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Easy money

'I will hypnotize you for half an hour over Skype for $5,' and other online odd jobs Add to ...

Donald Currie wanted to test his new digital camera outdoors. He figured he might as well earn a few bucks at the same time.

So he posted a proposal on Fiverr.com: "I will be your virtual tourist and go to any Toronto area landmark you want and take pictures with my new DSLR camera and send them to you for $5."

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The Toronto resident hadn't yet found any takers last week, but was optimistic there would be buyers out there for his amateur snapshots. After all, Mr. Currie says, much quirkier services can be found on Fiverr. "It's amazing the things you can find on there for $5."

The offerings on Fiverr, where everything costs a flat price, run the gamut from the practical ("I will give you remote computer assistance for $5") to the whimsical ("I will draw you as a cartoon for $5") to the downright frivolous ("I will teach you how to fold a dollar into a bow tie for $5").

But what sellers have in common is the potential to cash in on skills and resources they already possess, no matter how obscure.

Fiverr, OddJobNation.com, and advice sites such as Bitwine.com and JustAnswer.com, offer an easy way for people to make money doing little more than what they normally would, or by performing casual tasks or dispensing their wisdom.

The interest in this type of informal work has exploded since the recession, as laid-off workers and cash-strapped individuals scramble to pay bills and keep up with their rent, says Jeremy Redleaf, head of OddJobNation.

His website, which launched in February last year, lists casual - and often unusual - job opportunities across the United States. He plans to expand the site's database to include Canadian odd jobs later this year.

Prior to the economic crisis, odd jobs were considered beneath many people, Mr. Redleaf says. But these days, those who have lost high-paying jobs and retirees returning to the work force to supplement their pensions are among his site's main users.

One ad on his site calls for "rice eaters" to participate in a research study in Los Angeles that pays $175 for 2 hours and 15 minutes of work. Another seeks "mock jurors" with no experience necessary to listen to a legal case and give opinions. That job pays $50 for an evening, with a pizza break included.

A third would-be employer has advertised for an "exercise cheerleader": "I need you to cheer me on to exercise while I exercise. It's that simple," the ad reads. "Pay is $10 an hour. ... No games please."

Strange as these gigs may sound, Mr. Redleaf says applicants never know whom they might meet who may help them get full-time work in their field.

"An object in motion stays in motion. I think it's a really great way to get back on the horse."

Meanwhile, others looking to capitalize on more specialized experience can share their advice on sites such as Bitwine and JustAnswer. On Bitwine, experts ranging from nutritionists to psychic readers charge anywhere from 50 cents to more than $3 a minute for live, online sessions, while on JustAnswer, clients set the price to have experts answer their questions.

JustAnswer experts, who are usually required to have a licence or degree in their field, or at least two years of work experience, can earn as much as $20,000 a month, depending on their category of expertise and the number of questions they answer, says Bri Vorse, the company's communications manager.

She said one of the site's experts even avoided foreclosure on his house with income from answering questions on the site.

Micha Kaufman, co-founder and chief executive of Israel-based Fiverr, said he and his partner came up with the idea for their site after identifying a niche for "micro-services."

Mr. Kaufman declined to reveal how much money is exchanged through his site. But since it launched about two months ago, the number of different services listed on Fiverr has grown to 40,000, he wrote in an e-mail.

Some of those services are worth more than $5, and can be time-consuming to carry out, he said. But for entrepreneurs and freelancers, it can be a way to gain experience.

As Shawn Collins, a marketing consultant in New Jersey, discovered, offering to do small amounts of informal work online can also help attract more clients to an existing business. He and his business partner Missy Ward had ordered $5 caricature portraits of themselves from an artist through Fiverr, and subsequently saw demand for the artist's work soar as they and other buyers shared the drawings through Facebook and Twitter.

Sensing an opportunity for his own business, Mr. Collins offered to answer a marketing question for $5, and soon found a taker.

The client "was very satisfied with the answer, and that led to him asking me some questions about getting some more paid time as a consultant," Mr. Collins says. "I think that could be a good opportunity for some people to put a teaser out there and get some more work out of it."

For others, like Heather Smith of Egmont, B.C., offering micro-services over the Internet gives them a way to share their interests.

A retiree, Ms. Smith collects lapel pins and beach glass and is an avid blogger. On Fiverr, she offers to mail out items from her collection and to link other people's websites to her blog for $5.

While she doesn't expect to generate much money, she likes the idea of connecting with others who appreciate her hobbies.

"It wouldn't make a difference in my life financially, but it would certainly be a feel-good situation [to make a sale]" she says. "You're sitting home anyways and you have the skills. Why not put them to work?"

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