The following article details my personal top 10 methods to make money from the Internet.
What makes this list unique is it’s based entirely on the methods I have personally used, so I can reveal to you what I did and what my results were. Bear in mind these methods represent ten years of working online, so I do not do all of them presently. At one point in my career however they were an income stream, and are still viable options for you.
This is not an all inclusive list, which means there are plenty of other ways you can make money, no doubt many of which are potentially much more profitable or better choices for your own situation. As a result you shouldn’t base your decisions on what methods you use solely on this list. Do your research and include this article as one resource.
This list isn’t strictly ordered based on my preferences from top to bottom. What I’ve done is listed the different things I did in a chronology of time of when I did them. It’s no coincidence however that as we get closer to the present (the end of the list), the more I personally like the method, and hence still use it. Over the years I made changes to how I made money in order to get closer to what I really wanted from my business.
To help you understand what I was striving for, here are my main criteria when deciding what methods I use to make money online with. Bear in mind certain options only became available as a result of previous experience. Some things you can only do once you’ve done other things because you build on what you have done before.
In a nutshell, this is the criteria I concluded are important to me –
Can you make a solid profit margin?
As you will see in a moment when I reveal my top ten methods, some income streams have very slim margins, which means you must push through a lot of volume in order to make significant income. While not always the case, in most situations to sell more requires more work, more resources and generally more of everything, which results in violation of my next rule…
Can you maintain the income with minimal labour and/or is it easy to outsource?
I look for income streams that do not require significant amounts of work to maintain. If I need to drastically increase the amount of product I sell or customers I attract to make good money, and that requires more of my own time to achieve, or cannot be easily outsourced to others (it often increases your labor just to organize outsourcers, so don’t assume outsourcing is a magic solution), that’s not the method for me.
Is there potential to scale?
As per the previous point, often the logistics of growth makes a method unappealing to me, however I do want the income streams I go after to have the potential to scale, and scale big. This means if you do discover something that makes you money, the possibility to grow it to a life changing amount of money is a reality, and you understand how this can happen.
Is there passive income potential?
In most cases I prefer something that is more potentially passive than potentially scalable. Obviously it’s great to have everything, but given the choice I prefer income streams that just work and can be automated so you can do other things. You have to be careful to manage your desire to scale something with your desire to make it passive. Sometimes less is more because less gives you freedom.
Can you create a sellable asset?
The final point is really important to me because I know that my interest tends to fluctuate. Every five years or so I feel like moving on to something new and leaving my main project. In the case of business, I want to ensure that there is a profitable exit strategy. The better you meet the previous criteria (profit margin, automated, scaleable and passive), the more money you can make when it is time to sell.
I’ve written before about my quest for the holy trinity of a business model, one that delivers what I consider the three most important outcomes from a business –
Or phrased another way, my business should enable the following –
So now you know my main criteria that has driven me to test different income streams over the past decade. Now let me introduce you to exactly what those income streams are…
During my pre-teen and early teenage years I went from playing with Transformers, GI-Joe and LEGO, to playing Nintendo, Sega and Gameboy. Eventually I added the card game Magic: The Gathering to the mix at about 16 years of age. All of these things were passions for me at various stages of growing up, but one thing remained consistent throughout each stage; I traded and sold toys and games I no longer wanted to make extra cash.
In Brisbane where I live, before the Internet there was a newspaper called the Trading Post that was published every two weeks. It was an aftermarket for pretty much everything. Whenever I grew tired of a game or a toy I’d sell it via the Trading Post, usually in an effort to make enough money to buy the new toy or game I had in my sights.
Eventually the Internet came along and the Trading Post no longer commanded the secondhand market like it once did (though it did successfully transition online). It quickly became clear that eBay was the winner when it came to secondhand commerce online. As a result my first experience making any money from the Internet was selling old games, toys and electronics on eBay.
EBay is still I believe the best way to gain experience making money from the Internet for two reasons –
These two reasons make eBay a great first stop because you will learn how to list something for sale online, how to take money (possibly your first experience with PayPal) and about the importance of things like titles and copywriting, if you spend the time to study how to make your eBay listings convert better.
The best thing about eBay – the abundant traffic – is also the worst thing. Barriers to entry are low on eBay, meaning competition is fierce. When competition is fierce, profit margin is slim. Unless you can find some form of competitive advantage through your supply chain, how you create listings, or you have a means to increase volume, you’re not going retire rich thanks to eBay.
I spent quite a bit of time studying eBay, both as a business model and as a means to capture new customers because of how much buying traffic is there. There is no doubt that eBay is a fantastic website that represents a huge potential to make money, but in my case I wasn’t keen to build my business there, it didn’t match enough of my criteria.
However eBay is a fantastic way to make quick money, even just as a way to turn your old items into cash to start a new online venture. If you’re brand new to Internet marketing and you don’t know your PayPal’s from your Clickbanks, or your PPC from your SEO, eBay is definitely a great place to learn some basics.
The card game Magic: The Gathering was a big part of my life from the end of highschool to the beginning of university. Although initially I was just a casual player and then tournament player, I quickly became a card trader and really enjoyed the wheeling and dealing. Although my interest in playing the game wained, most of my early projects online were connected with the game.
Before having my own website, I spent time reading websites, newsgroups, bulletin boards and forums about the game, and eventually started trading online. Back before search engines were any good most of my time was spent in particular Magic newsgroups, some that talked strategy, and some that were focused specifically on trading and/or buying and selling cards.
I managed to make spare change selling my cards through these sites. The main reason I could make any money was because I would win cards in tournaments, hence I had a supply source that would result in a good profit margin. Of course this wasn’t sustainable unless I kept placing well in tournaments, nor was it really scalable unless I started buying in cards from other sources.
I stopped using this method once I started my own card game site (more on this below), however I still believe niche collectables, particularly in a market that you really love, is a fantastic starting point to gain experience making money online. Like eBay you can make money selling secondhand items in community sites if you can find a way to source product at cost or below. It’s not a model that has much margin so again the challenge is to scale if you want to make significant profit.
My first successful website was about the card game Magic: The Gathering. At first the site was just a hobby with articles written by me and a few friends. Eventually as traffic grew I began making some money with the site.
Since I was already a card trader it made sense that my Magic site have a Magic card store. At first I stocked the website with my own cards, and eventually added retail “sealed” (unopened packs of cards) by buying product at wholesale from a company in Sydney.
It was a very simple card shop made up of text listings of the cards I had for sale, the quantity available and the cost per card or per pack. I maintained the inventory myself from my room, sorting and listing cards online by hand using plain text. I didn’t use any software and most of the payments I received back then was via check or money order in the mail. Some kids would even send money and even coins (!) in the mail to pay for their purchase.
My business did well enough, although the manual labor was intense. Maintaining inventory lists, packing cards into envelopes and daily trips to the post office was not always the most fun way to spend my time, though I did enjoy having my own little business while in university.
Unfortunately my store was hit by credit card fraud when I foolishly sold a significant amount of product to an unknown person in Thailand. This experience was enough for me to decide that I had had enough of running a Magic shop and it was time to move on. You can read about the credit card fraud experience here – Yaro Starak Timeline – Part 2
My first three experiences of making money from the Internet all involve some kind of physical product. Online commerce obviously represents a huge opportunity to make money online, and having your own product or a passion for a product that you can source can lead to big profits.
You can sell product from your own website store, via community sites and classifieds (like Craigslist) and of course eBay and collectively make good money. The challenge, like with any business, is defining what is your competitive advantage and can you come up with a model that meets your needs. For me selling physical product was a great proving ground, but I eventually learned that profiting from information was a preferable model if I wanted to meet my aforementioned business goals.
I’ll leave it in your hands to decide whether physical commerce is the way to go for your situation.
Once my card game site was successful I began researching how to make money from it. I sold cards initially because I already knew there was a market for that and I had the cards, but I was also aware that if I had an audience I could charge sponsors money to advertise to them.
Thus began my love affair with banner advertising.
Although challenging at times to find sponsors, I was quickly able to bring in several hundred dollars per month in advertising revenue by directly approaching online companies who I considered good targets for my readership. I emailed them and asked if they would like to pay a monthly fee to place a banner on my site. Most said no, but some said yes and eventually I had a couple of loyal sponsors.
Banner income would prove very reliable over time as long as I continued to do whatever I did to maintain and build a readership. This has continued today, where several sponsors pay a fee to advertise their products and services to you, the reader of this website.
Banner advertising, when set up using a system like I presently use, can be very hands off – in fact for me it’s entirely passive – assuming there is an audience that the sponsors benefit from advertising to. It’s difficult to make loads and loads of money just from banners unless you have significant traffic, but it is easy enough to make some money from it and once you do, it generally proves very reliable unless you stop updating your website.
I’d recommend this method to you if you have some kind of content based site or a community site that attracts enough traffic to make it worthwhile for sponsors. The best thing about banners is that they don’t have to replace any other income method you use, you can use this income stream in tandem with others.
At one stage early in my career when my online income wasn’t consistent, I was part of a business grant program run by the Australian government designed to assist entrepreneurs with money to pay for life’s necessities so you can focus on growing your business. The idea is that when your business is successful you will eventually hire people and pay taxes, thus the government reaps a return on the investment.
The grant ran for 12 months and I was under the assumption (incorrectly) that I had to show consistent income growth in order to maintain my qualification for the program. My income at the time always suffered a downturn around Christmas/Summer in Australia. To combat this problem I decided to teach English face-to-face with people in Brisbane to hopefully boost my reportable income.
To advertise my tutoring service I marketed using posters offline and eventually set up a website and marketed on classified sites as well. I charged $15 an hour and eventually had a few Korean clients. This idea eventually ballooned into a full on English school with a real world premises that I managed for eight months before closing down. It turned out to be an experiment that taught me I much preferred online business to bricks and mortar.
My English tutoring days were short lived, but that doesn’t mean selling some kind of service that you personally deliver isn’t still a viable option. The Internet is a fantastic place to market your services for free. Similar to what I talked about in the first three points, you can use online community sites, classified, forums and your own website to market your service.
The downside with this model is that you are still trading hours for dollars, which is a violation of my holy trinity concept. It’s not necessarily the worst option – and many people enjoy the life of a high-paid consultant very much – but it does have the inherent limitation that a service is not replicable unless you personally do it yourself or hire people to do it for you, both activities that take time and/or resources.
If you are good at something and enjoy helping/teaching/working on other people’s projects, selling what you do online is worth considering.
My next big success after my card game site was an online proofreading business. For this business I wanted to focus on selling something that did not require either my own labor or sourcing some kind of physical product.
The business began in very simple fashion. I created the website personally myself and advertised two services – English proofreading and language translation services. I knew how to find contract proofreaders and also had access to an online database of language translators. When a job came through I’d organize a quote, slap on a margin for myself and then return the quote to the client.
Over the years I heavily refined this business. I brought on an assistant, simplified the services, cemented a pricing model and learned what methods of marketing brought in the best type of client. The end result was a full time income for me and barely a few hours of work to maintain it.
This was the first time I found a business that met all my major criteria – except one – I really wasn’t that passionate about the industry. Initially I enjoyed being the entrepreneur, the thrill of making money and automating the business as much as I could, but after a few years my passion wained. I eventually sold the business, earning a nice payday in the process, making this one of my most personally gratifying projects.
Selling a service is a real option for making money online. The challenge is sourcing good people to do the work, learning what specific offer to make to the market, how to differentiate yourself so you earn good margins, how to market what you offer and how to automate the entire process so it becomes a passive income stream.
For a brief period on my blog I invited people to submit their product, service or website for a paid review. This means they pay a fee (for my site it was $250) and I would write an article about whatever they submitted. I would not accept just anything for review, I had to see an angle that made for relevant content for my audience. Nor was a paid review a promise that I would write positively about the subject – I would highlight both good and bad points.
Initially I didn’t mind writing paid reviews as the income was pretty good in terms of how long it would take and how much I earned. I could make as much as $250 an hour, which was great at first, but as my motivation focused more on freedom and less on money, even this became a poor incentive. Plus I never did like that I was told what to write about rather than choosing subjects I enjoyed.
The challenge for you, if this method is relevant to your growth stage, is to create a website where you can command a price for paid reviews that makes it worth your time. Until your traffic is significant, charging more than $50 for a review is not realistic, so you need to build your website asset first.
As my blog audience grew I began to test a method of making money I was very interested in – affiliate marketing. My first test proved positive, though initially I was disappointed that of my readership of 500 or so people (at the time), I could only sell one or two products, making $20 commission each. It wasn’t retirement money, but it was a start.
Affiliate income has gone on to become my second highest source of income in recent years, thanks in part to the increase in my audience reach. By combining my blog and email newsletter I can reach thousands of people with just one piece of content. By testing different products and recommending things I personally use myself, I’ve been able to earn as much as $50,000 in commissions selling just one product.
Affiliate marketing is possibly the single best way to make a living online because it is so hands off, can be automated easily enough and can deliver some incredible profit margins. It’s especially good when you can use affiliate marketing to recommend things in areas you are personally interested in – for example you can make money simply writing a review of a book you really wanted to read anyway and you get paid for doing what you love.
The challenge for you is figuring out what market(s) to enter, building an audience and maintaining relationships with your readers so they trust what you tell them. If you know something that other people want to know and you are prepared to share that information, you could be looking at a fairly lucrative affiliate opportunity.
The single most profitable income stream I have ever developed is selling my own information products. If you are a long time follower of my work you know I have created courses on how to make money with blogs and membership sites. I also have several reports, an ebook and new products on the way.
The profit margins on information products is significant, especially as you can earn money for content you created years ago. Technology makes selling information online relatively easy to automate, once you get through the learning curve. If you focus on areas you are passionate about you can build expertise and leverage that trust and credibility to make sales of your products. Best of all, all of this can happen while you sleep, once you have built the machine to do it for you.
I personally enjoy teaching, so creating my products like Blog Mastermind though hard work, was an enjoyable process. Once the course was created I continued to sell it year after year to people new to the industry who want to learn how to make money with blogs.
Like with affiliate marketing, your potential to succeed selling information products rests on your ability to identify market needs, tap into audiences looking for this information and then give them what they want. There are plenty of subtleties and things to learn about, but thankfully there is plenty of guidance out there too. Digging into the archives of this blog you are reading now and downloading my free reports – The Blog Profits Blueprint and Membership Site Masterplan are fantastic starting points if you want more help.
I’ll end this article with something I only recently did – offer high end coaching to a select group of clients who had to apply to work with me. My program cost between $5,000 and $10,000 and I turned away more people than I accepted. This was deliberate as I knew working one-on-one with people is not something I can do with many people or I will use up all my time. However I was keen to help certain people who were in the right position so I could learn more about the challenges they face.
Private coaching, like consulting, is another situation where you trade time for dollars, but in terms of your hourly pay rate it is hard to find a higher paying “job”. Of course you don’t have to start off charging thousands of dollars. Depending on your expertise and what kind of outcome you help people achieve, will determine how much you can charge. Offering coaching for $100 per session is not out of reach for most people, and that’s not a bad starting rate if you are looking to build up your experience through helping others closely.
Again the Internet is by far the easiest and most affordable tool to attract coaching clients. In many cases you can add private coaching to many of the other methods I listed above, including selling info products you create, affiliate products, sponsorship banners and physical products.
In my case progressing through these various methods, figuring out what I actually want from a business and then combining different methods to maximize my income and personal satisfaction has worked the best.
I recommend you follow a similar path to build your own business. Figure out what you like using the options above and other resources online, begin testing to see what works and learn more about what you enjoy, and keep at it until you find what “floats your boat” and is incredibly profitable too.