the wee hours to complete a rush order placed by a client in a different time zone. Though I relish in helping clients attain their academic goals, I occasionally feel that I am running out of brain power after a few sleep-deprived nights.
When I am overbooked, I put this line in my gig description–“Please be sure to consult me before placing an order. This applies to all clients.” This simple line saves me from getting inundated by orders. It also helps when I block out a few days to recharge. When I am extremely occupied, I turn off my availability so that nobody would be able to place any orders without solicitation. When clients are encouraged to contact you ahead of time, you have more time to react and decide if you have the time or energy to complete an order. Otherwise, your schedule will be dictated by your orders, and you are more prone to exhaustion.
Fiverr’s wonderful digital platform has not only benefited individuals interested in taking up side hustles in addition to a day job, it has helped many turn freelancing into a full-time career. It surely takes time and serious effort to build up your presence on Fiverr. Like all jobs, you learn as you go, you become better at freelancing while doing it. Once you move past the orientation, you should be in full sail. To get started, click here to register for an account and start selling your services!
Update – 02/07/2021
Hello, friends! I just wanted to give you a quick update about my revenue from Fiverr this past month. I completed 26 orders this month and made $3154.4 in total, my most profitable month so far! Although I had to work on multiple projects simultaneously on a few nights, I also benefited from the rush by charging clients extra for the quick turnaround. As the application season ends, I will focus more on my translation gig and job application gig. I don’t expect myself to be working around the clock as much, so I have plenty of time to recuperate from the busy schedule last month.