Nick Wolny is senior editor of the financial independence vertical at NextAdvisor, in partnership…
You might already have everything you need to start making money online — even if you feel like you have no idea what you’re doing.
“When I first got started as a freelance copywriter in 2011, I didn’t have any money to invest in my business,” says Sarah Jane Burt, a copywriter, content strategist, and founder of The Content Collective. “I was in graduate school for English and thinking about becoming a teacher.”
“Then, I met a guy at a party who owned a business. We talked about how I was in grad school for English and writing a ton of papers. He asked me if I thought I could write some content for his website. I figured, why not? And that’s how my copywriting business got started.”
In some cases, one person believing in you is all it takes to get your online moneymaking dream off the ground. By taking the time to get crystal clear on the fundamentals first, you’ll feel more empowered to choose your best next step and start taking action today.
We asked four online business experts — people making up to one million dollars per year and beyond in their businesses — what people should know about making money online. Here’s what they had to say, along with how you can decide which money-making ideas might be the best fit for you.
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You sure can! If you have an internet connection and want to earn money online, it’s possible to do so without having an airtight business model or online store from day one. Whether you’re offering a service, selling a product, or publishing content on social media, there’s a slice of the internet that will be perfect for you to generate extra cash.
Zeroing in on a problem you can solve is more important than fancy logos or expensive software, says Satya Purna, a cognitive behavioral money coach and founder of Infinite Minds, LLC.
“There are many low and no-cost opportunities that make money online, especially in the professional services industry,” she says, citing examples such as web design, digital marketing, search engine optimization, video editing, and social media consulting. “The most important thing to consider is: ‘What problem can I solve?’ Then go find people who need to solve that problem. Whether you find them on freelancing websites like Upwork, or engage in networking events, all you need is (1) a problem you can solve, (2) a process you can use with your clients, and (3) a way to send invoices or contracts and collect cash.”
Validate your idea first before spending money on logos, merchandise, or other business assets. It’s important to confirm your product, program, or service is something people actually want to buy and consume.
A simple website can be a low-cost way to put your best foot forward and start making money online from day one, says Neha Gupta, founder of College Shortcuts, a college admissions consulting company for families.
“When I first started, I was working full-time at a company and was an online tutor on the weekends and evenings,” she says. “I would say the first thing is to create a website, as everyone wants to see a website. You can easily do this in less than an hour with [a website builder like] Wix and a domain from GoDaddy – this should all cost you less than $20! With this, you have a link you can share with others easily in conversation.”
Related: Best Website Builders: 5 Options to Get Your Website Up and Running Quickly
The short answer is yes. In fact, moving quickly to make money is sometimes your best bet. The challenge of generating quick cash helps you show up, sell online, and stay committed to your entrepreneurial pursuits, says Burt.
“When you make money quickly, you may also become more motivated to stick it out no matter what happens,” she says. “The reward of quick money gives you the incentive to keep making more even if you experience a challenge or setback.”
On the other hand, Burt also notes that having a “fast cash” mentality all the time could potentially stunt your rates and lead to burnout.
“When the goal is to make money quickly, you may lower your prices and do things for less money than you normally would – even though it’s the same amount of work. This can be really disheartening and lead to overwhelm and burnout.”
To help you balance short-term priorities with long-term success, document your initial wins for future reference. Capture testimonials or reviews from happy customers early on, because this social proof will help you establish credibility with future prospects and make good money down the line, says Nikki McKnight, an operations strategist and founder of McKnight Operational Consulting.
“People rely on social proof, reviews, and testimonials when making a buying decision online,” she says. “That social capital can take time to build up.”
Whether your brilliant idea is to create viral videos, sell stock photos, launch a tutoring business, or open a dropshipping store, it’s important to keep your fire burning bright along the way. What we know about personal finance is that playing the long game well — leveraging good credit cards, saving for the future, and knowing your numbers — is how you get your best financial return.
So should you offer a service, become a creator, develop a product, or something else? Here are seven common approaches to making money on the internet today — and what our experts have to say.
Many people first stumble into entrepreneurship through moonlighting or doing freelance jobs in their spare time. Perhaps you offer to review someone’s résumé, or you help a business with data entry or online surveys for a few hours each week. The first time you get paid directly for what you already know, a whole new world of possibilities opens up. Some employers have moonlighting policies, so you’ll want to make sure you’re staying within your contractual obligations if you’re getting started on a side hustle in addition to a full-time job.
Providing a service usually splits out into one of three subcategories, which can be defined as follows:
Let’s say I am a certified nutritionist who has a day job, and I want to offer my expertise in my spare time to people who want to quit caffeine and have better energy levels throughout the day. Here are the different ways I could provide this service, according to the subcategories above:
Freelancing, consulting, and coaching are all great options for professionals who already have a full-time job or established career. If you feel stuck on how to make money online, consider focusing on knowledge or skills you already have.
If you want to pursue an industry you don’t know much about yet, look for an option in which you learn the skills you need on the job. Virtual assistant work requires good attention to detail and a solid internet connection as you earn money by completing online tasks, and in many cases you’ll receive additional training once you actually start the gig. This has become an increasingly popular way to get paid as you learn the lay of the land or break into a new industry altogether.
Also do research to determine if you need any necessary credentials or certifications to get started. This is important if your industry is regulated, or if your state has state-specific guidelines. (Example: In California, a psychotherapist cannot form a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC); they have to be a sole proprietor or an S corp instead.)
Related: How to Start an LLC in California
Here’s what our experts had to say about how to make money online when you don’t feel “expert enough” to offer services.
Become the expert by getting clients for free and getting great testimonials from them. Get certified in the things you are interested in. Take courses.
Everyone is an expert at something, you just need to find the room where you’re the expert. Never go out of scope and be clear on what your boundaries and abilities are.
You don’t need to have 20+ years of expertise to be an expert. Guess what? Social media hasn’t even been around for 20 years! As long as you have a skill, you can provide a service online.
Even if you think that the market is crowded, there will always be someone out there who wants to work with you specifically.
Freelancing, consulting, and coaching rates depend very much on what you sell and who you sell to. As the saying goes: “The premium you charge is the value you create.”
Generally, if more effort or labor required on your end, you will make money by charging a higher rate and taking fewer total clients. Let’s go back to our nutritionist example.
Here’s a tip: Begin with a price that you’re comfortable with, then raise it by 10% every 60 days. In 14 months, your prices will have doubled. Raising your prices is a normal and gradual process, and confidence comes with experience.
If you want to make money through offering services, here are a few additional takeaways to keep in mind.
Do you enjoy creating content online? Are you good at it? If the answer to both of those questions is yes, making money online by tapping into the creator economy might be a great option for you.
Creator life is great for professionals who don’t love the idea of selling online, but could pump out YouTube videos or manage a YouTube channel all day long. Over 50 million creators earn money online, and two million of those creators are doing it professionally, according to SignalFire, a venture capital fund that works with early-stage startups.
Think of creators like tiny media companies: They produce and publish educational or entertaining content – sometimes on their own website, and sometimes exclusively on social media accounts – which you can get a taste of for free. They build an audience over time, and then make money online from this audience in one of three ways:
Creators can choose to leverage one or all of these strategies. Keep in mind that creator economy monetization is a slow burn, because building up an audience usually takes time. If you love to create content and could do it all day long, however, you have the passion and drive to develop an income stream from these online efforts.
Creatorship differs from being a service provider in that more customers don’t necessarily mean more work. Whether your Patreon has four subscribers or 4,000 subscribers, your output is the same. Leverage is key if you want to make money online or make more money without working harder.
Here is what our experts had to say.
Just start making content and putting it out there! Then, pay attention to what people like and what they’re not that into. This will give you a better idea of what types of content might be more profitable.
Make sure you have a great phone and just start making content! When I started I had zero followers and zero email subscribers. I just went live on Facebook every single day.
Becoming a content creator allows you to build a community of people who can buy products from you later. If you’re willing to be in it for the long game, it makes sense.
Entering the creator economy is a great way to make money online, but to do it well you need to commit to creating valuable content consistently. If creator life sounds like your thing – and you want a less direct, sales-y way to earn money online – here are some tips you’ll want to refer back to often.
The global e-learning industry was valued at $253.3 billion in 2021, and was expected to more than double in value over the next five years, according to a report released by Research and Markets, a market insights firm that has worked with over 450 Fortune 500 companies. If your services have an approach or a methodology that is valuable to others, packaging and selling this intellectual property (IP) as an online course, program, ebook, or workshop could be very lucrative. When it comes to money making ideas, this business model is growing in popularity.
When selling knowledge or information, you’ll want to ensure this intellectual property is something people actually want to buy. What problem does your information or approach solve for your customers? And why should they buy it now? Answer those questions before you go anywhere near the record button. Conduct online surveys with your followers or customers to figure out what they really want and need.
Most e-learning brands and IP-minded business owners center their efforts around one or more categories:
Do you have a proven approach or system for getting things done? If the answer is yes, it might be worth your time to map out what you know, write it down or record it, and then sell this information to customers who want to implement your winning formula for themselves.
There’s a reason intellectual property lawyers are everywhere: Your original ideas and approaches make money and are worth protecting over time. Similar to creatorship, the packaging and even licensing of your intellectual property can be highly lucrative.
Our experts weighed in on why it’s important to develop intellectual property over time.
Register their business name on day one. You have to have a stomach for entrepreneurship.
For people creating courses or online programs – it makes sense to do some trial-and-error and make sure you’ve established yourself with enough client results – before you know that your IP is valuable and deserves to be protected.
If you have a formula or process that consistently gets clients great results, packaging this process up into an information product – and protecting it with a trademark – can be a great way to make more money online.
Ready to take what you know and share it with the world in a professional, leveraged way? Here are a few tips to give yourself a running start.
E-commerce is a red-hot industry, and tools like Shopify, Etsy, Fulfillment By Amazon (FBA), and Instagram’s Shopping feature have made it easier than ever to create and scale a product-based business — even if it’s just you to start. Successful e-commerce businesses are so in-demand, in fact, that there are entire aggregator companies like Thrasio and Perch dedicated to buying out your product-based business (for a lot of money) and adding it to their portfolio.
Physical product-based businesses differ from the previous three categories in that they usually require more upfront investment to develop and test your minimum viable product. You may not make money online in your first few months, and many e-commerce brands invest in their own website, their own online store, and their own sales channel. You’ll want to take this into consideration when weighing business ideas and selecting your online money making approach — especially if the industry you want to enter has production regulations.
Once you’ve dialed in your supply chain and your audience, however, you’ll have an online store that generates passive income while you sleep. Many e-commerce founders begin their entrepreneurial journey by inventing the product they wish they had; if you’re passionate about making a physical product you know people need, this approach might be perfect for you.
You don’t have to be the face of the brand.
When your manufacturing and shipping are automated, you’re making round-the-clock profits.
It’s an opportunity to create the product you wish existed.
Requires more money upfront to get your idea off the ground.
Supply chain issues have been a challenge since the pandemic began.
Depending on the industry you choose, there may be lots of competition.
According to a survey from JungleScout of 4,864 Amazon sellers, 44% of respondents reported making between $1,000-$25,000/month in sales. 68% of sellers reported profit margins of over 10%, and 22% of sellers reported profit margins north of 25%.
It’s important to remember that any physical product will have manufacturing and shipping costs that can eat into your bottom line at first. Leverage advertising networks, review websites, and social proof to sell online more efficiently and drive interest in your online store.
E-commerce sometimes requires more upfront investment in order to develop your product prototype, but if you know you have a product people want, it can be a terrific way to make money online. E-commerce is a different animal than the other approaches mentioned above. Keep these quick tips top-of-mind as you bring your amazing physical product to life.
If you have an existing asset that you would be willing to loan out to others for brief periods of time, there are online tools and apps that will help you make money on the side.
This is what’s known as the sublet economy, and it no longer only applies to real estate. When Airbnb burst onto the scene in August of 2008, it revolutionized the way we think about leveraging our existing assets. There are now many apps that provide “Airbnb for _____” services for various types of property, including cars, backyards, swimming pools, and even bicycles.
Related: How to Make Money on Airbnb
The sublet economy can be a great solution if you’re strapped for time. If you need an income stream that hums along in the background while you live your life, the sublet economy is for you.
The sublet economy differs from other strategies mentioned so far in that you need an asset on day one. This might mean going out and purchasing or upgrading an asset as an initial investment. For example, you might invest some money into converting your freestanding garage into a loft apartment so that you can list it as an Airbnb.
You can use existing assets to make more money.
If you live in a popular or tourist-y area, utilization will be high.
The time commitment is minimal once everything is set up.
You need an asset on day one to get started.
May not be an option in rural areas or smaller cities.
To scale further, you need more assets to sublet.
How much you earn really depends on how much you want to scale. Since you’re subletting an asset, only one customer can use it at a time, so if every day of the month is booked — which is great! — you’ll need to bring another asset into the picture in order to scale your income further.
Retail arbitrage refers to the act of buying items at lower or wholesale prices, then marking them up and reselling them in various marketplaces to turn a profit. If you have vintage clothing to resell, or have a good eye for purchasing goods at low cost locally that would be valuable online, consider exploring the resale economy.
You’ve probably already encountered retail arbitrage before without realizing it. When concertgoers try to scalp their tickets, that’s reselling. When people sell gently used garments on Poshmark or eBay, that’s reselling. In retail arbitrage, you are the middleman between who made a product and who the end consumer will be.
Retail arbitrage can sometimes yield high profit margins, especially if you sell rare items or collectibles. However, the challenge almost all resellers encounter is time: between listings, photographing your products, and shipping to buyers, the process can quickly become a time-consuming side hustle. Retail arbitrage is a great option for people who don’t have many assets, but do have time on their hands, and need to make more money.
You don’t need much inventory to get started.
You can sell to consumers around the country or even the world.
Can be lucrative if you know where to buy and where to sell to maximize gains.
It’s time consuming.
Can be a challenge to know what goods will be sellable at higher prices.
Online marketplaces often have a lot of competition.
If you have an audience of people who might want to purchase from you, but don’t have anything to sell, why not sell someone else’s offers instead? Referral is a powerful driver for businesses, and many are willing to give you a commission as thanks for helping to direct new customers their way.
Affiliate marketing is not to be confused with multilevel marketing or pyramid schemes, in which companies say they are selling products to consumers, but are actually making most or all of their money off of the affiliates themselves. When considering an affiliate program, make sure the product is something that you love and want to both use and promote for yourself.
Note that if you are using affiliate links or affiliate marketing, you have to legally disclose this information on your blog, social media, and/or website.
Lets you sell someone else’s proven product or service.
Low effort, and in some cases your commissions are recurring.
Feels less sales-y: you’re hyping someone else’s offer, not your own.
Some affiliate marketing companies are actually pyramid schemes in disguise.
You take a fraction of the sale.
You’re building someone else’s business or brand, not your own.
What you can earn from affiliate marketing depends on the size of your audience and their willingness to buy, as well as what percentage your commission is. Many software companies offer a flat bonus or a percentage of revenues to each new customer you refer; this income can quickly add up, and it can also hum along in the background, saving you time in the long run.
If you have zero dollars to invest on day one, choose a money making approach that lets you get started immediately. This can include freelancing online, using a service like Fiverr, or becoming a creator. There are many options that have no upfront costs.
There are ways to make money online without having years of experience with a certain skill. One approach is to explore becoming a virtual assistant; businesses are always looking for help with data entry and administrative tasks, and in many cases you’ll be trained on what you need to do when you start.
The sky’s the limit on many of these strategies, but you’ll need to do the work to scale up your income. Choose an approach that you actually like and are passionate about so that you don’t burn yourself out. Try different things to see what lights you up, and don’t stress if you decide you want to scrap your idea and start over.
Many of these strategies can be executed entirely from your phone. However, since you will need to correspond with customers or clients in most cases, an internet connection will be essential for getting one or more of these money making strategies off the ground.
We’ve covered a lot! If your goal is to make money online, though, you’ll want to review these fundamentals again and again. Practice spotting them in your day-to-day online life. Eventually, you’ll land on what approach makes the most sense for you and fits with your other work and family responsibilities.
In personal finance, taking the time to get focused today will help you live a better tomorrow. The same is true if you want to make money online and bring extra money into your pocket every month. Concentrate on the approach that feels right for you, ignore the rest, and your next income stream might be closer than you think.
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