There are a number of websites out there that bring freelancers and clients together: oDesk, Elance, Freelancer, Guru, TaskRabbit, Thumbtack…and Fiverr. I’ve tried many of them, but I had been putting off trying Fiverr because of its business model. I finally did, and I want to debrief my experience as a seller on Fiverr.

At Fiverr, a shopper/client purchases a “gig” from a seller/freelancer — the gig could be anything from designing a logo to recording a voiceover — for $5. With good reviews and lots of sales, sellers “level up” so that they can begin to offer “extras” with their gigs, allowing buyers to customize their purchase, leave the seller a tip, or purchase add-ons.

Because of the small amounts of money we’re talking about here, I didn’t think any of the services that I provide were appropriate for selling on Fiverr, and yet, to my surprise, programmers were offering to build WordPress sites, fix bugs, modify CSS, and other tasks. I even found a lawyer who was selling 7 minutes of legal advice for $5!

Before signing up, I did some research to see if I could find some testimony from programmers about how they use Fiverr, if they make money, what their clients are like, and whether Fiverr clients develop into quality, long-term clients.

I picked up a number of interesting pointers:

  • Any gig you sell on Fiverr you should be able to execute and deliver in 20 minutes or less. If you can complete 3 gigs per hour, then that’s $15/hr* (not quite, but keep reading), which isn’t bad depending on what skill you’re selling.
  • …Unless you gain some other value from doing each gig. For example, a few programmers use Fiverr as a loss lead, with the intent on converting Fiverr clients into higher paying clients.
  • If you’re treating this as a hobby, then maybe making money isn’t as important to you as providing value and goods to others. (Some people are selling some pretty weird stuff on Fiverr.)

I couldn’t find much about the quality of clients — but I suspected they would be pretty low quality. If you’re looking to buy a website on Fiverr for $5, then you probably aren’t going to be terribly interested in paying the same seller more later to build you another website.

Still, I was a bit intrigued and decided to pursue the loss lead avenue, and for my first gig, I picked the only task I could think of that I could execute fairly quickly: migrating websites from host A to host B. It’s not the perfect gig to sell since things can go wrong and get complicated, but I decided it was good enough to get my feet wet.

Fiverr gig screenshot

As you can see, I’m pretty specific about my boundaries — what I am and am not willing to do if you purchase this gig. I wish I could tell you that it was a good thing I specified those boundaries because they saved me a lot of trouble.

Very long story short, I have so far had 3 buyers across 2 gigs, and here’s how each one went, roughly:

  1. Withheld that her website was on Windows hosting until after the gig was purchased. I’ve spent more than 3 hours on her order thusfar, and there continues to be issues getting everything migrated (although she purchased a second gig to address one of these issues). She attempted to get a lot of free work out of me, which I declined to do through Fiverr, but she stopped responding to emails once I told her how much it’d cost. She then asked if she could buy another gig for another website, and I said no (and prepared to take down the gig).
  2. But before I could take down that gig, buyer #2 gave me the details of a static Linux site. Overjoyed at an easy one, finally, I logged in to the new FTP site and found the site already migrated. So I repeated the migration, found that her SHTML files didn’t have the SHTML file extension (which is generally required), and that was causing her pages to come up funky. I described what she had to do to fix it and delivered the gig. She asked if I could please fix the pages myself. I said no, but directed her to my website. She also stopped responding once I gave her the quote.
  3. The third buyer (for a different gig) didn’t actually submit an order until after he’d gotten an hour or so of free consulting out of me. I finally drew the line, so he purchased a gig — to get more consulting. I said no (as the gig was for nothing of the sort) and canceled the order.

At the end of the day, after delivering 3 orders, I walked away with $11.76. Hang on, I hear you say, 3 times 5 is 15! This is a great time to tell you that Fiverr takes $1 from every order – yes, that’s a 20% commission. To compare, Elance takes just under 9% and Guru takes around 12%. That brings my take-home pay down to $12. I then have the option of withdrawing my earnings via Paypal or getting a sleazy “Fiverr Revenue Card” that charges horrendous usage fees. And so, Paypal took their cut of $0.24. According to my time tracking, I spent 4 hours and 15 minutes responding to messages and delivering orders. That’s a whopping $2.77/hr wage.

At this point, you may be surprised to hear that I have very little interest in continuing to work through Fiverr. It just doesn’t suit my field or my skillset, but even if it did, I find Fiverr’s high commission rate inexcusable and their Revenue Card appalling. I’m experimenting with one more gig with a different model, but I doubt that it will turn out to be worth its while as well. Additionally, I will probably not be purchasing any gigs myself through Fiverr, as I felt taken advantage of my whole time as a seller so far, and I don’t want to be part of taking advantage of other sellers either (particularly when Fiverr takes 20%, and attempts to rob you again with their Revenue Card).

In conclusion, if you do decide you want to buy something through Fiverr, please consider what it is you’re actually purchasing and whether or not you may be taking advantage of someone. It’s true that it’s their choice to sell their gig, but I urge you to make informed and conscious decisions as a consumer.

Update: Soon after concluding my experience with Fiverr, I read a piece about the future of the $5 freelance economy on The Freelancer. Many of the sellers quoted in the piece had the same experience I did, but there are some interesting (and damning, in my opinion) quotes from one of the founders of Fiverr as well.

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