A fall day in the park

Sometimes you need extra income in order to meet unexpected expenses or to save for a major purchase or goal. With the rise of the sharing economy it is easier than ever to latch onto short-term gigs, especially if you have a strong Internet connection and some idle time.

If this sounds like something you’ve done or are considering — you have plenty of company. A new study by the Brookings Institution showed a “surge” — as they described it — in such jobs after analyzing Census Bureau information on non-employer businesses of one, in other words, self-employed, unincorporated sole proprietors.

Researchers at the think-tank discovered there were roughly 24 million such businesses in 2014 (the most recent data available), up from 15 million in 1997 and 22 million in 2007. This includes anyone who rents a room on AirBnB, drives for Uber or engages in other freelance forms of income.

But one major question is if a sub-set of this sharing economy — known as “micro-jobs” — are really worth it. Think of those very small, often highly repetitive jobs that can sometimes pay only pennies per task but can be aggregated into a larger sum. We explore these types of gigs to see what’s worth examining further and what you should skip. As always if it seems too good to be true, assume it is.

Types of micro-jobs

Some jobs, like posting a short review, will pay $.03 and others, like filling out a survey, could pay $4 or $5. It doesn’t sound like much, but the tasks are quick, easy and overwhelmingly simple. Welcome to the world of micro jobs.

Micro-jobs can be ideal for college students, young professionals, stay-at-home dads/moms and retirees. They pay very little (usually in the $.20-$.30 range) in return for you performing a small task. When accepting a micro job, it is important to work smart, quickly and understand that you may have to fulfill many tasks to generate enough money to make it worth your time.

First and foremost, make sure the work fits your current situation. Some tasks may turn out to be too demanding (either in time or attention) for the amount of money you make. Before you click to any of the nearly one dozen micro-job online opportunities listed below, consider these factors in making a decision:

  1. Be selective. There are plenty of reputable companies that offer micro jobs. Not all, however, are legit. Beware of scammers. You can always do an Internet search to check for scam reports.
  2. Read reviews. Pay heed to what people say who have done the job before. Anyone can have a bad experience, but if 20 people say that it’s a bait and switch, caveat emptor.
  3. Set limits. Assign yourself a “per hour” floor – an amount where it’s just not worth your hour. If it’s something you can do while watching “The Bachelorette,” that benchmark might be $2-3 per hour. If you must actually concentrate and do several uninterrupted hours or very tight turnaround times in order to complete a task (i.e. you can’t leave and pick up the kids from school) then it might be a lot higher — a lot higher. Once you have this figure in mind — exactly how much an hour is worth to you. Test drive the job and see what you would make per hour. If it’s below your “floor” don’t bother continuing. Sometimes you really can’t tell until you actually do it.

Most micro jobs pay for completed tasks via PayPal, but some may pay in loyalty cards, reward points and gift cards. If your aim is to pad your savings, it’s critical you get that money into a high-yield savings account as quickly as possible.

Now let’s look at some of the more popular micro job sites.

Human Intelligence Tasks

It may come as little surprise that Amazon is in the thick of online micro job offerings. Mechanical Turk or MTurk requires HITs “human intelligence tasks,” which means its clients need humans to complete the work. MTurk tasks are as easy as commenting on a blog post, completing a survey, extracting purchased items from a shopper’s receipt, translating a paragraph, conducting keyword searches, or tagging images. The MTurk website boasts that it offers an “on-demand, scalable workforce.” At the time of this writing, there were 1,099,556 HITs available.

Some MTurk work, such as foreign translation, requires you to take a qualification test. Fail a test? Many organizations give you a retake option within hours or days of the exam.

Another type of micro job involves online crowd-sourcing ventures. These are opportunities where companies hire people to work on one small part of a larger project. CrowdFlower uses this method to help companies clean up and update their sales data, identify quality leads and categorize products.

One-off skilled opportunities

If you’ve got expertise that goes beyond the keyboard, such as handyman work or furniture assembly, you can shout out your micro job talents in your community through Taskrabbit or via websites like Fourerr (tag line: “Small Jobs. Big Results”) and Fiverr, which allow employers to hire people for services such as web design, headline writing, blogging, voiceover recording, conducting Google research and more. According to Fiverr, it takes about five minutest to set up a profile – and it’s free. One writer, for example, accepted jobs starting at $5 for 300 words and $45 for 3,000 words (shhh, don’t tell my editor). Admittedly, these are very low rates. But that’s the point. A micro jobber has a skill they typically deliver fast and cheap.

Sorting through opportunities

Here’s a quick list of some of the many micro job sites available to get you on your way to earning a few extra dollars at home or on your mobile device.

ClixSense – Add to your pocketbook by viewing advertising, referring others to websites, shopping online, and taking surveys.

EasyShift — Shop, eat and explore your city with this mobile app that pays you for taking product photos, checking prices and reviewing promotions.

Field Agent — Work with companies via your mobile phone by checking on the status of retail placement of their products and other in-store research.

Gigwalk — Become a field agent with your mobile device and then go shopping. Get paid to visit retail stores to provide information on how a company’s merchandise is displayed or stocked.

Inbox Dollars — Play games for money. It’s true. Play your favorite arcade or puzzle games or complete surveys for cash.

Mylikes — Create an account and then participate in social media campaigns that match your profile. Get paid for share links, videos and by liking sites.

QuickTate or iDictate — Transcription service pays a penny for every four words transcribed from audio recordings. Medical transcriptions pay more. A short quiz is required.

Understand the tax implications

All of these jobs will pay you as an independent contractor, which means you will receive a 1099-MISC form from the IRS. A 1099 documents the income that is earned and that which must be reported to the IRS as taxable income on your taxes.

If you earn $600 or less as a freelancer or independent contractor that is considered tax-free by the IRS, but anything above that figure is subject to as high a tax rate as 40%. Of course, you can off-set that tax burden with sensible, vetted tax strategies for freelance workers.

In all, if you find that these types of jobs are becoming more and more a part of your income, read up on how to account for expenses such as your Internet or your home office and setting up quarterly tax payments.

Utilize a tax professional and be careful of generalized advice on this topic — there’s a lot of misinformation out there. If you receive a 1099 and choose to not pay taxes Uncle Sam will know.

Have you tried a micro job or have experience with any sites listed here that you deem successful (or not)? We welcome your feedback and comments.

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