Reselling gig work is TikTok’s latest buzz

Tech

A teen on TikTok with 156,000 followers wants to help you change your life, starting with making real money. In his videos, he tells how he moved from broke working at Starbucks to an apartment building in Miami and planned to retire before he was 30.

“Okay bro… be honest with me. How do you make so much money at 19?” he wonders in one TikTok.

The answer, he explains, is to get into a company known as “drop services.” Search for drop service on TikTok and you’ll find dozens of videos like this one, featuring creators – mostly young men – touting their business knowledge and telling you their secret. The promises are well known: “$10,000+ a week by doing nothing,” one reads. “Age 13-45 Want to make CRAZY money online?” asks another. Or: “Side Jobs That Make You RICH (Minimal Work Involved).”

The comments are filled with curious viewers wanting to know more, outraged observers and of course other success stories: “Guys, it really works, I’m 14 and I made 3k of this.”

Drop service is yet another buzz with promises of greatness garnering attention on social media platforms. It takes its name from the more widely known practice of dropshipping. In dropshipping, a retailer sells physical goods online without holding any inventory, but orders directly from a manufacturer who ships the products to the buyer. The intermediary then collapses the markup. Dropshipping is often seen as shady or misleading by consumers who don’t know where the product comes from.

Drop service, also known as service arbitrage or service resale, applies the same model to intangible services and products, such as text editing, voiceover work, graphic design, or social media marketing strategy — labor that is thought to be more specialized.

In an ideal situation, everyone gets what they want: the employee makes a sale, the customer gets their product, and the person in the middle makes a profit by facilitating the transaction. But it makes for a strange arrangement: Freelance gig workers don’t always know who they’re working for or what the resale value of their work is, and if problems arise, the person doing the work can get burned.

May Ng, a drop servicer from Singapore, worked as a broker before switching to dropshipping. In 2019, she found a YouTube video describing service arbitrage and quickly realized she could make more money selling specialized services, such as video editing for real estate companies. She focuses mainly on finding local clients and estimates that she has arranged jobs for between 50 and 70 companies.

To fill the jobs, Ng hires from a pool of about 15 employees, most of whom she finds on Fiverr, an online marketplace where employees sell one-off jobs called gigs. Appearances can be anything from writing a scary 500-word story to preparing a tax return to creating art for NFTs. Ng specializes in video editing resale, social media management and marketing and branding services.

Browsing through Fiverr, you can easily see how drop servicers who are good at juggling customers can turn a profit. Gigs are priced almost impossibly low; resellers can buy a custom logo for the price of a latte, or a wedding highlight video for under $250. For video editing projects, the cost to the original customer is at least double what Ng’s Fiverr purchase is; other jobs, such as social media management, where Ng himself plans the content produced by a freelancer, can be flagged by 500 percent.

“The Fiverr platform is very competitive among the freelancers. They have to stay that low, because there’s a price war going on there,” says Ng. “But it’s to our advantage.” She mainly works with Fiverr freelancers in India, Pakistan, the Philippines and Croatia.

Ng says she makes about $10,000 a month in profit through drop services, and her clients know she doesn’t do all the work herself. She says she works about 20 hours a week, all from her home, and can’t imagine going back to a corporate environment to do the same kind of work.

While the term “drop services” has only gained traction in recent years, in some ways it’s just the latest version of an established business practice. Businesses outsource labor all the time, from call centers to tutors thousands of miles away from consumers.

†[International outsourcing] has been a way for companies in the North to get their jobs done by English-speaking, educated, cheaper workers, and also to hide it,” said Winifred Poster, a professor of international studies at Washington University in St. Louis.

A unique aspect of drop services is that the agreements are often on an individual level, rather than between multinationals as in the past, says Poster, who specifically studies digital globalization and the outsourcing of labor to India. Fiverr allows anyone to buy cheap labor from workers around the world, essentially creating their own role as a middle manager.

“With crowdsourcing you don’t need that personally with the customer who wants it” [the job] done or the workers,” says Poster. “You can be the middleman yourself by using the crowdsourcing labor platforms.”

YouTube and TikTok videos often view drop service as a get-rich-quick hack, but Ng says being the middle manager isn’t easy. When a Fiverr worker haunts her, she has to scramble to find a (good) replacement. If a freelancer’s lead time is three days, she quotes the client as five. She says people often misunderstand the skills needed to deliver projects effectively, and just want an easy way to make money.

When you watch the many videos about drop service, it’s easy to see why viewers would think that way – that’s how drop service influencers and content creators talk about it. But it’s unclear whether the people who make videos that promise huge returns for no work are providing no service at all, or are simply trying to gain views, followers, and attention. Ng says she saw a spike in drop service content on TikTok last year, but many of the creators don’t seem to talk about it since.

Other creators have agreed with what they see as the dangers of rebranding outsourcing as a drop service. “This space has become so watered down and confusing for many, and that’s pretty sad,” warns a YouTuber. “Don’t get shiny object syndrome.”

Comment sections are often divided on drop service ethics, at least in the way creators frame what they do. Ng believes she will add value to the transaction and reduce the amount of work for clients if they try to hire a contractor themselves.

“It’s all about communication. I don’t see a problem with that’, says Ng.

But some freelancers and Fiverr employees view the scheme as unfair or unethical. For writers, editors, graphic designers, and others on gig work platforms, navigating resellers have become an annoying part of the grind that can border on deceitful. Fiverr forums are full of complaints and debates about the ethics of reselling work and how freelancers can navigate situations that arise.

Mel Dawn has been writing blogs, articles, short stories, and other online content on Fiverr since 2014, with rates starting at $5. While drop servicers usually don’t admit they have another customer, Dawn says she’s made enough Fiverr orders to get the Recognize signs of a reseller: They may be reluctant to provide things like website links, gig requests may come with jargon-filled requirements that a business owner probably wouldn’t know or imagine, or could demand an unreasonably fast turnaround time.

“There’s no added value to the work being produced when there’s someone in the middle,” Dawn said in a message. “I don’t think gig reselling should be allowed, but I’m aware it’s happening. I can’t think of a way to stop it.”

Under Fiverr’s terms of service, the buyer owns the rights to the delivered product, which means they can resell it to another customer. Sellers shouldn’t misrepresent non-original work as their own, says Brent Messenger, VP of public policy and community engagement at Fiverr, but freelancers can purchase additional resources, such as voiceover for a video they’re editing, as long as because they are transparent.

“In these cases, they add value to the work and act more like an agency to support the final delivery,” Messenger says. “However, we are not aware of such complaints.”

Dawn adds a gig disclaimer stating that she prefers to work directly with small business owners in an effort to fend off resellers and scammers. While she has a select few regular buyers who she knows will deliver her work to another client, resellers can cause her unnecessary headaches. With no line of communication between the writer and the company, having a person in the middle is tantamount to a game of telephone. If the reseller doesn’t understand exactly what the original customer wants and hires Dawn to do a job, a chain reaction of refund requests can start on the person actually doing the job.

“This may not look like a scam, but it sure is frustrating,” she says.

Like other jobs endorsed by the Internet’s millionaire culture, drop-serving creates legitimacy by emphasizing that anyone can step into the gold rush — that it supposedly requires no initial investment or background knowledge is a selling point. And Ng and other drop servicers are happy to show others the tricks of the trade for a fee.

For just under $300 (discount of $2,997), aspiring drop servicers can purchase Ng’s online training program that teaches them how to find customers, promote their services, and earn hundreds of dollars a day from just a few hours of work. Ng says she has had more than 500 students since she started the course in 2020, and most students now find her through TikTok.

Her TikTok didn’t get much attention until she started talking about her business. Now, in a sense, Ng’s drop-serving content is round: she was recently admitted to the TikTok Creator Marketplace and is now getting brand partnership opportunities. It’s another potential income stream for the stay-at-home mom, a way to further monetize her careful balance of efficiency — side hustle all the way down.

Going forward, Ng says her main priority is spending time with her family. “Nowadays with the digital world it is so easy to make money online.”

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