With a little creativity and a lot of initiative, there are tons of ways you can make money online. Below, we’re outlining ten of the most common and effective ways for entrepreneurs to make money online, and in turn, get noticed and grow their business.
1. Affiliate Links
One of the most popular ways to make money online is through the use of affiliate links.
Put simply, affiliate marketing is a performance-based method of making money whereby you are rewarded for referring customers to a business.
To give you a more detailed look at how affiliate marketing works, we’ll use Amazon as an example. First, you sign up for the Amazon affiliate program. Once your website is approved, you can promote Amazon on your site through text links or banners, each of which will use a link with your personal affiliate code in it. When a reader clicks on that link, a tracking cookie is placed on your reader’s computer. If said reader buys something from Amazon within a particular timeframe – with Amazon it is 24 hours, but for many other programs it is 30 days – you will receive a percentage of the sale (also known as a commission). Commission amounts vary in size; some sites offer as little as 1% while others offer 30% or more.
Generally speaking, anyone who discusses or showcases products can use affiliate marketing to make money. Better yet, you can start incorporating affiliate links on your site from the get-go. However, you will need a good-sized readership (or a very loyal readership) before you start making decent income from affiliate marketing.
2. Sell products
Selling your own products is a great way to diversify your income.
Even better, your product can include anything and everything – from a digital product (e.g. an eBook) to a physical offering (like a printed magazine) to a service (your freelance writing skills) – and you don’t have to set up a major e-commerce site to sell your products.
These days, you can set up a basic web store to accompany your blog or website simply by using plugins such as WooCommerce (if you are a WordPress user) or out-of-the-box e-tailing solutions such as BigCommerce, which can set up a store for you in just a few hours.
Before you get started with selling products, it pays to do some basic market research and put together a systematic plan. For instance, if you were planning to write an eBook, you would want to pick a topic that is (a) largely untouched (i.e. there aren’t hundreds of books on the topic already); (b) large enough in scope that you can fill a book; and (c) something you are knowledgeable about.
Once you had written the book, you would need to set up a great marketing plan for the release; it’s not good enough to just upload it to Amazon and hope for the best, at least not if you want to make any money from your eBook.
While you could aim to break into your chosen market by launching your product straight away, it would certainly pay to build a following first, and then release your product/service later. Think of it like this: you can build a cart (your product), but without a horse (your following) to pull it, you’re not going to get very far.
3. Paid social media
Considering the amount of users who spend time on social media sites every day, paid social media – where companies pay you to send out a tweet, Facebook post or Instagram image to your followers – isn’t utilised as much as you would expect, by non-celebrities at least.
That is most likely because you have to have a large following in order for your sponsor to consider it a worthy investment, especially on platforms such as Instagram where you can’t click through to a website and, therefore, can’t easily measure return on investment (ROI).
With that said, there are still opportunities for you to make money using paid social media.
However, it pays to be cautious about utilising this method heavily or inappropriately. You should always make sure that the company you are posting about is a company you back. For instance, if you are a health and wellness blogger, you wouldn’t want to tweet about sugary snacks or diet pills, even if the advertiser promises you a pretty penny.
It’s also important to understand the rules about social media sponsorship. In America, the FTC has set out specific guidelines that explain how to ensure your followers know when a social update is sponsored. Many other countries have adopted similar practices.
4. Banner ads
Perhaps the most tried, true and tested method of making money online is banner advertising.
Banner ads are found on many blogs and news websites, as well as within the email marketing newsletters of various websites. Typically, you will see banner ads in the header and sidebar of a website, although some sites experiment with various other placements.
Depending on the advertiser, you will make money when a reader views or clicks on your ad.
Banner advertising is extremely versatile, which most likely accounts for its popularity. For example, you can install banner ads in a huge number of shapes and sizes; you can install basic ads or rich media ads, and you can set particular ads to display to particular readers.
Almost anyone with a website can install banner ads on their site thanks to Google AdSense. Although you are unlikely to make decent money until you have a large following, installing AdSense is a great way to test out different sizes and placements and optimise your site according to what works and what doesn’t work.
Of course, AdSense isn’t the only way to incorporate banner ads on your site. Many bloggers and webmasters go after private advertisers; this is when you work with advertisers directly to incorporate their banners on your sidebar (or wherever you serve ads). To work with private advertisers, you’ll need to determine your rate; some webmasters use set rates (for instance, $500 per month) while others use a CPM (cost per view) or CPC (cost per click) method.
Previously, experts would advise incorporating banner ads on your site only once you had built a decent readership. These days, however, it is entirely normal (and advisable, even) for a site to feature banner ads from the day it launches.
Thanks in part to the popularity of Serial, podcasts are having a major moment in the spotlight right now, which means there is no better time to launch your first podcast.
Generally speaking, a podcast is a digital audio file made available on the Internet for download or streaming. (Just think of it as the “new” radio show.) Podcasts are usually available in serial form, with new episodes arriving each week for subscribers to download.
For example, Foundr broadcasts a regular podcast featuring interviews with entrepreneurs.
Normally, podcasts are made available to subscribers for free, so initially it is unlikely you will make money from your podcast. With that in mind, if you grow your podcast to have a large and loyal listening audience, you will likely be able to recruit private advertisers to buy up advertising segments on your podcast. (This is also known as sponsorship.) For example, Serial was sponsored by the popular newsletter service MailChimp.
While anyone can start a podcast, there are a few things to consider before you get going. Firstly, you are going to need decent recording equipment and quite possibly an editing program. Secondly, you need to consider whether you will record solo shows or interviews. Once you have the answer to that question, you need to figure out if you have enough material to create an entire series.
The key is to put a considerable amount of time and effort into planning your podcast. Do practice runs before you record your first show or interview, and make sure you have plotted out and organised your series before you start making promises to listeners; you don’t want to announce you’ll be interviewing ten big-time entrepreneurs if you haven’t yet got them on board.
6. Membership sites
Membership sites can be quite a lucrative source of income. However, they are one of the least implemented ways to make money online.
Why? Simply put, you are going to need an incredibly loyal audience to launch a successful membership site, you are going to need to create high-quality and useful content on a regular basis, and you are going to need to be heavily invested in creating a powerful platform for your users.
A good example of a membership site that works is Copyblogger’s Authority. The Authority team offers a plethora of ongoing content, including monthly seminars, video presentations, marketing tools, a community forum, and so on. As you can see, you are going to get your money’s worth, and you are getting it from a team with expertise.
It is no easy feat to launch a membership site that delivers true value for money, especially not alone. For that reason, it is recommended that you launch a membership site only when you can (a) promise your paid members a steady supply of indispensible can’t-live-without-it content; and (b) be considered an authoritative figure in your niche.
7. Create an app
Got a great idea bubbling under the surface? If there’s not an “app for that,” it’s time to create one.
The beauty of the Internet is that anyone – amateurs and aces alike – can come up with a great app idea and implement it (with a little help, if necessary).
Better yet, uploading an app to the Apple Store or the Google Play store is essentially free marketing. Sure, you might need to spread the word among your network of connections to get the ball rolling, but it’s nice to know that your app is sitting on a virtual shelf in one of the biggest and most popular stores around, and you didn’t have to work that hard to get there.
But first things first: How do you go about creating an app?
To start, you are going to need a great idea, whether it’s a game, a productivity app or even a digital magazine. Quite often, great ideas are born out of a need. Think about a time you said out loud: “I wish there was an app that [insert idea here].” That is where you get your idea.
If you’re not technically proficient, you’ll need to hire a developer to build your app for you. The ins and outs of designing and launching an app go beyond the scope of this article, but there is plenty of great reading to be found that can help get you started.
If you are primarily a content producer, freelance writing may be a logical step forward.
However, it is going to take a concerted effort and a good amount of talent to get noticed in the sea of freelance writers that have already established their careers.
With that said, it’s not impossible, and you don’t need a portfolio or background to get started.
The key is to learn everything you need to know about the tricks of the trade. Read up on how to pitch editors and master the craft of creating a pitch. Don’t take rejection personally, but rather use it as a tool to hone your skills and get better at what you do. Become an expert in your field; don’t try to write on anything and everything, but instead write about what you know. And finally, have something to show potential editors; if you don’t have a portfolio yet, showcase your writing on a blog or website. Have something you can point to that spotlights your work.
Although each of these sites works a little differently, the basic premise is similar: you offer your services to people who have outsourced them, for a price (of course). These people can be based anywhere in the world, and the range of needs is huge – a businessman in Kentucky might need someone to create a logo, while a blogger in London might need someone to help him with SEO services.
Whatever the case, that person will briefly outline their need and then post the “job” on the job boards of these sites. It is then up to the plethora of talented members to put their hands up for the job. For instance, if you are a graphic design whiz, you might want to create the logo for the Kentucky businessman. If so, you would most likely: write a small brief that outlines your offer; share your portfolio; and tell him how much money you want. If he selects you, you do the work, and then you receive your payment.
Again, each of these sites is different, but if you have a service you can offer online or in a digital environment, these sites are worth checking out.
An interesting way to make money online is to hold events, whether they are meetups that you arrange online but hold in a physical space or digital events such as video seminars. In both cases, you can charge for attendance or have businesses pay to sponsor the event (or both).
Even better, you don’t necessarily have to have a large audience to get a great turnout at these events. What you do have to have, though, is a valuable offer. In the case of a physical meetup, it might be a great opportunity to network with the “best of the best” in your city. In the case of a video seminar, it might be that you have a few experts lined up to discuss a particular topic.
With either case, it is important to determine what you are “bringing to the table” before you start organising or publicising the event. It is important to line up any experts, celebrities or influencers you want to participate, and it is essential you can count on their attendance, especially if that is the “offer” you will be publicising.
Once you have your “offer,” make use of your network of connections to spread the word and get people talking about your event. You may event want to pay to market your event on Facebook.
Sponsorship, also known as native advertising, is the new frontier.
According to Wikipedia, native advertising “is a form of online advertising that matches the form and function of the platform on which it appears.” To be more specific, it is content that has been integrated to feel like any other piece of content on your site; for example, a blog post that looks and reads like a regular blog post, but is sponsored by a company (and is clearly labelled as such).
Native advertising is quite diverse in the sense that it is can be utilised in a number of different ways and across a number of different platforms. A sponsored tweet on Twitter is an example of how native advertising is used on social networking platforms. Another example is a sponsored newsletter, which looks the same as the regular newsletter you send to your email list but is, again, sponsored by a company.
So who can use native advertising?
Technically, anyone with a decent audience can utilise native advertising. Sponsorship is similar to banner advertising in that you’ll have to work with private advertisers, command a particular rate, and have a decent sized and loyal audience.
The biggest difference is the amount of work you will need to put in. Typically, your sponsor is going to want a large amount of input (and approval) on what you write and how you present it, so be prepared to work with each business in a more intense manner if you want to start incorporating sponsors and native advertising into your business model.