April 8, 2020
Sometimes I’m asked, “Amy, how do you make money online? I’m not exactly sure what your online business is, or what it does.” Let me answer that.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I’ll earn a commission, at no additional cost to you. Read my full disclosure here.
Table of contents:
- How exactly do I make money online?
- Ways I’ve made money online in the past
- My biggest failure
- 16 years of blogs and experimenting
- What didn’t suit me and why
- How to tweak things for a better fit
- 3 things you need to make money online
Read the comments at the end too! I’ve answered a ton of specific questions.
How exactly do I make money online?
- Affiliate marketing. I share tips, tools and tutorials on my blog and in the Useletter®. As I do, I occasionally mention products or services I use. If someone purchases one based on my recommendation, I earn a commission. (That’s what affiliate marketing is — earning commission on recommended products or services.)
- Digital products. My time management book, Tell Your Time, is the only digital product I currently have for sale. (In addition to ebooks, more examples of digital products are online courses, PDFs, printable planners or worksheets, membership sites, etc.)
Those are my main income streams today, but over the years I’ve made money with all of the following ways too.
Ways I’ve made money online in the past
- Google AdSense
- Independent ads in my sidebar
- Virtual assistant
- Web designer
- Blog coach
- Conference speaker
- Writer for another site
- Print-on-demand (POD) merchandise, including t-shirts, mugs and stickers
- Reselling textbooks
- My digital business notebook, called the Knowtbook (retired)
- Printables & PDFs
- Blog headers and other blog graphics
Other ways I’ve earned or been compensated:
- Hundreds of dollars worth of Amazon gift cards via Swagbucks
- Product reviews (paid with product, not cash)
- A part-time marketing job for a local non-profit
- Tip jar (back in the day, it was common to have a place for blog visitors to donate)
I was successful with some, not so much with others.
My biggest failure
My biggest loss was in 2005. I paid a web developer $5000 (with a credit card, because I didn’t have the money) to build a networking site where businesses could find virtual assistants. That site failed and never earned a penny. Unfortunately, it took us a long time to pay off the debt. The memory of that debt is one of the main reasons I run a minimalist online business now and keep a really big cushion.
16 years of blogs and experimenting
The blog you’re reading now is my fourth. I started my first blog — a lifestyle blog — about 16 years ago. I’ve also had a personal finance blog and a homeschooling blog.
Those first 3 blogs are long gone, but they provided a lot of opportunity for learning and experimenting.
Through lots of trial and error, I discovered what I’m good at: finding and synthesizing information, especially about minimalist online business.
I also figured out the income streams I like most, and suit me best: affiliate marketing and digital products.
What didn’t suit me and why
We’re all different. There’s no right or wrong way to make money online or do online business. The options are really only limited by our individual creativity and preference. That’s why I love online business!
Figuring out what doesn’t work for you and what you don’t like can be just as helpful as figuring out what does work and what you do like.
My first three blogs were fun for a time, but I struggled to keep them up. I was interested in the topics, but not really passionate. So I moved on.
Tip: One of the biggest mistakes beginning content marketers make (i.e. bloggers, YouTuber, podcasters — anyone who creates content, then monetizes it) is taking too long to start. They get stuck on the “What’s your why?” and “Who’s your avatar?” and “How can I make my site look nicer?” questions. These are good questions. Spend a day or two on them, but content is key! The sooner you get it out there, the quicker Google will find it and suggest it. No one is looking at your site at the beginning — no one knows it exists. And, if you’re like most of us, you’ll change your mind about your topic or settle into something as you go. So, get your content working for you first. Dive deep into those questions later. Just start!
OK, done with my tangent. 🙂 Where was I? Right. The things that didn’t work for me…
Here’s a very brief description of what I didn’t like about each income stream I’ve tried. I’m not opposed to any of them. I would absolutely consider trying them again if I ventured into a situation where it made sense.
Ads. The clutter they created and the negative impact on user experience outweighed the benefit for me. Ads work best with certain niches (lifestyle, food, fashion, etc.), but to be lucrative, they require a lot of traffic. When I had a lifestyle blog, I didn’t have enough traffic to warrant them.
Services. I enjoyed the services I provided, for a time. At my core, I prefer autonomy, doing my own thing and building my own thing. Plus, with a house full of littles at the time, I was fitting work into the nooks and crannies of life. Having to be available for someone else on their schedule got complicated sometimes.
Physical products. I love print on demand (POD) and will probably fire it up again at some point. The profit margin is generally lower than keeping my own inventory, but as a minimalist, I like not having to store, process, ship, deal with returns, etc.
Digital products. Overall, digital products are great for me. The biggest downside of digital products in my niche is how quickly they become out of date. That’s an ongoing puzzle for me. I’m sure there are more digital products in my future though.
Membership sites. I’ve never had a membership site even though the recurring revenue is very appealing. Here’s why. Way back in the day, long before Facebook Groups, I started an online community for readers of my lifestyle blog. Almost as soon as I started it, I knew it wasn’t a great fit. I’m a huge introvert. Chatting, moderating and keeping people engaged was very taxing. Within a few months, I handed the community over to two highly active members. It was a great lesson! That experience is why I don’t run any Facebook Groups today, or have a membership site. Some people thrive in that environment, but the ongoing maintenance isn’t for me. Plus, having to continually come up with new content for members, indefinitely, gives me stress. I much prefer things with a clear end.
How to tweak things for a better fit
Just because you determine something doesn’t suit you doesn’t mean you should throw it out. How can you tweak it to make it a better fit? Here are ways it might work for me:
- Instead of a regular Facebook Group, open indefinitely, I could run a pop-up Facebook Group.
- Instead of a membership site, I could run a coaching group that lasts for a pre-set number of weeks. I could limit my involvement to regular office hours so expectations are clear.
- Instead of one big signature online course where outdated information gets quickly buried, I could sell mini-courses that could be updated, replaced or retired easily.
- Instead of providing a broad service (“I’ll design your website”) prone to scope creep, I could provide very specific packages with a checklist of items I’ll complete.
- If I wanted to explore an interest and I’m not sure if it’s a passion, instead of starting a new blog, I could start a Facebook Page or write an ebook.
Those are examples, but hopefully you get the idea. No need to abandon something completely if it doesn’t work. There are always ways to tweak it.
3 things you need to make money online
If you’re still wondering exactly how making money online works, the concept is quite simple. As I’ve said before, you need 3 basic things to make money online:
- Passion. You’re a ninja at something. Start a blog (or YouTube channel or podcast) and talk about that thing! This is your content.
- People. Other people in the world are interested. Use social media (and resources like Rachel Miller) to find them!
- Product. Your “product” — the thing you “sell” — doesn’t have to be a thing. As you can see from my list above, you can make money in a variety of ways: affiliate marketing, selling digital or physical products, providing a service, ads or whatever works. Better yet, use a combination!
Don’t spend thousands of dollars to get started. Don’t overthink it. Keep it simple. Get a blog up and running in minutes (literally). Start writing articles. Or, record videos or podcast episodes and embed them in your blog posts with some show notes.
Experiment with and add income streams as you go. But start! You’ll never make any money online if you don’t get some content out there first.
Got a question?
I truly want this post to be as helpful as possible. Having been in it so long, sometimes I accidentally skip over things in my explanation. Leave your questions in the comments below. (P.S. There are no dumb questions!)
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