There are 29,571 ways to make money online (you'll see plenty of headlines like this), but I want to invite you to ignore all the "get rich quick" stuff and focus instead on making REAL money online that's sustainable, scalable, and results in a truly positive impact for other people. Here's how...
You want to make real money online and I want to help you do exactly that.
Why? Because you're among one of the first generations that has the ability to leverage the internet to supplement your income, if not completely replace your income and achieve location independence and time independence.
That opportunity shouldn't be passed up. I truly believe that every man, woman, and child should be playing in the online space and working to generate revenue from it.
But that's the "clouds" – the dreams and goals. We need to talk "dirt" – the strategies, tactics, and mechanics of it all.
We need to put all the cards on the table so you know what your options are, can see how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together, and make an educated decision on which direction to start heading in.
Don't put too much pressure on yourself to set any particular strategy in stone, though. The beauty of the internet is that you can start cheap and pivot easily. You're not buying a $100k franchise or borrowing $50k from your Uncle Fred to start a brick and mortar business.
So work through this article, get your mental ducks in a row, and then start executing.
There are 5 Basic Ways to Make Real Money Online (for Entrepreneurs, Freelancers, & Side-Hustlers)
Not everyone has an entrepreneurial mind or business experience, so I'm going to walk you through this starting with the real-world basics.
This won't be some boring Harvard business 101 stuff – this is no-fluff, direct-from-the-trenches, brass tacks shit.
It doesn't matter whether you're trying to earn money online or offline, there are four basic ways to make your scratch (and a 5th by combining some of that hot sauce together)...
Method #1. Sell Knowledge & Insight
If you know something that other people don't know, even if you're only a few steps ahead of them, then what you know is valuable.
For example, I've been building online businesses for many many years. If you're wanting to build an online business and you don't want to get rag-dolled in the trenches and shoved into your locker at the school of hard knocks, then it makes sense to pay me for guidance.
Not only can I shortcut your journey, but I can save you tons of money, time, and frustrating in the process. That's cold, hard value.
The sale of knowledge, insight, and guidance in this way is traditionally called "consulting" or "coaching" and it's one of the simplest ways to generate revenue if you truly know your shit.
Another way to get paid for your knowledge and insight is through public speaking. Conferences and other events will pay you to deliver your knowledge and insight to a room full of people.
Method #2. Sell Skills & Labor
If you can do something that other people don't know how to do, don't have time to do, or don't want to do, then what you do is valuable.
For example, if you know how to build websites and a business owner needs a website that they don't know how to build, don't have time to build, or don't want to build, then it would make sense for them to pay you to do it.
The sale of skills and labor in this way is typically referred to as "freelancing."
In the rat race, they call it "employment," but I tend to view every single human that has a skill or labor-based job as a freelancing entrepreneur. If you think of yourself as an employee you're playing the bottom rung of the market and you're most likely losing out over your potential.
Even if you're technically an employee, start thinking of yourself as a freelancer. And then start figuring out how you can move that freelancing gig to the internet so you can make money online instead of having to show up to a shoddy cubicle every day.
Method #3. Sell Tangible Products
This is the most basic of all commerce transactions. If you own physical goods (and this includes digital goods) that other people want, you can sell them.
If you want to build a business out of this, you need to be able to generate repeated transactions and you need to be able to sell the products for substantially more than you acquired them for.
Now, here's the kicker: there's a second side to this where you don't have to own the products you're selling. Being an "affiliate" for a product manufacturer is a viable option. You simply sell someone else's products for a commission.
The sale of physical products online is referred to as "e-commerce." The sale of digital goods online is called "info-product commerce" or "SaaS" (software as a service) in the case of software. The sale of other people's goods online is called, "affiliate marketing."
Oh, one more thing: you can do e-commerce without any physical goods of your own through a process known as "drop shipping." More on that later.
Method #4. Sell Attention
If a significant number of people pay attention to you (for whatever reason) and you have "influence" or "authority" status, people will pay you to shift that attention toward them.
For example, Joe Rogan has the #1 podcast in the world (if not #1, it's certainly top 3). That podcast garners a significant amount of attention every week, which makes his show valuable to businesses. He charges them money to advertise, which is basically a few minutes of shifting his audience's attention toward that business.
As a second example, consider social media. We currently live in the "influencer" age of social media where anyone can build a massive audience, and influence and authority along with that. That concentrated attention, especially when influence and authority are involved, is extremely valuable.
There are social media influencers doing six and seven figures simply by selling their audiences attention to the highest bidder.
In some cases, they're combining "influencer marketing" with affiliate marketing – promoting actual products and services. But in many cases, all they're doing is selling exposure and lending credibility.
Method #5: The Hybrid Model
The four primary methods don't have to stand alone. In fact, it's usually a good idea to diversify your streams of income.
This doesn't have to be done all at once, nor should it be. Trying to go straight to the hybrid model can spread your efforts too thin and make it hard to gain traction.
It's a better idea to establish one income stream and then add to it one by one, over time.
Let's say you want to start with consulting because you have knowledge or insight that's valuable and you want to start generating revenue without building out of a ton of infrastructure.
So, you do the consulting thing until you gain solid traction and then you take what you know, create an online course, and start selling your course. Now you have a consulting stream of income as well as an info-product stream of income.
Next, you realize that there are gaps in your knowledge and some of your colleagues have online courses that fill those gaps, so you start promoting those other courses to earn a commission from them. Now you have three streams of income.
Now that you have a healthy amount of money, you decide to invest in building a software product that makes your audience's life easier. That becomes a fourth stream of income.
That kind of progression happens all the time, especially online.
Which do you lean toward?
Obviously, most people like the allure, stability, and possibilities of the hybrid model. I think a hybrid model should be everyone's goal, but it's not always the best place to start.
What path stands out to you as the best place for you to start? Keep that in mind as you continue to work through this guide.
There are 3 Basic/Core Markets for You to Make Real Money In
Alright, so we talked about what you can sell, now we need to talk about who you can sell to.
New entrepreneurs make the mistake of wanting to sell to everyone. The problem with that strategy is that you can't possibly appeal to everyone. If you try to, you end up appealing to nobody, so it's important to start to identify different segments of the population you want to target.
There are three basic markets that your operation can fall into. Understanding these three basic markets is important because it also helps you get clarity around the motivation of your buyers (because these three basic markets are also basic human needs).
Let me explain the three basic markets and then I'll give examples...
Market #1: Health
People need to take care of their physical, mental, and emotional health and are thirsty for various ways to make this happen.
Health covers everything from actual healthcare (doctors and nurses) to the gym industry, the dieting industry, the supplement industry, the stress-relief industry, the entertainment industry, the travel industry, the restaurant industry, and so on.
Market #2: Wealth
Aside from health, people need physical resources. That's where the wealth niche comes into play. This covers things like: personal finance, investing, real estate, making money, business and marketing, sales, and even symbols of wealth (cars, boats, yachts, etc.).
Market #3: Relationships
Without relationships, why are we here? Right? They're critical. Key parts of the relationships niche include: online dating, social media, the sex industry, networking, the marriage industry, nightclubs, etc.
Identifying and Understanding the Crossover Creates Golden Opportunities
If you notice, certain businesses can fit into more than one of these basic markets. For example, both health and wealth tend to bleed into the relationships market.
Why do people want to get healthy and look a certain way? In many cases, it's to attract a mate (relationships). The same is true for why some people want to build a lot of wealth – it's a relationship lure.
This kind of crossover can be a goldmine for your business and marketing. Not only can you use this crossover to separate yourself from others, you can use it to strike at the heart of your customers' core motivations.
Keep this in mind: people buy off emotion and desire and underlying motivation. They don't buy logically. Logic only comes into play later when they're justifying their purchase.
So, by aligning yourself with underlying motivations you can create a unique angle, carve out a niche, and appeal to the emotion of your buyers all at the same time.
Imagine someone who says, "I'm going to start a fitness brand" versus someone who says, "I'm going to start a fitness brand that targets singles who are trying to look hot for the dating scene."
If you're single and dating, which fitness brand is really going to appeal to you most? That's the power of being a specialist and not a generalist. Generic fitness brands are a dime a dozen. Building a fitness brand for hot singles is a unique angle.
Once You Have Your Primary Market, Carve Out a Niche
What I just explained to you about crossover is one example of carving out a niche within core markets. It's not the only way, though.
You don't have to identify or align with market crossover to be successful. The core markets alone have tons of niche carving opportunities to help you develop unique angles and hone your marketing to a sub-section of buyers.
That's really the key point here. Entrepreneurs who go too broad always end up pulling their hair out because it's far too difficult to speak to a broad audience with your marketing. Creating products that serve a broad market successfully is also a tall order (unless you're selling commodity type stuff).
While I do think the advice of "niche until it hurts" is sound, I don't think it should be your ultimate vision. "Niche until it hurts" means that you should niche down so specifically that you start to feel like your target market is uncomfortably specific.
I think that's a great way to get started, because it makes marketing and product development really easy, but I don't like it as a long-term play. In How to Find Your Niche I cover all the details of proper niche selection, so start there when you're ready.
There Are 3 Basic Paths You Can Take to Make Real Money Online
Now we need to talk about how you're going to structure things. Not from a legal standpoint, but from a strategy standpoint.
There are three basic ways you can approach this make money online thing:
Path #1: Start an Online Business
There are two very different kinds of online businesses you can build. I'll start with the first option and then give you the second option so you can choose which one aligns best with your goals.
A traditional online business is an online business where the ownership's mission is to grow and scale and become a force in the market.
As with a traditional brick and mortar business, this path might include borrowing money, accepting venture capital, building a team, and so on. The potential rewards are huge, but so are the risks.
As the business grows, the vision is always about the next level. When you hit six figures, the goal becomes seven figures. When you hit 7 figures, it's on to eight figures, and so on.
Or, you could try to start an online business in a specific market and a specific context with the hopes of selling to a big player for a huge profit. That's an option as well.
One thing you should be aware of is that building an online business with these goals in mind will often put you in a situation where you're working far more than you'd be working at a traditional job and carrying far more risk and stress along with it.
Path #2: Start an Online LIFESTYLE Business
An online lifestyle business is a business where the owner's sole focus is to create an asset that produces enough income to give the owner financial independence, location independence, and time/schedule independence without a bunch of risk or stress.
It's not about building the biggest business, it's about building a business that serves you as much as you serve it.
Starting an online business along these lines is much cheaper (easily bootstrapped), easier, less stressful, and carries less risk. Lifestyle business owners typically don't borrow lots of money, they don't have to split ownership with investors, they don't have to build a big team, and they don't have to constantly focus on growth and scale.
Now, don't get me wrong. Just because the focus isn't on growth and scale doesn't mean a lifestyle business has to be "small." Small is always relative, of course, but there are lifestyle business owners doing 8 figures. That should give you an idea of the possibilities with this model.
This site, Digital Ambition, is all about teaching you how to build a successful online lifestyle business. I love the lifestyle business model and my main mission is to help people get out of the rat race and live their life without limitations through that exact business model.
Path #3: Get an Online Job/Jobs
The last path is to trade your time for money by simply working online. This is referred to as online freelancing.
Technically, you'll still be running a business (f you want some tax incentives and liability protections), but the focus of your business will be different. Instead of building an audience and selling or promoting products to that audience, all you need to do is find someone to pay you for your skills.
The major downside to this model is that you're still trading your time for money. If you stop working, you stop making money. This is certainly better than having an offline, location-dependent job, but it's not as nice having a lifestyle business that brings in money while you sleep.
What About Starting a Side-Hustle to try and Make Real Money Online?
You may have heard the term "side-hustle," which is basically placing your entire focus on making "side money." In other words, you're not interested in replacing your entire income with your online efforts (at least not yet), you just want to make extra money.
I love the concept of having a side-hustle and the internet has made it so easy that I think everyone should have an online side-hustle. Who doesn't want more money, more flexibility, more insurance, and more cushion, right?
If that's what you're looking for, great. Any of three models I just covered can be a side-hustle. There's no special "side-hustle" model. You pick any of the traditional models and just do them enough – with the spare time you have available – to make that extra income.
There are 3 Basic Ways to Get People's Attention (No Attention Equals No Real Money, So Listen Up)
Once you've established your model for making real money and the niche you want to do business in, the next big step is to start getting people's attention.
The more your strategy relies on audience-building, the more attention you'll need to get (and you'll need a constant influx of it). If your strategy is to freelance, you may only need the attention of a few people.
Alas, there are three basic ways to get people's attention...
#1: EARN Attention.
The most effective way to earn attention is through value-add participation in your target market. The most basic example would be joining a Facebook group that's related to your niche and being consistently helpful.
People will start to take notice, start to follow you, start to recommend you, and start looking to do business with you. That's earned attention.
The next step up from value-add participation is content marketing. You can think of content marketing as value-add at a much larger scale. The most basic example of this is blogging – writing articles that are helpful or entertaining (or both) to your target market.
You can share those articles yourself to get attention, use them to borrow attention from someone else's audience (see below), or get them indexed in places where your target market is likely to find them (such as on Google, assuming that you've done your search engine optimization properly).
#2: BORROW Attention.
It can take a lot of time and sweat equity to earn people's attention. If you only need the attention of a few people, then earning attention is a perfect strategy. But, if you need the attention of a lot of people, it's going to take a while.
You can short-cut the process of getting attention by borrowing attention. Instead of building your own audience, you connect with someone who has an existing audience and persuade them to expose you to their audience.
"But who can I borrow attention from?"
There's two main categories of people: strategic partners and influencers.
It's unlikely that a direct competitor is going to let you borrow their audience, right? That wouldn't make any sense. But there are people in your industry that don't directly compete with you and there are people in tangentially related industries who don't compete with you. Both of these types of people may be willing to do a strategic partnership that includes exposure to their audience.
As a super basic example, if you sell milk it would be a great idea to partner with a business that sells cookies. You're both selling a food product, but your products compliment each other. You help them sell cookies and they'll help you sell milk. You borrow each other's audiences and you both grow.
Aside from strategic partnerships, there are "influencers" in every industry. An influencer is someone with a lot of social klout – a large social following. For smaller influencers or "micro-influencers," you can often borrow their audience in exchange for goods and services or simply by being persuasive. For larger influencers, though, you'll probably have to use the next strategy...
#3: BUY Attention.
If all else fails – or you just happen to have deeper pockets – you can just buy attention.
This is the most direct way to get attention and it's also the fastest. You can buy attention via online advertising or by paying influencers to expose you to their audience.
While many people see paid attention as a "cost," it's actually a predictable, repeatable, and scalable profit center when done correctly. If you put in $100 and get back $300 consistently, you've established a profitable funnel. The advertising isn't a liability, it's an asset that's generating growth.
The big mistake people make is thinking that their funnel that's doing a 3x return will continue to do a 3x return if they dump more money into it. Paid advertising rarely scales evenly like that. In other words, you can't take a funnel that's returning $300 for every $100 and dump a million dollars into it to make 3 million dollars.
Paid advertising seems easy, but it's very difficult in practice and you need to be prepared to throw a lot of money down in the drain in the early stages as you try to figure out what works and what doesn't.
Decide How You Want to Make Real Money Online and then Access Your Game Plan Below...
Alright, you should have a solid idea of how this all works by now and your brain has likely been gravitating toward certain strategies.
Now it's time to choose a path and get to work. Keep in mind that you can change things up at any time. What you're choosing is not set in stone. The most important thing is that you don't hesitate. You're never going to have this all figured out in your mind – you need to put one foot in front of the other and start building something.
To help you get clear on what you need to execute on, I've outlined the two basic paths below. Make your choice and get started.
Path #1: "I want to build an online business or side-hustle business."
To be clear, you're not really interested in freelancing, right? You want to build an actual business (or side-hustle) that you own and operate? Awesome, I love that – it's personally the path that I choose every single time.
Now the question is, how are you planning on making money?
Option #1: "I want to sell my knowledge."
So, you know things that other people don't know? Or, you're planning on learning something and want to let other people follow along and learn with you?
Here are your best options for monetization:
- Sell information products (online courses, e-books, etc.).
- Promote affiliate offers (aka affiliate marketing).
- Start a membership site (a site where you deliver value every single month and people pay you a monthly fee to access that value).
If this model sounds like you, I'd highly recommend checking out Freedom Business Hive so you can get established with solid principles and start getting leads and sales in as little as 8 weeks.
Option #2: "I want to sell my skills or labor."
So, you have a valuable skill and you want to build a scalable business around that? Here are your best options for monetization:
- Start freelancing to get traction.
- Add other team members to scale into an agency model.
- Make scaling easier by productizing your service instead of doing custom work.
Bonus: Any time you're selling a service, you're going to want to make sure you understand the concept of value-based pricing.
If this model sounds like you, I'd highly recommend checking out Freedom Business Hive so you can get established with solid principles and start getting leads and sales in as little as 8 week
Option #3: "I want to sell a tangible product."
Planning on creating tangible (either digital or physical) products? Want to sell more than just information and services? Here are your best options for monetization:
- Start an e-commerce site for your physical products or products that you plan on drop-shipping.
- Create a product funnel using a service like clickfunnels.
- Create a SaaS product (software as a service).
What is drop-shipping? It's where you sell other people's physical products as if they're your own. This lets you run a physical products business without managing inventory and order fulfillment. When someone places an order, the order details are sent to a drop-shipping service/company who handles the inventory and fulfillment.
Option #4: "I want to sell attention."
Want to build up a big following online and sell that attention? Keep in mind that this is one of the hardest ways to make money online unless you're super entertaining, already well-known, or have a penchant for killing it on social media. If you're confident you can pull it off, here are your best options...
- Grow an audience any way you know how and promote affiliate products.
- Dominate a social media channel, such as Instagram (Instagram is huge for influencers right now).
- Dominate a content platform, such as YouTube.
- Start a podcast.
- Start a blog and dominate with SEO to generate enough traffic to attract advertisers.
What You'll Need to Succeed: The Basics
For almost all of these strategies you'll need the following:
- A website (see: How to Build a Website From Scratch with WordPress).
- A digital marketing strategy (see: The Ultimate Online Marketing Strategy Guide).
- An email list (see: 7 Features Your Email Marketing Software Must Have in 2018).
- A payment processor (like PayPal or Stripe).
- Other "getting started" and "launching" strategies for online business.
Path #2: "I want to get paid to work online full-time or to do side-hustle jobs."
Want to take a faster, sometimes easier route to making money online? All you have to do is find people who are hiring and do the freelance thing.
Again, though, you should keep in mind that freelancing typically doesn't provide the same benefits and flexibility that an online lifestyle business does. All you're effectively doing is "getting a job" on the internet.
If that's your thing, though, more power to you. Not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur. Or maybe you just want to use freelancing to get started and then plan on launching a business after you get traction. All good! Here's what's up...
The Top 10 Sites to Get Online Jobs (Freelancing) Without Competing by Working For Free
Here's a list of the sites I recommend you get started with. I've made sure to not include any sites that force you to work for free in order to get awarded a contract or payment.
Upwork (Formerly "Elance")
Upwork is probably the biggest and most popular site for freelancing. While it's gone through periods of heavy criticism, it's stood the test of time and is the go-to place for most people looking for freelancers.
TopTal is a high-end freelancing site. They claim to only hire the top 3% of freelancing talent, so be prepared to undergo some rigorous qualifying. However, if you have the skills, there's probably no higher quality place to be.
Craigslist is super hit or miss for a lot of things in my experience, but I've heard a lot of stories of people killing it on Craigslist for landing freelancing gigs. A side benefit is that you're able to connect with companies in your area, which can be helpful for various reasons even if your goal is to work completely online/remote.
Guru is another reputable freelancing website that offers very flexible payment arrangements between freelancers and companies. Instead of just basic hourly or project-based contracts, they also offer "pay by milestone," "pay by task," and "recurring payments" agreements.
I love PeoplePerHour's website. It's a super clean, high quality experience. Another great resource for you as a freelancer.
What makes iFreelance unique is that they claim they're not a middle man between you and companies you contract with. Companies can post projects for free and there are no transaction costs for contracts. The middle man line isn't 100% true, though. You pay a low membership fee, basically for hosting your profile and dependent on things like the size of your portfolio, your directory positioning, etc. It still looks like a great deal, though.
Instead of you listing yourself and hoping that companies find you and hire you, SimplyHired acts as a search engine for freelancers to find companies to work for. It's a "job search engine" as they call it.
Did you know that LinkedIn has an area specifically dedicated to matching freelancers with companies looking to hire? It's called LinkedIn Profinder.
Don't sleep on Facebook – I've heard of many people getting freelancing gigs simply by being active on Facebook, specifically in Facebook groups. Join a group related to your niche and skills, start being active and helpful, and jobs will come.
Amgigs bills itself as the world's 1st blockchain based freelancing marketplace. It's a relatively new player and there's not much about it online, but I wanted to list it here because of it's unique angle on freelancing.
How to Make Real Money Online Wrap-Up
I haven't left any stone unturned, which means it's time for you to start doing some work.
As a review, here's what I covered in this guide:
- The 5 basic ways to make real money online (specifically for entrepreneurs, side-hustlers, and freelancers).
- The 3 basic markets/niches to make real money in (and how to niche down profitably from there).
- The 3 basic paths you can take to make real money online, including my favorite the "online lifestyle business."
- The 3 basic ways to get people's attention (because attention = money).
- Game plans for each basic path as well as foundational action items so you can get started immediately.
If you have any questions, drop a comment below.
If you're serious about starting an online business and making some real money on the interwebs, start by finding your niche.