The concept is simple enough: You give advice by phone and get paid. That’s how Ether is supposed to work. Yes, the site has licensed therapists and other professionals, but others offer video game help and windsurfing advice. You are undoubtedly an expert on something, and credentials are optional (just don’t misrepresent yourself).
I love the idea, and I wondered if I could sell my expertise in “metaphorology.” You know, help people find more productive and transformational metaphors by which to understand and live their lives?
OK, maybe that’s not a very marketable service, but I had to check out Ether in any case. Here’s what I discovered.
Getting an Ether Number
You never give customers your real phone number. When you open an account, you get a special number that forwards to whatever phone you choose. Ether says, “It takes two minutes to set up and it’s free.”
Setting Your Rate
The rate you charge is entirely up to you. I found life coaching for “$0.33 per minute” and medical advice for “$1,000 per 17 minutes.” On an hourly basis, that’s a range of $19.80 to $3,528 per hour. Rates between $1 and $2 per minute are common.
There is a 15% commission. So if you charge $1.50 per hour and talk to someone for 40 minutes, the customer will pay Ether $60 and the site will take $9 of that, leaving you $51 as your net profit.
And it appears that you will get paid. Ether says, “People will only be able to call you when they’ve prepaid your rate.”
You can set a schedule specifying when you’re willing to take calls. You can also let people email you to set up a time, so you could fit this service around other commitments or jobs.
One of the many ways you can market your services is with an “Ether Button” on your website or blog. It lets people know when you’re available, and “guides them through the payment process with a simple web form.”
Ether also lets you sell digital content through their website. So, for example, you could sell an ebook full of advice in addition to personalized phone consultations.
What Kind of Expertise Can You Offer?
When I checked listings in the Ether Directory, near the top I found a professional counselor who would take calls at $1.50 per minute. Another provider offered gay/lesbian life advice for $0.49 per minute. Another simply offered herself as “a friend to talk to” for $1 per minute.
I clicked a few category tabs to see what else I could find. The listings under “Travel and Recreation” included:
- NBA Internet Sports Handicapper for $19.99 per minute
- Firearms Instructor for $12 per hour
- Alaska Adventure Expert for 99 cents per minute
- Kitesurfing Expert for $5 per two minutes
Under the category “Self & Society,” I found counselors, life coaches and phone friends. Many providers had found few, if any, customers. For example, a woman who bills herself as an “expert at dealing with complicated love situations” had only two customers so far at $2.99 per minute, and none in the last 90 days.
I’m not sure what to make of some listings. For example, one man, who claims to have “several ancient Scottish titles” will advise people on surviving the coming “the coming World War III” for $100 per 30 minutes. Nobody has taken him up on his offer yet, but perhaps the listing is just a way to get traffic to his blog, which has a prominent link in his profile.
How Much Can You Make on Ether?
If you click on a provider in the directory, you’ll see a profile. The “Reviews” tab will show you how many reviews customers have posted, and a tally for “Paid Calls & Mail” (you can also sell digital products by email), both a total and the number in the last 90 days.
Providers don’t seem busy. For example, a “nationally certified, state licensed mental health counselor” who appears near the top of the directory (presumably a good place to be listed), and who charges $1.50 per minute, has had only eight paying customers in the last 90 days.
I sorted the directory by “Best Reviewed,” which arranged listings from the most reviews to the least — a good proxy for a customer count. The top result was a medical consultant with 1,317 reviews. But this provider has had only 108 paying customers, and none in the last 90 days.
The second-highest review count was for “Cherokee Billie,” a spiritual advisor who has had 196 customers total, 27 in the last 90 days. She charges $2 per minute.
By the time I got to the number four result, the provider (a relationship advisor) had a total of three paying customers, despite having 47 reviews (there seems to be something funny about the review system).
Among the dozens of providers whose profiles I checked out, none topped 200 customers, and only a few had more than 10. Quite a few had no customers in the last 90 days. Many others had just one, which makes me wonder if they had a friend call just to have something to show.
Out of her first 20 reviews, Cherokee Billie had eight reviews from one customer, all with different dates. This suggests that the one way to generate business is to encourage existing customers to keep calling back.
It doesn’t seem that there is any great potential (so far) for making money on Ether. If you already offer advice or consultations, you could move to Ether as a way to keep your phone number private and have billing handled for you. But starting out there could be frustrating.
The Rest of the Story
The comments in Ether’s forum suggest many members have never received a call, but at least there seem to be few complaints about getting paid if you do get calls. Outside reviews of Ether are hard to come by, but I did find a post on The Krazy Coupon Lady from a woman who signed up and netted $38.25 from her first call.
Marty Fahncke, a consultant who opened an Ether account, got calls, but only from Ether’s automated system. He says, “no matter where I was, in whatever time zone, Ether would call every morning to make sure I was available.” He made nothing before closing his account following an automated call that woke him up at four in the morning.
There seem to be some glitches in the system. For example, I found a number of accounts with an average rating of five stars but a “0” under “Five Star Reviews.” Perhaps reviews that don’t include a rating are assumed to be five stars. Also, some listings show many more reviews than customers (like that relationship advisors with 47 reviews despite a total of three “Paid Calls & Mail”)
I still love the idea. I hope someone builds a solid and busy phone-advice platform eventually. But since Ether says it’s been around since 1999, I’m not sure if it’s going to be the company to accomplish that anytime soon.
Your Turn: Have you ever used Ether as a customer or provider? Tell us about your experience.
Steve Gillman is the author of “101 Weird Ways to Make Money” and creator of EveryWayToMakeMoney.com. He’s been a repo-man, walking stick carver, search engine evaluator, house flipper, tram driver, process server, mock juror, and roulette croupier, but of more than 100 ways he has made money, writing is his favorite (so far).