Imagine you have $10,000 of work lined up. Not $10,000 worth of promises to hire. But, people have paid $10,000 to have you complete a project for you. You’ve hit your stride. You have a community of rabid and appreciative fans.
Then, while you’re in the middle of doing your work you find out that the platform you’ve been working with has banned you. That $10,000 worth of work? Gone. Canceled.
That’s exactly what happened to former Fiverr seller Pete Accetturo this past week. Pete is known online as Voiceover Pete.
If you’re not in the gaming community or the Fiverr community you might have missed it. But, Pete’s story has huge implications for anyone who earns a large portion of their income from platforms that they do not control.
In an interview published on Fiverr’s blog in 2017, Pete explained how he came to work in the gig economy. During the middle of an economic downturn, he found himself unemployed one day after starting work as a technical sales consultant.
He was 50-years old and had a lot of sales experience. But, it’s never easy to find work as a 50-year old.
Pete decided to become a solopreneur.
He decided he could work as a spokesman and voiceover artist. Pete was a natural. He was also incredibly focused. He worked hard, developed the skills he needed and followed his business plan.
In his first two years, he earned more than $100,000. In 2017 alone, he earned another $100,000. Fiver loved him. He was held up as an example to other sellers.
Pete would occasionally visit the Fiverr forum, where he was funny, friendly, and a joy to interact with.
Full disclosure, I am a Fiverr PRO, Top Rated Seller. I do not know Pete personally, but I have interacted with him once or twice in the forum.
Lightning in a Bottle
Pete’s career accelerated beyond even his expectations in 2018. He became a part of gamer meme culture with joke videos that pretended to request credit card information from other players.
Gamers loved Pete’s straight man delivery. The videos were a hit, and Pete was being hired to make a lot of them.
Fiver loved Pete’s popularity and seemed to encourage his growth. The week before the ban, Pete was in Miami at a Fiverr meet-up where Fiverr used him as a kind of mascot for what a “doer” can do.
Fiverr loves doers.
Until they don’t.
As you can see from the video above, Pete’s was taken by surprise by the ban. Instantly, 250 orders that he had in the queue were gone. People had paid $12,500 to work with him. After Fiverr’s 20% cut, Pete lost $10,000 in one swoop.
Fiverr was not straightforward with an explanation. Pete reached out to his contacts at Fiverr. It should be noted that until you have reached a certain level of success at Fiverr, you don’t have the kind of contacts that Pete had.
Eventually, the legal department contacted Pete. He was banned because they viewed his joke videos as credit card scams.
They essentially accused Pete of being an accessory to fraud.
Masterclass in PR
Pete handled the ban incredibly deftly. Once he became aware of the ban, he and his team released the video you see above. The gaming community rallied around Pete.
He refused to bash Fiverr for the way he was treated. He didn’t sulk. He just got down to work. He quickly opened a Patreon and Twitch account. Both services were happy to have him. Pete leveraged his contacts in the gaming community, put the worked out through his popular YouTube channel, and posted all over social media about how his fans could support him.
Because he stayed positive, on message, and worked quickly mobilized support, Pete was able to continue doing business independent of Fiverr within a few days. As of this writing, he has $9,562 a month of support on Patreon.
How Not to Handle a PR Crisis
Fiverr has not handled the crisis as well. It hasn’t commented much at all, citing its policy not to comment on matters dealing with private accounts. Buyers who had purchased gigs from Pete reports that Fiverr had issued them credit to use on the site instead of refunding their money and had not refunded the service fee the platform charges users on each order.
Because many of these buyers were also popular gamers, word spread quickly, and there was feeling like a run at the bank during the Great Depression. A couple of hundred people wanted all their money back right away.
There was some discussion among Fiverr sellers about the scandal on the Fiverr forum and some discussion from buyers about the refunds. Fiverr pulled down all of those threads, again citing its policy about not commenting on matters having to do with private accounts.
The current state of the refunds is unclear.
It seems incredibly unlikely that Fiverr did not know what kind of videos Pete was producing in the weeks before the ban. They were all over social media.
It’s also incredible that Fiverr banned Pete for taking part in a credit card scam when the videos are obviously jokes. The gamers wouldn’t even have a mechanism to profit from a bunch of random people’s credit cards.
It’s hard to believe that the entire thing couldn’t have been prevented with better communication from Fiverr.
However, Fiverr is heading for an initial public offering (IPO) and it is extremely sensitive to bad press.
Unfortunately, through its own actions, it has generated a mountain of bad press.
Three Reasons Pete Landed on His Feet
I don’t know where Pete stands in terms of his projected income for the rest of the year before the ban and where he stands now.
But, it’s safe to say that Pete was right, the ban was a blessing in disguise. He has landed on his feet. But, it wasn’t an accident. There are three reasons Pete landed on his feet.
One, Pete’s work is great. He has invested in an incredible home studio. He is skilled. When you are not just good, but you are great at what you do, people will want to work with you. It won’t matter what platform you are on.
Two, Pete had more than just Fiverr. Along with building his business on Fiverr, Pete had an active Twitter and YouTube account. He had a way to communicate with his fans, even after the Fiverr ban. Incidentally, social media is something Fiverr seems to both encourage and discourage. You can be banned for contacting buyers or seller outside of Fiverr, but the platform encourages sellers to promote their gigs on social media.
Three, Pete had a loyal following. Pete did much more than just make memes for gamers. But, Pete had bonded with the gaming community. He reached out to that community on his social media channels and built relationships. When the ban came, he could ask those connections for help.
Lessons for Freelancers
Pete’s story is inspirational. It’s ultimately about a good guy working hard and having the success he deserves, despite major obstacles.
Pete’s story is also a cautionary tale for freelancers.
Platforms can change the rules at any time for any reason. No freelancer is too big for a platform to be afraid of booting them.
You cannot allow a single platform to be most, or even worse, all of your income. If you don’t control the platform, you need to diversify. There’s nothing wrong with making money on sites like Fiverr, UpWork, Amazon, YouTube, or Medium. But, you need to make sure you either have a platform of your own that you are building, or you need to have a variety of platforms that you work with.
You don’t want to be so vulnerable that having a single platform shut you out ruins your career.
Pete landed on his feet because even though most of his income was coming from Fiverr, he had built a following on YouTube. Freelancers always need a backup plan.
Anyone who is earning most of their money from any platform needs to start looking to diversify. You cannot count on your loyalty to a platform to save you. You are at the mercy of their algorithms and business decisions. You need to be loyal to your own business.
Voiceover Pete is already a legend in the gaming community. He should be a legend to anyone working in the gig economy.