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If you want to make money online, you’ve got plenty of options. Almost too many.
How do you start? Do you really need your own website, or can you make extra money on the fly? And more importantly, which approach will be best for you based on your current work and family circumstances? You might be closer to your next stream of income than you think.
“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.
Learn the landscape of online business first and you’ll save time, money, and headache in the long run.
We asked 4 online business experts—people making up to $1 million per year and beyond in their online businesses—what people should know about making money online. Here’s what they had to say – and how you can decide which money-making ideas might be the best fit for you.
Can You Make Money Online Without Any Starting Investment?
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 your own 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 a perfect fit 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.”
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.”
Can You Make Money Fast Online?
The short answer is yes — and in fact, sometimes moving quickly to make money is 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 four common approaches to making money on the internet today – and what our experts have to say.
No. 1: Provide a Service
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:
- Freelancing: You’re doing the work on behalf of your client.
- Consulting: You are making recommendations on what the client should do next, based on your expertise and experience.
- Coaching: Similar to consulting, but in coaching your goal is to help the client become proficient in doing it themselves.
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 would be the most hands-on: Perhaps I’m ordering my client the supplements or multivitamins they need, or if they’re local I’m doing their meal prep for them and delivering it to their home.
- Consulting would be the least hands-on: My client would keep a food log, I would review it, and then we could hop on a call together where I make recommendations on what to tweak.
- Coaching would include consulting in this case, but would also provide continuing guidance and support as your client becomes self-sufficient at adjusting their own nutrition. Some people are happy to pay a premium in order to have you, a professional, in their corner for encouragement and accountability.
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.
What Are the Requirements to Provide a Service?
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 an Limited Liability Corporation (LLC); they have to be a sole proprietor or an S-Corp instead.)
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, but you can help people who are in your position from 3 years ago.
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.
Sarah Jane Burt
How Much Can You Earn Providing A Service?
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.
- A one-off consultation might range from $100-$500. It requires the least amount of time, and payment is usually upfront, so you’ll make money immediately.
- An 8-week coaching package might range from $500-$2,500, begin with a consultation, and then move to weekly coaching calls and email/text support. This approach has become increasingly popular, and many professionals have built their entire online business exclusively with coaching packages.
- A freelancing package might charge $100-$500/week for done-for-you services. You’ll make money, but eventually you’ll have to hire people to help you in order to grow further.
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.
How to Provide Services Successfully
If you want to make money through offering services, here are a few additional takeaways to keep in mind.
- Sell the end result, not how you’re going to get there. Consumers don’t buy a product; they buy a feeling or a transformation. You’re the expert, not your client; keep them focused on outcomes more than the nitty-gritty details and you’ll be positioned well.
- Create clear deliverables. Both you and your client should know on day one what will be done and by when. Write this down in a proposal or document for reference so there are no surprises. When boundaries aren’t clear, freelance jobs can sometimes feel like a hassle.
- Go where the fish are. Just because a business idea is new doesn’t mean it’s good. Look at what people commonly pay for or need help with, then look at how you offer a similar service better or differently. Online money making ideas are everywhere when you know where to look.
There are many ways to monetize your knowledge and skill set. Some clients just want insights or support, whereas others want the work done for them.
No. 2: Become A Creator and Get Paid Directly By Followers and Fans
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:
- Subscriptions: They offer access to their best content in exchange for a subscription fee – the same way you do when you subscribe to services like Netflix or Spotify – and use a platform like Patreon to do so. The more paying subscribers you can attract, the more money you will make.
- Sponsorships: Brands or companies pay the creator to be featured, and the creator incorporates the brand’s advertising into their content. “Paid partnership” posts on Instagram are a classic example. Sometimes, the creator will also have an affiliate link for the product being featured.
- Advertisement kickbacks: Creators get a cut of ads or commercials that are shown on their platforms. When you watch a popular YouTuber, and ads play during their videos, that creator is getting a cut of the advertising spend because they’re bringing the eyeballs to the table. This advertising revenue is low at first, but will snowball as your audience grows.
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.
The Earning Potential in Becoming a Creator
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.
Sarah Jane Burt
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.
Tips for Being a Successful Creator
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.
- Help your audience get to know you. Creators often lead with a personal brand, and this personality is what helps to set them apart. Share both quality information and personal perspectives for a winning one-two punch.
- Study how information gets shared on a platform. The one thing all successful creators have in common is that they know how information gets seen on the internet. Choose a platform, then become masterful at using it. Prioritize this first and you will save money and time in the long run.
- Focus on quality and consistency. Contrary to popular belief, creator life is not a guaranteed recipe for passive income. You can, however, make money online every single month from content you published ages ago. To succeed as a creator, you need to produce and publish valuable new content regularly; if this feels unreachable, this approach to making money online may not work for you in the long run.
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.
No. 3: Do the Work Once, Then Get Paid Again and Again Using Intellectual Property
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:
- Programs: Programs are similar to services, but often operate in a one-to-many capacity (Think webinar or live class) rather than in a 1-on-1 setting. They may or may not include a community that lets you connect with your peers.
- Information Products: These include online courses, ebooks, PDFs, and any other digital products. When you buy a book to read on your Kindle, you’re buying an information product. Once your information product is built, you don’t need to mess with it again; this prospect is appealing for busy professionals who want to make money online, but are strapped for time.
- Licensing: If your systems or approaches are valuable to many different organizations, consider offering a way to license your intellectual property out to companies for a one-time or recurring rate. This approach is more advanced, but if you have a proven methodology that creates value, organizations are willing to pay top dollar for it.
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.
The Earning Potential of IP: The Sky’s The Limit
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.
How To Successfully Leverage Your Intellectual Property and Make More Money
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.
- Launch it uglier than you think you should. Many of the most successful online courses on the market today were once sloppy live Zoom calls with open Q&A. Consider beta-testing your course or program first by offering it live, then record a professional version and make it available on-demand so customers can be watching videos on their own time.
- Grow your audience. See a theme here? People need to know who you are and why they should trust you before they purchase from you. If you want to make money online from your ideas or expertise, start building your audience now.
- Prioritize the right steps, but also the right order. There’s so much information on the internet these days that people often feel they can save money by poking around online and finding answers for themselves. Double down on why having the right steps in the right order will save them time, money, and headaches down the road.
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.
No. 4: Launch a Physical Product and Grow a Tiny Retail Empire
Ecommerce 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 ecommerce 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 ecommerce 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 ecommerce 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.
Ecommerce Earning Potential
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.
Tips to Help You Succeed in Ecommerce
Ecommerce 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.
- Test your product relentlessly. What works? What could be improved? Actively solicit customer feedback on your product so you can figure out what to improve in overall design or production quality. Doing this dirty work early on will help you make money online more efficiently later.
- Invite shoppers to join an email newsletter. A common strategy you may have seen before is to offer website visitors a discount in exchange for their email address. Email is a great way to market to your customers for free; prioritize winning over this audience above all others.
- Leverage repeat sales. According to research from Bain & Company, an increase of just 5% in customer retention can lead to a 25%-95% increase in profits. Whoa! Acquiring customers is expensive, and it’s impossible to guarantee favorable reviews; put a post-purchase retention plan in place to maximize repeat transactions and happy customers. Referrals are easy money.
Ecommerce 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.
What to Do Next to Make Money Online
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.