Scams, pyramid schemes, dodgy traders and fly-by-night sites abound: none of these are going to get you closer to paying off your debts or quitting your day job.
Are you as sick as I am of blogs, ebooks and gurus all promising to teach you how to “make money online”? In many cases, they’re people flogging a product that they swear any idiot could use to make a fortune … overnight … on the beach … in just two hours a day…
Let’s get real about this. Making money online, just like making money offline, takes real work. However much you might wish you could just press a button and get a steady income stream going, that’s not how it works.
(Hint: I’m also linking to some useful sources, so you may want to bookmark this post for handy referral.)
In almost all cases, you’ll want to get set up with PayPal so that you can get paid.
First up, freelancing. This is how I got started with my business, Aliventures. Freelancing means selling a particular service, getting paid by clients either by the hour or by the project.
You can do all sorts of things as a freelancer, but some of the most common freelancing areas online are:
- Writing: including copywriting, blogging, newsletters, ebooks, articles
- Designing: including illustration, graphic design, logo design
- Programming: including web coding, custom software
- Administration: including accounts, personal assistants
To get started with freelancing, pick a particular skill that you have, and put together an online portfolio showcasing your work. Tell your family, friends, and Twitter followers that you’re looking for clients.
Freelancing is becoming much more common as people look for flexible patterns of working (and multiple clients to provide job security) – so there’s a lot of advice, support and help around, often including grants and loans when you’re getting started. Your local Chamber of Commerce – or a similar organization – may be a good source of advice.
- Specialize. It might seem counter-intuitive, but it’s better to concentrate on one area than try to cover all the bases. For example, writers might choose to specialize in copywriting (and ignore blogging, editing and so on).
- Approach potential clients directly. Most of the freelance blogging jobs that I have weren’t from applying for advertised jobs – they came through making contact with editors. You wouldn’t be reading this blog post if I hadn’t sent Jay (DLM’s editor) a guest post ( and several hopeful emails) back in 2008!
Freelance Switch and Freelance Folder are both blogs aimed at freelancers and well worth subscribing to by RSS.
Skellie’s post 30 Days to Become a Freelancer is a great step-by-step plan for new freelancers.
On Dumb Little Man, there’s some freelance-related advice in:
- Selling electronic productsFreelancers sell a service. Even when that service results in a product, like a logo, a website or an ebook, it’s custom-made at the request of a particular client. That works well for some people, but what if you want to make money without having to work by the hour or by the project? A tried-and-tested way of making money online is to sell electronic, usually downloadable, products. I’m sure you’ve come across a few sites selling ebooks – if you have a particular area of expertise, you can write an ebook (which doesn’t need to be anything like as long as a paper book), and you’ll find buyers. Time-sensitive information does particularly well in ebook format.There are also plenty of options if you’re not a writer. You can pay someone to write an ebook for you: then you can market and sell it. Alternatively, you can sell audio or video files, graphical content, software.
- Start with something small, like a $5 or $10 product; the learning curve is usually steep.
- Either build up an online audience of your own (via a blog or e-newsletter), or partner up with people who have a big audience – offer them commission as an affiliate for your product.
- Create Ebooks That Sell – article on Copyblogger
- The Comprehensive Paint-by-Numbers Guide to Writing and Publishing Your Ebook – article on ProBlogger that’s pretty much described by the title!
Sites where you can sell (and indeed buy!) electronic products include:
- Selling physical products
If virtual products don’t interest you, how about selling physical ones? You may well have done this already if you’ve ever offloaded some second-hand books on Amazon.com, or if you’ve gotten rid of those wrong-size-wrong-color clothes on eBay.
You don’t necessarily have to have a large amount of storage space to sell physical products, and you don’t need to spend hours standing in line at your local post office; you can use drop-shipping to outsource warehousing and shipping.
Many small businesses are run entirely on ebay, often buying stock in job lots (at discount warehouses, for instance) and splitting it up for sale, thus turning a profit per item.
Artists and crafters can sell handmade products on sites like etsy, where customers are often willing to pay a premium price for uniqueness and quality.
If you have a site or concept which you could produce merchandise for (online comics often do well with this, and humor blogs), try CafePress.
- Take the time to get a great photo of what you’re selling. Make the photo as large as possible too. (Many new ebay sellers make the mistake of not using good photos.)
- Use testimonials, especially if you’re selling items which customers would normally want to examine and touch before buying – such as clothes or craft materials.
- Stick with one site – at least to begin with – so that you can build up feedback from buyers: I found that selling on ebay and Amazon was much easier once I had a good rating.
- Owning websites If you own a website, you’ve got a potentially money-making asset. You can run adverts on the site. A good place to start is Google Adsense. Once your site starts getting a reasonable level of traffic and/or a reasonable Google rank, you can sell advertising directly. (Warning: Google sometimes penalizes sites which sell text links.)For an example of Adsense and private ad sales in action, see my site www.theofficediet.com. You’ll notice that:
- There is a 125×125 banner, as well as a number of links under the headings “Adverts”. These are private ad sales.
- I’m also running Google Adsense
I don’t make a living from this site by any means, but I do make several hundred dollars each month from advertising. Another method is simply to sell the site, which is often known as “flipping” it. If you have a site that makes regular income (such as through advertising or affiliate sales), then there’ll be interested buyers. A good rule of thumb is that you can sell a site for around 12-18 times the monthly income. You may be able to sell a site which has strong potential – perhaps a good domain name and some high-quality content – even if it isn’t yet generating income.You can sell sites – and even great domain names (which should cost under $10 to register) – on the SitePoint marketplace.Insider tips:
- Once you have a large site that’s easily found on Google, advertisers will often come to you. Be prepared for this: decide what you charge for different types of ads, and have a simple means of accepting payment.
- You may have to decide between advertising income and maintaining the quality of your website. I run text ads and Adsense on www.theofficediet.com because I’m not too attached to that site – I’m much pickier about the ads on my “home” site, www.aliventures.com!
- My Adsense Tips on the Official Adsense Blog – videos from Darren Rowse (aka Problogger)
- ProBlogger: Secrets for Blogging Your Way to a Six-Figure Income – by Darren Rowse and Chris Garrett has good information about advertising and about flipping blogs.
- Find an Undervalued Asset. Fix It Up. Flip It. (Now It’s Web Sites, Not Houses) – article from the New York Times which is a good introduction to the area – and financial possibilities – of flipping websites.
- Selling other people’s products Lastly, perhaps you don’t have anything of your own to sell – and you don’t want to create anything. How about selling other people’s products? This is a great way to let others do the hard work while you reap the rewards!
Like the other four methods, though, this isn’t without work on your part. Affiliate marketing (acting as an affiliate for someone else’s product, and earning commission on sales which you refer) requires you to have two things:
- An audience
If you have a blog, e-newsletter or Twitter following, that’s your audience. Establishing trust takes time, though. Some good ways to do it include:
- Provide high quality content (blog posts, emails or Tweets)
- Be honest, personable and real – we trust people who we can see as friends
- Don’t give an overblown review just for sales: mention any bad points about the product too
- Own every product and use every service that you review as an affiliate
Note that the FTC has brought out new guidelines, which many bloggers have interpreted to mean that affiliates do need to declare their connection. This is often to your advantage anyway, as it can show that you’re trustworthy and honest. (See Affiliates – New FTC Rules and $11,000 Fines for Non-Disclosure for more information.)
When looking for products to promote, start with things you already own. You can promote anything sold on Amazon as an affiliate (though the commission isn’t great) and you’d be surprised how many sites and companies have affiliate programs. You can also review a post from Dumb Little Man that lists over 40 ways to make money online.
- Think about what you like in a review – and provide that! I put the price up front in all my reviews, for instance, as I hate not knowing the price of a product till I’ve read a ton of text about it.
- Give a personal story about your experience with the product or service. If you say in the review that your webhost has great customer service, give a concrete example.
- Many ebook authors (and sellers of other downloadable products) will let you have a review copy if you have a reasonable-sized blog or newsletter, so you can sometimes get free products this way!
- What Is Affiliate Marketing? and 10 Tips for Using Affiliate Programs On Your Blog – great introductions to this topic, on ProBlogger
- How to Suck at Affiliate Marketing – what not to do, from IttyBiz
- Cloud Living review – where I discuss Glen Allsopp’s comprehensive and beginner-friendly ebook about affiliate mini-sites and blogging.
Any one of the above methods could make you a full-time living online – or could provide you with a great source of side income. Which appeal to you? What skills or resources do you already have that you could leverage? And do you have any other methods to add to the list? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!