Disclaimer: This post will not be about finding remote work in a post-Covid world. There are far better resources for job searching than this blog – I encourage you to use them instead.
This year as we began to work remotely as the reality of our new normal began to set in, I was looking for some simple supplements to my income to start playing the stock market (who wasn’t looking to start investing some spare cash at the beginning of this year?). I briefly considered a part-time job, ironically of which I took early this year and have recently wrapped up, but quickly determined that to be too much of a workload increase in the middle of a global pandemic. Especially if that second role was in the software development field as those can quickly get demanding of limited mental throughput after working a full-time SWE role.
I needed something more transient or gig-like – think Fiverr or Upwork – in which I could set myself up on my own schedule.
I did briefly consider those two platforms themselves, but quickly realized a couple points of contention – competition and fees. On both platforms, they are saturated with talent. I’d be competing with players who are highly reviewed. That’s not to say they are necessarily better or more talented workers, but they have a higher perception of talent and can either snag the best gigs or charge the best rates.
In the event I were to actually secure a gig, I’d be hit with a fee (in Fiverr’s case, 20%!). That’s a massive fee paid by the gig worker and means 1 in every 5 dollars earned goes right to the platform’s coffers. I know that over time a higher reputation reduces those fees, but it really just didn’t seem worth it.
There had to be a better way to make a buck.
The slavelabour community is not actually slavery (well, unless you consider it wage slavery, which it very well might be). It’s essentially a bazaar for microtasks where people will advertise small tasks they’re willing to pay a few bucks towards, and workers can offer their services at below market rates as well. Most of the fees or offered rates are incredibly tiny and well under what you can expect to make for performing the job normally. The tasks aren’t necessarily programming-related, but a fair amount are web scraping, data munging, CSV parsing, and related ilk.
The RequestABot subreddit is very similar but geared towards people requesting and creating bots for Reddit itself. Usually there is no posted reward – I’d estimate 95% are charity requests – but bot creators are free to ask for payment.
But How to Make Money?
A fair question at this point is how I managed to make a reasonable amount of cash with these sources. I will tell you that the dollar figure isn’t huge. I tracked all my income for the period of several months (April 2020 to February 2021) and it only came out to a couple thousand dollars. don’t expect to get rich. It is, however, more fun than an Amazon Mechanical Turk session, and you do technically get paid to code.
The two subreddits I mentioned sort of fed off of each other. I could create a bot from a request from the RequestABot subreddit and then other it for a fee on the slavelabour subreddit with little changes. People would occasionally request on both communities something similar to what I had already written, so I could offer fast turnaround times, complex feature sets, and better personalization options to potentially negotiate a higher fee.
This essentially boils down to building a decent backlog of in-demand software that takes minimal effort to deploy, set up, and maintain. Looking back, it’s really the only way for it to work, otherwise you’d spend an inordinate amount of time writing high-effort, low-reward bespoke software. To some extent, this will happen anyway as you start up, but over time the effort goes down as you can reuse older work.
I’m pretty sure I was a “victim” of service arbitrage at one point.
You may not have heard of service arbitrage, but retail arbitrage is far more common and is a popular side gig. Arbitrage in general is simply buying a good or service at a low price and selling at a higher price, pocketing the profit in between. Retail arbitrage, for example, might see you buy items off the clearance rack at Walmart to sell them on eBay or Amazon where they command a higher asking price.
Service arbitrage is exactly the same thing except someone might use a gig work platform to accept a high-paying gig and then complete the request by offering it on a lower-paying platform. I might point out that this is risky to find competent service workers at lower pay scales.
In my case I accepted a relatively high-paying task from one of my subreddits that ended up being fairly complicated and fun. I think the first task was related to web scraping ReMax data and generating an “Email All Agents” button on the page via a userscript. It seemed like a genuinely useful tool. After completing that work, the original requester would come back to me and offer me even higher paying jobs. I’d present my work via a shared private repository and the requester would occasionally offer code review or even make changes themselves, so I know they were a competent developer in their own right.
In hindsight, they were clearly passing off my work to a 3rd party and paying me out of the reward. I can’t complain, as I was leveraging their ability to acquire the tasks in the first place, which I was unable to do because my reputation on those sites was low. I never had to fight over the payment schedule, either. This was by far the most lucrative of the gigs that I’d worked.
(Like money tips, not advice tips…)
One of the more interesting things that happened is that I started generating “passive” income from working gigs.
As mentioned, most of these interactions happened over Reddit and so were highly visible in somewhat niche arenas. Once I had created a critical mass of completed projects, people started to reach out to me directly for work.
One of two things happened as a result of this: the person either made a custom request or they offered a tip for my guidance on how to set up one of my previously completed projects. In either case, I informed that I do charge a small fee for that type of work and upon agreement that would commence. Sometimes, they just wanted to tip me without more work, which is always great!
This has only happened a handful of times, but to this day I still get communication out of the blue from people making requests and they do occasionally convert to paying customers!
It’s not all roses and rainbows, obviously, as there are caveats to working this way should you choose to pursue it. My experience was very positive and I didn’t run into many problems, although you should be aware of them nonetheless.
Here’s the crux of the issue: You shouldn’t expect high pay (or any pay, for that matter!). Obviously these gigs are a race to the bottom with the lowest rate winning the contract to work. And when you do complete the work, it’s the wild west, baby, and your requester can just run off into the sunset with all your hard work scot-free.
A Couple Other Side Money Sites I Recommend
Disclaimer: Should you choose to sign up under my name on the following sites, I may make a small percentage of your earnings.
- More Reddit communities, this time for more general side money
- Academic studies for incentives, sometimes quite fun!
- User interviews for larger incentives, can be lucrative if registering as an industry professional
That’s all for now. Thanks for reading!