Have you ever noticed that most posts about how to make money online are absolutely terrible?
The abundance of bad posts about ‘easy’ ways to make money online isn’t exactly new, but I just recently came across yet another one and decided to create something more useful.
I’m sure you know the posts I’m talking about.
They have titles like “87 Easy Ways to Earn Money Online.”
Or “100 Great Ways to Earn Real Money From Your Couch”.
And almost all of them proceed to give you lists that include things like completing surveys, reviewing things, or – even worse – getting cash back on purchases. Last time I checked, it doesn’t count as making money if you spend more than you earn!
So what should all the stay-at-home moms, broke college students, wantrepreneurs, disgruntled employees, and world travelers do when they want to make money online?
If you are serious about learning how to make money online, then you need to approach your endeavor like a business. Anything else is a waste of time.
How To Make Money Online, Business-Style
You might be thinking, “Wait, I’m not looking to start a business. I just want to earn a little extra cash.”
I have a couple of things to say to that. First, I didn’t say that you have to start a business. I’m saying that if you want to earn money online, the smart place to start is to look at how businesses actually do this.
And second, don’t fall for the trap of setting the bar artificially low so that there is no risk if you fail.
Even if you aren’t sure where you want to end up, it makes a lot more sense to start with an idea that has the potential to scale into a business rather than filling out surveys for pennies!
So let’s get back to how businesses make money online.
Surprisingly, pretty much all revenue generation strategies fall into just 6 main categories:
- Sell physical goods.
- Sell digital goods.
- Sell services.
- Sell information.
- Help other people sell their stuff.
- Some mixture of the above.
Did you notice what word is in every single item on that list (implicitly for #6)?
People don’t give you money for nothing. They decide that something you have is worth paying for – or in the case of #5, something someone else has.
They trade money for value.
Even when you are completing surveys, you are essentially selling the act of survey completion – this just happens to be an extremely low-value service and a poor way to make money online.
Don’t let the idea of selling stuff scare you off. This is easier than you think, even if you’re convinced that you don’t have any good ideas or anything worth selling.
Just breathe deeply and keep reading.
What Unique Value Can YOU Offer?
We’ve established that the key to making money online is coming up with some sort of value proposition.
I’ll give you X if you give me Y.
We know Y is money.
Now we need to figure out what X should be based on your knowledge and skills.
This is an absolutely crucial step if you actually want to make money online, so I recommend getting out a sheet of paper and brainstorming answers to these questions:
- What do I know more about than the average person?
- What am I passionate about?
- Am I good at anything that other people would find useful?
- What have I struggled with and overcome?
- What am I currently struggling with and trying to overcome?
- Do I have any big ideas?
- Do I have any unconventional ideas?
- Any cool ideas?
- What skills do I have that help me communicate with other people (humor, giving simple explanations, etc…)?
You’ll be tempted to read that list of questions and briefly consider answers and focus on the first few things that pop into your head. Once again, I recommend taking time to actually write down answers and brainstorm – maybe even a week or more.
The idea here is to uncover places where you can add value to what’s already out there.
Maybe you have a great product idea that would make camping or backpacking 100x better.
Perhaps you’ve worked in some field and have unique insights that other people would appreciate.
You might have a knack for looking at things in interesting ways.
Or maybe you’re just good at writing.
Now let’s look at how you can turn answers like those into a business.
Idea # 1: Develop a new product.
Let’s say you have an excellent idea for a new product for a particular niche or interest group. I have great news.
It has never been easier to develop a new product thanks to crowdfunding.
The cost of doing so is lower than ever, the task of finding interested buyers has never been simpler, and securing funds to make it all possible is also easier than ever before.
This is true whether the product is physical or digital.
You’ll want to start with making sure your idea actually has legs. Just because you like the idea doesn’t mean other people will.
There are lots of guides out there on product validation, but the simplest ways are to put together a landing page and test some paid traffic to it or to just go on forums and interact with other people and gauge their enthusiasm.
Just don’t give too much away until you have the idea protected or well into development.
Once you’ve validated the idea, getting it funded is as straightforward as a well designed and marketed crowdfunding campaign. A lot of work, no doubt, but very achievable if you know who your target market is and how to connect with them.
Idea #2: Become a freelancer or consultant.
Let’s say the results of your brainstorming session indicate that your strongest asset is a particular skill that other businesses or people would value. One way to make money off that skill is by offering it on marketplaces like Upwork, Freelancer, or Fiverr.
The types of ‘skills’ that are marketable via these platforms vary from platform to platform, with ones like Fiverr offering categories for a lot of things you wouldn’t think of right away like pranking:
There are also a lot of specialty marketplaces that focus on just one skill, like graphic design or writing.
I’ve talked to several people who do well on these sites, and the keys to success seem to be delivering a great product and finding a way to differentiate yourself from the competition, plus being willing to grind it out in the beginning.
So a lot like any business, really.
Selling on a marketplace is a good way to start when you don’t have any contacts and want to get work fast, but most people report better earnings and better clients when they switch to selling through their own website.
There’s no reason you can’t sell on a marketplace and build your own website, and it’s really never too early to start working on your website if you go this route, so plan on this from the beginning if you want to freelance.
Idea #3: Sell a service.
Offering a service is a lot like being a freelancer, but there are ways to offer a service that most people don’t consider freelancing so I’m including both on the list.
Service-based business usually have some type of ‘real-world’ component, but using the internet can make it a lot easier to find customers.
Examples of service-based business include lawn care, painting, house cleaning, tutoring, building things, and many others.
For some reason, existing service-based business tend to have very poor online presences, which presents a great opportunity if there is something you would like to offer. Especially with the amount of local searches now being performed on Google.
If you want to go down this route, just make sure you have the proper permits/credentials for your area.
You should also do some research regarding the competition in your area. Before committing to a type of business, search your area and see who the competition is and what kind of web presence they have. Yelp, Angie’s List, Home Advisor, and other websites like this area great place to do this.
Idea #4: Teach people about something you know a lot about.
Let’s say you are particularly knowledgeable about a specific topic or maybe you have dealt with some struggle and figured out how to overcome it.
There’s a very good chance that other people would be interested in learning from you.
Most people don’t give themselves enough credit when it comes to stuff like this. If you are knowledgeable or passionate about something, it can’t hurt to do some digging into whether or not other people are as well.
I’ve found that a lot of people make assumptions about what other people would value based on the other people they know. That’s not a very good sample size. The internet lets you connect with a pool of millions and millions of people, and you only need a small fraction of those people to be interested in your endeavor for it to be worthwhile.
The way to start down this road is to start a blog and develop an audience. You can’t sell information if people don’t trust you, so there is a lot of groundwork you’ll need to do in this regard.
The information you sell can come in many forms, including:
While creating something as big as an online course may seem daunting, the process is actually extremely simple thanks to services like Teachable.
Most topics could have information sold via one of those options above, but if you can’t think of any way to turn your knowledge or interest into a paid product or service like that, you can always monetize your free content in other ways.
The main options are ads and affiliate recommendations. When using either of these, make sure they are relevant to your subject and something that you personally stand behind.
Idea #5: Entertain people.
If you are creative, or skilled, entertaining people is another route to making money online. Entertainment is something that can strengthen any of the above suggestions, but it can also be done for no other reason but to entertain.
Think of Youtubers, Twitch streamers, models and people who publish ebooks for the Kindle. All of these people are in the business of entertainment.
Monetizing entertainment depends on the genre. It often involves ads and sponsorships, so the money can be slow until you develop a big following. You can also request donations or sell merchandise to your most loyal fans.
The five ideas listed so far are great ways to make money online if you can think of some skill, idea or knowledge you can monetize. But what if you can’t think of anything at all?
Don’t have anything to sell? Think again.
Let’s assume for a minute that there is nothing about your knowledge base or interests that are worth trying to build a business around (probably not true), are your money-making dreams over?
It does largely limit you to selling physical products, but that is not a bad place to be!
In fact, I may even argue that selling physical products is the easiest way to start making money online.
Obviously, this wouldn’t be the case if you had to come up with a brand new idea for a product and have it custom manufactured (although this is very lucrative if you verified the market first), but you don’t have to do that.
All you have to do is sell other people’s products.
And before you discard this idea, let me point out that this is one of the most common and lucrative business models in existence! In fact, it’s the main model of popular stores like Walmart, Target, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Costco, and other big box stores.
The general formula for making big money on a site like Amazon is really no different. Most successful sellers offer a mix of other brands and private label products – just like you’d see if you walked into any of the stores above today. It’s even what Amazon does!
You’re probably starting to tell yourself this is over your head again and that you can’t possibly compete with all these big names.
Once again, it is easier than you think to get started – just keep reading!
Now obviously most people can’t start with negotiating wholesale deals with suppliers or getting private label products (i.e. existing products with your own brand) made in China, although these are definitely viable ways to make money and will make this list.
The first two ways I’m going to suggest are much simpler and things you can start today. They don’t require experience or a huge amount of money to start. Yet they still offer the opportunity to make good money for your time and even build an entire business around. They are also very similar.
They are flipping local used products and retail arbitrage.
Idea #6: Flipping
The basic idea behind flipping is seeing value where other people miss it and taking advantage of online marketplaces that let you get the products in front of the people who actually value them.
In practice, this means hitting up your local yard sales, estate sales, auctions, and thrift stores, buying under priced items, and then listing them for sale on Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, and/or eBay.
Things like old video games, books, toys, china/dishes, and fashion items can all be found at significantly reduced prices because someone didn’t realize the value.
There are a lot of people who make very good money flipping, even people who do it full time.
Flipping isn’t for everyone, but a lot of people do it just because of how much fun they have going out to the sales and hunting.
If you are strapped for cash and need to build up reserves before launching something bigger, this is a great place to start. The flipping subreddit has a good ‘Noob’ guide to flipping.
Idea #7: Retail Arbitrage
Like I mentioned above, retail arbitrage is very similar to flipping. The only difference is that with retail arbitrage, you are mainly dealing with new products.
Instead of hunting at yard sales and auctions, you’ll be looking inside existing retail stores for deals on products that sell for higher prices on Amazon or other online websites.
Despite the fact that many people think otherwise, this is still a viable strategy in 2018. In fact, it’s still the core sourcing strategy of my main business and the strategy I think makes the most sense for beginners.
It’s a fantastic way to learn the mechanics of selling on Amazon with almost zero risk and a good upside, plus it allows you to build a base to invest in bulk sourcing strategies like we’ll discuss in a moment.
Online arbitrage is similar to retail arbitrage, but instead of sourcing in brick and mortar stores, you take advantage of price differences between different online stores and marketplaces.
If you are interested in learning more about retail arbitrage, you should enroll in this free course I offer.
Idea #8: Source Wholesale Products
If you go down the ‘sell other people’s products’ route to make money online, wholesale is something you will probably want to offer at some point.
A wholesale arrangement is when you set up an account directly with the manufacturer of a product to buy it at discount prices specifically for resale. It’s like a supercharged version of buying in bulk.
The benefit of wholesale is you get more products to sell with less time invested, especially if you can secure an ongoing relationship with a manufacturer.
The traditional way of getting wholesale deals doesn’t always work anymore, although the strategy in general does. You just have to know where to look and how to approach suppliers. I have a lot more content planned on wholesale, so stay tuned if you are interested.
Idea #9: Private Label Products
The idea behind private labeling is finding a made-to-order manufacturer and having a product made with your brand on it. These products are either exact replicas of existing products or have small variations.
Private labeling is a product sourcing strategy that I think is best reserved for more experienced sellers. But once you learn more about how to identify products that sell well and how to determine exact ROI based on all expense inputs, private labeling can be very lucrative.
This strategy works best when you build a brand around a ‘suite’ of similar products, as this allows you to capture more ongoing sales and gives you more opportunities to separate yourself from the competition.
These last four ideas are all great ways to make money online even when you don’t have any big ideas or specialized knowledge. If you are brand new to selling online, I recommend starting with flipping and/or retail arbitrage – especially if your finances are limited.
As your experience grows and you are better at identifying products with strong sales and ROI potential, you can move up to wholesale and/or private labeling.
Please don’t read this and then click back to watch funny cat videos and look at pictures of babies and weddings.
That’s what most people do when they start to get stressed, and the prospect of starting something as big as an online business in order to make money online is definitely stressful.
I can personally attest to the benefits of doing things like listed above, and the fact that you are here reading an article about how to make money online means it’s something you would like too if you could just figure it out.
It’s easy to look at the big picture and get overwhelmed, but the important thing to realize is that your future business is really just a long series of small, baby-sized steps that you can start today.
Do the brainstorming exercise I suggested and find something you could help people with. Look up the yard sales and auctions happening this weekend where you could look for items to flip. Sign up for the free email course I offer on getting your first sale on Amazon.
Take the first step today. You won’t regret it!
I hope you found this to be more useful than most posts about how to make money online.
If you did find it useful or think there is something I should change, add, or explain better, please comment below! I appreciate the feedback.
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