clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile
Illustration by Claudia Chinyere Akole

Filed under:

Reselling gig work is TikTok’s newest side hustle

Service resellers find cheap labor on freelancer platforms like Fiverr, and flip services like graphic design or copywriting for profit

If you buy something from a Verge link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

A teenager on TikTok with 156,000 followers wants to help you change your life, starting with making real money. In his videos, he talks about how he went from being broke and working at Starbucks, to moving into a high rise in Miami and planning to retire by 30.

“All right bro… be straight up with me. How do you make so much money at 19?” he asks himself in one TikTok.

The answer, he explains, is by getting in on a business known as “drop servicing.” Search for drop servicing on TikTok, and you’ll find dozens of videos like this, with creators — mostly young men — touting their business savvy and letting you in on their secret. The promises are familiar: “$10,000+ per week by doing nothing,” reads one. “Age 13-45 Wanna Make CRAZY Money Online?” asks another. Or, “Side hustles that will make you RICH (Minimal Work Involved).”

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

Drop servicing is yet another side hustle with promises of grandeur getting attention on social media platforms. It takes its name from the more commonly known practice of drop shipping. In drop shipping, a retailer sells physical goods online without maintaining any stock themselves, instead ordering directly from a manufacturer who ships the products to the buyer. The middleman then pockets the markup. Drop shipping is often seen as shady or misleading by consumers, who don’t know where the product is coming from.

Drop servicing, sometimes called service arbitrage or service reselling, applies that same model to intangible services and products, like copy editing, voice-over 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 worker makes a sale, the client gets their product, and the person in the middle makes a profit for facilitating the transaction. But it makes for a strange arrangement: Freelance gig workers don’t always know who they’re working for or the resale value of their work, and when problems arise, the person doing the work can get burned.

May Ng, a drop servicer based in Singapore, worked as a realtor before moving into drop shipping. In 2019, she found a YouTube video describing service arbitrage and quickly realized she could make better money selling specialized services, like video editing for real estate companies. She focuses mostly on finding clients local to her, and estimates she’s arranged jobs for between 50 to 70 companies.

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

Browsing through Fiverr, it’s easy to see how drop servicers who are good at juggling clients 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 client is at least double what Ng’s Fiverr purchase is; other jobs like social media management, where Ng herself is scheduling the content produced by a freelancer, might be marked up by 500 percent.

“The Fiverr platform is very competitive between the freelancers. They need to stay so low, because there is a price war over there,” Ng says. “But it’s to our advantage.” She mostly works with Fiverr freelancers in India, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Croatia.

Ng says she makes about $10,000 a month in profit through drop servicing, and that her clients know she is not doing all of 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 setting to do the same kind of job.

Though the term “drop servicing” has only gained traction in recent years, in some ways it’s just the latest version of a well-established business practice. Companies outsource labor all the time, from call centers to school tutors thousands of miles away from the consumer.

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

A unique aspect of drop servicing is that the arrangements are often on the individual level, instead of between multinational companies as in the past, says Poster, who studies digital globalization and the outsourcing of labor to India specifically. Fiverr allows anyone to purchase low-cost labor from workers around the world, effectively creating their own middle manager role.

“With crowdsourcing, you don’t need that personal in with either the client who wants [the job] done or the workers,” Poster says. “You can be the middleman yourself by taking advantage of the crowdsourcing labor platforms.”

YouTube and TikTok videos often frame drop servicing as a get-rich-quick life hack, but Ng says being the middle manager isn’t easy. If a Fiverr worker ghosts her, she must scramble to find a (good) replacement. If a freelancer’s turnaround time is three days, she’ll quote the client five. She says people often misunderstand the skills needed to deliver projects effectively, and just want a low-effort way to make money.

Watching the many videos about drop servicing, it’s easy to see why viewers would think that way — that’s how drop servicing influencers and content creators talk about it. But it’s unclear if the people making videos promising huge returns for no work are themselves even drop servicing at all, or if they’re simply attempting to garner views, followers, and attention. Ng says that she saw a spike in drop servicing content on TikTok last year, but many of the creators seem to have stopped talking about it since.

Other creators have chimed in with what they see as the dangers of rebranding outsourcing as drop servicing. “This space has become so diluted and confusing for many, and that’s kind of sad,” one YouTuber cautions. “Don’t get shiny object syndrome.”

Comment sections are often divided on the ethics of drop servicing, at least in the way creators frame what they’re doing. Ng believes she’s adding value to the transaction and reducing the amount of work for clients if they tried to hire a contractor themselves.

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

But some freelancers and Fiverr workers see the arrangement as unfair or unethical. For writers, editors, graphic designers, and others on gig work platforms, navigating resellers have become an aggrieving part of the grind that can border on deceitful. Fiverr forums are filled with 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 her rates starting as low as $5. Though drop servicers typically do not admit they have a different client, Dawn says she’s done enough Fiverr orders to be able to spot the signs of a reseller: they might be cagey about providing things like website links, gig requests may come with jargon-filled requirements that a business owner would be unlikely to know or think of, or they might demand an unreasonably fast turnaround time.

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

Under Fiverr’s terms of service, the buyer owns the rights to the delivered product, meaning they can resell it to another client. Sellers aren’t allowed to misrepresent non-original work as their own, says Brent Messenger, VP of public policy and community engagement at Fiverr, but freelancers can purchase additional assets — like voice-over for a video they’re editing — as long as they’re transparent.

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

Dawn adds a disclaimer on gigs specifying that she prefers to work with small business owners directly in an effort to ward off resellers and scammers. Though she has a select few regular buyers she knows are delivering her work to another client, resellers can create unnecessary headaches for her. With no communication line between the writer and the business, having a person in the middle amounts to a game of telephone. If the reseller doesn’t understand exactly what the original client wants and hires Dawn to complete a task, a chain reaction of refund requests can fall on the person actually doing the work.

“This may not be akin to scamming, but it is certainly frustrating,” she says.

Like other jobs endorsed by the internet’s millionaire culture, drop servicing creates legitimacy by emphasizing that anyone can get in on the gold rush — that it supposedly takes no initial investment or background expertise is a selling point. And Ng and other drop servicers are happy to show others the ropes, for a fee.

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

Her TikTok didn’t get much traction until she started talking about her business. Now Ng’s drop servicing content has, in a way, come full circle: she was recently accepted into the TikTok Creator Marketplace and is now getting brand partnership opportunities. It’s another possible income stream for the stay-at-home mom, a way to further monetize her careful balance of efficiencies — side hustles all the way down.

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