5 Genius Ways How to Make Money Online Legitimately (on the Side) in 2018

Let’s cut to the chase. You’re here because you want to learn how to make money online.

Well, if you’re looking for legitimate ways to make some extra money online without having to first purchase an in-depth training course (which always seems to cost $97) about how to make money online, then you’re in the right place!

This is my ultimate guide on how to make money online, and it’s completely free.

There’s no catch, no tricks, and no up-sells here.

I’m sharing everything I’ve learned over the past decade, pulling from my own experience in earning a consistent $10,000/mo or more in side income (on the side of my day job) from online sources like affiliates, courses, freelancing and other ways to make money online that we’re exploring in this guide.

Have questions? Check out my monthly side income reports where I break down exactly how I’m making money from my blog.

👋 And by now you probably already know… one of the best ways to make money online starts with having a blog of your own. For that reason, I recently put together a free course that breaks down how to build a blogand I share the exact strategies I’ve used to turn my blog into a six-figure business.

There’s no catch, no tricks, and no up-sells here.

I’m sharing everything I’ve learned over the past decade, pulling from my own experience in earning a consistent $10,000/mo or more in side income (on the side of my day job) from online sources like affiliates, courses, freelancing and other ways to make money online that we’re exploring in this guide.

Have questions? Check out my monthly side income reports where I break down exactly how I’m making money from my blog.

👋 And by now you probably already know… one of the best ways to make money online starts with having a blog of your own. For that reason, I recently put together a free course that breaks down how to build a blog and I share the exact strategies I’ve used to turn my blog into a six-figure business.

I’m here to tell you that you can too—you can (relatively quickly) learn how to make money online.

It won’t always be easy, and you’ll of course have to work hard, push through mistakes and failures along the way.

But here’s the reality; the internet has opened up so many possibilities to people regardless of age, location, or background to build a sustainable, online business or side project that can make extra money online every single month.

And as I said, I’ve experienced this first-hand.

For the past several years, I’ve been on a mission to experiment with the best ways to create sustainable online income and chase my dreams of self-employment. And while I’ve seen my fair share of success, things haven’t always been easy either.

Along my journey, I’ve launched four separate online businessesThe first one lost me $6,537 in a matter of months, while I completely overestimated the audience size for the second. Both shut down very quickly.

But after my first two failures trying to make money online, I started to figure some important things out.

My next self-funded business hit $160,000 in revenue in its first year alone. After that first taste of self-made success, I’ve gone on to sign consulting contracts worth tens of thousands of dollars with startups like LinkedIn and Google, launch profitable online courses, and build a following of hundreds of thousands for this blog and my podcast series.

All these highs and lows have given me a clear understanding of what works (and what doesn’t) when it comes to making money online.

There’s no better time than now to build a business and make money online.

With over 3.2 billion people now actively using the internet, we’re well into a massive transformation in how the world does business. We’re living in an age where there’s no longer limitations on what you can achieve based on geographic location or lack of financial resources.

If you have an internet connection and a few dollars in your bank account, there is little that can actually get in the way of you making some extra money online.

There are quite literally hundreds of clever ways to make money online. From taking online surveys, to renting or selling your old clothes, flipping your iPhone to someone in a different country, and even buying low-cost products locally, just to resell them for a higher price on Amazon. There’s truly no shortage of unique ways to make money online.

But don’t fall for the trap of “Easy Money”

Sounds amazing, right? It is. But, before we dive in, I need to address the elephant in the room…

There’s no such thing as an online get-rich quick scheme.

Most of the quick ways people talk about when it comes to making money online are not true businesses.

Sure, some of them may be good for creating a few hundred or even thousand dollars in one-time revenue. But they’re not going to help you unlock financial freedom and achieve complete control of your lifestyle.

They’re shortcuts that don’t last forever—and many of the “opportunities” like network marketing giants Herbalife and others offer, often pan out to either be a scam or at the very least, damaging to your personal relationships. And I would never advocate for that.

The internet has opened up so many opportunities to entrepreneurs and forward-thinking workers. But it’s also opened up considerable competition.

Here’s the hard truth: The only ways to make money online in any lasting manner, involve putting in real time, effort, blood, sweat, and tears.

This isn’t to scare you off. I simply want you to know that this guide is going to focus solely on ways to make real, sustainable extra income online. Not just a few bucks. I want to share all the mistakes I’ve made that got me to where I am now so that you don’t have to go through them, and can build a successful online source of income for yourself.

Don’t get me wrong, there are still a lot of great opportunities to make money online today. It’s that the most common ideas have been picked through a lot more than they were a few years ago. To stand out you need to be smart, look for the best opportunities, and be unique in the ways you approach making money online. And I’m here to help.

Please note that some of the links below are affiliate links and at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission. Know that I only recommend products, tools and learning resources I’ve personally used and believe are genuinely helpful, not because of the small commissions I make if you decide to purchase them. Most of all, I would never advocate for buying something that you can’t afford or that you’re not yet ready to implement.

So, if you’re as excited as I am now, let’s dive right into the 5 best ways to make real, sustainable money online.

Looking instead for inspiration to just make some quick cash online? Jump down to starting at #11 for a longer list of less “long-term business ideas” and instead get inspiration for other (real) ways to make money online that involve less up-front work.

5 Genius Ways to Make Money Online (on the Side) Today

We’re going to start first with the top ten ways to make serious money online (with a long-term focus).

If you’re looking to build a true online business, or start a side business idea that has the potential to truly change your life (and you’re not afraid of investing months & years of work into the business), this where you should start.

Through my years of experience and research, I’ve consistently found the following ideas have the best potential to create a steady stream of recurring revenue. They’ll take a lot of effort. But if you’re willing to put in the work, they could change your life, like they have for me.

One last quick thing to note before we dive in: I’m going to be talking a lot about your nichefor every way of making money online that we cover here. If you’re unfamiliar with this term, all it means is your unique topic, angle, market, audience, or voice that will make people stand up and notice your business.

It’s a competitive space online, and the more you can differentiate what you do from what’s out there already, the better chance you’ll have for success.

Alright, now let’s get into my ultimate guide of how to make money online.

1. Build a Niche Blog (or Website) and Use Affiliate Marketing

If there’s a niche you’re interested in and you can build a decent audience around it, starting a blog and using affiliate marketing to generate income is an incredible way to make money online.

I know first-hand that learning how to start a blog (let alone make money from it) can be a massive undertaking.

So, I put together a free master course for you to take that spreads out all of the work involved in starting a blog, into a series of action-packed lessons. My free course breaks the entire process of starting a blog down into an incredibly simple 7-day process for going from 0 to publishing (and promoting) your first blog post in just 1 week. I can’t recommend it enough.

Once you’ve launched your blog (or niche website), the next step is figuring out which products and companies you can partner with as an affiliate to help facilitate sales of a related, helpful product for your audience of future readers.

In a nutshell, affiliate marketing is selling someone else’s product by referring customers to their online store. If you can create content (on a blog) or a resource so valuable to the people looking for a certain product and then send them to where they can actually buy it, you’ll receive a predetermined percentage of each sale.

It takes time and effort, but website owners like myself and Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income, have built life-changing careers through affiliate marketing. In fact, Pat even publishes his income reports online, showing how he made over $2 million in the past 12 months alone.

Let’s start with the basics of building your niche website and blog, then get into how affiliate marketing will work for you.

First, you need to research and validate a profitable affiliate niche. What this means is: Are there companies in your niche who will pay you to send customers their way?

You can check this in a number of ways:

  • Become an Amazon Associate and then use Keyword planner to find an in-demand niche: With more than a million different products to choose from and up to 10% commission the sales you drive, Amazon’s affiliate program is a great place to get started. Browse their available products and see what connects with you. Or take it a step further and use Google’s Keyword Planner to quickly check how many people are searching for a specific term. With affiliate marketing, the more relevant traffic you can pull in, the more you’ll make off your site.
  • Sign up for a reputable affiliate network: Aside from Amazon, there are dozens of large reputable affiliate networks, such as Share-A-SaleClickbank, and Skimlinks, that specialize in connecting you with merchants who are looking for affiliates to sell their products. They charge relatively low commission fees for the privilege of connecting you with merchants, and the merchants on these sites tend to offer much higher commission percentages or set dollar amount payouts.
  • Research individual companies in your desired niche: If possible, it’s always better to become an affiliate directly with a company (if they have an internal affiliate program), as no one else will be dipping into your commission rate. This is the preferred route for most of the prominent affiliate marketers, including Pat Flynn. Unfortunately, it’s also the most work, as you’ll have to do the research yourself to see who offers programs (they’re usually listed in the website footer).

Now that you know your niche and have signed up for relevant affiliate programs, it’s time to build out your site and blog to start driving traffic.

Start by finding and buying a domain name (such as www.myaffiliatesite.com) that works for your niche on a domain registrar like BluehostNameCheap or GoDaddy.

Bluehost even has a nifty domain name availability checker you can use right here to quickly find out whether or not your desired website URL is available (and if it’s not, they’ll give you suggestions on the next best idea):

Once you’ve got your domain name, you’ll need a platform to build your site on. While you could pick a free option like Tumblr, Blogger, or WordPress.com, these won’t give you the flexibility or authority you need to build a truly successful affiliate site.

Instead, go with a self-hosted site (like my blog here is)—this means your blog will be hosted on your own server and you’ll have full control over it. There are tons of highly reputable, affordable companies you can choose to host your website, like BluehostKinsta, or A2 Hosting.

Then once you’ve got your domain name and hosting sorted out, it’s time to pick a CMS, or Content Management System, that will let you update pages, build your blog and integrate with all the other services you need. It’s hard to go wrong with WordPress—the CMS powering close to a quarter of the internet.

Next, you’ll want to pick a WordPress theme from somewhere like ThemeForest, Elegant Themes or OptimizePress. This is the barebones design of your site, which you can then customize with your own branding, copy, and images. That being said, you don’t want to cheap out. It costs less than $100 to buy a theme that will make your website look professional (and you can upgrade to a completely custom design once you get the business going).

Like I said, this process can be a bit overwhelming. And that’s why I put together this free master course to help break this entire process down into easy to follow steps that’ll get your blog off the ground and generating readers in less than 1 week.

Finally, once your blog is officially launched, it’s time to start creating content that will drive traffic to your affiliate partner’s site. Here’s what I mean by that:

Let’s say I’m an Amazon affiliate for camping gear, and I want to write an exhaustive, in-depth blog post and review of the “50 Best Hiking Backpacks for Adventuring Outdoors.” By running a quick Keyword Planner check on the organic search volume I can see that there’s around 5,500 monthly searches for the keyword ‘hiking backpacks’ alone.

If my piece of content is so unique and valuable around hiking backpack recommendations, that other reputable outdoor websites are willing to link to it and build the page’s authority, then I’d have a very real opportunity to rank high in organic search for these search terms (meaning, my page will come up first when someone searches for hiking backpacks).

Since it’s safe to assume that the purchase intent on searches for hiking backpacks is pretty high, the next logical step is that a reasonable number of site visitors would click through using my affiliate links and complete a purchase, over time.

While it often takes a significant amount of time and hard work to build up your affiliate income, if you have the ability to regularly publish high quality content that drives in targeted traffic to your website, this online revenue source can become quite substantial.

Check out my Ultimate Guide: 10 Steps to Start a Blog on the Side for my free 20,000 word guide to starting a blog and building it into an income-generating business today.

Oh! And if you’re specifically interested in starting a mom blog for yourself, then check out this detailed guide from my friend Suzi over at Start a Mom Blog and she’ll give you extremely curated advice for that niche 😊

2. Launch and Grow a Startup

Do you have dreams of running your own business one day? Building and scaling a high-growth startup, while by far the most difficult way to make money online, arguably has the most potential upside.

By the 3rd quarter of 2017, Venture Capitalists had invested over $61 billion into close to 6,000 startups in the US alone.

There’s money in the air, and if you can successfully create an online service, tool, or marketplace that fulfills a rapidly growing need in the marketplace, you could be on track for creating a very valuable business. However, it’ll undoubtedly take an intense dedication of time, efforts, and financial resources.

Unlike a lot of the other businesses we’re going to cover, startup founders face a whole slew of variables and roadblocks that can get in the way of success.

For one, you’ll want to have a high level of domain experience within the industry your startup is going to operate. This means a deep understanding of your customers, the issues they face, and an idea of potential solutions they’ll be willing to pay for. This is the minimum you need to get started.

After that, you’ll need to be familiar with the other major players in the space who might be good partners or acquisition opportunities, as well as an intimate knowledge of how to raise funding, market your product, hire and manage the best talent, and keep yourself financially above water.

*Whew*

Now, this may sound like a lot, but the payoff is worth it.

So where do you start when building a startup?

The most important thing you need before you do anything else is a problem. What do people need that they don’t have? What solution is currently out there that you can do better? This alone is the basis of every great startup.

Once you have that problem or need nailed, the next step is to validate that idea and make sure you’ve actually got customers who will pay for it. This means building a minimum viable product, getting objective feedback from real customers, incorporating updates, testing the market for demand, and getting pricing feedback to ensure there’s enough of a margin between your costs and what consumers are willing to pay.

Lastly, you need money to make money. Startups can cost quite a bit to get off the ground. So with your idea and market validation solidified, there are a few different paths you can follow to get your initial “seed” cash:

  • Bootstrap: This means you’ll be self-funding your business. While not everyone will have the funds to pay for everything they need to start a startup, bootstrapping means that you retain 100% control over your company. If you can bootstrap your company to an exit or IPO, you’ll most likely never have to work another day in your life.
  • Pitch to VCs/Angels/other investors: If you need some serious cash to grow your startup, you’ll want to put together a pitch deck and reach out to investors who might want to give you the money you need in return for a stake in your company.
  • Join a startup accelerator: Another great option is to apply to a startup accelerator like Y Combinator, 500 startups, or TechStars, where a group of investors will help coach you, connect you with potential partners, and provide startup cash in return for a small stake in your company. The competition is tough to get into these, so don’t rely on them as your only path forward.

Once you’re off the ground, it’s all about customer acquisition, market validation, more funding, and growth.

Of course, that’s a simplified version of everything it takes to build your startup. Luckily, there is now more support, education, and access to funding for budding startups than ever before. And a great place to start is with this list of 101 best free and cheap online business courses for entrepreneurs I put together.

3. Build and Sell Software

Right now there’s an insatiable need for useful software.

Whether it’s an important consumer application, a specialist app to solve a particular niche problem, or even a time-wasting game you can play on your phone, you can create a massively successful business if you build software that helps people. (Look at the rise of Slack—the team communication software that went from side project to billion-dollar company in just 2 years.)

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Most of the software and apps you use on a regular basis are made by massive companies or established development studios. Well, yes. But many successful apps, particularly those in the Apple and Google stores, are created and marketed by individuals and small businesses. In fact, independent developers made $20 billion in the App Store in 2016 alone.

There are two basic ways that you can make money online by building software products.

The first follows the startup path we outlined above: You have a disruptive idea for an app or piece of software, you validate the idea with real customers, and then raise money to hire developers or a development studio to build, launch, and scale your software. If you’ve done everything right, your software will be accepted to the Apple and Google Stores and you’ll make money every time someone downloads it or pays for a premium feature.

The second (and cheaper) path assumes that you have the design and dev chops yourself to build your dream software. Naturally, it’ll take more time to get your product off the ground, but being able to bootstrap the development of your software lets you retain more ownership in your business and be more in control of your path.

If you’re willing to take the time to learn the development skills necessary to build high-quality software products (or even MVPs to help you get funding), there’s a growing roster of reputable online learning platforms like TreehouseCodeAcademy, and Skillcrush to get you the skills you need.

4. Start an eCommerce Site and Sell Physical Products

If finding a better solution to a problem hundreds or thousands of people have doesn’t seem like an option right now, you might be better off setting up a virtual shop and selling physical items.

These days, this couldn’t be easier. Sites like Shopify have made it easier than ever to build a customizable, powerful eCommerce site in a weekend and start selling products now.

This is probably one of the oldest and most time-tested ways of making money online. Plenty of digital entrepreneurs have created sustainable businesses by either:

  1. Creating physical products they know people in their niche will love
  2. Purchasing low cost goods manufactured in foreign countries, repackaging or combining them with other products, and selling them for higher prices on domestic online marketplaces

While you’ll certainly have higher levels of success if you can nail creating and marketing your own unique product, from my own experience (and that of many other entrepreneurs), I know the extremely high costs and risk associated with starting a product-based business.

Instead, if you can find a solid product that’s already being manufactured at a reasonable price from a marketplace like AliExpressLightInTheBox, or DinoDirect and market it to your audience, you’ll have the start of a money-making eCommerce machine.

Now, let’s get into the nitty gritty of how your online store is going to operate.

Whether you’re selling your own new products or reselling other goods, you still have to consider how much stock you’re going to carry, how you’re going to fund upfront purchasing costs, and where you’re going to store your inventory. Remember, even if you avoid paying rent on a storefront, you still need to store your inventory somewhere.

Well. Not always. There’s another option that’s become incredibly popular in the last few years (and is my personal favorite way to operate a product business), called drop shipping.

With drop shipping, you’re effectively partnering with a manufacturer or wholesaler to sell their products. This way, you don’t pay upfront costs to buy inventory, aren’t sitting on unsold items taking up expensive warehouse space, and don’t have to deal with shipping the products yourself. You simply create your site, fill it with drop shippable products, and drive in customers, with almost everything else done for you.

Of course, there’s a higher price per product and your margins are lower, but you’re able to start your online store with little more than a Shopify theme and some hosted images of your products. When a customer makes a purchase, you in turn buy the product from your supplier who then ships it directly to your customer.

No inventory. No handling products yourself. No shipping by hand. Sounds pretty amazing.

If you want to supplement selling on your Shopify store with other marketplaces, here are a few other highly lucrative options:

  1. Fulfilled by Amazon: Rather than drop shipping, Amazon lets you store your products in their own warehouses, making them available for Free 2-Day Shipping to Prime members. Which has been proven to significantly increase sales.
  2. Etsy: If you’ve got handmade or crafty products, Etsy is a great marketplace to market and sell on (bonus points if your product is geared towards a more female audience)
  3. eBay: The online auction giant is still in the game and especially good for selling electronics, gadgets, clothing and apparel, and accessories.
  4. Craigslist: While the least scalable, it can be very cost- and time-effective to sell to people locally.

5. Find Freelance Clients and Sell Your Services

If you have a marketable skill—like writing, designing, web development, marketing, project management, or anything else—one of the easiest ways to make sustainable extra money online is to start freelancing.

And while freelancing might not be as scalable as some of the other ideas we’ve spoken about, it’s not uncommon for solopreneurs to build healthy six-figure freelance businesses for themselves. (In fact, I’ve interviewed tons of them on my podcast!)

Today, over 54 million Americans are opting to forego traditional careers and start a freelance business.

There’s plenty of work and clients to be found. If you know where to look. To start, you need to know if there is enough demand for your skill to make it worth the effort to go out looking for work. Start by searching freelancer job boards on UpWorkFreelancerGuru or one of the dozens of other skill-specific freelance job boards.

How many postings are there for jobs similar to what you do? If there’s a decent amount and it looks like there’s steady demand, put those skills down on a shortlist and start researching the companies and industries that are hiring.

I’ve written a full guide to starting your own freelance business, but here’s a quick list to get you started:

  • Decide what your goal is: Do you want a bit of extra income or are you looking to go full-time freelance? It takes time to ramp up a freelance business, so it’s important to know your goals from the outset.
  • Find a profitable niche: We’ve talked about this a lot. But, where are you most comfortable. What niche do your skills, values, and interests intersect? Do you have 10 years of experience as a technical writer? Do you have long-standing PR relationships that’ll be invaluable in helping startups launch a successful crowdfunding campaign? Determine what makes your value unique, and lean heavily on showcasing that strength to your potential clients.
  • Identify target customers: Write down exactly who you want as your client and then start researching those companies and making your list. You’ll want your portfolio and cold emails to align with the companies you’re reaching out to
  • Set strategic prices: The $37.50/hr you earn at your day job doesn’t even come close to the hourly rate you’d need to charge, in order to create the same net annual income, once you’re self-employed. This infographic on calculating your freelance hourly rate can help you decide what to charge.
  • Pitch, cold email, and sign your first clients: Now it’s time to go after clients. Mention them in your content. Reach out to them over email or LinkedIn. Tailor your pitch to show what kind of value you bring to the table. (You can even read my personal cold email templates).

Lastly, remember to always have a solid freelance contract in place.

You might be working on small jobs to begin with, but getting in the habit of not starting freelance work without a contract in place can save you big time down the road.

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