How Much Weirdness Can You Buy for $5?

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How much would you pay someone to record your voice mail greeting in Homer Simpson's voice?

Chris Hardy will do it for $5. For $5 more, he'll record up to a 3-minute script.

Hardy doesn't stop with Homer -- he also does the rest of the Simpsons, most of the South Park cast, Beavis and Butthead, and a host of other cartoon characters. And, $5 price tag aside, the 47-year-old former radio personality has transformed his part-time voice-over gig into a lucrative side business. "It's helped me quit my corporate job, and has given me some really good supplemental income," he says.

Hardy isn't alone. According to the Freelancers' Union, at least 30% of the American workforce now qualifies as "independent workers." What's more, with continuing high unemployment and a brutal job market, it looks like more people are poised to join them.

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The trouble is, while many people daydream about leaving office life behind, finding the gigs to make that possible can seem like an insurmountable hurdle. Some companies, like TaskRabbit or PA For a Day, are designed to help freelancers find clerical work and other service jobs. Then again, for creative people looking to leave the corporate world behind, a freelance career spent filing invoices or running errands might not seem like a great alternative.

Micha Kaufman, an Israel-based entrepreneur, thinks that he has the solution. In 2010, he and his partner, Shai Wininger, launched Fiverr, a website that bills itself as "The world's largest marketplace for small services." On the site, independent contractors offer a host of services for prices starting at $5.

Kaufman's goal is to create "an eBay for the service economy," an online marketplace where people can sell their creative talents. "The job market is changing," he points out. "People are looking to monetize their skills in nontraditional ways. When we started, the Internet didn't have a single place where people could offer their skills."

In the two years since its launch, Fiverr has exploded. According to the site, its contractors are based in over 200 countries, and offer more than 800,000 different "gigs." And these offerings are incredibly varied, ranging from prank calls performed in celebrity voices to custom-made puppet videos to personalized video games. On the other end of the spectrum, some contractors even offer traditional services, like proofreading, html conversions, and web design

But the real highlight of the site is its strange, often bizarre collection of creative gigs. If you want to see someone dance in a hot dog costume, sing "Happy Birthday" in Welsh while wearing a thong, or get someone to crochet you a fake mustache in the color of your choice, there's no better place to go. As Mark Gray, one Fiverr user, notes, "It's a brilliant platform for artists to sell their work."

As for Gray, he makes videos with his puppet alter-ego, Professor Hans von Puppet. Among other things, he has shilled for Australian fast food restaurants, proposed marriage for shy grooms-to-be, and hosted an awards show in Jordan.

His price? $5.

How Much Weirdness Can You Buy for $5?

Chris Ferretti pays his rent by making prank calls. "I've done all the actor cliche jobs," the New York-based actor admits. "I was in real estate, did catering, and was a waiter." In 2011, he started offering to do prank calls in character as Christopher Walken, and his new business soon took off. "I decided to do this as a joke; I didn't expect to be where I am now, making $1,500 to $2,000 a month."

Mark Gray has made more than $20,000 by filming short puppet videos. In 2011, he started offering to make short videos hosted by his alter ego, Professor Hans Von Puppet. Since then, he says, he has filmed over 2,500 videos, including commercials for restaurants in Australia, award shows for groups in Jordan, and personal videos for people around the world. "A lot of guys in India have hired me to propose to -- or apologize to -- their girlfriends," he says.

Linnea Sage pays her rent by doing voice-overs. "I started about eight months ago," she recalls. "I'm an actor, so it seemed like a natural progression. Now, I'm making between $1,000 to $2,000 a month." She has recorded voice mail greetings, commercials, radio ads, and public service announcements. "I cater to small businesses," she says. "Everybody needs voice-overs, and startups should be able to afford a professional."

Chris Hardy pays the rent by impersonating Homer Simpson. "When I was a kid, my parents said my most annoying habit was doing voices," he laughs. Today, however, he estimates that he makes a little more than $2,000 per year by doing voice-overs, recording messages in a variety of cartoon voices, and selling his original music. "It's really good supplemental income," he notes.

Marko Williamson and Annie Cheney have financed their trip around the world by providing media services. Marko builds websites, shoots videos, and does other promotional work, while Annie proofreads, writes scripts and records voice-overs. Between them, they earn up to $3,500 a month, which they have used to finance their travels to over 17 countries.

Mary Ingrassia pays her bills by making coloring videos. The freelance graphic designer offers a several different animated videos, in which she speed-draws, sketches, or otherwise produces a client's logo. "When I first started, I did simple graphic things, but it's definitely snowballed," she says. "Since I started in 2011, I've made over $15,000."

Elijah Salaah pays his bills by making beat box videos. The former soldier, school teacher and pharmaceutical consultant offers voice-overs, customized beat box recordings, and cartoon impressions. "My most popular gig is calling kids on their birthdays," he says. "I call parents and they hand the phone over to their kids, and I talk to them in character as Sponge Bob." Imitating the famous cartoon character has netted Salaah a lot of clams: He claims to have made over $4,000 with his videos and voice-overs since starting a year ago.

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Bruce Watson is a senior features writer for DailyFinance. You can reach him by e-mail at bruce.watson@teamaol.com, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.

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