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Top 10 Ways to Make Money on the Internet

Two young colleagues sitting in a busy business cafe and working on their laptops as they eat.
There are many ways to make money on the internet. All you need is some ingenuity and a laptop computer or smartphone. Willie B. Thomas/Getty Images

Unless you're a freegan and have found a way to live entirely off the grid, you probably need some sort of steady income in order to survive. The traditional way to earn money, of course, is by having a job. You work for a company or start your own, and the work you do earns you money, which you spend on things like a mortgage, rent, food, clothing, utilities and entertainment.

Most people typically work from their company's central location, a physical space where everyone from that organization gathers to exchange ideas and organize their efforts. But many folks have found ways to make money within the comfort of their own home, thanks to the internet. Some of these gigs are best for those looking to make a little extra money on the side, while others can lead to full-time jobs and big success.

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Many web-based jobs require you to be your own boss, which will tap into your sales, marketing and customer service skills. However, some companies will hire people to work from home — which means you either take a salary or give them a percentage of what you make.

We've put together a list of our top 10 ways to make money on the internet, in no particular order. On the next page, we'll start with an old favorite.

older woman photographing pot
Selling stuff that you don't need or picked up at a discount is a popular way to make money over the web. Frank van Delft/Getty Images

Most people today are familiar with the concept: You have things you don't necessarily need but others are willing to buy, and you can auction off the items on eBay or other online auction sites. Simply gather your goods, create a seller's profile and start selling.

It sounds simple, but it takes some practice to sell successfully. You need to create persuasive and legitimate product pages for the goods you're selling to get buyers interested. It's also important to set reasonable minimum bids to ensure that people will buy. And remember to deliver the kind of customer service that will garner positive feedback ratings and to communicate with buyers to let them know you're reliable. The more positive feedback you receive, the more people will be willing to do business with you. And that, of course, means more money. (EBay takes a 10 percent cut of anything you sell, plus a 35 cent fee for any item listed beyond the 50 free listings you get per month) [source: eBay].

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You can be the best garage sale of the 21st century, or you can evolve your eBay side gig into a full-time business. In fact, many people start off selling unwanted stuff around their house and progress to actually looking for goods, say at thrift stores, to resell. It's all about finding the right niche (maybe antique vases) and then building trust with your regular customers. As with everything online, competition is fierce, and you'll have to fight to survive, but many people make it work.

woman with food blog
If your food blog is successful, you could use it as a platform to offer cooking classes or e-books or to lead food tours. wundervisuals/Getty Images

If you have a particular passion for something, and you have a lot to say about it, blogging could be a profitable way to pour out your endless stream of thought. The key here, as with many other services on the internet, is being consistent (in this case blogging several times a week), selling advertising and using your blog as a platform to promote other businesses.

After starting up a personal blog, many writers sign up for ad services like Google AdSense, which post those familiar sponsored links you often see at the top and on the sides of websites (like HowStuffWorks.com). The more times your blog readers click on those ads, the more money you'll make through the ad service. This works fine if you're a casual blogger, and just want some extra spending money. But if the blog is consistently interesting, well-written and really takes off, you may be approached by companies who want to reach your fan base with graphical advertising around your blog, which will give you more money.

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You can also sign up for affiliate links. Affiliate links allow you to get a cut of any product sold via a link from your website to the advertiser's site. So, if you write a blog entry and hyperlink to a product in the entry, if a reader clicks on that link and buys the product, you get a percentage of the sale. Shareasale is just one place you can sign up for links.

But advertising can only take you so far. More money can be made by thinking of your blog as a springboard to other gigs. For instance, the blog Digital Photography School has a community of over 2,000,000 readers and makes money from advertising, affiliate links, e-book sales and photography courses [source: Sparring Mind].

A travel blogger may start out documenting the highlights (and lowlights) of their trips around the world. They buoy the text with video clips, lots of hashtags, and of course, appropriate shareable social media links. From that, they may decide to lead tours to places they have been, do speaking engagements or create e-books with travel tips and sell them from their sites. They may even lead workshops teaching others how to make money from a blog. (Nomadic Matt's and Adventurous Kate's blogs are good examples of these principles in action.)

man looks at the Airbnb website
A man looks at the Airbnb website in Katwijk, Netherlands. Yuriko Nakao/Getty Images

These days, there's an app for almost anything you can imagine. And many of these companies offer ways you can earn money using your own possessions or time.

Uber and Lyft are the heavyweights of the ridesharing world. With just a few clicks, people who need a ride can summon drivers to any GPS-marked location for easy pickup. Drivers have to pass a background check, but after that, you're ready to start hauling passengers day or night. If you provide exceptionally friendly service, your passengers may tip you well at the end of the ride. And that's definitely your goal, because you may work a lot of hours, receive no benefits, and encounter the potential dangers of picking up total strangers and driving them around town.

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Airbnb lets property owners rent out spaces to anyone who needs lodging. So, if you're a homeowner, you might rent out a single room or two to strangers, even while the house is still occupied. Or, you can rent out the whole property to, say, tourists who want to visit New Orleans but don't want to stay in a hotel. But be very, very wary of planning your livelihood around Airbnb – the company is facing backlash in some cities, where residents are pushing for bans on short-term rentals.

There are lots of other short-term jobs you can do from the internet. Are you good at putting IKEA furniture together or doing home repairs? Advertise on Task Rabbit. Like to shop? Check out Shipt or Instacart. Don't mind dropping off pizza or other foods from restaurants to customers? Look into GrubHub, Door Dash or Postmates.

These sites all tend to work the same way: Usually you're allowed to post your services for free and the app takes a cut of whatever you make. You can set your own hours. At some companies you can set your own prices; at others, the company decides on the prices. You'll want to read reviews of the companies from people who've worked with them to see which ones are the best for your time.

woman writing in café
You can freelance write from anywhere, as long as you have a good internet connection. damircudic/Getty Images

Freelancing is similar in some ways to blogging. For one thing, you get to work from your own home most of the time. But there are a few important distinctions. With freelancing you're generally selling your writing to another publication as opposed to just putting it on your blog (although some bloggers do both.) Many freelance writing positions cover specialized topics for online publications and may require expert knowledge of the subject. You could specialize in writing about food, health care, business or just be an all-rounder. Seasoned journalists, who may not have specialist knowledge, but are good at interviewing and researching to get that knowledge, have careers freelancing for various newspapers and magazines. However, it helps you get more work if you can point to expertise or experience in a particular niche.

To get started, you may have to write for free. Many small websites are looking for free writing help. Once you get some clips, you can show them to someone who's offering paid work. Check general job sites like Indeed.com or the "About" section of your favorite publication to see if they are hiring and what the requirements are.

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You might also consider self-publishing your original work rather than working on contract-driven tasks. Self-publishing offers many of the same benefits as freelance writing. This additional step is risky, though, because it requires marketing to your target audience so they'll buy your work.

As with any sort of career, networking is key. Freelancers are keenly aware that at any given moment, one gig might dry up, and if money's tight, that's a problem. Developing a group of consistent clients is a way to ensure that you're actually making (and saving) money as you work.

Writing's not the only way to make money freelancing, of course — anyone with graphic design or programming experience can find contract jobs that pay well and provide challenging work, too.

social media icons
Knowing how to craft a clever message and understanding metrics will help you in your career as a social media manager. filo/Getty Images

Whether you're talking about Instagram, Twitter or Snapchat, social media is a trend that's here to stay. From major corporations to mom-and-pop shops of all kinds, absolutely every business owner must grasp social media basics — or find themselves floundering. A lot of big companies have entire departments dedicated to managing social media issues, but many medium- and small-sized businesses don't have time to do it themselves. Instead, they hire out many of these tasks to people who better understand the challenges and rewards of Twitter and the like, and that's where you come in.

You already know that your smartphone lets you see (and post) reviews of just about any product or service on the planet. Those reviews – and the way companies address them – can make or break an enterprise. After all, when was the last time you intentionally bought a one-star product? Savvy social media managers know that there is a plethora of ways to harvest great feedback from customers, and that there are a lot of paths to negative feedback, too. They understand that in many ways the web is a double-edged sword, one that can boost profits or lead to public relations ruin.

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Success in this field requires understanding the ins and outs of various social media platforms and how they intersect not only in a technical sense, but in a cultural sense, too. Savvy social media managers know who uses Snapchat versus who uses Facebook. They can craft engaging messages for their shareable content and take good photos and videos. They also understand metrics (why a particular post got this many clicks) and are good at multitasking.

man adding figures
Accountants, bookkeepers and the like often set up their own financial services businesses using specialized software. PeopleImages/Getty Images

Financial services include accounting, tax preparation, bookkeeping and payroll processing – they are the kinds of services that few people want to pursue, but for their own peace of mind, they're often willing to pay an expert for help in balancing the books and dealing with the complexities of tax law. And today, you can accomplish most of these services using specialized software. For businesses, this means hiring fewer people to handle these tasks. For individuals, it means doing it on their own and hiring a consultant online when necessary.

These cost-saving opportunities for consumers mean money-making opportunities for you. You can create your own website or work with an existing web-based services group to advertise the financial services you offer. Then, you can correspond with clients through that website and via email.

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First make sure you're either trained or experienced in the services you're planning to provide. If you're advertising accountant services, you should have a degree in that field, though a tax preparer may just have completed a short course. Having a niche (like entertainment accounting) will help you stand out from the pack. In addition, make sure you know whether you'll need government licenses to offer certain services, and refrain from misrepresenting yourself or working illegally to avoid getting sued for fraud.

Although this is an internet-based business, chances are you'll have to leave home at least sometimes to meet with clients or to network to get more clients.

customer service rep with headset
Many companies allow customer service agents to work from home. PeopleImages/Getty Images

For every company, customer service is a real – and time-consuming – concern. Many businesses support their products through a customer service department. This usually means people who answer phone calls from customers, as well as by email or online chat. To use the latter, a customer clicks a link requesting to chat with a live person, and a customer service representative answers the request and speaks with the customer through a chat window. For email customer service, the customer fills out a form at the website or sends an email directly to a particular address.

Since these services only rely on having a reliable phone, internet connection and web browser, businesses have looked increasingly at hiring home-based workers. This can be a great opportunity for someone looking to work when the kids are in school or have gone to bed. Customer service contracting firms like OutPLEX and Alorica cover email and live chat support in addition to inbound and outbound phone calls. Other companies, like Amazon, Williams-Sonoma or U-Haul) hire home-based agents directly. The pay rate may be low, but the companies usually offer bonuses if the agents meet certain targets.

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There are also home-based positions for reservationists, sales agents, travel agents and virtual assistants (these do executive assistant work for people or companies). You can find jobs in all these areas by searching a major job board like Indeed.com or Monster.com.

Asian woman student video conference e-learning with teacher
An online tutor might have clients from all over the world. Prasit photo/Getty Images

With each passing year, there seems to be increasing pressure for elementary, middle and high school students to make good grades and prepare for a path to higher education. For some kids, this means getting help from a tutor to bridge any gaps in understanding in certain subjects.

Since most families have reliable high-speed internet connections at home, internet-based tutoring services are growing. When you apply for these jobs, you usually have to take tests in your selected subject areas and submit to background checks. Though you could start your own online tutoring service, sites like Tutor.com have already done the legwork for you in terms of marketing. These sites match thousands of kids (and adults) with tutors each week, both in your country and abroad. However, they may also determine your hourly rate or take a cut of what you charge, so you can decide whether it's better to work for them or go on your own.

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While many internet-based jobs offer flexible hours or multiple shifts, tutoring services might require you to be online during a specific block of time or reward you for doing so. This encourages tutors to be available during the heaviest demand. For example, when Tutor.com has more tutors than tutoring requests, it places tutors on a waitlist and gives preference to tutors who work at least five of hours per week in the 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. ET time slot Sunday through Thursday [source: Tutor.com].

woman doing fashion design
Creating a course in something you're passionate about, like fashion design, can be a good way to make money. Eugenio Marongiu/Getty Images

You can take your teaching knowledge one step further, and rather than signing up with a tutoring service, create your own web-based course and charge people to attend. The e-learning boom is giving rise to an online course industry that could be worth as much as $325 billion in 2025 [source: Forbes].

Courses can be academic in nature, creative (how to make candles), technical (how to learn Python) or business-focused (how to grow a business). If you're stuck for ideas, visit a site like Udemy, which has over 10,000 listings. Generally, you will either pay a monthly fee to the platform that hosts your business or it will allow you to host for free in exchange for a cut of the tuition fees.

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To succeed in this area, you need to be able to break down complicated subjects for a general audience, and be able to create video or a PowerPoint presentation for your topic. (There are plenty of premade templates on platforms designed just for these purposes.) You also need to have good marketing skills so that potential students can find your course and be interested enough to sign up for it.

But not to worry, there is a lot of information on the internet to help you with the business side of this venture, from tips on creating a business plan to deciding how to title your courses to keeping your students motivated. You can even pay for an online course that teaches you how to sell online courses.

mature woman with crafts and digital tablet
Sites like Etsy provide an easy setup option for creative types who want to sell their wares online. Marc Romanelli/Getty Images

Earlier, we mentioned using websites like eBay to sell stuff that you don't need. But you can also use websites to sell your original creations. Certain websites like Etsy.com and ArtFire.com are dedicated to matching the artists who create things by hand with the customers who appreciate and want to purchase their handmade goods.

If you're like most people, the word handmade probably brings to mind some traditional crafts like knitting, crochet, needlework, quilting, painting and sculpting. Handmade items don't stop there, though. You can also market woodworking, glasswork, metalwork and anything else you're capable of building at home. Be sure to focus on projects that you're already good at or that you have a passion for so you don't burn out producing each new item.

Etsy, ArtFire and the like usually let you set up your own shop for free or for a very small fee for each item you list there. If you have a small home-based operation, this could be a better deal than setting up your own site. For many people, hosting and managing an entire website might very well be a full-time job by itself.

The biggest challenge for selling homemade goods is making back the cost of what you put into it. Not only do you want to be reimbursed for materials, but you also want to be paid proportional to the time you put into it. Keep track of your sales and purchases carefully in the first few months, and make adjustments as necessary to maximize your profit.

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Sources

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  • Cuthbertson, Anthony. "Facebook is Officially for Old People." Newsweek. Feb. 12, 2018. (April 21, 2020) http://www.newsweek.com/facebook-officially-old-people-803196
  • eBay. "Seller Fees." (April 21, 2020) https://pages.ebay.com/seller-center/get-started/seller-fees.html
  • McCue, TJ. "E Learning Climbing To $325 Billion By 2025 UF Canvas Absorb Schoology Moodle." Forbes. July 31, 2018. (April 21, 2020) https://www.forbes.com/sites/tjmccue/2018/07/31/e-learning-climbing-to-325-billion-by-2025-uf-canvas-absorb-schoology-moodle/#402cc3433b39
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