How to Make Money Online for Beginners
I've made over $4M in the last 4 years online, including over $2M on digital course sales in the last 2 years.
I put together this free guide to share a lot of what I've learned. I'll be updating it continuously as I learn and remember more.
This guide breaks down different ways to make money online and captures learnings from my actual work, wins, and losses.
If you want updates, simply subscribe to my newsletter.
- Part 1: 7 ways to make money online
- Part 2: My own portfolio of online one-person businesses
- Part 3: 16 tips for making money online from what I’ve learned
I hope you find this helpful.
Don't overcomplicate making money online
Most people want to make money online, but they make the process harder than it needs to be.
This can prevent them from getting started at all.
After building a portfolio of one-person businesses to over $4M in revenue, I’ve learned that making money online doesn't have to be complex.
With this in mind, let's dive into 7 possible income streams to make your first dollar on the internet.
7 ways to make money online
- Offer your skill as a service
- Create and sell digital products
- Sell used/vintage/collectable items
- Become a social media influencer
- Monetize a personal blog
- Sell handmade goods
- Rent out an extra room or property
1. Offer your skill as a service
One of the best ways to make money online is by selling your skill as a service.
I like this method because upfront costs are low, but the earning potential is significant.
Let's say you're new to solopreneurship and don't have the capital to start a traditional business, but your friends, family, and past employers have mentioned you're an excellent writer.
You can monetize that skill by selling writing services:
- Write ad copy for businesses
- Ghostwrite blogs for CEOs and founders
- Produce written social media content for brands
The list goes on.
Depending on what skill you're selling, you likely don't need much to get started. For example, freelance writers can manage with a reliable laptop and an internet connection.
Upfront time investment
Be ready to invest a full day into optimizing your LinkedIn & Twitter profiles to attract ideal clients.
Then set up a service page showcasing your offering.
The work itself can be easy if you're great at what you do. But getting clients can be tough in the beginning.
Having an established presence and credibility helps you land gigs easier and quicker. If you have the skill but no audience, you'll need to build a social media following on one platform in the beginning.
Don't be afraid to experiment on a few channels to see which one gets you the most traction. Once you figure that out, I'd focus on building there before branching out.
Business ideas for service providers
- Marketing consultant
- Freelance writing
- Virtual Assistant
- Graphic design
- Online tutor
- Web design
- Data entry
2. Create and sell digital products
Many freelancers I know eventually create digital products once they've monetized their skills over time.
This revenue stream works well if you build a personal brand while freelancing. When you share your learnings publicly online, people resonate, gain trust, and want to buy from you.
In my early days of solopreneurship, I offered consulting services to clients in the SaaS industry. While doing this, I committed to a daily writing habit and consistently showed up on LinkedIn.
What came out of it was incredible:
- People enjoyed the content I shared
- People trusted me as I built authority
- People were intrigued by my journey
- People asked me questions about creating content and building a personal brand
From there, I saw an opportunity to create affordable digital products.
The Operating System is for people wanting to grow their LinkedIn presence and eventually monetize it.
In this course, I go over tips on how to:
- Write compelling social media posts
- Develop meaningful relationships
- Get inbound and outbound leads
The Content Operating System is for those wanting to create and scale content.
The lessons focus on the systems I use to produce quality content quickly — not just social media posts but also blog articles, guides, newsletters, you name it.
Upfront time investment
The time investment comes down to what kind of digital product you're offering. A course may take a full month or more to make, while checklists and templates can be done in a day.
Creating one-off digital products is generally less time-consuming than full courses. I recommend starting here if you're thinking about making money online this way.
You could create templates, checklists, and guides that sell for $10-50 on your website.
The beauty of selling digital products is that once they're made, you can sell them indefinitely and make passive income.
But there's a catch:
You need a loyal audience with pain points (that you can address).
If you don't have a social media following, I suggest building that before creating any digital products. The last thing you want to do is put in all the work but have no one to sell to.
Once you have the audience, it becomes much easier.
When creating my courses, I kept things simple. The content and lessons are what people pay for, not fancy videos with an even fancier background.
Remember, it's possible to produce amazing value without spending a fortune on shiny objects like an expensive microphone or editing software.
Don't overthink it — just do it!
Digital product ideas
3. Sell used/vintage/collectible items
Are you a vintage item collector? Do you have fashionable clothing items that you no longer wear?
If you have valuables collecting dust at home, you can sell them for cash on online marketplaces like eBay, Mercari, and Poshmark. All three are free to sign up for, and you don't have to pay anything until the sale goes through.
Listing items for sale locally on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace also has its advantages:
- No shipping costs
- Get paid right away
- No transaction or platform fees
- Easier to enforce a "no refund" policy
Upfront time investment
Depending on how many items you have to sell, you can expect to spend a few hours taking pictures and listing them on your preferred marketplace(s).
Selling used items and collectibles is one of the easiest ways to make money online.
- You already have the items (but no longer need them)
- You don't pay any fees until you make sales
- You can hold onto items until they sell
What's to lose?
Business ideas for selling pre-loved items
- Vintage items and collectibles
- Handbags and accessories
- Old electronics
Basically, anything of value can be turned into profit — get creative!
4. Become a social media influencer
An influencer uses social media to share their thoughts, experiences, and interests with a wide audience. With a substantial following, they have the power to influence people's purchasing decisions.
As an influencer, you can make money online by partnering with brands in a few different ways:
- Brands pay you to promote their products or services in your videos and photos
- You earn a percentage of sales when people buy using your unique link or promotion code
- You collaborate with a brand to design an exclusive line to sell to followers
Upfront time investment
The influencer life often looks glamorous from the outside, but it's not all fun and games.
For most people, building a robust following can take time (and a ton of effort).
To become an influencer, you must consistently:
- Produce engaging content
- Interact with your audience
- Stay on top of trends in your niche
- Network with other influencers and brands
Becoming a successful influencer isn't an overnight process — it requires patience, persistence, and a genuine passion for your chosen niche.
Being an influencer can be a great way to earn money online. But it can also be challenging and competitive if you don't already have an engaged following.
Similar to selling your skills online as a service, you don't need a whole lot to get started. That’s the easy part.
Once you've chosen your niche (e.g. beauty), you can start creating content around it using your phone (e.g. photos of your favorite products or videos of your morning routine).
After creating the content, you simply post it across multiple social media platforms where your target audience hangs out (e.g. Instagram, Facebook, or Tiktok).
The biggest obstacle to becoming an influencer is building a loyal audience. This generally takes several years. In the early days, you can expect to post content without seeing any traction. That sucks, but it's part of the game.
Plus, the influencer landscape is constantly evolving. Platforms may change their algorithms at any time. This can affect your reach and monetization opportunities. So if you want to thrive as an influencer, you must be ready to adapt.
Influencer business ideas
- Affiliate programs
- Product photography
- Exclusive product line (brand partnership)
5. Monetize a personal blog
Many social media influencers also have personal blogs where they make extra money through advertisements, sponsorships, and affiliate marketing.
First, you can display ads on your blog and earn money when people view or click on them.
Sponsored content is another popular way of monetizing a personal blog.
Here's how it works:
Brands pay you a fixed amount to write a blog to promote their products or services. Often, they'll also provide a unique promotion code for you to include in the blog post. If someone makes a purchase with your code, you get a commission.
Besides paid ads, sponsorships, and affiliate marketing, you can sell your own products. This could be online courses or print-on-demand goods, depending on what your audience will find valuable.
Upfront time investment
Designing and launching a WordPress blog from scratch may take a day or a month, depending on your experience.
But after setting it up, remember that search engine optimization for new websites can take time to bear fruit.
Before thinking about monetizing, you'll need to:
- Create high-quality content to rank well on search engines
- Gather social proof to attract worthwhile partnerships
- Build an audience somewhere to funnel people over to your blog
If you enjoy writing online, then running a personal blog may be your next passion project.
But that doesn't mean it'll be easy. Blogging involves more than just creating content.
If you're only good at writing, you may need help in other areas:
- Optimizing site speed
- Ensuring mobile-friendliness
- Website design and graphics
Blogging business ideas
- Paid ads
- Affiliate marketing
- Paid guest blogging
- Selling your own products
6. Sell handmade goods
Making and selling physical goods is a fantastic side hustle.
You do need some capital to start. But the good news is you don't have to worry about securing an investor or renting a shop space.
Thanks to platforms like Etsy, Amazon, and eBay, you can sell your goods online for a small fee.
Upfront time investment
The time investment for creating and selling handmade goods is different for everyone.
For example, it may take more time to paint a masterpiece than it does to fill custom candles.
The best way to find out how much time something will take is to give it a try.
If you've always wanted to make candles, set aside time on a weekend to see how long it takes to make a batch. If you're new to the game, chances are there'll be trial and error.
Besides making the product(s), you'll also need to account for the time needed to:
- Purchase packaging and shipping supplies
- Design and print marketing materials
- Set up social media accounts
- Create engaging social media content
- Photograph items
- List items for sale
- Package and ship items
- Address customer inquiries
There are plenty of moving parts when it comes to running your own online store, even if it's an Etsy shop.
If you're a hands-on creative and not on a tight budget, this could be a rewarding small business venture.
But this may not be the best choice if you're looking for a way to make money online without capital.
Unlike offering skills as services, selling physical goods involves packaging, marketing, and shipping costs. You'll need to invest money in the beginning, even before making any sales.
Then, depending on your time and skill, you may need to outsource parts of the job (e.g. photography, content creation, and customer service).
Handcrafted business ideas
- Art prints
- Skincare products
7. Rent out an extra room or property
Do you have an extra room in your home? Or better yet, a vacant second home?
Consider renting it out for extra cash. Online platforms like Zillow, Airbnb, and Vrbo make it easy to find tenants, whether you're looking for short-term or long-term ones.
Short-term stays work well on Airbnb, where traveling visitors can book your property for a few days to a month. Long-term stays generally involve a minimum year-long lease commitment.
This option is ideal for people who need a place to stay for a while or who want to experience a new area before buying their own property.
If you own an iconic or historical home, you can even rent it out for big events like weddings, bachelorette parties, and birthday gatherings. Or, you can offer day rates for photography sessions.
Upfront time investment
Renting out your property is a multi-step process.
The exact time investment will depend on what you've already done (and still need to do):
- Buy the property
- Get necessary rental permits
- Furnish the home (if desired)
- Make sure all appliances work
- Take care of faulty fixtures (if needed)
- Invest in quality property photos
- Partner with a property manager or realtor (if desired)
- List the property up for rent online
- Screen candidates and run background checks
- Collect rent and hand over the keys
This method of making money online is probably the hardest unless you already have a property to rent out. Depending on where you live, having a second property or an extra room to rent out may not be feasible.
I have a few friends that own Airbnbs.
- Difficult tenants
- Home maintenance
- Organization (to avoid double-booking)
If you get lucky with respectful tenants, the maintenance part is much easier. Damaged walls and furnishings become less of a concern. Instead, your focus will be on making their stay as comfortable as possible.
Sometimes, though, life happens, and things break. You'll need a roster of cleaners, plumbers, and general contractors ready to call at any time in case of an emergency.
Rental business ideas
- Long-term stays
- Short-term stays
- Parties and events
- Photoshoots (locations)
My own portfolio of online one-person businesses
I’ve covered a range of ideas on how to make money online.
Though haven’t personally pursued all of these revenue streams, I can give you an insight into what my online business looks like.
My approach has been to build a portfolio of revenue streams.
Treating my career like a Venture Capitalist and knowing that one would hit big.
Here was my revenue breakdown for 2022:
My business operates on a 94% margin and I’ve spent $0 on ads.
I’ve built my personal brand and a following of over 800K on social media platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter.
So, here are my top 16 lessons from the past 3.5+ years of making money online:
16 tips for making money online
- Skip the "Get Rich Quick" stuff
- Recognize where you are in the journey
- Be prepared to face adversity
- Think at a macro-level
- Ideation is difficult but there are unique ways
- Create an audience of prospects with Moneyball
- Build an ecosystem of creators
- Capture people that are interested
- Have an outcome in mind with your content
- Bring people into your world vs. social media
- Learn how to drive traffic
- Start with a service business to learn more about your customers
- Systematize your service growth
- Move to digital products
- Timebox production
- Keep it short, simple, and focused on one outcome
1. Skip the "Get Rich Quick" stuff
To start, there are literally zero get-rich-quick schemes.
If someone is selling you that and you're buying? You're the fool.
Creating income online is a long game. If you want to play, have some patience.
2. Recognize where you are in the journey
It's important to recognize that everyone has valuable knowledge to share.
Don't compare yourself to the people you idolize who are making money online. Not everyone is as far along on their journey as Gary Vaynerchuk.
Think about the things you've learned on your journey over the last 2-3 years that would be valuable to someone who is behind you on that very same journey.
That's where the magic is.
3. Be prepared to face adversity
When you start creating content to attract potential customers, know these three things:
1) Nobody will care about you
2) You will get ridiculed at some point
3) Somebody will say something mean to you
If you can get over those three things, you have thick enough skin to get started.
Remember, everything worth doing is outside of your comfort zone.
4. Think at a macro-level
There are 7.67B people in this world. You can definitely sell 5, $54 digital products each day and make $100k+ per year, automated.
The people that win at this game are the people that get started and take action.
Nobody is doing this "perfectly". Everyone is figuring it out as they go.
Why not you?
5. Ideation is difficult but there are unique ways
There are several ways to think of an idea:
1) Think of a product (terrible way)
2) Solve your own problem (a better way)
3) Create unique content that lets you own a micro-niche with very limited competition. I often refer to this as a "niche of one". (best way)
A niche of one is a unique combination of skills and interests rolled into one idea and then distributed through highly creative or technical content.
Let's say you’re a financial analyst and your interest is in wine. You could use your financial knowledge to project the value of one high-end wine bottle each morning.
It would be easy to create products and services with that simple idea.
For example, some people might enjoy a digital course teaching them your method behind wine price projections.
Others might want a 1:1 Zoom call where you apply your formula to bottles in their collection together, while some would likely just want to purchase a financial analysis of multiple bottles, without the video call.
Once you have your idea, it's important to create an audience of prospects that are likely to pay for your products or services.
6. Create an audience of prospects with Moneyball
The best way to create an audience is to choose one social channel and become a master at it.
The best way to become a master is to start by playing "Moneyball".
Moneyball means just getting on base every day i.e. creating content each day and not trying to hit viral home runs.
Compound interest is what matters in content creation.
7. Build an ecosystem of creators
It's helpful to create an ecosystem of other relevant creators in your space.
Who else is aiming at your niche audience with a slightly different approach?
Make sure you interact with their content on a regular basis. Tether yourself to larger accounts and be active in their comments.
Turn on notifications and get to their content when it happens, adding a tremendous amount of value. Your goal is to be the most relevant comment on a piece of content that is seen by prospective customers.
You can visit my profile here to turn on notifications for my content if relevant to you.
8. Capture people that are interested
Design your social media profiles to capture people that are interested in your content.
If you talk about a niche topic, people should see images and copy on your profile pages that align with that.
Feature your work and website where possible and be very forward with what you write/Tweet/create about.
Your profile pages should be interesting enough to have people want to click the "follow" button.
Leverage the featured section (LinkedIn) and pinned Tweet (Twitter) to show off your expertise at a much deeper level.
There's also a new LinkedIn Profile URL that you can use to show off a website, newsletter, product, or service.
9. Have an outcome in mind with your content
When you are creating content, think about it this way:
1) What outcome are you shooting for? Purchases? Dopamine? Email subscribers? Know your end game.
2) Is your content laser-focused on bringing people to your outcome?
3) Are you writing/recording/creating interesting enough content to get people to stop and listen?
4) Are your opinions boring, vanilla, middle-of-the-road, or do you have something interesting to say? Are your opinions strong?
Note: If you're struggling to create content that resonates, build an audience, network with other creators, and find your tribe, I highly recommend my course, The LinkedIn Operating System.
Right now, in 2023, LinkedIn is the easiest place to build a massive audience and business online. Join 14,000+ other students who have rated it 4.98 out of 5 stars.
10. Bring people into your world vs. social media
Do you have a landing page or website where someone can express interest if they want to learn more?
If not, go to carrd.co and whip up a simple landing page.
Move fast and cheap. Don't worry about getting everything right.
Here's a great landing page example from Starter Story:
11. Learn how to drive traffic
Once you have v1 of a landing page, then it's time to drive some traffic there.
Since you're already creating content for your primary social channel, why not start to drop that content in other places where people might be spending their time?
- Hacker News
- Facebook groups
- Private Slack channels
Every channel has its own algorithm and rules.
If you want to build a predictable, successful, and consistent content strategy, join 6,000+ students in my affordable course, The Content Operating System.
12. Start with a service business to learn more about your customers
If you can generate enough impressions on your content and start growing a nice following, you can build a small service business.
A service business is usually defined as trading your time for money and providing a service.
There are 3 levels when building out your service business:
1) Level 1: Low-cost service business with the goal of learning and acquiring testimonials.
2) Level 2: An "average cost" service business where your goal is to focus your niche to a very particular client base that you serve best and...
3) Level 3: A high-cost service business where you provide incredible service to a micro-niche and charge top dollar.
13. Systematize your service growth
The best process for moving through these 3 levels is called FITI:
- Feedback: get feedback from clients.
- Iteration: use that feedback to improve your business.
- Testimonials: get testimonials to improve social proof.
- Increase: increase your prices the more testimonials you receive.
One challenge of running a service business is how many manual tasks are required.
Make sure that you use low-cost, no-code (if you can't code) software tools to make your job easier.
Here are some of my favorites:
- Website: Kajabi
- Scheduling: Calendly
- Content Publishing: HypeFury
- Payments: Stripe & Gumroad
- LinkedIn Analytics: Shield
- Website Analytics: Fathom
- Community Memberships: Outseta
- Customer Docs: Notion
- Notifications: Slack
- Customer CRM: Airtable
- Integrations: Zapier
14. Move to digital products
Once you've niched down to your favorite customers and raised your rates, it's a great time to build out digital products that solve the common challenges you see other prospects having that either don't fit your niche or can't afford your services.
15. Timebox production
If you want to create a good digital product, timebox your production to 21-28 days and help those prospects solve that one common challenge.
The more common challenges you find, the more short, time-boxed courses you can create.
16. Keep it short, simple, and focused on one outcome
Remember, brevity is your friend.
Nobody wants to solve their problem in 10 hours.
Make your course 60-90 minutes and price it at a price that you think is reasonable and you would feel comfortable paying.
Make sure that the course is focused on solving one, big, problem your customers have talked to you about.
Take a customer from point A to point B in 60-90 minutes and you'll have a satisfied group of paid students.
Next steps to start making money online
In 2023, nobody should rely solely on a full-time income.
Fortunately, there's no shortage of ways to make online money.
You just need to pick something that interests you, take the first step, and stick with it.
Want to write and make good money doing it?
Write your first spec piece. Publish it on Medium. Share it on social media for the world to see.
Dream of opening an eCommerce store?
Create art. Take photos of it. List it on Etsy and see how things go.
Starting an online business requires some experimentation, so don't be afraid to fail and learn.
That's it for now.
Get out there and turn those dreams into reality.
Whenever you're ready, there are 3 ways I can help you:
1. The LinkedIn Operating System: Join 16,000 students and 30 LinkedIn Top Voices inside of The LinkedIn Operating System. This comprehensive course will teach you the system I used to grow from 0 to 465,000+ followers and $4.7M in income.
3. Promote yourself to 175,000+ subscribers by sponsoring this newsletter.