The truth about making money online

We’ve all seen the fire hose of articles and videos promising an easy way of making money online. Google “make money online,” and you’ll come up with more than 3.9 million results. Many of them – including many of those who advertise heavily – want to sell you some sort of magical key to online riches. But are they telling you the real truth about making money online? Is it possible to make money online at all, let alone to get rich?

It’s a popular topic, and for a good reason: who wouldn’t want to make thousands of dollars each month without even leaving the house?

The truth about making money online is that it is possible. That’s evidenced by the fact that thousands of people are at least making a living online. And a small percentage of those are getting rich!

That sounds impressive, right? But read on…

The Numbers Game

The math is not reassuring. Statistics are hard to come by, but according to at least one source, there are more than 1.85 billion websites worldwide. That’s nearly one website for every two people on the planet who have Internet access.

To further put that into perspective, it’s nearly 10 times the number of websites that existed just 10 years ago.

The exponential growth in the number of websites reduces the likelihood of making a new one that will even be profitable. The sheer volume of competition argues against it. It’s a heavily saturated market, and you’ll need to do something really exciting to stand out.

7 Ways to Make Money Online: Myths and Realities

That’s just the story with websites in general. But let’s take a closer look at seven of the most popular ways advanced to make money online.

1.  Start a Blog

Popular myths about making money from blogging:

  • If you build it, they will come. Maybe, but probably not. Of the nearly 2 billion websites worldwide, about 600 million are blogs.
  • People want to read about your life/troubles/opinions/etc. Nope, that’s what social media is for. If you want to make money, your blog will need to add value to other people’s lives.
  • You can make money blogging about your expertise. Though that’s sometimes true, some blogging themes are more successful than others. For example, finance-centered blogs are easier to monetize than personal relationship blogs.
  • You can make $100,000 per year blogging. Only about 5% of bloggers earn a full-time living from their blogs. That information is from 2012. That statistic is almost certainly much lower in 2021, given the much higher number of blogs.

The reality of blogging:

If you want to make money blogging, you’ll need to think of your blog as a serious business. However, you may launch it as a side hustle since it won’t produce immediate revenue. You’ll be working nights and weekends before you earn even a few dollars from it, and there’s no assurance that you ever will.

Because of the time and effort required, you’ll need to be passionate about your blogging theme. It will be a labor of love for a long time. And even when it starts generating revenue, it’ll only be a trickle. It may be several years before you’re making even $1,000 per month.

You’ll spend 50% of your time building your website and creating content. The other half will be spent marketing your blog. You’ll need to do that through social media, building links with other blogs in your niche, and gradually building an email list of several thousand willing readers.

2.  Build an Online Store

Popular myths about running an online store:

  • Online stores are one of the easiest ways to make money. Not only are there as many as 24 million online shops, but you’ll be competing with the heavyweights, like Amazon, Walmart, and Target. That’ll be far from easy.
  • Online stores are perfect passive income sources. Given the level of competition, this is no longer true. The only way it might be possible is if you have a unique product. And even then, it’s likely to be temporary. The income is also not fully passive. You’ll need to be actively engaged and active daily to promote your store.
  • You can learn to create an online store by taking an online course. There’s some truth to this claim, but it’s mostly a myth. A course can give you the basic framework and tell you what the course creator did. But it won’t necessarily work for you.

The reality of building an online store:

Successful online stores are one of the top ways to make a lot of money online. But it’s very much a pyramid. A small number of people are making big money. A large number are making little or none at all.

The best way to succeed with an online store is to have a unique product. That’s either one you design yourself or have exclusive access to from an outside provider. But you’ll also need to have strong marketing skills. Similar to a blog, your online store will be successful only to the extent you’re able to promote it.

3. Start a YouTube Channel

Popular myths about making money on YouTube:

  • People are making millions on YouTube. This is slightly true – a few hundred certainly are. But the vast majority are making little or nothing. This article on Inc.com reported that even YouTubers with 1.4 million monthly views earn – are you ready for this – less than $17,000 per year.
  • Finding YouTube topics is easy. This is at least partly true. You can find them by seeing what’s working on other YouTube channels. But everyone else is looking in the same place, so the competition will be heavy.
  • You only need one or two videos to go viral, and you’re on your way. This could be true, but there are a few flaws. First, getting a video to go viral is tough. You’ll be competing with 31 million YouTube channels. Second, getting one viral video doesn’t guarantee another. And third, you’re only as good as your last video. One viral video might put you on top, but it won’t keep you there.

The YouTube reality:

It was easier to make money on YouTube a decade ago, when there were fewer YouTube channels and videos. But both numbers have exploded in recent years, making it much more difficult to even get noticed, let alone earn money.

While expertise can be a factor with YouTube, marketing capabilities take center stage. You’ll need to promote each video you create. Even if you’re good at that, many will fail to draw any attention.

You’ll also need to create professional videos that are highly entertaining. True, people come to YouTube looking for information. But entertainment is a bigger factor. The more entertaining a video, the more it will contribute to your celebrity status, which is another critical ingredient to YouTube success.

4. Become a Freelance Writer

Popular myths about freelance writing:

  • There are unlimited online writing opportunities.  Only profitable websites and blogs offer opportunities, and only in certain narrow topics.
  • You can make six figures if you’re a decent writer. There are probably thousands of freelance writers online, and most are making only a few hundred dollars per month. Only a tiny number earn six figures.
  • It’s easy to find clients. It can be, but only for well-established writers who are commonly published on well-established websites.
  • You need to be a journalism major. Nope, you just need to be able to write engaging content on topics people want to read.

The reality of earning money as a freelance writer:

Freelance writing online can seem like the perfect opportunity to earn money for anyone who likes to write. But even if you do, there may be no market for the topics you like to write about.

As a general rule, the topics that will pay the most and pay the most consistently, are those that can be monetized. Examples include finance, travel, insurance, and technical topics (like IT and healthcare). There’s not much of a paying market for short stories and poetry, or even for stories on personal triumphs and tragedies.

Many freelance writers work on gig platforms, like Fiverr. But those assignments only fetch you a few dollars per article. Like every other online business, freelance online writing needs to be built from the ground up. That will take time and effort.

5. Find Other Freelancing Jobs

Popular myths about online freelancing:

  • Anyone can be a graphic designer/virtual assistant/video editor etc. It’s true that anyone can try. To succeed you’ll need a high level of skill and training. You’ll often need an online portfolio or references.
  • Platforms like UpWork, Fiverr, and Freelancer guarantee success. People can and do make a living on these platforms, but competition for quality work is intense and it’s often a race to the bottom, with beginners cutting their rates just to gain experience.
  • There’s lots of work available. This is partly true: there’s lots of work out there. There are also a huge number of people competing to get that work.

The truth about making money online by freelancing:

Online freelancing works. Lots of people make money at it and some people make a living at it. Very few people get rich at it, and it’s not an easy ride. There are lots of ways to do it, from graphic or web design to administrative jobs to teaching English with VIPkid and similar services.

Online freelancing works best if you already have a skill set that lends itself to online delivery. There are many opportunities but most of them require specific skills. If you don’t have these skills you’ll need to put some serious time and effort into developing them. You’ll need to get familiar with popular communication and workflow management software and you’ll need to learn how the business works.

Many online skilled jobs require a portfolio or references. If you’re just starting out and you haven’t done much work you may need to set up your own online portfolio and market yourself aggressively. It’s a very competitive world and you’ll have to make yourself stand out.

6. Write an eBook or Online Course

Popular myths about making money with eBooks and online courses:

  • You can create an ebook or online course on any topic you’re knowledgeable in. You can, but that doesn’t mean it will be a moneymaker. Even if you’re an expert in your field, the competition is thick. Once again, marketing skills and promotion are the key.
  • An ebook or online course is the perfect passive income. That’s true, if the book or course is a big seller. But even if it is, the party will only last for a while, and you’ll need to come up with a new book or course.
  • The market for ebooks and online courses is unlimited. Not true. Just as is the case with print books, there’s a limit to how many ebooks the public will buy. The same is true with online courses.

The reality of writing ebooks and online courses:

Writing an ebook or creating an online course is maybe 20% or 30% of the battle. The other 70% to 80% will be marketing your e-book or online course. This will take time, effort, and even money.

One of the best ways to promote and sell either is through affiliate marketing. That’s a technique where you offer your ebook or online course on other people’s websites and blogs. They’ll earn a commission on each sale. That will prevent you from having to pay the heavy marketing costs upfront. But you may find yourself paying 50% or more of the sale price to the affiliate sites.

Your main job will be to find affiliate sites, and to keep building the number of sites. That’s because affiliate posts get stale after just a few weeks. You’ll need to continuously add new sites to keep the sales coming in.

7. Start a Side Hustle (Involving Any of the Above)

Popular side hustle myths:

  • Make money in your spare time. This is possible, but it also depends on how much spare time you have, and what else in your life competes with it.
  • Side hustles are easier than full time jobs. Maybe once you have it up and running, but there’s still that launch phase to contend with (see the next section). It’ll require a lot of time with very little income.
  • You can convert almost any venture into a money-making opportunity. That’s only true in theory. In reality, people will pay more for certain services than others, and none at all for many more.
  • It’s possible to build a side hustle into a six-figure income. This is the biggest myth of all, but it’s a brilliant marketing claim. Only a few side hustles can generate that kind of income, and only a small number of people can make it happen.

The side hustle realities:

The dream is earning a full-time income from a side hustle. That is possible, and some people have done it. But many people never make any money at all from a side venture, because of the enormous upfront effort required. They give up once they realize how much time and effort it will take.

If a side hustle is going to turn into a full-time income, that’s probably because it’s requiring a full-time effort. Most people aren’t willing to do that on top of their regular occupations.

The Hard Truths About Making Money Online

So far, we’ve been discussing the myths and realities of making money online. But there are more general realities to be aware of. These apply to all of the methods above and to many more as well.

An online business is first and foremost a business. It must be approached like any other business. That means it can’t be a casual venture, not if it’s intended to make money.

It’s not easy. Any online work presented as easy enough for anyone to do (like filling out surveys or searching the web) is likely to earn you too little to be worth the time. Nobody will pay you significant money for doing (effectively) nothing.

Overnight success is so rare it should be completely ignored. If you’re launching any type of online money-making venture, expect it to take at least months – and probably years – before it will begin providing a positive cash flow on a steady basis.

Any type of online business will require a difficult and concentrated “launch phase”. You’ll need to put the time and effort into the venture to move into profitability. That online business you plan as a side hustle may require at least 40 hours per week between launch and profitability.

Not all online ventures succeed. Just like a brick-and-mortar business, your online venture can fail to ever generate meaningful income. You’ll need to decide how much time and effort you’re willing to invest in the project.

Your likelihood of success increases if the venture is within your area of expertise. For example, you’ll have a better chance of succeeding with an online course on “how to repair the brakes on your car yourself” if you’re an auto mechanic than an amateur.

Marketing is the “secret sauce.” Notwithstanding expertise, marketing skills are crucial to online success. You need to be able to market your blog, online store, writing skills, YouTube videos, side hustle, and e-books or online courses throughout outside channels. That will require a solid grasp of search engine optimization (SEO), as well as strong social media skills – particularly with Facebook.

There’s no magic formula. If someone really had a sure way to make bucks online, they’d be out there doing it, not trying to get you to pay $29.99 for the secret. If someone’s trying to sell you a way to make money online, be skeptical.

Making money online is a lot like making money offline. You make money by providing people with goods or services they are willing and able to pay for. Finding those people and providing the goods and services usually requires effort, investment, and considerable expertise. If you want people to pay for your goods and services, you’ll have to make sure they are good. You’ll also have to bring them to a suitable market in a highly competitive environment.

The Bottom Line

Nothing in this article is meant to discourage you from trying to make money online. Approached the right way, it is a viable way to make additional income or even to create a whole new career.

But before any of that can happen, you first need a solid grasp on the reality of making money online. That will not only help you to approach it as the serious venture it is but also to avoid being discouraged if your business isn’t an overnight success or one that will ever make you rich.

What points have we left out? Let us know in the comments section below!