We’ve all seen those signs at the side of the road, cheap paper flyers promising “Earn $$$ Working from Home!” Every other website seems to promise you can be rolling in cash if you just monetise your Pinterest account or learn Java or join some remote phone sales hotline.I don’t know anyone who’s ever seriously considered calling a number from one of those flyers, or taken those websites seriously when they suggested that ordinary people just like you are earning $10,000 a month working a couple of hours a week in their free time!
They’re scammy, right? Except for the past three years, I have been working at home (sometimes even in my pyjamas!), and I don’t intend to quit.
This is going to be a post about money. I’ll apologise in advance, because money is a dirty word and none of us are supposed to talk about it. Through my books, I’ve been lucky enough to earn enough money to support myself. At least, until I moved to America.
I’ve blogged before about the cost of the move — thousands of dollars in application and administration fees in order to get the visa and subsequent green card (two separate processes, btw, both with extensive attendant costs). Then there’s the logistics of shipping me and my stuff Stateside. The plane tickets alone cost around $1200, and of course I was back and forth from the UK to the US in the year or two before making the move permanent. The long and short of it is, my savings took a hammering, and that was before I was expected to fork out $500 a month for health insurance (fun fact — new residents don’t qualify for assistance in paying for medical insurance!), plus more thousands than I care to count on top in copays and deductibles from my recent gallbladder mishap. I owed many zeroes to several medical companies in two states. Not the best first year of a move.
The moral of this story is I need more money. My books are still my bread and butter, but right now they’re not covering the basics and the medical bills and replenishing my savings. However, any work I do that isn’t the books only takes me further away from what I really want to do. I have my green card now, so I can legally work (and gods, how people cope when they don’t have a regular income coming in for the months between arriving and the green card being approved, I don’t know), but what kind of work is there for somebody who’s (a) been out of the corporate world writing ~romance~ for three years, (b) has no intention of devoting their every waking breath to a new company, and (c) is only thinking about sticking with a company short-term?
The answer, it transpires, is not a lot.
Firstly, the good news. There are jobs out there, no matter all the doom doom doooom you see in the media. In my neck of the Midwest, there were dozens of positions, ranging from minimum wage supermarket staff to office and admin jobs paying up to $15/hour. I’m sure there were plenty of other jobs as well, but I figured I wanted a job I didn’t have to think about, somewhere I could turn up, clock my eight hours, and bugger off again without a backward glance. I’ve done working ten or eleven hour days in a stressful, high-pressure environment, and it fried my brain. Trying to write fiction at the end of a day like that was all but impossible. The books are my first priority, what I’m looking for now is gravy.
I heard back from a few places, and even went to an interview (shout out to Fresh Thyme for not calling me back!). The roadblock I kept facing was my prior experience. Why is someone with a Master’s degree, who used to routinely handle $1.5mil contracting jobs, and who has been self-employed for three years, looking to work in a supermarket? I was over-qualified, and under-committed.
Which is how I came to look more seriously at the options for earning extra income from home.
Honestly, I was expecting them to be scams. Anything that wasn’t a scam, I was expecting to pay so little it wasn’t worth my time. There are plenty of sites out there like that — “microtasking,” it’s called, where you do teeny jobs broken down so far they pay literally pennies each.
Amazon runs one (of course they do), MechanicalTurk. I figured at least Amazon was a reputable company, so that’s the one I signed up for. Their tasks (“HITS,” or Human Intelligence Tasks), usually take a minute or two to do, and pay a couple of cents apiece. Common HITS include transcribing shop receipts line-by-line into spreadsheets (they’ll pay something like $0.08 for the first twenty lines, and then $0.04 for every ten thereafter). They’re boring, monotonous tasks, and some people might have the patience to plug away filling in 10,000 lines to earn $40, but I don’t.
The good news, however, is there are other HITS available: academic surveys. You have to meet the right demographic, but I generally did, and they pay more like $0.80-$2.00 for anything from five to twenty minutes of answering multiple choice questions. Still not minimum wage, but considerably less labour-intensive. The bad news is, there’s only about three or four new ones uploaded each day. It’s not a bad way to bring in an extra $30 a week or so just messing around in the evenings while you’re watching TV, but it isn’t another job.
Filling out surveys reminded me of a company I used to be signed up with in the UK that did the same sort of thing, and that’s how I found Opinion Outpost. You fill out your profile and they’ll match you with surveys about anything from frozen fish fingers to your opinion of the mocked-up trailer for Pixar’s next movie. They pay in actual cash via Paypal, and you can request a payout once you’ve got $10 (100 points; each survey is paid in points) in your account.
When I did this in the past, I worked for Amazon vouchers and I’d complete surveys when I had an hour free (usually in work, teehee), but I got frustrated at how often I was screened out (one wrong answer in the demographics part and you’re booted). Opinion Outpost still does that, but I completed more than I was screened out of, and they pay around 50-200 points a survey, depending on length. I made (and was paid out!) $20 in the first week, again just clicking boxes in the evenings watching TV. It’s still not a job, but between that and MT, it’s an extra $200 a month. Think how many books you could buy with that!!
There are other types of survey you can do as well: user testing of websites. These will take about 20-30 minutes each, and pay a flat fee of $10-$12 per test. As you navigate around a website according to a list of instructions (look up a product, check the opening times, etc.), the computer records your screen and your voice (yes, you have to talk about what you’re doing as you’re doing it). Userlytics, User Testing, Try My UI, Erlibird, and Enroll all offer these types of survey. I signed up for the lot, but so far only User Testing has produced any results. Like with Opinion Outpost, you have to fit a certain demographic, and even with UT I’ve only done one survey (they paid me $10 exactly a week later).
So now I was making enough to cover the electricity bill, or pay for a couple of meals out, or buy 40 books (hurrah!) a month, but the elusive steady income stream still eluded me. That’s when I decided to look for more readily available jobs that paid more than a few cents each. The obvious two were transcription and writing.
There are dozens of transcription sites out there, serving industries like medicine, law enforcement, and education. Fancy listening to an autopsy report, or a witness interview, or an MIT lecture? There are companies out there that will pay you to do it, as long as you can write them up accurately afterwards. Speechpad is the first I found. They distribute work both through MT and their own site. You have to pass a brief test to be allowed to work for them, but it’s a short, clear audio that takes no time at all. The problem wasn’t getting approved with them, it was fighting everybody else for work. On the rare occasion they had jobs available, they were usually snapped up before I could even click on them.
Next I tried 3Play Media, which provides transcripts of videoed academic lectures. Their computer software generates the transcript and it’s the employee’s job to edit it, fixing mistakes the computer has made. I got through their first round application with no problem, but crashed and burnt in the second, because you have to match the timing of the transcript to the audio perfectly and apparently that’s more than I’m capable of, lol.
Go Transcript was my third attempt, and success! I passed their application and am now live on their system. They pay based on audio minute, with some variation for difficulty (some audio is all but incomprehensible). It works out about $1.50-$2.00 per five minutes of audio, but starting out it can easily take 20 minutes or more to transcribe that length, meaning you’re working for less than minimum wage. With most things, I suspect there’s a learning curve to transcribing (certainly at first the template for how it’s to be formatting is pretty comprehensive and daunting) and most users will improve with time and earn more per hour once they’ve got the hang of it. Looking at the dashboard, there always seem to be jobs available, although general transcription work has peak times (e.g. around tax season), and slower periods. I will say, right now they email me all. the damn. time. with new work.
The other option is writing for hire. I signed up for Textbroker, passed their initial assessment of my writing (can you imagine the shame if I’d failed?!) and there are hundreds of jobs always available on their dashboard. They’re split by genre, so you can pick something you’re interested in writing, and also by level — your writing is assessed on a grade of 2-5, and you can only complete work at or below your level. Higher levels pay more (the pay scale is from $0.007-$0.05/word), but even at the lowest level, 60,000 words would pay $420, or sadly more than many authors see in profit from a book of the same length.
This sort of work was more up my alley. Most of the tasks range from 50-500 words apiece, and generally they’re writing copy for websites (wondered who did the descriptions for the new sofas you were browsing? Wonder no more!), or producing short articles based off existing blog posts or news stories. You can pick and choose what you work on and how much you work (providing the work is available), so there’s definitely potential to make a regular, decent income from this site. In addition, every piece of writing you submit is graded again, and your overall grade (and thus, pay-rate) is based off your average score, so even if you start low, you can increase your earnings as you go on.
So now I’ve gone from ohmygod, I’m broke to potentially earning a full-time income (or close to it) from home. Yay, right? And I still wasn’t done. There are more permanent solutions out there, and I pretty much applied for them all.
These jobs have a more rigorous application process, and generally require a minimum commitment. Appen and iSoftStone offer search engine and social media testing services. They pay $12/hour and offer potentially 10-20 hours’ work per week on a flexible schedule you set. Being internet savvy is a big plus with these, so if you run a blog or have ten thousand Twitter followers, they’re bonuses on your resume.
There are also editing and proofreading services, such as Kibin and Scribendi. You need to have relevant work experience (writing for a living totally counts!!) and they’ll take a while to decide if you’re a good fit with them or not, but they offer contracted positions to freelancers.
Finally, there’s the company that turned out to be the best fit for me. Time Etc employs freelancers from all manner of backgrounds as virtual assistants. Whether you’re good at admin, internet research, writing blog posts, or overhauling WordPress, there are people willing to pay to have you help them out. Once you’ve gone through the company application process, they’ll identify your key skill areas and match you with clients they think you can work well with.
Jobs come in around the clock (although they slow right down over the weekend) and you can decide to take or leave them with no penalty if you refuse. You pick your own hours, and while the company says most of their staff work 10-15 hours a week, I blew through that in my second day. Once you’ve done one job for a client, they have the option of working with you on a regular basis. It sounds unlikely but in my first week I got four permanent clients, as well as the half a dozen or so I did individual jobs for.
So that’s my last couple of weeks in a nutshell. I thought I’d share because the one thing I wanted most when I was looking at online work opportunities was real insight from people who’d tried different companies, who could tell me what was and wasn’t worth my time, and what was an outright scam. The truth is, there is work out there. Not all of it’s great or particularly well paying, but it exists, whether you’re looking for a bit of extra cash
to buy new books, or something approaching a full-time job.
As to the books, I’m still writing. I’ve slowed down more than I’d like, but I’m scribbling away at Sub on Top and still hoping to get it out late this month/early June.
Working from home, setting my own hours and devoting myself to what I love, is truly my dream come true. If it’s yours as well, maybe give some of these a go, and see if they can get you one step closer to what you really want to be doing.