E-Hustling

“I got a few real *hitters* I can count on my knuckles / If they’re not around, I can count on my knuckles” – Loyal. by Free Game Griff (shoutout to my cousin @freegamegriff on Twitter)

 

I needed both the month-long school break and the subsequent study trip between July and August to happen in the worst way in order for me to finally have some consistent blocks of critical thinking time. My direction was all over the place. Just a couple of months ago, there had been a start-up idea that I began toying around with, months prior to that I was set on trying to get in on the investment-side of private equity, and shortly before that I was communicating with Imogen Heap via email about trying to help out on her team’s blockchain music project. Right out of the gates during the break, I came to the realization that regardless of what the long-term move is going to be, I need cash ASAP.

I didn’t know exactly where to start, so I began by thinking about things I like to do. Of course, I immediately jumped to the impractical options and figured I would try to grow my online presence! I had voluntarily edited a couple of team videos earlier in the year (found here on my YouTube channel) even though I had no prior experience with video editing, so I decided to start there since I enjoyed it. From there, though, I realized I needed content and wanted to choose something that I could see myself doing consistently. I spent the entire first week brainstorming how I could build an online presence and decided to start with building a YouTube channel. I figured that as much as I’ve traveled and desire to continue doing so in the future, I could practice making videos by using some of my old photos and video clips. In my mind, the content offering going forward would be how to travel affordably by highlighting many of the discounts, rewards programs, flight deals, etc. that I’ve used. The old footage would serve as practice ahead of the good stuff that was yet to come, such as my then-upcoming trips to Martinique and French Guiana. This sounded great to me in theory. In practice, however, I quickly realized that I really don’t enjoy spending large portions of my day editing videos, especially videos that are more than a few minutes long. While I decided to see one project through to completion during that first week, I knew that type of work wasn’t going to be sustainable for me. Furthermore, during that process I realized that the money I made to travel as much as I did in the past would definitely not be there for the foreseeable future. I wanted to create a channel to share my experiences and build an audience because I thought I had something to offer, yet I’ll no longer be able to offer anything on that subject. Most importantly, how was I going to get paid off of that? It didn’t take long for me to realize that it was time to cut my losses and move on.

After scrapping the travel channel idea in the short-term, I started searching “how to make money online” all over Google and YouTube. As one would expect, there’s a lot of garbage out there centered around filling out surveys, website testing, purchasing courses that will teach you how to make passive income, and all other types of time or money sucking ventures. However, after digging through the muck for a little bit, I was able to identify some mediums that appear to be worth looking into further:

Upwork

This platform is a marketplace that allows companies or individuals to outsource their particular needs to freelancers around the world who possess the requisite skills to tend to those needs. Recent estimates have the user base around 14 million users located in 180 countries. While there are a seemingly endless number of skills that a freelancer can present as their service offering, at a macro-level most skills are grouped into the following categories:

  • Accounting & Consulting
  • Data Science & Analytics
  • IT & Networking
  • Design & Creative
  • Web, Mobile, & Software Development
  • Administrative Support
  • Legal
  • Engineering & Architecture
  • Customer Service
  • Writing
  • Engineering
  • Translation
  • Sales & Marketing

It’s free to sign up as a freelancer and you can begin searching for potential opportunities from clients after a profile review is completed by Upwork. Once signed up, you have a limited number of “connects” per month that you are allowed to use when submitting proposals for client work. There is also a $10/month sign-up option that allows a freelancer to have more client visibility, rollover of unused “connects” from the previous month, an option to hide your earnings from others on the platform, customization of your profile URL, and the ability to view competitor bids as a bargaining tool when competing against other freelancers for client work.

Once a final decision is made on the membership type, you can begin searching for client work from all over the world based on whatever skills you choose to prioritize. While this presents enormous opportunities, it also means intense competition for client work. Because of that, the creation of a top-notch profile that definitively highlights your professional skills, work experience, project portfolio (if available), education, and accomplishments is paramount to being noticed by potential clients. Furthermore, the tailor-made proposals that you send to clients through the platform also require just as much attention to presentation and detail in hopes of being selected by the client. There are some tools in place to aid with that differentiation. For example, I received “Rising Talent” status based on my profile according to Upwork. This designation is supposed to serve as a booster for new freelancers who show potential as deliverers of high-quality work to clients, and this designation appears on the freelancer’s profile after some other minimal criteria is met. According to Upwork, Rising Talent freelancers earn 50% more than other new freelancers. This should aid in getting a few jobs quickly, at which point the designation will go away and be replaced by a Job Success Score. The client determines your Job Success Score for their assigned project at the conclusion of each job, so there’s incentive to continuously do good work.

Long-term relationship development with clients is encouraged through Upwork’s fee system in which they charge the freelancer 20% for the first $500 made from the client, 10% for the next $500.01 to $10,000 made from the client, and 5% for all earnings made after $10,000 from the client. All payments and communications are done through the Upwork platform, and protections are put in place to ensure that both sides are holding up their ends of the bargain. Stiff penalties are put in place to dissuade any shady business dealings from either side.

I plan to check this one out extensively. Because my best experience lies within accounting and writing, I plan to concentrate on those fields for my client work search in the short and medium terms. However, I like the idea of having the option to venture into other categories such as Design & Creative if my skills were to ever get up to par down the road.

Fiverr

This platform is a marketplace centered around sellers and buyers of micro-outsourced services. While virtually anything can be offered up as a service, the overarching categories consist of the following:

  • Graphics & Design
  • Digital Marketing
  • Writing & Translation
  • Video & Animation
  • Music & Audio
  • Programming & Tech
  • Business
  • Fun & Lifestyle

Anyone with a computer can instantly sign up for a free account as a seller and the service offerings can range from something as serious as high-level tax consulting to something as seemingly banal as singing a song on camera dressed as Captain Underpants. Within the profile creation, there is a lot of depth and opportunities for you to differentiate yourself from the crowd. Not only do you have the ability to highlight as many skill offerings as possible, but you also have the option to take 40-minute tests over myriad subjects to further vouch for your skillset. For example, I took a test centered around the basics of the English language and scored well enough to be in the top 10% of all takers of that test type. That distinction now appears on my profile. If I were to ever offer up writing as a service I’m willing to provide, this may help people who are unfamiliar with me take comfort in knowing that I’m at least minimally competent.

Once you’re comfortable with your profile, you can then proceed to create a “gig”, which is simply what you’ll be offering up as a service. This will include everything from pricing, “gig” description, “gig” category, hashtags, etc. One of the best ways to reel in those first buyers is to first make sure the description of the “gigs” is so thoroughly written that nothing can be left to interpretation beyond what you mean. Furthermore, displaying high-quality work samples of the service you’re offering will further instill trust from the buyer’s perspective. Hopefully, a successful “gig” performed will warrant a good rating from the buyer which, in turn, should generate more business as time goes on. It’s important to keep in mind that Fiverr will take 20% off the top of any sale, and there may be additional fees outside of America depending on the country. To help mitigate the 20% fee, it’s not uncommon for sellers to offer various packages that provide additional benefits at a higher price.

I like the idea of being able to potentially sell any skill I’m good at. This is one I’ll keep in the back pocket while I think about what unique service I can bring to the table in the future.

Affiliate Marketing

This method of earning income online involves product owners making residual income through a type of referral link from regular people like myself. The best way to describe this process is through an example. Let’s say that my blog starts generating a lot of traffic one day. Let’s also say that as I start to notice a lot of eyeballs looking at what I have to say, I also notice that it starts to attract people from all over the world. Each person then goes from being a passive observer in my eyes, to potential a buyer. One way that I could get them to try to buy something, without selling it to them directly, is through someone else’s sales channel. Websites such as Clickbank, Amazon Associates, and ShareASale allow you to essentially place custom links to someone else’s product offerings onto your own website. In this situation, you become an “affiliate” and you’re effectively “marketing” for someone else’s products when you decide to place that custom link on your own website. If a customer clicks on the link on your page and decides to buy something (within a 24-hour period for example), you receive a small commission as part of allowing that product owner to reach a customer that it otherwise might not have reached. The customer pays the normal cost of the product, the owner receives slightly less than the full price of the sale due to your commission deduction, and obviously you receive the commission. While the commission percentages are typically no more than a few percentage points of the full selling price (so if the commission you’d receive is 2% of a referred sale, and the selling price is $100, then you would receive $2 while the product owner receives $98), it is still a relatively effortless way to receive some potential pocket change. It could potentially start to add up if you have content offerings that generate large amounts of traffic.

I’ll most likely stay away from this in the short and medium terms, particularly because I’m not willing to pollute my blog with other people’s products. However, I do like the idea of generating income if a click and then a subsequent purchase is made just by me being a co-sign for someone. With that being said, I’d much rather promote my own products through my blog than someone else’s…which brings me to the next thing on the list.

Teachable

If only I knew then what I know now. I firmly believe that colleges and universities at their current costs, particularly in the United States, are getting away with the highest level of robbery. Why the average cost of tuition, adjusted for inflation, has increased over 200% from the 1987-1988 school year up to the 2017 – 2018 school year, while real wages have remained relatively stagnant during that same time, is beyond my level of comprehension. What goes even further beyond my level of comprehension is how colleges and universities, until the feeble Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that was signed this past December, have been allowed to get away with tax-free endowments totaling over many billions of dollars while student loan debt sits as the second-highest consumer debt category in the United States. Even my current school, Rotterdam School of Management, has increased their tuition in one year from €47,500 to €50,500 for next year’s class for no discernible reason. Even though I won’t be directly affected by the price hike, it’s still troubling to see the 6% increase over the course of a year considering that most graduate school federal loans in America won’t give you a much better rate than about 7%. It appears that in the name of greed, colleges and the jobs that require college degrees are single-handedly screwing our generation and the next one by making degree attainment virtually impossible without the aid of lifestyle-crippling debt. Thankfully, there are platforms all over the internet that allow for high-quality learning opportunities at a fraction of the cost of going to college.

I believe that as the cost of going to a traditional university or college continues to skyrocket in conjunction with the lessened availability of well-paying jobs, platforms such as Teachable will rise to prominence. This is an online Learning Management System (LMS) that allows individuals to teach virtual courses of their own creation, with the hopes of ultimately monetizing off of the courses they’ve created. This particular platform is well-renowned for its user-friendliness and its aesthetically pleasing layout. Layouts are also easily transferable across multiple devices, so purchasers of the courses can be sure to have a consistent experience regardless of whether they’re on their computer or on their phone. While there is a free plan available on the platform, the options and ability for full autonomy are extremely limited. The pricing plans are steep, so this particular platform should be used only when assured course purchases are within sight. Default pricing is as follows:

  • $39/month – Basic
  • $99/month – Professional
  • $499/month – Business

Obviously, different perks come with the increase in pricing. More detail on that can be found on the Teachable website. Even at the cheapest price, the platform is definitely out of my price range. I still proceeded to set up an account just to look around and it is just as beautiful and user-friendly as it was advertised to be. While this website won’t serve an immediate purpose for me, this is definitely something I can look to utilize down the road when I decide to empty my brain of all of the accounting knowledge I begrudgingly accumulated.

Kindle Direct Publishing

As society becomes increasingly digital-focused, e-book usage will assuredly rise in lockstep. Recent stats related to American book-reading habits state that roughly 20 percent of book readers in the U.S. read more e-books than hard copy books, and 23 percent read about the same number of hard copy books and e-books. This bodes well for authors who are eager to share their stories with the world without the red-tape, relative lack of compensation, and politics that sometimes accompany the use of a traditional book publisher.

Kindle Direct Publishing (also known as “KDR”), via Amazon, provides a platform for those authors’ voices to be heard and allows them the potential to capitalize more off of the fruits of their labor. Its power as a platform is best exemplified through its 80% share of the e-book market. Furthermore, authors who publish through KDR are allotted much more creative freedom and significantly improved royalties: They keep 50% to 70% of book sales, vs. 15% to 25% royalties for traditionally published books. Thanks in large part to KDR’s accessibility, authors who choose to go this route can now pick and choose their own freelance editors, marketers, book cover designers, and anything else that an author so chooses within their desired budget. Some freelance establishments even cut deals with authors where they bypass upfront charges to the author in exchange for a particular percentage of the prospective profits. It’s all about negotiation in this realm, and the author has plenty of control over that.

While I’m not in a position to get in my Edgar Allen Poe writer’s bag at the moment, I do have long-term aspirations of publishing a book. It’s impossible to know how the e-book landscape will change if it takes a while before I’m ready, but for now I can take comfort in knowing that the barrier of entry has been significantly lowered thanks to platforms like KDR.

Flippa

I’ve had quite a few of my peers tell me that they want to get into real estate, in part, because they like the idea of “flipping” houses for a profit. What none of my peers has ever told me, though, is that they want to get into the business of flipping entire websites for a profit. That’s where Flippa comes in. This platform serves as a marketplace for buyers and sellers of entire websites or domain names. It utilizes a bidding system for buyers to purchases listed sites, and many sites or domains can be bid on as little as $1. Of course, if a site or a domain is willing to sell for as low as $1 then no more than that level of quality should be expected. Nonetheless, opportunities are there to either purchase a bargain or to sell for an incredible price. This could be especially beneficial for actual web developers who know how to make beautiful and functional sites, where they could purchase a domain for cheap, build the site, then look to sell it for a profit on Flippa.

I don’t have any web development experience, but I’ll still be keeping an eye out for interesting domain names to be used for future use. I saw some for sale like paperchasers.com that I know someone like Meek Mill is ready to get his hands on. I created a profile just to browse and the interface seemed pretty user-friendly. I even placed a few small bids. However, I quickly learned that just because you see an opportunity for $1 bids doesn’t mean that the seller has their personal minimum set for $1. On the first day, I ran into such a situation where I placed a $1 bid on a site that had a promising domain name. A few hours later I received a message from the seller, in which they told me that we can talk once I place a reasonable bid. I replied that I didn’t want to be reasonable and the seller proceeded to promptly remove me from the bidding process. I’ll be back 😉

Amazon Mechanical Turk

This offering from Amazon serves as a marketplace for those individuals or companies in need of an on-demand workforce to complete menial work that computers cannot universally complete at this point in time. For example, if a particular company needs to know how many trash cans are present in a particular set of pictures and they don’t have software that can automatically point that out, they would enlist the help of the workers on Amazon Mechanical Turk to complete that task. Utilizing this workforce allows for tremendous cost savings for the requesting company, as traditionally they have had to rely on hiring temporary work forces to do the same job. This type of platform has essentially turned that fixed cost into a variable cost for many companies. Where the workers benefit is in the opportunity to earn some relatively easy pocket change. However, those expecting to get wealthy off of this platform will be sorely disappointed. Most jobs pay less than a dollar per task, and those tasks could range from taking as little as a few minutes to as many as a few hours. The duration time for each task varies. As such, any task that a worker is seeking to complete should only be approached from a “I have nothing better to do at the moment” standpoint, not a “get rich or die trying” standpoint.

I have already set up a profile for the site but haven’t explored it thoroughly just yet. It’s worth noting that there’s an approval process that takes place, and I didn’t get a message of my profile being approved until about three days after I submitted my request. While I was waiting for that to happen, I decided to see how Clark Howard, a well-regarded money management expert, did with his MTurk experience. It’s worth a quick read.

Craigslist “Free” Section

Good ol’ Craigslist. When it’s not being billed as the home of the Craigslist Killer, it actually is a very useful platform that allows for seemingly infinite opportunities. One of those opportunities presents itself in the “free” section of the site, where people post pictures of things in their possession that they are looking to unload free of charge. Assuming the poster is not the Craigslist Killer, this can make for an immense opportunity to spot something of value that can be turned around and sold on a number of other online marketplaces such as eBay, Amazon, Facebook Market Place, etc. Don’t take my word for it though. I’m simply reiterating what I’ve heard noted entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuck say ad nauseam.

This is probably the most practical online hustle of them all for most people. As I was moving out of my New York City apartment, I easily gave away or threw out over $1,000 worth of appliances, dishes, hard-shell suitcases, and clothes in one day because I didn’t plan my move to Europe properly. As a result of my lack of proper planning, I was in a big hurry. Had I listed the stuff on Craigslist instead of giving most of the items away to the maintenance man in my building, whoever would’ve picked up the items would’ve essentially been handed over $1,000, assuming that they could then turn around and sell those items (which they certainly could’ve done in New York City). How many of those situations are out there on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis? There’s no way I could be the only one who’s been in a position where free stuff of value needs to be gotten rid of in a hurry. That experience alone is enough for me to try this exercise out on a regular basis as soon as I get back to New York at the end of the year.

Conclusion

I haven’t given up my goal of starting my own proper business by any means. In fact, I view anything that has to do with someone getting money without the aid of an employer as entrepreneurial in nature. What I have given up on, though, is the thought that simply going through the deliberate process of developing an idea and seeking to get others on board will lead me to the promised land. I don’t even want people funding me for my eventual business ventures because I don’t believe that anyone gives money without expecting something in return. If it’s mine, I expect it to be fully mine with no strings attached. If I’m going to operate in that fashion, the fact of the matter is that I need ways to make money, especially since I’ve exhausted every dollar in order to make the moves I’ve made in 2018 happen without a job.

Bigger than my individual situation, though, is my recognition of the millions of people out there who don’t have anywhere near as many opportunities allotted to them as I’ve had and chosen to voluntarily walk away from. Those same millions of people who are scratching and clawing through menial jobs just to make ends meet for themselves and/or their families would probably think I’m insane for doing things like skipping the MBA program’s career fair like I did this past Friday, declining an interview opportunity with a major company like I did a couple of weeks ago, or quitting 3 months prior to my imminent 6-figure promotion like I did in December prior to my move to Europe. To me, working in the traditional sense within the employer-employee dynamic is the quickest way to perpetual middle-class living, given the perpetual wage stagnation and relative lack of high-paying jobs pervasive throughout America. I feel as if it’s ludicrous to strive for middle-class living standards when it is that very class that gets punished the most. It is in that class where you make just enough money to qualify for houses and cars that you can only afford through “favorable” financing terms. Why do you have to finance those things in the first place? In large part, it’s because of the massive student loan debt you had to take on just to qualify for the middle-class job in the first place, yet somehow you still make too much money to keep from getting taxed more than most wealthy people. If that sounds backwards, that’s because it is backwards. Unlike the wealthy, most of the middle-class has a much more difficult time affording the protections, accountants, lawyers, etc. to help them steer clear of Uncle Sam’s strong tax hand. On the other side of the spectrum, even though the living standards and wages of the poor are much less, especially for a country like America that prides itself on being the land of excesses, at least the poor have some type of tangible support through government housing, healthcare, education, and tax benefits (among others). Where’s the tangible aid for the middle class? To me, America is increasingly becoming a boom or bust society where the majority of middle-class income earners are getting bent over and financing both the wealthy and the poor simultaneously. Who wants to voluntarily sign up for that?

In short, due to the way that American government and economics is currently constructed, it’s better to be poor in the pursuit of being wealthy than to be in the middle in the pursuit of being wealthy. Interestingly, this way of thinking was personified in the NBA recently. Before he was pressured to resign a couple of years ago, people thought that Sam Hinkie was crazy to adopt that strategy with the Philadelphia 76ers. He never was crazy, and only now are people reflecting on that time period and giving him his props since the franchise is a legitimate championship contender. He recognized that one of the few benefits of being a team with a poor record is that you’ll pick higher in the following year’s draft, thus, increasing your chances of picking up the next LeBron James. In the meantime, while you’re being supported by the league, individual business will be dreadful, but you’ll ultimately survive. The work was still being put in to find the next big thing that will set you over the top, it’s just that in the meantime you’re leveraging off of the support of the league. That’s how I’m viewing real life. I’ve been comfortably in the middle-class already, and it’s nothing more than a hamster wheel full of trying to keep up with the joneses while maintaining the status quo. With the internet and its openness to the world at our fingertips, I believe that every owner of a device has the potential to control their own destiny. Because it’s a relatively new way of thinking for the masses, a step back and living below your means while you figure it out might be necessary just so you can take two steps forward once it’s figured out. Even if that’s the case, there are still learning and growth opportunities involved with making that move. Maybe those who don’t know where to begin can start with some of the suggestions above. If none of those work, then it’s on to the next one you find until something clicks.

If you agree, disagree, or have any other useful suggestions, please feel free to leave a comment below or contact me via email. If you’d like to stay up-to-date with posts going forward, please subscribe and you’ll receive an email notification with each new post!

 

-JEM

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