When Gypsy Raven, aka Cristina Aguilar-Friar, boots up her computer in the morning, she’s open for business. The 50-year-old spiritual adviser from Bigfork, Mont., is an expert on LivePerson, counseling her clients via e-mail and live online chats. “I love working at LivePerson,” she says. “I commute from my bedroom to my home office, yet I have clients from all over the world. And what started out as a little extra money has become a living.”
“People see the Internet as an alternative way to make an income,” says Robert LoCascio, CEO of the website, which matches people who have questions with 30,000 independent resources on everything, including the future, fashion and feng shui.
Obviously, consumers should exercise caution before acting on advice from an unknown online source. Except for experts such as licensed financial advisors and those in the medical field, who go through third-party verification, the site accepts applicants’ qualifications at face value. (In a disclaimer, LivePerson says that it does not guarantee the accuracy of any answer and is not responsible for damages or losses resulting from advice dispensed on the site.)
However, LoCascio points out that LivePerson’s feedback feature lets “the users review and rate the expert, and that carries a lot of weight.”
LivePerson is not the only website providing a platform to sell knowledge and expertise. And that expertise is in good supply—given the ongoing gloomy employment statistics, plenty of people are looking for a place to earn some money.
Demand Studios, an onlinepublishing company, hires filmmakers, writers, transcribers, copy editors and proofreaders. “We actually have thousands of people creating content for us around the clock in areas that they’re particularly good at, in a much more efficient way than we see in traditional media,” says Steven Kydd, executive vice president. Contributors are asked to register and send a resumé and samples of their work. If approved, they can choose from a list of assignments.
“We have noticed not only an uptick in applications to our site,” says Kydd, “but also an uptick in the quality of those applying. We’re quite honestly shocked at the level of talent we’re seeing.”
Work at Home
Venice Kichura from Dahlonega, Ga., began writing for Demand Studios last fall. The 59-year-old former teacher writes a few articles a week on health, hobbies, animals or travel. “This was kind of an answered prayer,” she says. “I always wanted to work at home, but I didn’t know exactly how to do it.”
“Everybody is in some way a source of information,” says Luke Beatty, founder and president of Associated Content, another website that pays providers for written, audio and video content. “So we wanted to do for content what eBay did for commerce: level the playing field.”
Gary Picariello, a former producer and announcer with the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service, is in his late 40s and now lives in Italy with his wife, daughter and cat. “Once I started applying myself to writing for Associated Content and the money started coming in, it was a nice feeling,” he says. “The great thing about Associated Content is that the potential is there to do very well financially.”
Picariello writes about relationships, marriage and his family. “Associated Content’s motto has always been ‘write about what you know,’ ” he says. “If you write about what interests you, you’ll have more motivation to write.” And if you draw a blank, the website lists dozens of topics.
So what about the money? While Demand Studios boasts that it has paid more than $13.5 million to contributors and LivePerson says that top earners can pull down $100,000 a year, the reality for many people seems more modest.
For example, Venice Kichura is paid an average of $15 for each article she writes for Demand Studios, while the consultants on LivePerson set their own fees, which range from $2 to $15 and more a minute. Spiritual adviser Aguilar-Friar says she makes about $41,000 a year.
“It’s supply and demand,” says CEO LoCascio. “Right now there’s a big demand for spiritual advice.”
“No one is making millions of dollars a year doing this as an individual right now,” says Demand Studio’s Kydd. “But you can make a nice amount of money every single month to help pay your bills, and pay your mortgage. In this economy, we think that’s really valuable to folks.”
Cathie Gandel writes about consumer affairs.