To make money online, get a website then sell something.
That’s it. Just like any other business. The concept is simple. There’s more to it in practice so let’s break it down…
What can you sell online? Either your thing or someone else’s thing.
There are 5 main ways people make money online — that is, 5 main things people sell. They are:
Most of us start with one and add more as we go.
Sell your skills or expertise.
- Virtual assistant. How to become a virtual assistant.
- Coach or consult
- Teach or tutor
- In-person services like organizing, decorating or cooking
- Be up and running within hours or days.
- Low startup costs.
- Little to no inventory required.
- Offer your services locally or globally (thanks internet!).
- It’s not scaleable. You must trade time for money and can only grow as big as your time allows. In other words, you can’t make money while you sleep.
- Dealing with clients can be challenging.
If you need money fast, start here. Offer a service or skill you already have. Brainstorm a list of your skills. Narrow them down to the ones that are most likely to make people’s lives easier.
2. Affiliate marketing
Sell someone else’s product or service. Earn a commission when someone buys the product or service you recommend.
- Niche blogging. Read my Project 24 review.
- Promoting products you like in posts, emails, videos or podcasts.
- A tools or resources page on your website. Example.
- Partnering with others in their product launches.
- High profit margins.
- You don’t have to create the product.
- You don’t have to maintain it or provide customer service.
- Make money while you’re not working.
- There are thousands and thousands of products or retailers to partner with.
- Affiliate marketing depends on trust which takes a long time to build.
- You don’t have control over the whole sales process which can reflect badly on you.
- Anything you promote can be changed or eliminated at any time.
Affiliate marketing is one of my favorite and most profitable income streams. It takes time to become lucrative because you have to build trust with your followers first, but the barrier to entry is low. The best way to start is to start a website / blog and promote products in your articles / posts.
3. Digital products
Sell digital products you create.
- Paid newsletter
- Website or blog flipping
- Books (in digital form, like ebooks)
- Online courses
- Facebook Group subscriptions
- Membership sites
- Email course
- Printable workbooks or PDFs
- Patterns or templates
- Online classes, workshops or summits
- Digital files like photographs, audio or video clips
- Apps, plugins or themes
- You fully control your product(s), start to finish.
- Make it once, sell it infinite times.
- Delivery to customers is fast and easy.
- Set your own pricing.
- Pivot or change direction quickly.
- Low risk.
- Low overhead.
- Creating a digital product takes time and energy.
- Depending on the type of digital product, there may be a learning curve.
- Technical challenges and glitches can occur.
Selling digital products is one of the best ways to make money online. They are easy to produce and distribute. To start, create content on your website, blog, podcast or YouTube channel. Pay attention to what your followers need. Create a digital product to meet that need.
4. Physical products
Sell your own physical product or someone else’s.
- Handmade goods
- Private label goods
- Manufactured merchandise
- Retail arbitrage
- Print on demand (POD)
- Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA)
- Conferences or events (I consider these “physical products” because they require in-person involvement)
- There are many helpful resources to get started. For example, How to Build, Launch, and Grow a Profitable Online Store.
- Many people prefer buying from small businesses instead of large retailers.
- There are ways to sell physical products without having to touch them yourself through Print on Demand or dropshipping.
- Creating or sourcing a physical product takes time, energy and often money.
- You may need space to maintain inventory.
- Shipping and returns can be a hassle.
With all kinds of helpful tools and services, selling physical products has never been easier but there are more moving parts than other income streams. Unless you have an existing product or a really clear idea for a product, I’d add this income stream later.
5. Ads & sponsorships
Sell someone else’s product or service. Get paid when you mention their name, product or message to your audience.
- Sponsorships for your newsletter, podcast, videos or social media platforms
- Ads on YouTube videos
- Ads on your website or blog
- A product supplied by a company for a giveaway or review
- Sponsored blog posts
- Many forms of advertising are easy to set up and start.
- You determine who you will and won’t work with.
- Terms are often negotiable.
- To make good income, you need a lot of traffic or a lot of followers.
- Mobile use and ad blockers can interfere with your advertising efforts.
- Ads often lead to a poor user experience.
- Ads on a website make it look cheap and unsophisticated.
Once you have an established platform (blog, YouTube channel, podcast), advertising is relatively easy to start. However, it requires a lot of traffic to be truly profitable so I recommend it as an add-on income stream, not your primary income stream.
What’s next? Establish a schedule, create content, add income streams.
What is disclosure? How do I do it?
According to the FTC, “Disclose when you have any financial, employment, personal, or family relationship with a brand.” In other words, disclosure is necessary for affiliate links, sponsored posts, etc. Here are frequently asked questions.
Do I really need a website (or blog) to make money online? Can’t I just use social media?
It’s risky to build your business on someone else’s platform (Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, Medium, etc.). You are subject to their whims. Get an online home of your own. Besides, some income streams require you to have your own site anyway.
How long does it take to make money online?
It depends on many factors. If your goal is to make money fast, start by offering a service to get some cash flow. Set up your website, then create digital products your audience wants.
How do I know what product my audience wants?
Ask and listen. In general, people want to solve a problem, relieve a fear, learn something new, reach a goal or be entertained or inspired. A product that meets one of those criteria is a good place to start.
Can I share affiliate links on social media?
It depends. Each affiliate program and platform has different terms. Usually it’s allowed but you must disclose properly.
Sole proprietor? LLC? S Corp? What should I choose?
I can’t give legal or financial advice, but I can tell you what I did. I operated as a sole proprietor for many years. When my income went beyond hobby level, I used Nolo to become an LLC. This podcast episode made me realized an S Corp was a better choice for me. My accountant took care of the paperwork. More.
Do I have to pay taxes?
Almost certainly yes. Keep track of everything and report all your income including cash, products, swag, commission and free stuff. Read The Blogger’s Simple Guide to Taxes: A Guide to Saving Time and Money by Sarah Korhnak.
What should I use to keep track of finances?
I use Wave for business bookkeeping and payroll services (as an S Corp, I am an employee on payroll). I use YNAB for tracking my personal finances.
What is a media kit and do I need one?
A media kit is a package of information about you and your brand. It’s often requested by advertisers and sponsors. What Is a Media Kit? (And How to Create One)