Nick Wolny is the founder of Camp Wordsmith®, a business and writing program for entrepreneurs, and Hefty…
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.
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.”
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:
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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At NextAdvisor we’re firm believers in transparency and editorial independence. Editorial opinions are ours alone and have not been previously reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our partners. We do not cover every offer on the market. Editorial content from NextAdvisor is separate from TIME editorial content and is created by a different team of writers and editors.
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