Side Hustles

Popular online side hustles can earn up to $9,750 a month—the No. 1 thing you should know before starting

Jim Battan, pictured with his wife, Lisa Battan, beside their backyard pool in West Linn, Oregon.
Courtesy of Swimply

The lucrative side hustle of your dreams might be achievable — with a catch.

Some Americans bring in upwards of $10,000 per month by listing products or services on online marketplaces or gig platforms, from Etsy or Airbnb to Taskrabbit and Fiverr. Those earnings can significantly outpace the average U.S. side hustle's $810 per month, according to a May Bankrate survey.

But, crucially, some of these side hustles have very short shelf lives.

CNBC Make It spoke to a group of high-earners across multiple online platforms, some of whom bring in six figures per year from their side jobs. All saw their profits hit impressive highs, followed directly by plateaus or declines.

That trajectory may be due, at least partially, to the platforms' ever-changing algorithms, multiple of them said. An algorithm shift could push you from being a top search result one day to buried on page five the next — directly impacting how many potential customers choose your side hustle, or even notice that it exists.

Some of the high-earners have figured out strategies to stay on top. Others say they feel powerless on platforms they don't control.

Here's what you need to know.

Some online side hustles can earn a lot of cash, but peak quickly

In 2021, Jim Battan was the highest earner on Swimply, a platform where people rent out their swimming pools — bringing in $117,000, according to documents reviewed by CNBC Make It. That's $9,750 per month, on average.

He took the side gig seriously: cleaning towels, regularly testing his backyard pool's chemicals and personally greeting guests at his West Linn, Oregon, home.

Last year, he took the same approach and his earnings dipped dramatically. Through September, the end of his peak season, he only brought in $58,500.

Jim Battan brought in nearly $200,000 in two years renting out his backyard pool.
Jim Battan

Battan connected with other Swimply hosts on Facebook who shared his frustrations, he says: "Pools that seemed [like they] should be near the top of search results were always coming in way down the list, and nobody could understand why."

A couple months ago, Battan closed his Swimply profile for good.

There are other potential explanations for the drop in revenue. Many public pools reopened post-Covid in 2022. Swimply's growing popularity meant more options for Battan's customers, too.

"Swimply continues to see growth across the country," says Swimply CEO Bunim Laskin. "We have especially seen spikes in areas where there have been heat waves over the summer, where we see a 40% increase in pool requests. While it is true we have more pools being hosted on the platform, popular pools continue to see their pools booked out in well in advance."

Gig workers can't control their platforms' algorithm choices

Taskrabbit was a lifeline for Kingsley Onyemali, who worked six jobs to make ends meet before joining the gig platform in March 2020.

In 2021, Onyemali made more than $108,500 working up to 60 hours per week as a mover and assemblyman in Austin, Texas. His five-star reputation kept him near the top of Taskrabbit's search results, and allowed him to charge "premium prices" starting at $70 per hour, he told CNBC Make It last year.

Kingsley Onyemali brought in nearly $109,000 in his second year on TaskRabbit.
Kingsley Onyemali

In the fall of 2022, he noticed a change: The site was organizing search results by lowest prices, instead of customer feedback. His income dropped to roughly $7,500 per month, down from $9,000 at its peak.

"Now, you have to go to a third page to even find me," he said. "But I understand I also have the choice to reduce my prices to pick up more jobs."

A Taskrabbit spokesperson acknowledged the algorithm change last fall, and recently confirmed that it's still in effect — but noted that the platform's default search results "have never been organized [solely] by lowest prices or customer feedback."

Rather, it's a combination of clients' "respective needs and preferences, including price, ratings/reviews, and completed tasks," the spokesperson said, adding: "We are continuing to make adjustments to optimize the marketplace to ensure the best match between Taskers and clients by distributing tasks across our Tasker community."

Live by search engine optimization, die by search engine optimization

Algorithm changes can work in both directions, says Chuck Brown, who's worked as a voiceover artist in Columbus, Ohio, since 1983.

Brown joined Fiverr in 2017. He relies on it for nearly all of his income, bringing in up to $6,000 per month. Last year, he noticed fluctuations: His profile appeared sometimes on the first page of search results, and sometimes on the fourth or fifth pages.

In February, he found himself consistently ranking low, despite his best efforts to "optimize" his gigs, he says. Correspondingly, his earnings fell. Last month, he made about $2,500.

The fluctuations made it hard to pay his bills, he adds: "It was really painful."

This month could be different. In July, Brown received an email from Fiverr, saying he was eligible to be verified as Fiverr Pro — a recognition of his high reviews and trustworthy status, free of charge.

Since accepting, he's received an influx of work requests, putting August on track to be his best month since January, he says.

"Each platform has its own game," says Brown.

Fiverr declined to confirm the timing of its algorithm updates, but said that demand on the platform can vary from month to month.

"Fiverr's search algorithm takes a few different factors into account when it comes to freelancers' search rankings, including on-time delivery, ratings and reviews from clients, and the quality of work," Trisha Diamond, the company's senior director of customer success, told CNBC Make It in an email.

This story has been updated to reflect an additional comment from a Taskrabbit spokesperson.

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