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Making money online can be lucrative, and there are countless activities to pursue. For example, I generate income as a marketer, YouTuber, author, and advisor. Secondly, you can work from anywhere including your home or a co-working space like WeWork and Regus. Location independence also allows you to work in different countries as I have.
Another benefit of an online business is that you can keep your costs low. I pay for web hosting and a few software services and spend roughly $600 annually to run my business excluding experiments. That amount pales in comparison to the expenses required to open a retail store or restaurant. Many people make money online without paying anything by getting and using free products, software, and websites. However, you must be realistic about what’s necessary for specific jobs. For example, most YouTubers possess cameras and video production equipment.
The online landscape consists of code and virtual processes. Given the nature of the environment—and types of business models including free, freemium, and premium—some endeavors and goods are free while others cost money. Case in point, a blogger can pay for hosting and use free website software from WordPress.org or blog on LinkedIn for free. You can sell products online with free or paid software or sell on Facebook at no cost. You can pay for email marketing software immediately or start with a free plan. LibreOffice, OpenOffice, and Google’s office suite are free alternatives to Microsoft Office. I use free and paid tools and get the results I want. Ultimately, you have options.
The only requirement to work online is to have access to a computer. The computer can be yours or one you use at a library or internet café. Given that computing devices are practical for everyday use, it makes sense to own one. You’ll likely use it for more than just work, for example, to watch movies, shop, or play games. If you can’t consistently access a computer for hours daily, it will be difficult to achieve your goals. It might be better to work offline until you can afford a computer and internet plan.
Can you earn money online without a website? Yes, but it depends on what business. While I make the case that you should own a website for control, brand and list building purposes, you don’t always need one. Freelancers on Fiverr, authors on Amazon, and YouTubers don’t need sites, for instance. Many online marketplaces are free to use, but they typically split/share revenues with sellers. For example, Upwork will keep 20 percent, and the Apple App Store will retain 15 to 30 percent. E-commerce platforms like Amazon and eBay charge various fees. If you choose not to operate on a marketplace or social media network, then you’ll need a website. A website on a shared hosting plan (what I have) will cost $5 to $10 monthly. Given how inexpensive a site is to own, it’s a worthwhile investment and asset for your business. Explore web hosting deals here.
In this post, I’ll list ways to make money online and their costs. I deep dive into these methods in other posts such as how to make money on YouTube, Facebook, and in affiliate marketing. Excluding one-time purchases for things like software or job-specific equipment, these businesses are free or low-cost to operate. Deals are available on used and refurbished goods, and sales events are worth monitoring to save money.
Free to Low-Cost Ways to Earn Money Online
- Promote products and services
- Earn advertising revenue
- Sell physical products
- Sell photos and digital assets
- Sell services
- Sell subscription and membership plans
- Sell books
- Narrate and produce published books
- Sell online courses
- Create an online tool
- Sell apps and extensions
- Sell themes and plugins
- Earn rental income
- Earn by completing surveys and small tasks
Promote Products and Services
Affiliate marketing is a performance-based marketing activity. An affiliate promotes a product/service online and receives compensation for achieving a specific objective or action. A merchant or advertiser specifies the goal, which is usually a valid sale. For example, a merchant will pay the affiliate a 30 percent sales commission. Learn more about affiliate marketing.
Affiliate marketing is a free endeavor. It cost nothing to join programs and promote goods. Having a website is advantageous, but not mandatory.
Earn Advertising Revenue
Millions of content creators earn advertising revenue through Google AdSense, which is a well-established ad network/program run by Google. Bloggers can feature ads on their sites while YouTubers can enable ads to play on their videos.
Google AdSense is free to join, and YouTube is free to use. As a blogger, you would need a website. If you develop a significant following, you can pursue private promotional and endorsement agreements.
Sell Physical Products
Online retail is a trillion dollar plus global industry and expanding. Companies and individuals sell consumer electronics, apparel, fashion accessories, food, health and beauty, home furnishings, and more. Retailers sell on marketplaces and with online store software, for example, Shopify.
Manufacturing products, buying goods to resell, and storing inventory will incur expenses. Alternatively, drop shipping is a low-cost to cost-free way to fill customer purchases. Drop shipping is a retail fulfillment method in which a store doesn’t keep the products it sells in stock. Instead, when the store sells a product, it purchases the item from a third-party and has it shipped directly to the customer. As a result, the merchant never sees or handles the product and doesn’t have to carry inventory. Learn more about drop shipping.
The conventional manufacturing model builds products for inventory storage. Print-on-demand (POD) and just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing processes are designed to meet demand. For example, a t-shirt with a specific image is printed to fill a customer’s order. POD and JIT procedures can lower costs significantly.
The online services market is incredibly diverse and consists of freelancers, agencies, and companies. Fiverr and Upwork are two of several high-traffic freelancer marketplaces. Millions of people sell services on those sites. You can also sell services and outsource work to make semi-passive income.
Operational costs in the services industry are job-specific. For instance, social media managers and proofreaders can operate cost-free whereas graphic designers and video editors might pay for software (free software is available too).
Sell Photos and Digital Assets
iStock and Shutterstock are two of many royalty-free photo marketplaces. Photographers, videographers, creatives, and artists sell unique images, illustrations, videos, and audio clips on those sites. Free photo sites are useful too, but marketplaces tend to offer more selection and higher quality products.
A camera is a given to take pictures. Lens and accessories will cost extra. Software like Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator attract subscription fees, but free software is available such as GIMP and Pixlr.
Sell Subscription and Membership Plans
Products, services, and information can be packaged into subscriptions. Many news organizations and bloggers charge users to access exclusive content. Several CPG and B2C companies send monthly product boxes to their members.
You’ll likely need a website to promote your offer. Content-based offers don’t have to cost much, and members can log in to your site for articles, files, webinars, and courses. Service-based businesses can be inexpensive too. Product-based memberships will cost money, but you can fill orders on demand to delay expenses. Payhip, Podia, and Sellfy facilitate digital downloads and memberships. WordPress subscription/membership plugins are available as well.
Self-publishing is straightforward with two of Amazon’s platforms, i.e., Kindle Direct Publishing and the Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX). After you complete your manuscript, you can upload your book and start selling it within 48 hours.
It cost nothing to write and self-publish a book. However, one-time costs might include editing/proofreading, cover design, or interior layout services.
Narrate and Produce Published Books
If you don’t enjoy writing, you might like narrating books instead. Earning income as a narrator is possible once you record a book and list it for sale. There are several audiobook marketplaces, but Amazon is likely your best bet to earn decent royalties.
Like self-publishing books, narrating doesn’t attract expenses. However, you’ll need professional recording equipment and software.
Sell Online Courses
The online course industry is a booming one, and e-learning sites have sprung up everywhere. I did a stint as an online instructor and made mid-five-figures. You can self-publish courses on several e-learning platforms or sell online classes from your website with online course software.
Whether you create educational content for e-learning sites or YouTube, a video is a video. Owning a website isn’t essential, but you’ll need video equipment and software.
Create an Online Tool
I have a bunch of online tool websites bookmarked for generating things like privacy policies, quotes, buttons, logos, and so on. Best of all, many of those tools are free to use. Site owners make money from premium plans, advertising, and affiliate marketing. For example, Biz Card Maker allows you to design business cards and logos. One way it makes money is by featuring a print discount offer, which is an affiliate link to a print company.
An online tool necessitates a website. If you have an idea but lack the technical skills, you can hire a freelancer to help develop your software (same applies to web, app, theme, plugin, and game development).
Sell Apps and Extensions
App revenues are robust and led by growing sales on Apple and Google app stores. Apps belong to a range of categories including games, entertainment, messaging, social, health and fitness, productivity, travel, and more.
Browser extensions are also hugely popular with users. The Chrome web store is full of free, freemium, and premium/paid extensions. TubeBuddy is an excellent freemium extension to grow your YouTube channel, for example. App and extension developers commonly make money through purchases, subscriptions, and advertising.
Many app developers have websites to promote their software and support users, but sites are optional. App stores frequently charge registration and listing fees. For instance, you must pay a one-time registration fee to Google before you can upload an app.
Sell Themes and Plugins
WordPress users are familiar with the thousands of free themes and plugins available. Equally sought are paid solutions because many free themes/plugins lack features and timely user support.
Themes, plugins, and apps extend beyond WordPress. Shopify, 3dcart, and many other SaaS companies’ partner with developers to create solutions for their customers. You can also sell on marketplaces like Envato and CreativeMarket.
Development costs are minimal, and a site would be handy for marketing and selling purposes.
Earn Rental Income
Airbnb, HomeAway, VRBO, and other short-term accommodation sites allow individuals to list properties and rooms for rent. Those platforms don’t charge listing fees, but they take a share of revenues.
Earn by Completing Surveys and Small Tasks
You probably won’t get rich by completing surveys, downloading apps, or watching videos, but companies like MySurvey will pay you for those types of activities. You don’t have to pay to join these types of websites. If a company requires payment, run the other way because it could be a scam or not worth it.
The table below highlights startup/annual costs and if a website, software, or equipment is necessary.
|Promote products/services||$0 – $250||Optional||No||No|
|Earn advertising revenue||$0 – $250||Optional||No||No|
|Sell physical products||$0 – $500||Optional||No||No|
|Sell photos and digital assets||$0 – $500||Optional||Yes||Yes|
|Sell services||$0 – $500||Optional||Depends||Depends|
|Sell subscription plans||$0 – $500||Yes||Depends||Depends|
|Sell books||$0 – $250||Optional||No||No|
|Narrate books||$0 – $500||Optional||Yes||Yes|
|Sell online courses||$0 – $500||Optional||Yes||Yes|
|Create an online tool||$0 – $250||Yes||Yes||No|
|Sell apps or extensions||$0 – $250||Optional||Yes||No|
|Sell themes or plugins||$0 – $250||Optional||Yes||No|
|Earn rental income||$0||Optional||No||No|
|Earn by completing surveys||$0||Optional||No||No|
Making money online without investment is a fantastic scenario, and plenty of activities require little to no money upfront. Also, wanting to keep your expenses low is a sensible objective. Sites like Fiverr are excellent for lean-minded entrepreneurs who need assistance. If you want to develop your skills, there are plenty of e-learning sites that offer free and low-priced courses. On the other hand, to grow a business is to invest in it like how water is necessary to grow a plant. New ventures, experiments, marketing, and sales require funding. If you hold your wallet too tight, you might not fulfill your goals.