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By Alina Dizik
December 2, 2020
Money; Shutterstock

When TaskRabbit customers get a glimpse of Shanelle Campbell at their front door, most breathe a sigh of relief. She’s there to build their Ikea furniture, after all.

But her ambitions are loftier than most of her clients realize. By the time she leaves, she’ll have conquered another Billy bookcase, snagged a five-star review, and—with any luck—gotten another Instagram follower for her real estate design firm.

Campbell’s business, HippyKitten Decor, is still getting off the ground, so the 32-year-old Brooklyn resident uses TaskRabbit, a gig app for home organizing work, home maintenance, and other light manual labor jobs, to pad her wallet and drum up clients. Between the two jobs, Campbell says, she earns between $2,400 and $4,000 a month.

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“I’m learning to connect with people genuinely,” she says.

This isn’t the norm for most “Taskers.” Hourly contractors on TaskRabbit earn about $44 per hour, according to a company spokesperson, but those hours can be few and far between. That makes it next to impossible for most people to rely on gigs from TaskRabbit to pay the bills — and the same goes for other so-called “micro jobs” on platforms like DoorDash, Rover, and Fiverr.

But for people like Campbell, who use TaskRabbit and other apps to make both connections and ends meet, these aren’t dead-end jobs. They’re career-blazers.

A Changing Landscape

In the last decade, gig workers willing to do anything from PowerPoint presentations to website development have turned to platforms like Fiverr and Upwork for extra cash. Though the work remains low-paid and unstable for many who do it full-time, some people are finding success by offering niche services or using it to augment a budding business.

Many Americans now have the added flexibility of a work-from-home job, or have reduced hours due to the pandemic, and are relying on side gigs to make up gaps in their paycheck.

Los Angeles-based dog lover Sylvia Wesolowski, 31, started taking $20-per-hour dog walking jobs on Rover, a pet care services platform, after working a series of administrative jobs. Eventually, she transitioned to overnight dog boarding, which paid about $50 per night on Rover. Wesolowski estimates she made $18,000 through the app while also going to school full-time. More importantly, it helped her develop an expertise. Last year, she completed a nine-month dog-training program and opened her own company.

“The connection to the animal community and financial stability enabled me to jumpstart my business,” says Wesolowski.

Wesolowski still turns to Rover to pick up occasional gigs as a safety net of sorts.

“I still have regular clients,” she says.

A Lucky Opportunity (for a Lucky Few)

At TaskRabbit, the company is starting to see how some users are more thoughtfully aligning their career goals with the types of gig work they pick up on the site, says spokesperson Ariel Rothbard.

“We know anecdotally that quite a few Taskers work on the platform to utilize or build skills for their professions,” says Rothbard.

This is partially due to the fact that succeeding in the gig economy is still relatively rare.

The Fintech app Steady, which helps gig workers track their earnings and find jobs, estimates that workers using their platform earned just $624 per month between 2017 and 2019. And more recent data from PYMNTS shows that at least 40% of gig workers lost at least $10,000 in income during the pandemic.

The bulk of the jobs still offered on rideshare and food delivery services are entry-level type roles that are unlikely to compliment professional growth, says Gad Allon, a professor who studies gig work at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. For instance, Uber drivers earn $19.73 per hour before expenses like gas and car payments, according to 2020 data from the Ride Share Guy. And like independent workers on popular food delivery apps (DoorDash, UberEays, Grubhub) in the time of COVID-19, rideshare drivers face an increasingly tenuous—and dangerous—industry.

Still, as gig work has evolved, platforms like Upwork and Catalant have created more lucrative opportunities across the business, technology, and other industries.

“If you look at the tasks, some are getting more sophisticated over time,” Allon says. “There is much more upside.”

Redefining “Stability”

For Alice Everdeen, it was the flexibility of voiceover work that drew her to micro jobs.

Though Everdeen never had any formal training, she signed up on Fiverr, an online services platform, to try her hand at making voiceover her side hustle. The 29-year-old was able to quit her full-time content writing job soon after.

Today, Everdeen estimates her busiest weeks result in 25 hours of paid voiceover work, and says she earns between $6,400 to $8,000 each month. While Fiverr has gotten heat for incentivizing people to work for less than minimum wage, Everdeen has found a niche with high demand, and even higher-paying corporate clients. (Freelancers with Fiverr typically earn $10 per hour, according to Glassdoor data.)

Early next year, Everdeen and her boyfriend will move out of Austin and spend the next few years traveling on a decommissioned school bus — an adventure they’re able to undertake (and able to afford) because of her micro jobs.

“My goal right now is a great work-life balance,” she says.

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