How to Make Money Online Without Really Trying

The good news: Making money online is no longer a pipe dream. The bad? Who knows where to start? There are countless success stories of people earning passive incomes online, whether it’s from blogging, creating YouTube videos, or through a startup. Then there are others who make money online, but you’re not sure how, and you’re secretly hoping they’re not part of Silk Road or the dark Web or the latest scam.

So where do you even get started? Do you need a savvy tech background to make money online?

While there are outliers who struck it big, many of those stories are tough for the would-be entrepreneur to relate to. Trust me, you’re not alone. Kids building apps in their dorm rooms that sell for billions of dollars? It baffles us all and isn’t realistic as a goal. But the reality is, we’re all skilled at something, whether it’s science, math, juggling, being a parent, writing, or any one of the other skills that can be monetized into a stream of income online.

What would another $300 a month do for you? How about an additional $1,000 a month? The goal shouldn’t be to shoot for the moon. Start small. Figure out what works. And build from there.

While businesses and projects might grow, the biggest challenge for any online business or passive stream of income — i.e., something that generates steady revenue and requires little effort — is getting to dollar No. 1.

I’m going to share some ideas and resources that can help you get started making a passive or semi-passive income online. And unless you’ve got a rich uncle or are sitting on annuities that are paying you a large monthly distribution (in which case I doubt you’d be reading this), all of these suggestions require learning, testing to see what works and what doesn’t, and some amount of front-end work to create the stream of income.

I also really value location independence, as do many others I’ve talked to. So in addition to passive income streams, I’ll also mention a few strategies for using the Internet to make money at your convenience. It essentially solves the same problem, and is the next best thing to a passive stream of income.

I don’t know many people who would turn down the opportunity to make money while sitting on the couch with a laptop watching the game on a Saturday afternoon. Ironically, I’m sitting in a leather recliner watching a Wisconsin Badgers basketball game on TV while I write this blog post — which isn’t making me rich, but is putting money in my bank account each month.

Although I’m not running a Facebook empire from my couch, I am location-independent, I can work at my convenience, and I have multiple streams of income set up, which allows me to spend more time creating meaningful experiences with people I love.

Life is good.

Read on for some ideas, tips, and resources to help you create passive streams of income. No strategy or idea is perfect or right for everyone, but at least one of these ideas may pique your interest to learn more. And remember, every stream of income, big or small, helps improve your financial life.

Start With Pat Flynn

The first place to start is checking out Pat Flynn, the founder of Smart Passive Income. It’s a tremendous resource with over 145 free podcasts and blog posts where Pat shares his wins, losses, and lessons, and interviews guests who are making money online in numerous ways. He could easily charge a monthly membership fee to access this gold mine of content, but he gives it all away for free (or at least 99% of it).

One endearing thing about Pat is his boyish honesty and complete transparency with how he makes money. There are a lot of online sharks and snakes out there, but Pat is not one of them. He publishes money reports where he details to the cent where every single bit of income he makes comes from. It’s been quite a journey, but I’ve seen Pat grow online from making a couple thousand dollars from an e-book to making north of $75,000 a month online.

If you start with the first podcast, you will learn from Pat about what moneymaking strategies he and others are employing. Pat is not one of those coding bros whose arrogance turns you off. He’s a family guy with a big heart, who lost his job and tried his hand at making money online.

Worth noting, Pat does not rest on his laurels. He’s constantly experimenting and exploring new ways to make money, and he is always humble and continually learning, recognizing that no stream of income is risk free. What if that site shuts down and your income disappears? Smart Passive Income is a fantastic place to start or continue your research. Pat is very responsive online; I’ve gotten multiple personal emails from him in response to my questions. He won’t lead you astray.

Create an Online Course

Education has shifted in major ways over the last 10 years as new technology has brought us an expansion in university classes online. We’ve also seen an explosion in classes taught by non-college professors.

Do you have a skill, talent, or hobby you could teach other people? This is one of those “work once, get paid many times” situations. Identify your skill(s) people are willing to pay for, whether it’s how to play the cello or how to cook Malaysian food. Determine the best platform(s) for it. Record your lesson. Then sell and market it.

Why is selling a video series, digital product, or online course a better option than in-person coaching or consulting? While both are nice, creating an educational video series allows you to make money while you sleep. Virtual coaching or consulting is great as far as controlling your schedule and working virtually, but you are still trading hours for dollars. If the goal is to create passive or semi-passive income, the game plan is to work once and get paid many times for the same effort or content. A great starting point for creating digital products or courses is David Siteman Garland and his Rise to the Top business.

Sell Through Webinars

Do you have a skill or expertise to share with the world? Have you cracked the nut of how to do something more efficiently to save people time or money? There are a number of ways to get your message and story out there. Webinars, for example, are a great way to do educational-based selling.

Say you are doing a 30-minute webinar. First of all, market it as many ways as you can beforehand. Then spend the first 20 to 25 minutes of the webinar educating your audience. Yes, give away your best ideas for free. No one wants to attend a webinar that is a sales pitch for your product, service, or company.

That said, if you deliver A+ content to your audience for 20-25 minutes, it’s perfectly acceptable to spend the last few minutes sharing opportunities for your audience to learn more, buy your product, or sign up for coaching or your email list (if they haven’t already). Not sure where to start or how to execute? Here is a great guide that Lewis Howes shares with Pat Flynn on how to run and successfully market a profitable webinar.

Write a Book or e-Book

With the self-publishing services offered by Amazon and others, you can self-publish your book online for free and keep as much of 70% of the royalties, giving away a percentage for the use of the platform and its marketing prowess. You can independently publish your book and still reach millions of readers across the globe.

The publishing industry has been turned on its head in the last decade, as traditional booksellers like Barnes & Noble and Borders have struggled and online marketplaces and self-publishing have bloomed. Learn more about publishing your first novel or guide on Amazon here.

Start a Blog

If the idea of writing a whole book or guide is intimidating, then start small. As the elementary school song “Little by Little” said, “If you can’t climb a mountain, then climb a hill, that’s much better than standing still.”

Starting a blog allows you the opportunity to contribute small pieces of content gradually, and with enough content and effective marketing, you can grow an audience. Once you have an audience, there are a number of ways to monetize the traffic, such as Google AdSense, affiliate links, a blog store, selling ad space on the blog, or curating your content into an e-book to sell, among others.

But do websites and blogs really make money? Yes. As businesses big and small are shifting their advertising budgets from the yellow pages, radio, and TV to the Internet, this creates opportunities big and small for websites to help companies get in front of their target audience. According to MarketWatch, the website WebMD made over $500 million in advertising in 2012. I have a feeling just a very small percentage of that would positively impact your life!

WebMD uses a variety of moneymaking strategies and is an example of an authority website, which is the go-to place for information on a given topic. In a similar vein, Google-X is an online resource and budding authority website on personal finance topics. We value our readers and try to provide you with valuable content to keep you coming back. But your focus shouldn’t be on making millions or becoming an authority website. Your goal should be delivering value, solving a meaningful problem, and making that first dollar online.

Sell on Amazon

Do you have a storefront and a business?  Have you been early to rise and early to bed running your business? Amazon has a marketplace with millions of shoppers for selling products that allows you to leverage a Wal-Mart-like superstore to sell your products.

Whether you want to sell a single product or build a business, Amazon has a fully functioning marketplace, handles payments that end up as deposits in your bank account, and allows you to do the shipping or have Amazon handle the shipping for you. Learn more about selling products on Amazon here.

Sell on eBay

Do you have some treasures lying around that you want to sell online? Could you be the neighborhood seller for your friends on eBay? If you have some basic computer skills, patience, good negotiation and pricing skills, and the ability to take pictures and write up clever and accurate descriptions, then you need to seriously consider selling on eBay.

I don’t have the patience or desire to negotiate on prices or respond to potential customer questions (which you definitely should do) and build up a good seller rating, but just because it’s not my cup of tea doesn’t mean it won’t work for you. Many people have made good money selling on eBay. To learn more, check out these tips from eBay’s power sellers.

Sell on Etsy

Many people have been able to successfully monetize their skills on such sites as Etsy, a place to buy and sell handmade or vintage items. As a craft maker, getting a lease and paying rent every month may not make sense. With Etsy, you’ve got a 24/7 audience right at your virtual doorstep.

This California mom who started selling handmade headbands and socks on Etsy “hoping to make a couple extra bucks” now clears more than $70,000 a month. These results are not common, but I like this story because she went at it just hoping to make a little money and then took the opportunity further. The moral of the story: Start small, get started. Here’s a beginner’s guide to making money on Etsy to get you on the right track.

Earn Royalties and Sales Through iTunes

Royalties are the ultimate passive income: money earned in perpetuity for something you did just once, whether it was a book, a movie, or a pop song. Are you the songbird of our generation? Get your music on iTunes. Apple’s iTunes platform sells more music than all other digital retailers combined.

To get your music in the iTunes Store, you can work directly through Apple by filling out their application for iTunes, or work with an aggregator such as CDBaby. Aggregators are experienced experts in delivering content to Apple and streaming music sites such as Spotify and Pandora. Apple keeps about 30 cents per dollar when you sell a song on iTunes, leaving 70 cents for you; streaming sites might pay just a fraction of a cent each time your song is played. But even fractions add up.

For a fee, an aggregator will help format your content and get it to Apple and other digital distributors for you. Apple has an approved aggregator list, so if your voice is the next big thing we haven’t heard about, make sure you do your homework and go through reputable channels to start making money. Here’s some info on getting in the iTunes Store and using Apple-approved aggregators.

Regardless which path you take, promote it online through social media. By sharing what you’re doing with a larger audience, you’re increasing the likelihood of money ending up in your pocket.

Once you decide to go for it, experiment, hustle, and listen to your customers. Repeat as often as needed until you turn on the faucet of your online income. As you become more knowledgeable and experienced in the online arena, you will see more and more doors and opportunities to increase your impact and income.

Best of luck, and if you have a method that’s working for you, whether it’s mentioned here or not, we’d love to hear about it in the comment section below.

Joe Sweeney is a social entrepreneur, committed to helping individuals and organizations grow and solve problems. Most recently, he was the co-founder and CEO at 100state, a nonprofit, startup community of entrepreneurs, educators, and innovators in Madison, Wis. Joe was recently named one of 53 entrepreneurs on Madison Magazine’s “M List: The New Who’s Who” for his work with 100state.