Thursday, September 29, 2016

Side Hustle Week Day 4: Amazon Mechanical Turk

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Welcome to Side Hustle Week here at Road To A Tesla! Most personal finance bloggers love to talk about side hustles - ways you can make some extra money on the side to help you achieve your financial goals more quickly. These are usually jobs you can do as a hobby or while you are still employed full time somewhere and, with luck, you may be able to parlay them into big-time income producing projects.

I tried out my hand at some side hustles and each day this week, I will be posting my results and thoughts on some of the more popular ones.

Day 1 - Studypool
Day 2 - Wrapify
Day 3 - Loanables / Craigslist
Day 4 - Amazon Mechanical Turk
Day 5 - Udemy


Amazon Mechanical Turk

Just about everyone knows Amazon is an online store that sells more or less everything. However, they have numerous other businesses, one of which is Amazon Web Services. It is this part of the Amazon empire that runs the Mechanical Turk website. What is a Mechcanical Turk? The name comes from The Turk, which was a fake chess-playing machine built in the late 18th century. It was fake because the machine actually contained a hidden person that was moving the chess pieces.

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Amazon has created a crowd-sourced platform where people can submit work for others to do. Typically, the tasks are relatively simple, yet too complex for a computer. For example, common tasks are to transcribe an audio or video file, evaluate a website, or answer a survey. For the person submitting the project, the site behaves very much like a mechanical turk – they submit a question to a computer, yet humans actually perform the task and create the result. The humans performing the tasks are paid varying amounts, depending on the task. Prices range from pennies to over a hundred dollars.

The Process

I signed up for Amazon Mechanical Turk back when I first heard about it, sometime in 2012. To sign up, you use your Amazon account and answer some qualifying and demographic questions. The tasks you can perform are called HITs, or Human Intelligence Tasks. If you qualify, you can pick a HIT, which will likely direct you to another website. Open that website in a different window or tab and complete whatever task you have to do. At the end of that process, you will usually be given a code you need to paste back into the original HIT window or tab to get credit for your work.

When you accept a HIT, that HIT is not available for others, so it is expected that you complete it. If you start it and decide for whatever reason not to finish it, you should be sure to return the HIT, so that it is available to someone else. The system tracks how many HITs you accept and complete and you will be disqualified from accepting any more HITs if your failure rate gets too high.

Most of the HITs I’ve done are surveys or questionnaires, simply because I tend to do this at work during my lunch hour. These HITs typically only pay $1 to $2 and take 5 to 15 minutes to complete. There are usually many HITs available involving transcribing audio or video, which pay more, but aren’t conducive to being performed in an office environment. The higher paying HITs typically require additional qualification. You qualify for these by taking one or more additional tests. For example, here is a HIT that pays $113.21, but requires some additional qualifications. The task is to transcribe a 2.5 hour audio file.

A high paying HIT with several qualification requirements

If you can type as fast as the person talking in the recording, that works out to just over $45 an hour. Not too shabby!

I also often see HITs for transcribing foreign language items into English or vice-versa. If you are bilingual, this might be a good way to pick up some extra money.

How It Turned Out

After you submit a HIT, if your work is approved by the employer, you usually see the money credited to your account in a day or two. You can withdraw your earnings either via an Amazon Payment account (which you can link to your bank account), or get it transferred to an Amazon Gift Card, which you can use to buy things on their site.

As this image shows, I’ve earned $56.03 since I signed up back in 2012.



The Old Way I Did It

Nothing spectacular, but, as I said, I typically just did this during my lunch hour at work. I would log in to the site and manually look for HITs that were available to me. I’ve discovered that the types of HITs I usually do come around more or less weekly, so I only checked about once a week. Most the time, I forgot or I got busy reading the news or something else distracted me, so in reality, I logged in once a month or so, possibly even less.

The Way I Do It Now


A couple of months ago, I saw a report of someone making $150 to $300 per week. Based on my experience at the time, I found this hard to believe. After re-reading the post at that link, I bought the author’s ebook (Side Hustle From Home: How To Make Money Online With Amazon Mechanical Turk) to see just how this was possible. I have to say, this was a game changer.


The biggest tip I got from the book was to use scripts and browser plugins when working on mTurk. There is a whole community that has grown up around this side hustle and they have created all kinds of scripts to optimize your income. In the two days after I installed some of the scripts the author recommends, I completed about 25 HITs, boosting my total completed count to over 100, which is an important threshold at which more and better paying HITs become available. Prior to this, I could not see how it was possible for people to make any sort of real money doing this. Now, my eyes have been opened.

My daily target is to earn $11.77 a day, 5 days a week. After withholding 15% for taxes, that works out to $10 a day or an extra $200 a month. I think this is easily achievable. I'm not going to retire on this, but it will provide a nice boost to my Tesla savings!

Remember my screenshot above showing I made a whopping $56.03 after four years? Look at what has happened after just four days of using the scripts recommended in the ebook:


I made almost $70 with very little effort. And I'm still waiting for 12 more of my completed HITs to get paid, so I'm due another $6 to $12 for those days.

Amazon Mechanical Turk is definitely worth checking out, especially if you have a job working on a computer all day and can leave a browser window open in the background to alert you as HITs become available.

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