Work from home: How I made my first $100 with Amazon Mechanical Turk

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Work from home: How I made my first $100 with Amazon Mechanical Turk
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All year long, Clark.com‘s Michael Timmermann is sharing quick and easy ways to save money as part of our Michael Saves series. Check in every Monday as he puts new and familiar savings strategies to the test. Sign up for our newsletter to have these stories delivered to your inbox!

If you’re a busy parent, student, retiree or anyone looking to make money from home in your spare time, Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk) has thousands of virtual jobs available right now!

Never heard of it? MTurk is a legitimate way to earn money online, but it’s unlike any other job I’ve had before.

Work from home challenge: Complete 30 jobs in 30 days with Amazon Mechanical Turk

For starters, MTurk refers to the micro-jobs it offers as Human Intelligence Tasks (HITs). Each HIT represents a single, self-contained task that a worker can complete and submit for payment.

Various businesses submit HITs to the platform and workers pick and choose the ones that appeal to them.

There are literally thousands of micro-jobs available to complete at any given moment. The time commitment and the pay rate for each HIT can vary significantly — most tasks don’t require any special skills.

What kind of jobs can you expect to find through MTurk? Here’s what the company says on its website:

“Amazon Mechanical Turk is based on the idea that there are still many things that human beings can do much more effectively than computers, such as identifying objects in a photo or video, performing data de-duplication, transcribing audio recordings, or researching data details. Traditionally, tasks like this have been accomplished by hiring a large temporary workforce (which is time consuming, expensive, and difficult to scale) or have gone undone.”

MTurk dashboard
MTurk dashboard

I’ve used MTurk on and off for the past two years and can confirm that it’s not a scam! Earnings are transferred to an Amazon Payments account or can be redeemed for an Amazon.com gift card.

The last time I cashed out, I had earned $25.53 for doing three hours of transcriptions, surveys and other HITs.

To get a better idea of how much money a worker can make with MTurk, I challenged myself to complete 30 different jobs over 30 days — spending 30 minutes on HITs daily.

Here’s a recap of my month as an MTurk worker…

Day 1: Product to interest audit 

On day one of my experiment, I spent 30 minutes completing 307 tasks. The pay? Just a penny per HIT. My job was to look at a product and determine if it was relevant to a particular interest.

Here’s an example: For the interest “vegan recipes,” I was shown a vegan cookbook — it was a match.

This job required very little thinking. All I had to do was answer a simple yes or no question per assignment. Each HIT took only a few seconds to finish.

When completing batches of assignments like these, it helps to activate the “Auto-accept next HIT” feature.

Mturk: Auto-accept next HIT
Mturk: Auto-accept next HIT

Day 2: Search phrases online, enter 3 most popular results 

Next, I took on a job that asked me to search for a phrase online — like “best NFL players of all time” — and enter the three most popular results.

This assignment from the requester Unspun Opinions was simple, but it was also tedious. Each HIT had a reward of 50 cents and I finished six of them in 30 minutes, so I should have $3 added to my account if they’re all approved.

After completing my HITs, I did a Google search for Unspun Opinions and found a Reddit post where people share their experiences with this particular requester. Several users complained about the instructions for the task and slow payment.

In hindsight, I wish I would have checked out the requester before I accepted the work. Here’s a link to that Reddit forum.

Day 3: Enter data from receipts and surveys 

For the third day of my challenge, I searched for jobs at night and struggled to find good HITs that are generally available during regular business hours.

I started by entering information from grocery receipts for less than 10 cents, but the job didn’t pay well enough for the amount of time it was taking me to finish it.

After striking out with that task, I moved on to a batch of surveys with rewards between 20 cents and 40 cents each.

From my previous experience with MTurk, surveys aren’t the best way to make money on the platform, but they’re easy and you can do them while watching Netflix or listening to music.

I was able to complete nine surveys in the 30 minutes I set aside for MTurk today — total earnings $2.50.

What I’m learning is that speed is key, but some HITs are just better than others. For tomorrow’s update, I plan to test out a handy tool that promises to help workers find high-quality assignments.

Day 4: Entering responses to recent news articles and other surveys 

Today was my best day of the challenge so far! If all of my HITs are approved, I’ll have $3.20 deposited into my account for 30 minutes of work.

Like last night, I completed a bunch of different surveys — but there was a difference.

A Clark.com reader suggested that I download Turkopticon 2 Beta, which is a user script that helps Mechanical Turk workers decide if jobs are worth it.

Once installed, the tool helped me choose surveys that would pay the most. Here’s an example:

Turkopticon
Turkopticon

I primarily focus on the pay rate column when deciding whether to accept jobs. Many of the surveys are short and can be completed in just a few minutes.

Some requesters also provide time estimates to help eliminate guesswork for people completing the assignments.

The surveys that I finished today involved a range of topics. One of them asked for my reaction to a news article and another was about consumer spending preferences.

I plan to use the Turkopticon tool before I accept future jobs on MTurk — whether they’re surveys or anything else.

Day 5: Secret survey and more 

For the fifth day of the challenge, I spent a half hour doing only four tasks. That’s quite a drop compared to my first day when I finished 307 tasks in 30 minutes.

The four assignments I accepted were all surveys, but I used a different approach this time.

Instead of bothering with surveys that pay 10 cents or less, I used the filter tool in MTurk to search for jobs with rewards of at least 25 cents — preferably more.

One of the surveys I took, which asked about secrets I’ve kept throughout my life, pays a full dollar.

MTurk tool to filter results
MTurk tool to filter results

After spending 30 minutes a day for five days working on MTurk, I don’t have much money to show for it yet. Most of my earnings haven’t been approved.

My total for today should be $4. Check back Monday and I’ll share my earnings dashboard with you.

Day 6 and Day 7: Transcriptions through CrowdSurf Support 

When I first played around with MTurk a few years ago, I read about a man who said he made $20,000 doing HITs in his spare time and I tried to follow his advice.

One thing I remember him saying is that weekend work was harder to find — it’s better during the week.

This past Saturday and Sunday, I spent 30 minutes each day doing short transcriptions from a requester called CrowdSurf Support, which paid five cents a HIT — plus a bonus.

The transcriptions were short — about 20 seconds each — although I generally had to listen to them at least twice.

My total for the two days (one hour) was a disappointing $4.90, but the time went by quickly because the work wasn’t quite as boring as some of my other assignments.

CrowdSurf Support always has tons of HITs available and is quick with payment, so it’s a good option for fast typers.

Day 8: Survey about shopping habits 

I began the second week of my challenge with a survey about my personal shopping habits. There are so many different surveys on MTurk — often from universities — but I’m really drawn to the ones on consumer habits.

For example, one survey asked me to evaluate products sold at a big-box store and determine if they’re priced competitively.

To make sure that I wasn’t wasting my time on surveys that took too long to complete, I only signed up for HITs that paid at least 20 cents and used the Turkopticon tool that I wrote about earlier in the experiment.

I have $3.90 in pending earnings for today, but here’s a look at how I did during my first seven days:

MTurk earnings
MTurk earnings

That $21 is for 3.5 hours of HITs, which works out to $6 an hour. That’s obviously not a great hourly rate, but I’m hoping that it’ll get better as time goes on.

Day 9: Write titles and descriptions about online retail promotions 

The ninth day of the challenge put my writing skills to the test. I accepted a job from requester NextGen Shopping LLC to visit a retailer’s website and describe the featured promotional offer.

For the HIT, I had to come up with a catchy title and description of whatever “big sale” the retailer had going on.

I completed a handful of these HITs for 15 cents each before moving on to other assignments, including one where I had to view someone’s LinkedIn profile and enter data like the person’s name, job history, education and skills.

Finally, I wrapped up my 30 minutes of work with a few mindless surveys to bring my estimated pay to $3.55 for the day.

Day 10: Select add-on products for an e-commerce site 

Today’s job required me to look at a product being sold online and select add-on items that someone might want to buy.

For example, I was shown a fishing rod and then a few other fishing tools. All I had to do was confirm that the add-on products would go well with the main item.

I completed 10 of these HITs for five cents each before I maxed out and had to move on to other tasks.

A few surveys rounded out my 30 minutes for the day. The last one I took presented a series of headlines from the past two years and I had to determine which ones were fake news!

If all of my HITs are approved, I’ll have another $3.30 added to my account.

Day 11: Longer transcriptions 

I’ve had success with short transcriptions from CrowdSurf Support, so I decided to attempt two longer transcriptions from a different requester with a higher pay rate.

The transcriptions from requester Kenneth Roe were a few minutes long, with rewards of more than $2.

I finished both of them within the 30 minutes I set aside for MTurk today, but I got an error message when I tried to submit the HITs. Other Reddit users also say they’ve had problems with these assignments.

I contacted Kenneth Roe and Amazon, but who knows if I’ll hear back! No earnings today. 🙁

Report a HIT with MTurk
Report a HIT with MTurk

Day 12: ‘Short’ surveys 

After apparently getting stiffed by yesterday’s requester, I decided to play it a bit safer today. My strategy was to search “short survey” and complete as many as I could in 30 minutes — I finished eight.

Search all HITs within MTurk
Search all HITs within MTurk

I keep writing about the various surveys I’ve completed, so I wanted to point out that it’s important to read the instructions and never answer questions randomly.

Some surveys have an “attention check” question and will reject your earnings if it’s answered incorrectly.

Completing a series of short surveys instead of only a few longer ones didn’t really pay off for me. I only made $2.87 for 30 minutes of work.

So far, I’ve earned enough to pay my Xfinity Mobile cell phone bill for three months.

Day 13, Day 14 and Day 15: More transcriptions…

I hit the midway point of the challenge over the long holiday weekend. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much work to choose from and I ended up doing transcriptions from CrowdSurf Support.

After 15 days and 7.5 hours of work, I’ve earned $38 and counting. My goal is $100 by day 30.

$38 earned after 15 days
$38 earned after 15 days

Day 16: Evaluate your boss 

Today was my best day so far! It was the first time that I earned more than $5 ($5.33) for my 30 minutes of MTurk assignments.

I completed nine surveys, including one that had me write an evaluation of my boss!

My strategy was a bit different from the previous days. In addition to using the Turkopticon tool to identify the highest-paying surveys, I only paid attention to the newest surveys.

I was able to hop on a few easy HITs quickly and avoided clicking on old surveys that I’ve already done.

Click on "Created" to see the newest HITs first
Click on “Created” to see the newest HITs first

Day 17: Comment on an image 

I think I’m finally starting to get the hang of MTurk. I stuck with yesterday’s strategy of only accepting the newest HITs, which post more frequently during normal business hours.

For one job, I was asked to write short descriptions of images for a reward of 20 cents.

After completing a bunch of those assignments, I moved on to a few quick surveys. I often type “short survey” or “quick survey” into the search bar to find these.

If all of my HITs are approved, I’ll have another $4.27 added to my account.

Day 18: Romantic relationships study 

Today was the third day in a row that I earned more than $4 for my 30 minutes of MTurk assignments —$4.78 to be exact.

My highest-paying individual HIT for the day was a romantic relationships study that paid 65 cents.

It took me about five minutes to answer all of the questions. One of them asked me to describe a time when I influenced a significant other to buy a particular product.

The questions weren’t too personal — I probably would have returned the HIT if they were.

There are some HITs that I won’t do. For example, some say there may be adult content and others require the use of your computer’s camera or microphone. No thanks!

If my requesters pay me promptly, I think today is the day I’ll cross the $50 mark!

Day 19: What brand of applesauce would I buy?

After finishing 15 HITs in 30 minutes, I made $5.80 today — a new record for this challenge.

I completed several food-related surveys, including one that asked me how much I would pay for organic vs. non-organic applesauce.

My approach today was to go after jobs that paid the most per HIT. I completed one survey with a $1.25 reward and another that paid $1.70. Most surveys have rewards of 25 cents or less.

Day 20, Day 21, Day 22 and Day 23: Used car review 

I took a long weekend off from my full-time job at Clark.com, but I continued with the 30 jobs in 30 days challenge while I was away.

My favorite assignment was providing a brief review of my car for a reward of $1.

Work typically slows down on the weekends, but I was able to average about $7 an hour over my four-day weekend, which is better than I’ve been doing.

With a week left to go, I’m still more than $30 shy of my $100 goal. We’ll see if I can make it!

Day 24: Costco survey 

Clark’s favorite warehouse club was the subject of one of the surveys I completed today. I was asked to write down three things that come to mind when the word “Costco” is mentioned.

I know that “Clark Howard” was one of my answers, but I can’t remember what I said for the other two.

Another survey I finished today asked me to choose my favorite brand of orange juice: Simply Orange or Tropicana. It paid 30 cents for about a minute’s worth of work.

Day 25: Vocabulary task

I made more than $4 again today for my 30 minutes of MTurk assignments, which included the second day of a 7-part HIT with vocabulary tasks.

For this job, I’ve been given a bunch of words and have to enter the definition for each one from Dictionary.com.

There are multiple bonuses if I finish all seven days of the assignment, so I’m looking forward to that.

In the meantime, my available earnings are $68.68 on day 25 of this experiment. I have at least $5 pending and this vocab task bonus coming soon, so I’m still hoping to reach my $100 goal.

Day 26: Which brand of pancake mix would I buy?

A survey that asked me to choose between two brands of pancake mix based on price and packaging was one of the more interesting HITs that I completed today.

I finished 10 tasks in 30 minutes — mostly short surveys — for a total reward of $4.41.

Today is a Friday and I worked early in the afternoon, but I already started to notice that the higher-paying jobs were hard to come by. We’ll see how it goes tomorrow.

My total for the challenge so far is $72.10, but I have $14 still pending. There are only four days left to reach $100!

Day 27 and Day 28: Weekend of surveys 

My last weekend of the challenge was the first weekend where everything seemed to click. My assignments weren’t memorable, but several of the HITs paid a full dollar each.

I earned more than $4 each day (30 minutes a day), which has been my average lately. Two days to go…

Day 29: Opinions about ridesharing apps 

One of today’s jobs asked me to share my thoughts about ridesharing apps, specifically Uber, and the social media techniques used to recruit drivers.

I was shown a Facebook ad and answered a few questions about how I thought it could be improved.

For my 30 minutes of work, I earned a total of $5.40. That’s the highest since the 19th day of the challenge.

Day 30: The final 9 surveys 

I was slightly distracted during my work today because I was so happy that it’s the last day of the 30-day MTurk challenge.

My strategy also changed a bit. For most of the challenge, I would finish one HIT and then look for the next one. But today, I accepted all nine assignments at once to reduce the time I spent searching for HITs.

This strategy didn’t seem to make much of a difference. I made about $4 in 30 minutes.

After the numbers settled and all of my work was approved, I earned $110.64 for the entire 30 days (15 hours of work). That’s a pay rate of about $7.30 an hour.

Total MTurk earnings: $110.64
Total MTurk earnings: $110.64

It took me a few days to get the hang of MTurk, so I think I could average closer to $8 or $9 an hour if I stuck with it for the long haul.

What I learned from the challenge is that Amazon Mechanical Turk can be a great way to make a few bucks by filling out surveys in your spare time, but it’s best to work in short spurts because the HITs can be really boring.

Can you make an extra $25 to $50 a week with MTurk? Sure you can. Just don’t count on it to pay your mortgage.

Are you ready to sign up with MTurk and see if it can help you earn some extra spending money? Here’s what you need to know before you join!

More Clark.com stories about jobs: 

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Michael Timmermann paid off his mortgage in two years. Now, he shares his money-saving tips on his blog, MichaelSaves.com.
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