As of late 2017, Vanessa Garcia was living in San Diego, working three jobs and struggling to pay bills.
As an actress, she auditioned for TV shows and commercials on a daily basis. She also worked six hours a day as a personal assistant. And while she was hoping to get extra work building furniture and organizing people’s closets through a freelance platform TaskRabbit, their limited availability meant practically nobody hired them.
Garcia, who was about to be evicted, went into “survival mode,” she tells CNBC Make It.
Her urgent need for cash forced Garcia to invest more time in TaskRabbit, and lucrative results followed. She increased her hours and rates, and helped her find and take organizing jobs that cost up to $1,200 apiece.
Today, those jobs are Garcia’s main source of employment, accounting for $65,200 of her 2021 earnings, according to documents verified by CNBC Make It. Those funds allowed her to quit her assistant job and move to Los Angeles in 2019 to pursue more acting roles, which earned her an extra $10,000 to $20,000 a year, she says.
“Now I can not only change my schedule and control it, I can also control how much I want to make,” says Garcia, 29. “Instead of having to work six hours [per day]now I only have to work three more days to meet my personal income quota.”
But that depends on the work and the day. Some months are better than others due to the freelance nature of her work: This July, she had her best month yet, earning $9,165.
Here’s how she built her closet organization business and how she manages fluctuating finances on a monthly basis:
Garcia moved from Mexico at the age of 19 to study biology at San Diego Mesa Community College. She also took a few courses at San Diego State University, but dropped out in 2015. To make money, she started a small homeschooling business.
She quit teaching to take a job as a personal assistant, which she hoped would help her focus more on her acting career, which she had dreamed of from a young age. Finances were still tight, so Garcia began running errands for friends, picking up groceries, organizing her closets, and driving her around to earn extra cash.
That summer, a friend suggested Garcia join TaskRabbit so she could do similar jobs for strangers. The business slowly grew until she quit her job as a personal assistant in 2019, freeing up more hours to perform on TaskRabbit.
She made almost $45,000 from the platform that year, up from just $19,000 in 2018.
Part of her secret is offering a variety of different services, Garcia says: She offers 26 different skills on the platform, ranging from planning parties to building furniture to assembling lightweight objects.
Her favorite is organization, and one of her most popular services is closet organizing. She sees it as both an element of interior design and a pillar of mental health.
“I’ve gone into clients’ homes where I could tell by the look of their rooms that they’re in a bad place,” she says. “They see it as stress — but when I see a messy room, all I see is opportunity. [Organizing] is like creating a clean template.”
Next on the call list
As of October, Garcia has earned $65,000 in 2022. She says she averages about 100 hours a month across 25 jobs.
But her daily routine varies depending on her acting gigs. She also still gets organization jobs from former clients who no longer use TaskRabbit to book her services. Garcia estimates she has five hour TaskRabbit jobs per day. But between acting, supporting former clients and getting new jobs on the platform, she sometimes works 10-hour days, she says.
About 80% of those jobs are small: She makes $200 spending three or four hours building furniture or organizing someone’s closet, bathroom, or pantry.
Sometimes returning customers request larger projects. In September, Garcia earned $1,200 from a 21-hour job. Over the course of two days, she organized a complete home, from the kitchen to the bedrooms to the closets and bathrooms.
Relying on freelance jobs as your primary source of income comes with challenges. Garcia is not paid for sick days and vacation. Earning different amounts of money each month makes budgeting difficult, and it can be difficult to plan for the rest of her life when the number of hours she works varies from month to month.
LA traffic isn’t ideal either, she adds: 10-minute journeys can sometimes take close to two hours.
Still, she says the ability to have a flexible schedule is worth it — especially since she can book gigs around her audition schedules, which hopefully will help her land more lucrative acting jobs in the future. Garcia has also used some of her accumulated life savings to travel across Europe and to China.
Garcia recently said she has been chosen to lead an upcoming project that she hopes will be her big break. Still, she says she can’t imagine leaving TaskRabbit until her acting earnings “exceed what I’m making from the platform and other clients.”
Until then, she says, she’ll keep working to increase her reputation and prices on the freelancer platform.
To be successful at TaskRabbit, “you have to believe in your work,” says Garcia. “You have to have the self-discipline to show up and treat it like any other job.”
Would you like to earn more and work less? to register for free CNBC Make It: Virtual Event Your Money on December 13th at 12pm ET to learn how to boost your earning power from money masters like Kevin O’Leary.
Join Now: Keep in touch with your money and your career with our weekly newsletter