Millions of us want to make money online. This is hardly surprising. The internet has completely changed the way that we do business, and many of us have careers that didn’t exist 10 years ago. Using the internet to generate an income – whether full time or to supplement your day job – is a perfectly realistic goal for all of us.
There are countless articles and resources written to help people like you and me make money online. Unfortunately, our experience is that the vast majority of them aren’t much help at all. There are lot of unrealistic, dishonest websites out there which over-promise and over-deliver. If you’re looking for legitimate ways to make money online then there’s a lot less out there.
As Ecommerce professionals we believe that that single best legitimate way to make money online is to set up your own store. We’re completely persuaded that this is the best way to start a business that will generate a significant long-term income. The margins and potential ROI are so much higher than anything else we discuss in this article. We’re also persuaded that anybody can start an online store – even if you don’t yet know what you’re going to sell.
However, we are realistic. We know that starting an online store isn’t for everybody. You might not have an idea yet. You might have other commitments which mean that you want to wait before starting a store. You might also be in a position where you feel that your online skills need to be honed before you’re ready to build and run an Ecommerce store.
If you’re not going to start an online store then we think that there are a handful of legitimate ways to make money online. We’ve given 4 examples below which should give you some inspiration to find your niche and work out what’s best for you.
Another of our frustrations with a lot of articles listing ways to make money online is that they’re far too broad. They often include one or more of the following strategies – all of which assume that you are already spending money or that you have assets which can be leveraged to produce an income:
- saving money
- selling unwanted items
- earning cashback on your spending
- renting out a room
- earning small amounts of money for completing surveys
Whilst these are all valuable ways to reduce your outgoings, they’re not actually legitimate ways to make money online in the pure sense that we’re interested in. For that reason we’re not going to include them in this article. If you want to reduce your outgoings and save money then there are hundreds of brilliant resources out there for you. Instead we’ll be focusing on the best ways to generate extra revenue by using the internet to do additional work.
Please also note that we’re not necessarily interested in the quickest ways to increase your earnings. One of the big problems with a lot of online resources is that they promise that you can generate a significant monthly income very quickly. The reality is that you’re going to have to work hard for a long period of time – typically 2-3 years – before seeing the kind of return that you want.
We think that trajectory is the most important thing. When we speak with online store owners we encourage them to build their business in a sustainable way with an eye on long-term results. We focus on the quality of products, excellent customer service and developing an effective search presence because these are the best way to ensure long-term growth.
So, what are we saying? The reality is that if you start working online now you’re very, very unlikely to make a large income this year. However, get your trajectory right and in 2-3 years we think there’s every chance that you’ll be making a healthy income. And, for the fortunate few, there is the real possibility of having a passive, recurring income that only requires minimal ongoing maintenance from you. If you daydream about retiring in your 40s or relocating to a tropical paradise then it’s passive income that is likely to really get you excited.
Our 4 Favourite Legitimate Ways to Make Money Online
1. Work as a Freelancer
In our opinion the best legitimate way to make money online is to do additional work using the skills and experience that you already have. In certain professions these kinds of opportunity have always existed – think teachers marking exam papers or medical professionals doing locum shifts at weekends – but today there are more freelance jobs available than ever before.
Freelancing does mean that you’ll end up doing more work than you are at the moment. However, if you’re looking to increase your income then this is likely to be a sacrifice that you’re prepared to make. It won’t last forever, and the opportunities that freelancing can open up are likely to far outweigh the initial cost.
A few years ago this was quite a difficult market to break into. Developers and designers would write articles like this one saying how easy it is to pick up some extra work helping people on their websites or doing a bit of work in Photoshop. However, not many of us have these specific skills.
Today, however, we think that the freelance landscape is rather different. The huge increase in the number of online businesses means that there is a lot more demand for administrative support, HR, marketing, financial services and more. Small businesses can’t necessarily afford to employ full-time staff and will be much more likely to pay a freelancer to do a few hours a week.
If you’re looking to increase your income then we suggest that you start off by looking for additional work. Websites like Peopleperhour and Elance are a good place to research the kind of work that is available.
Top Freelancing Tip: When you’re just starting out as a freelancer one of the biggest hurdles is getting your first job. Freelance websites can be pretty intimidating, with people from all over the world trying to undercut each other on price. We recommend that you keep going, put time and effort into your pitches and don’t be discouraged. Most freelancers are reliant on 1 or 2 clients for the majority of their income – you don’t need to win every job that you bid on.
We also think that it’s important to take a long-term view when you’re setting your prices for that all-important first job. The level of competition on sites like Elance means that there are always going to be very, very cheap candidates for every job. When you’re setting your price it’s important to remember that:
- Jobs don’t always go to the cheapest bidder – most of us have been stung in the past and are more concerned about getting the right person who can do the best job for us.
- There’s nothing stopping you from starting off cheap and then increasing your rates a few months down the line once you’ve proven yourself and built up more experience.
Our Verdict: if you’re not going to start an online store then we think that freelancing is the best legitimate way to make money online.
2. Set up a Website and Start Blogging/Vlogging
One of the great things about freelancing is that it enables you to earn money doing the things that you’re already skilled at and passionate about. A similar, slightly different approach is to set up a website and start producing your own content. You should choose a subject that interests you and that you have a measure of expertise in.
This is a slow burner but in the long-run is one of the most effective ways to make money online.
It’s very simple. Let’s say that you’re passionate about knitting. Instead of freelancing (knitting products for other people for an hourly rate) an alternative is to start a blog about knitting. You can write articles about knitting, share photos of your handiwork and share videos of your projects. Perhaps you could teach people to knit or write about the history of knitting.
From a commercial perspective the goal is to generate traffic from a highly targeted group of people. This will then enable you to sell advertising – and, perhaps, products – on the basis that you know the very specific things that your audience are interested in. It doesn’t matter whether you’re passionate about knitting, accountancy or Ecommerce – what matters is that you have something to contribute and that people are prepared to listen to what you say.
On a personal level this is a very rewarding way to generate an extra income. If it works then you’ll be paid to write about talk about the thing that you love. Even if it’s not particularly successful then you’ll be doing something that you love and enhancing your online skills in the process. If you’re an experienced blogger then you’ll be able to publish articles, use a CMS, source images and understand SEO – all of which will make you very employable as a freelancer.
In time you’ll be able to generate an income from your website through the following channels:
- Advertising. Companies in your niche will pay to advertise on your website because your readers are likely to be interested in purchasing those products. You can also let Google place advertising on your site and will receive a small payment each time a viewer clicks on an advert.
- Personal Opportunities. Whether it’s freelance work, speaking opportunities or book deals, having a successful niche blog is a great platform to get further work in the future. In the introduction to his book ‘The Joy of Tax’ economist Richard Murphy says that his book is the culmination of 11,000 blog posts.
- Sponsored Content. This is very similar to advertising. If you’ve got thousands of readers then businesses will be prepared to pay you to write content for your site. It’s best practice to let your readers know that it’s sponsored content rather than editorial, but if you’re picky then this will actually add value to your readership.
- Selling Products. Advertising is a good way to generate revenue from a website but as the middle man you will only ever take a small slice of the pie. If you have a highly engaged audience then eventually it makes sense to sell a product. This could be anything from products you’ve made to white-label goods or even a course that you’ve created.
3. Sell Photos Online
For many years Stock photograph websites such as iStock and ShutterStock have been a great source of income for photographers. These websites sell images on to commercial clients and pass on a cut of the profit to the photographer. They are reliant on a large body of amateur and professional photographers who can provide the high-quality images that they need to sell on to customers.
Although there are hundreds of thousands of images on these sites, it’s very much a growing niche because the number of people producing content for the web is rapidly increasing. As technology and trends change there will be a need for new images that offer what end users are looking for.
Our honest opinion is that selling photos is only a legitimate way to make money online if:
- You are a skilled photographer
- You already have a large volume of photographs
- Your images are of a very high quality
Barriers to Entry: It isn’t easy getting your images approved by Stock sites. You’ll need to be a reasonably experienced photographer with a large catalogue of images to choose from. In all likelihood you’ll be rejected most of the time. However, once you get some momentum and work out what the Stock sites are looking for there is a great opportunity to make a decent passive income…
One of the big advantages of selling photographs online is that it is a passive source of income – once you’ve done the hard work of taking, editing and uploading the image you don’t have to do anything further.
This isn’t a get-quick-rich scheme. In fact, the stock sites structure their payouts to ensure that long-term members benefit the most. The amount that you receive per download increases with the amount of sales that you’ve generated. In other words, whilst your initial income is likely to be very modest indeed, the long-term potential for exponential growth is very exciting.
There’s another key benefit to taking a long-term approach to selling stock photography. Stock sites are of course completely dependent upon their members producing enough of the the right kinds of image for their customers. Sometimes there will be a shortage. If you’re able to go out and shoot images on demand then this is a great way to increase your chances of getting images accepted and generating higher volumes of sales.
4. Mystery Shopping
Mystery shopping is a great way to make additional cash doing things that you enjoy and exploring your local area. It’s a very simple premise: companies pay their mystery shoppers in cash or gift vouchers in return for your honest feedback on their goods and services. It typically involves visiting restaurants, cafes or shops and assessing the service that you receive.
We’ve included this as our 4th recommended way to make money online because it doesn’t require any particularly skill or experience. The key criteria for a successful mystery shopper are that you:
- have regular access to your phone/email so that you can respond to new jobs as soon as they come up
- are available at regular times to visit the stores and restaurants offering jobs
- can write honest and clear reviews of the places that you visit
- are a reliable and trustworthy participant
When you start out mystery shopping the rewards tend to be fairly modest. Typically you would expect to receive a gift voucher for £20-50 to spend at the establishment who are conducting the surveys. This doesn’t really count as an income. However, we know experienced mystery shoppers who can earn up to £100/day in cash.
How have they reached this level? Typically they’ve been doing mystery shopping for a couple of years and are able to provide really detailed feedback on the service that they receive. Those who have worked in retail or hospitality tend to be able to give some of the best feedback.
Conclusion: We Still Think You Should Start an Online Store…
We started off this article by saying that we’re convinced that the ultimate way to make money online is by starting an online store.
We’ll conclude it by saying that we’re still convinced of this.
We’ve recommended 4 of the best legitimate ways to make money online. If you look carefully you’ll note that all 4 of our suggestions will help to equip you with the skills that you need to start an Ecommerce store:
- Using your existing skills and experience to start a business
- Set up a website and start content marketing
- Understanding how commercial photography is crucial for successful online businesses
- Honing your understanding of customer service and what makes customers love you
If you’re not ready to start an online store then we recommend that you pick one of our 4 recommendations and give it a go. If you’re sitting on the fence then why not try a combination of the two – you’ll make some money now and start honing the skills that you’ll need to run a successful store. You’ve got nothing to lose.