The year 2009 was a year of big changes for me. I graduated with my MA in Professional Writing. My husband and I moved across the country from Georgia to California. And the economy fell off a cliff.
I know what you’re thinking. Someone with a degree in “Professional Writing” should probably expect to have a hard time finding a job regardless of what’s happening in the economy, but I swear I thought this out.
Graduate school gave me tangible skills with classes in document design and editing. I had a great experience and you should all shake your heads sadly and learn from my choices.
I wasn't worried because I have had a job since I was 15. So what if nobody’s hiring? Convenience store, call center, restaurant, doesn’t matter. I’ve worked them all and I have no shame.
After a few weeks I realized just how competitive the job market actually is in Los Angeles. Restaurants asked for headshots with my application. My master’s degree made every retail store give me the side eye. I was suddenly unqualified and overqualified for everything.
Aside from being underemployed, I quickly learned that LA is a super expensive city. Like $7 for a domestic draft beer expensive. My part-time job and unpaid internship kept me firmly at home watching television and eating Ramen noodles every night while interest added up on my student loans.
My husband suggested that maybe I could make some money offering college students help with their college essays. Sure! After 19 years of school, I was definitely qualified to help someone with their homework.
I put together a Craigslist ad detailing my credentials and the responses started rolling in. But instead of “Could you edit my paper?” I was getting “Hey, just do my assignment” or “Could you take my online class?” Well, beggars can’t be choosers, so from 2009 to 2013 I wrote dozens of papers and took several online classes. Here are a few things I learned along the way:
1. People who buy papers come from every walk of life.
It’s easy to assume that all students who buy papers are 20-somethings using mom and dad’s money so they can spend more time being hungover. Sure, there are plenty of those, and those are the ones who were the most demanding and difficult to work with. Twenty pages by tomorrow? I’m not a wizard, kid.
But aside from the ne’er do wells, there were non-traditional students who were having a rough time balancing work, family, and a full class load. These students often expressed a lot of guilt, and I have a lot of sympathy for the pressure they were under.
Finally, there were those who were simply overwhelmed and unable to do college level work. Students who bought papers from me went to community college, online programs, USC, and UCLA.
2. I didn’t charge enough.
I loved school, and I even had fun doing a lot of the assignments. Who has two thumbs and had a great time researching a paper about the religious symbolism in the movie Groundhog Day? This gal.
But I also cared too much. I got the same worried knot in the pit of my stomach every time an assignment was due, and I stressed over the work as if I were the one getting the grade. If I had to do it over again I would realize that $75 for a four-page paper that required research and MLA formatting was practically giving it away.
3. You probably won’t get caught.
In the beginning, I would tell students that it would be a good idea to take the paper I wrote and put it in their own words. You’d think it would be a glaring issue for a student who’s had trouble the entire semester to turn in an “A” paper that doesn’t sound like anything else they’ve written. You’d be wrong.
I know a handful of adjunct professors, and as long as the paper is original (meaning chunks of the writing isn’t being recycled from other papers or online sources) they often don’t have the time or support of the administration to accuse someone of plagiarism. I would also add that they don’t get paid enough to weed out people buying papers, but that’s another essay.
4. You really are only cheating yourself.
Do I feel guilty? A little, but mostly for the other students who are working hard and giving it “the old college try” and getting lumped in with people who are buying assignments. It’s not fair, but life isn’t fair.
People who avoid work in college will find other ways to half-ass their way through life and it will either catch up with them, or they will have to spend the rest of their lives trying to find people to do their work.
5. We should really stop herding people into college.
I can’t tell you how many students couldn’t compose a simple email that told me what their assignment was and when it was due. Red flag right? Not for “for profit” colleges it isn’t. You got a pulse and qualify for student loans? You’re in! You know the type I’m talking about -- rhymes with the University of Shmee-nix?
These students lack basic skills and aren’t ready for college, but that doesn’t stop schools from signing them up for thousands of dollars in student debt. These institutions have much lower graduation rates than the national average and students from for-profit colleges are much more likely to default on their student loans. It’s still a tough economy out there and most of these folks will end up in the same position I was in 2009 -- but without the skills to do other people’s homework for cash.
Ever since the publication of my book, "Will Work From Home: Earn the Cash Without the Commute," which became a New York Times bestseller, I've researched and tested hundreds of opportunities to make money from home.
Sadly, but not surprisingly, most turn out to be scams. That's why I'm always thrilled when I find legitimate opportunities that work. (For a comprehensive list of some of the ways to make money at home -- from a few bucks here and there to a fulltime income, visit my Web site WomenForHire.com.)
The sites that follow offer qualified users the chance to get paid to create content, tweet ads, and test Web sites. Don't count on them to pay your mortgage -- at least not at first -- but if you're what they're looking for, the money may cover your phone bill or a night out. Perhaps best of all: None of these sites will ask for a penny from you up front.
Internet Sites Pay for Material
Create quality content. If you're an experienced writer, photographer or videographer, Seed.com, which is owned by AOL, may be a high-profile home for your work. AOL operates 80 Web sites on every imaginable topic: movies, pets, golf, style, parenting and more, producing an extraordinary amount of content that attracts more than 74 million visitors a month.
Here's how it works: Seed enables AOL site editors to post writing, photography -- and soon video -- assignments that are open to anyone, which allows them to draw from a vast pipeline of talent throughout the country. Recent assignments range from a photograph of a toddler in a high chair to an article on the latest lipsticks for spring. It's a very diverse mix.
Register on the site to access the complete listings. When you see an assignment that's right up your alley, submit your work. If it's approved, you'll get paid.
AOL says payment averages $25 to $75 per assignment -- some assignments pay even more -- and only the best content is accepted. In its first month, AOL editors posted 2,000 assignments and it's expected to grow steadily from there.
Other sites to explore that also pay widely varying rates for content: DemandStudios.com, Examiner.com, Helium.com and AssociatedContent.com.
Do you work from home successfully? Share your story with "GMA"!
For You, Tweets Can Mean Cash
For anyone who's active on Twitter, you can turn those tweets into cash. You probably won't make tens of thousands of dollars like reality star celebrities, but you might as well give it a shot.
SponsoredTweets.com, which facilitates deals between advertisers and Twitter users, says it has 2,500 advertisers, ranging from Fortune 100 companies to mom and pop businesses that want to promote something to the Twitter audience.
Here's how it works: As a Twitter user, you can sign up for a free account to be paid for messages that advertisers want delivered to your audience. Advertisers will select you based on three factors: the number of followers you have (at least 200), the topic(s) you generally tweet about, and, most importantly, how engaged you are with your audience.
For just a few hundred followers, you may make $1 or $2 per tweet, and receive a few offers a month. If you have 1,000 followers and you're actively engaging with them, you could hit $50 or $75 a month in total payments. The more followers and the greater engagement, the more cash you can expect.
Three months ago I signed up for a free account on SponsoredTweets.com. During that time, I've earned more than $200 based on $15 per tweet. You control the ads you tweet, which means you can reject them if they're not right for you and your audience. In my case, I frequently reject offers because they don't appeal to me. If I had accepted every offer that was presented to me, I would have made four times as much.
Everyone should be using Twitter as a job search, networking and brand-building tool, so it makes sense to sign up for a free account on both SponsoredTweets.com and Ad.ly, another reputable service, to see if you can make money at it too. (I'm testing Ad.ly too and will report back on my results.)
Once you sign up, if you refer friends who become successful on these sites, you'll be eligible for minimal commissions on their earnings.
Consider Web Site Testing
In the past, if a company wanted to test the usability of its Web site, they'd set up a focus group in a lab and invite people to come in, which was an expensive and time-consuming undertaking. Now, it's done easily, quickly and inexpensively online. If you have a computer with high-speed internet, you could apply to be such a tester.
Here's how it works: At UserTesting.com, a two-year-old service, applicants complete a two-step process to be considered. The first asks for basic background information -- such as age, gender, income, zip code and skills. The second step is to take a 10-minute test that simulates a real assignment you'd receive if selected.
You could be asked to visit a specific Web site and perform an exact function -- such as to visit a clothing Web site and find and purchase a long-sleeved women's button-down shirt. While you're doing that, your screen is being recorded to track your mouse movement and clicks, and your voice (but not your face) is recorded to hear as you verbalize your steps. You must be good at verbalizing what you're doing as you navigate the site -- the imagery, text, colors, promotional messages and so on.
If you pass that, you're registered in the system to receive assignments as they come up, for which you're paid $10 for about 10 to 20 minutes of work.
Be a Web Affiliate
If you have a blog, Web site or newsletter, sign up for affiliate programs from any number of Web sites that sell a product or service that would appeal to your audience. From giants like Amazon.com to small niche sites, you can earn a healthy commission for sending customers their way just by posting links on your site.
A new entry in the affiliate space is TheGiftionary.com, which is run by my "Will Work From Home" co-author Robyn Spizman. It's free to register as an affiliate and you'll receive a custom code and link to share on your site. You'll make $25 every time you successfully refer a paid customer to the site.
Tory Johnson is the workplace contributor on "Good Morning America" and the anchor of Job Club on ABC News Now. She is the CEO of Women For Hire and the founder of WaggleForce. Talk to her at Twitter.com/ToryJohnson.
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