There are countless ways to earn money online, and new sources of online income keep popping up as technology continues to develop and innovators find creative ways to sell products, provide services, monetize content, and more.
While generating an income online is more accessible than ever, it has also become increasingly competitive as more and more people try to get in on the action. With that being said, it’s still possible for anyone to earn some extra money by finding a niche that matches their schedule and skills. In this article, we’ll explain how to make money online for free and help you find the perfect opportunity for your talents.
Make Money Creating Content
The average American spends roughly eight hours a day with digital content, and millions of blog posts are published each day. While content creation is a highly crowded space, talented creators that differentiate themselves from the competition and build a distinct online presence can build up live captive audiences. Once an audience is captured, there are multiple ways to monetize content including ads, affiliate marketing, donations, paid subscriptions, premium memberships, and more.
To get started, you first need to pick a content channel. These are the most common:
1. Start a blog
Blogging is a great way to get started as a content creator. You can quickly create a blog through platforms like WordPress, Weebly, Wix, or Blogger. They’re also relatively inexpensive to set up and maintain — in general, $15-$20 per month on a premium membership, but many providers offer basic tools at no charge.
An important thing to note: You’ll want to find a niche where you can provide unique, valuable content, and preferably one that isn’t already saturated with other creators. This increases your chances of building an audience and making more money. Some common ways to monetize your blog are ads, affiliate links, and premium subscriptions.
2. Create a YouTube Channel
YouTube is another way to create content online, and it’s one of the most lucrative places on the internet to find an audience. It also plays nicely with blogs — many bloggers add YouTube channels to expand their reach, while many YouTubers create websites and blogs once they’ve found an audience.
Similar to blogs, the simplest way to make money with YouTube content is through ads or affiliate marketing. Though, some YouTubers eventually move to Patreon or other platforms where they can sell content independently to their audience rather than monetizing through the YouTube platform.
3. Make money podcasting
Podcasting is another opportunity to explore content creation as a way to make money online — in 2020 alone, over 100 million Americans listened to podcasts. Platforms like Spotify and Apple Podcasts make it easy to launch, and podcast hosting starts at around $20 a month on average.
Similar to blogs and YouTube videos, podcasters often make money by selling ad slots — if you’ve listened to a successful podcast, you’re probably familiar with the run of ads at the beginning of each episode — as well as with affiliate marketing, paid subscriptions, and more.
After you’ve built up a large audience through one of the content channels above, then you can start exploring monetization opportunities. We’ve covered two of the most popular ways below.
Earn money online with affiliate marketing
In general, content creators pivot to affiliate marketing when they have a large enough audience to generate consistent interest. Companies often use this as a marketing strategy and are willing to pay to connect with an existing audience. For example, if you have a blog or YouTube channel on cycling, then you may be able to earn money through affiliate links for a bike brand or cycling repair shop.
Companies typically pay a flat per-click or per-order rate, so your earnings will depend on how many people you can refer to their products or services. Pro tip: It’s a best practice to let your audience know that you earn money on a product or service that you’re recommending with a disclosure on your site.
Use Google Adsense to make money online
Google Adsense connects advertisers with content creators. Google Ads works as a cost-per-click model where a website or blog earns revenue every time a user clicks through on an ad. Blogs that generate significant traffic can earn consistent revenue.
Google Adsense is designed to show users ads that are most relevant to the content on the page, which significantly increases the chances that a visitor will be interested in the ad and you’ll earn revenue. That said, Google Adsense may display ads for competing products and services on your own site, though you can blacklist particular URLs.
Start a Website to Sell Products or Services
While it may sound complicated, building a website is relatively easy with the availability of website builders and other contemporary tools. The hard part: deciding what to sell. We’ll cover selling services and physical or digital products such as games, plugins, and games below. For a more in-depth look, check out our guide on how to create a website.
Sell e-ecommerce products
E-commerce has seen sustained growth since the early 2000s, and global retail e-commerce sales are expected to reach nearly $5 trillion in 2021. It’s no wonder that makers of all kinds are flocking to get their products online.
In general, e-commerce refers to any store that sells products or services online. Platforms like Amazon, Shopify, WooCommerce, Wix, and Etsy offer the tools you need to open an online store in almost any niche. Some e-commerce platforms take a percentage of your sales, but they give you the opportunity to display your products on a popular marketplace.
On the other hand, selling products online independently gives you more control over your strategy and ensures you take home a larger percentage of the profits. This requires a much more proactive approach to marketing, but it can pay off in the long run if you’re able to drive users to your site.
Become a dropshipper
Dropshipping is a unique form of e-commerce that involves selling products online through your own e-commerce shop, then filling the orders through a third-party vendor. This means you don’t hold any inventory — instead, you pay a third party to ship the product directly to the customer.
If you can develop the right lucrative niche, dropshipping is an accessible way to sell products online without having to invest much upfront. The key is being able to sell products for more than the pricing your supplier is offering you. Also, you’re the face of the product even if you haven’t produced it, so any customer service issues are for you to resolve.
Sell services online
You can sell almost any service online, and finding an underserved niche is half the battle when it comes to carving out a market for yourself. Drone photography, for example, is a surprisingly lucrative field since few people have the equipment and skills necessary to provide high-quality shots.
3-D printing is another service that’s relatively easy to monetize since many people need particular objects but don’t have the equipment to produce them on their own. In general, you should try to provide a service with a high barrier to entry — you’ll earn more money if the service requires equipment, skills, or other elements that are hard to find.
Provide digital products
Digital products include anything from apps and games to domain names and web hosting services. They’re a good way to make money online, especially if you have the technical know-how. Some potentially lucrative digital products to consider:
- Domain names. Buying and selling domain names for profit is similar to investing in stocks — the goal is to find undervalued domains that can later be sold for more money. Of course, domain trading comes with the same risks too. Current domain prices generally reflect all publicly available information, so you’ll need to identify value more accurately than the rest of the market and there’s also no guarantee that a domain will retain all or even some of its original value.
- Apps, games, themes, and plugins. If you have an idea for an app — or a theme or plugin for existing software like WordPress or Chrome — you can sell it directly to users, offer it for free with premium microtransactions, or monetize it by selling ad space. Like many of the other opportunities we’ve mentioned, you’ll need some marketing and customer service skills (along with product development) in order to maximize sales and generate positive feedback.
- Web hosting. The web hosting market is already worth over $100 billion and established providers like GoDaddy, Amazon Web Services, and Hostgator already host a large percentage of internet traffic. That said, there’s still room in the market for web hosting reselling that serves a narrowly defined niche. Check out this guide if you’re interested in exploring the web hosting industry.
Monetize Your Skills
If you have a particularly sought-after ability, then capitalizing on it is relatively easy. Many companies or customers are willing to pay for a talent that they can’t do themselves. Once paired with the right platform to put you in front of the right clients, building up a side gig based on your skill can be quite profitable.
Freelancing your 9-5 skills
Companies often rely on freelancers, contractors, and sole proprietors with a specific set of skills to complete projects and manage internal workflows without having to bring on someone full-time. Freelancing platforms like Upwork and Fiverr are built to connect clients looking for talent, though be warned: finding a set of clients for ongoing, well-paying work may take some time.
Some common sought-after skills include:
- Content Writing. Content writing offers flexibility in a number of ways. Most of the work can be done at any time of day and from any location with an internet connection, and you can write anything from YouTube scripts and blog posts to marketing emails and website copy. Building a website featuring a strong portfolio is a great first step toward building your career as a content writer.
- Web Development. Web developers are in constant demand, and skilled programmers can charge $100 or more per hour for their services. If you have professional experience as a web developer, you should be able to make a smooth transition into freelancing on the strength of your skills and references.
- Graphic Design. Graphic designers don’t need to be connected to an agency to find lucrative jobs. Professional experience makes it easier to get started, but you don’t need any formal qualifications if you have the talent to differentiate yourself from the competition with a strong portfolio of work.
- Translating. If you speak multiple languages, you could look for translating gigs between your native and target languages. While you don’t necessarily need complete mastery to become a freelance translator, there’s more demand for people who are bilingual or who at least have a high degree of fluency in two languages.
Become a virtual assistant
Virtual assistants are becoming more common as they give companies the benefits of an assistant without the cost of an internal employee. Similar to other freelance work, virtual assistant jobs are commonly posted on freelance websites like Fiverr and Upwork.
Freelance virtual assistants may perform tasks for one or multiple clients with tasks ranging from scheduling appointments and meetings to making phone calls, entering data, and managing files on the cloud.
Make money while gaming
Making money by playing video games might sound like a fantasy, but more and more streamers are making a living on platforms like Twitch and YouTube. Viewers watch billions of hours of video game streams every month, and this is one of the fastest-growing areas in the content creation space. Like other content creators, Twitch and YouTube streamers can monetize their content through ads, premium subscriptions, donations, and other forms of revenue.
Monetize Your Authority or Expertise
If you have expertise on a particular topic, you can monetize that knowledge and authority in a number of ways. Online platforms are facilitating this type of content creation in everything from digital courses and tutoring sessions to guide and e-book sales. Building your authority is the best way to earn more money, so skills like networking, marketing, and content creation are critical for sustained success.
Create an online course
Online courses are a convenient way for learners to study a wide range of fields, and they also give teachers the opportunity to monetize their knowledge or expertise. You don’t need formal experience in education to become a successful online course designer — all you need is to provide valuable information that students are willing to pay for.
Digital education sites like Udemy, Skillshare, and Teachery make it simple for teachers to upload their courses and connect with learners who are interested in the content. Popular courses often continue to sell for months or even years after publishing, so online courses can be an excellent source of passive income.
Unlike teachers, tutors typically focus on providing personalized educational support to an individual student or small groups of students. Tutoring is generally less structured than teaching, and tutors are typically expected to help students with their material rather than providing their own curriculum.
Unsurprisingly, online tutors can usually demand more money if they have a teaching certification or prior professional experience. That said, you don’t need any specific qualifications to land a tutoring job. Skooli and tutor.com, are just a few of the top platforms to consider if you’re looking to get started as an online tutor.
Publish an e-book
Like other digital products, e-books can be sold on common e-commerce platforms or through an independent website. If you’re interested in writing an e-book, start by researching potential topics in your area of expertise in order to determine what else is published and what audiences might still be interested in. Once you’ve nailed down a subject, you can create an outline and get started on your book.
After you’ve finished a basic draft, you’ll have to decide where you want to publish. Self-publishing is easier than ever with e-commerce networks connecting authors to readers who are interested in their niche.
Other Ways to Make Money Online
We’ve covered some of the most popular methods of earning money online, but innovators are constantly finding new ways to generate a digital income. Just because your idea hasn’t caught on yet doesn’t mean it won’t be successful.
Still, want more ideas? Read about 82 Best Business Ideas for Newbie Entrepreneurs.
Which Idea Is Best for You?
The best way for you to make money online ultimately depends on several factors including your skills, budget, equipment, and schedule. In general, jobs with higher barriers to entry will also enable you to earn more money — tutors with teaching certificates or other formal qualifications, for example, will often earn more than those who only have a high school diploma or bachelor’s degree.
Similarly, professionals in areas that require a substantial initial investment in equipment and tools tend to have better earnings potential. High-quality drone photography and videography are relatively exclusive fields simply due to the cost of a suitable drone and the skills necessary to fly it effectively. Look for ways to differentiate yourself by providing exclusive services that customers will have trouble finding somewhere else.
Reasons why you should start making money online
Earning money online isn’t always easy, but building a sustainable source of revenue comes with a number of benefits. These are just a handful of reasons why you should consider trying to make money online:
Be Your Own Boss
The rise of online jobs has disrupted traditional work relationships by making it easier for people with skills, knowledge, tools, and other valuable resources to connect directly with people who can use those resources. As an online freelancer or business owner, you’ll have the opportunity to make your own decisions, work on your own schedule, and take whatever projects you’re interested in.
Get Started Today
While building an online presence takes time, getting started is easier than you think. You might not be able to quit your day job next week, but you can take concrete steps toward earning money immediately.
If you’re interested in content writing, for example, just make a profile on Upwork or Fiverr and put together some professional samples. If you want to stream on Twitch, set up a channel, buy a microphone and/or camera, and start playing your favorite game. These are simple tasks that you can finish in an afternoon, and they’ll bring you one step closer to a sustainable online income.
Some of the opportunities we’ve mentioned require time, money, or specialized equipment, but you can start many of them either for free or on an extremely small budget. A decent computer and a reliable internet connection are all you need to take the first steps as a content writer, Twitch streamer, drop shipper, virtual assistant, or content creator.
Furthermore, most of these jobs can be performed around your existing work schedule. With that in mind, there’s little to no downside involved in striking out on your own to earn an income online.
Generate Passive Income
Certain online opportunities require ongoing attention, but others can keep earning money even when you’re not working. Passive income allows you to increase your earnings potential by adding a source of income without taking up much of your time.
If you sell an e-book, for example, you’ll get royalties as long as people continue buying copies. The same applies to other forms of media including online courses, blog posts, and YouTube videos. You could eventually free up more time to spend on personal projects or even generate enough income to quit your day job entirely.