“Is this the first time you’ve met someone from Craigslist?” Judy asked. She was training me for my new temporary job: helping provide something called an ionic foot detox to patrons of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. I told her proudly that she was the fourth person from the website to hire me that month.
I’d heard that it was possible to make a significant second income picking up odd, but legal, jobs on Craigslist—$1,000 was a figure someone had mentioned. So, in the name of journalism, I’d discarded everything I’d been raised to believe about meeting strangers online, and set out to see whether it was possible. If I made a dent in my student loans at the same time, so much the better.
The “gig economy” has seen a meteoric rise in recent years, with apps like Favor, TaskRabbit, Upwork and Thumbtack connecting people to one-off and short-term jobs. But Craigslist features similar opportunities, doesn’t make you submit personal information, and doesn’t take a percentage of the money you make. Which is why I chose the site’s gigs section—combing through it in search of non-creepy tasks I could complete outside my regular work hours—and how I came to be cleaning strangers’ feet at the rodeo.
Judy, who lives in Dallas, told me she desperately needed temporary assistants for her foot detoxes, which, by the way, are ionic saltwater foot baths that are supposed to remove toxins from your feet. And I won’t lie; while it wasn’t creepy, it was pretty gross. In between rinsing gunk off people’s feet with spray bottles, I had to dispose of dark liquid filled with bubbles and a substance I didn’t want to look at too closely. But it paid $15 an hour, for 65 hours, over the course of three weeks.
In the end, between that and the other odd jobs I picked up, each of which paid same-day in cash or through PayPal, I was able to surpass my goal and make $1,450 in a month, while building a network of contacts and relationships with lots of people I never would have met otherwise, some of whom came to feel like family—Judy started telling customers I was her newly adopted child.
If you want to participate in the gig economy, here’s how to do so successfully, and to minimize the small but real chance of getting hurt or scammed:
- Most jobs can be found in the city’s trade shows, events (like the rodeo), and conventions, since they all require temporary cashiers and sales associates.
- Use keywords like “quick,” “today,” “help” and “errand” to find people who are urgently looking for a fast turnaround on a task.
- Prioritize assignments near your home. If not, you’ll find yourself driving 40 minutes to, say, Spring, to fix a Coinstar vending machine. I picked up that task and earned $30 for a 50-mile commute, meaning I was paid only 60 cents a mile.
- Make use of your talents. Are you good at taking photos? Try for a gig doing someone’s portrait at Hermann Park. Like dancing? Audition for a music video for a local rap artist. Skilled at writing? Pick up a psychology report for a UH student who’s failing class. (Actually, don’t do that.)
- Know your limits, recognize that some tasks just aren’t worth it, and negotiate when necessary. Ten cents each for hand-addressed envelopes, $25 to drive someone from Houston to Clear Lake and back, $8 an hour to spin a sign—for me, that’s not enough.
- Medical schools and clinics are goldmines, constantly calling for participants for their research. If you meet the requirements for eligibility (and the study’s minimally invasive), it’s cake from that point forward. The one I took part in, an experiment on anxiety, entailed passing a drug test and then playing some video games. See? Cake.
- Step out of your comfort zone. Maybe you’re short, and so, not model material. Offer a potential employer help in other areas, like checking in models or organizing clothes. This could lead to future work. And maybe, just maybe, after a model cancels last-minute, you’ll get to go on TV for a news segment. Yes, that really happened. That gig paid $80 total.
- Above all else, trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel safe, don’t do it. And if, like me, you want to avoid the creeps, remember: When a person offers to pay you a hundred dollars to give you a massage, or is hosting a private party in a River Oaks home and requires "open-minded hostesses," move right along.