Mike Burton, 37, always loved rapping. But it never occurred to him he could actually pursue it as a career.
While studying and after graduating from the University of Houston in 2013, he held a string of jobs ― from pizza delivery at Domino's to customer service representative at financial services firm Aon Hewitt. But on the side, he always found time to make music. "That's still what I'm doing in my breaks, on my free time, on my weekend," he says. "It's never stopped."
In December 2016, Burton was let go from Hewitt. He'd long known that people sell rap-writing skills on Fiverr and had even dabbled in doing so himself. But losing his job was the impetus Burton needed to give the site a serious go. Among his first packages was offering to write a 20- to 30-second verse for $5.
Today, Burton, who's based in Houston, works full-time writing original raps for individuals and businesses on Fiverr. He works 40 to 45 hours per week and usually brings in between $7,000 and $8,000 per month.
Altogether, he's brought in nearly half a million dollars from the site.
Here's how Burton was able to build the rap career he'd always wanted.
Burton first dipped his toes as a rapper on Fiverr in 2015.
"The first request I got was, 'Can you make a rap to my mom about why it's okay to listen to Eminem?'" he says. But he had no idea how to go about it and ended up cancelling his account as a result.
In mid 2016, he decided to try his luck on the site again, this time more prepared for the peculiar requests he might get. Gigs started pouring in, and by the time he decided to go full-time with the site in December 2016, he'd built a momentum.
These days, Burton's writing spans a wide range of requests: kids needing raps for their history projects, men needing rhymes for their boyfriends, a cheerleading DJ working to rev up performers. "Shout out to Norway," he says, where families hire him to write original raps in English for their 15-year-olds' Christian confirmations regularly.
"I've done so many," he says. "I'm like an honorary Norwegian."
Burton's prices have gone up steadily since he started on the site. He now charges a minimum of $65 per 30-second verse. Recently he's concerned himself more with refurbishing the look of his services on the site.
"With music and hip hop, it changes so much that you'll turn somebody off if you sound dated," he says about redoing some of the videos in his packages.
One new stream of income Burton's considering is teaching others how to do what he does. For years, he's been getting requests from people asking him to teach them to write rhymes.
"I've been writing every day and figuring out how I want to tell the story of how I come up with things and how you can do it," he says.
He plans to dip his toes in tutorials by making a series of YouTube videos on the subject. Initially, this will be free content. Once he gets comfortable with this new medium, he'll start thinking about how to monetize.
When it comes to advice for other people about how they can find a niche getting paid to do what they love, Burton would remind them that "business is supply and demand," he says.
"Do what you love but pay attention to what people seem to be connected to or are attracted to that you do," he says. Are people constantly complimenting you on your style because you know how to find the best thrift store clothes? Are people regularly asking you how you keep your work station so organized because you have a knack for tidiness?
When it comes to what you can monetize, "sometimes you'll find it in that," he says.
Correction: This article has been updated to reflect Burton's correct graduation year from the University of Houston.