There are many ways to use the internet to make money. This short guide outlines a few of the most common and effective ways to monetize your online presence.
Courses & Training
If you have expertise in a skill people may want to learn, or can source that expertise, then you can create an online course to sell to customers. This might include learning materials such as text, images, audio-visual material and quizzes, or online examinations to test whether the user has understood and learnt from the course. You might also potentially offer a certificate for anyone who has successfully taken the course. You may need to invest in creating content that people are prepared to pay for, and in creating a learning management system or website to deliver the courses - or you may find an off-the-shelf system that you can use in order to reduce your initial set-up cost and development times. Consider also the costs of marketing your online courses to build awareness and sales, and the need for an online payment gateway so that people can pay online whenever they are ready to purchase your course.
Social media can be key to marketing your goods and services, but you can also make money from social media through 'influencer marketing' if you can build either a large-enough following, or a smaller following in a demographic that is particularly attractive to certain companies or organisations. The more niche the market, the smaller a following you’re likely to require to start making an income – though the amounts you may be paid are likely to be smaller too. Make sure you are aware of best practice and the policies that different social media outlets take towards paid or incentivised promotions, as you can end up losing your account if you break their terms of service - as well as damaging your reputation and losing followers.
One of the most popular methods is selling products online. This could involve selling products you import or manufacture through a custom e-commerce website you have built using a system like Magento, Prestashop or WooCommerce. It could also involve selling unwanted household items on eBay, buying items in bulk in order to resell them at a profit on Amazon, selling hand-made or craft items on Etsy, or having your own website on Shopify - or some other customisable system that lets you create an online store for items you sell, whether you are an individual or a company. Selling through one of the big marketplaces like eBay or Amazon will certainly reduce your margins (sometimes significantly) - but does mean you have an instant source of potential buyers and visibility. Some companies dispose of suplus stock that they are unable to shift in their own e-commerce stores on the big online marketplaces. The entry-level cost of creating your own e-commerce website is much lower now than it used to be, but don't underestimate the amount of work that goes into sourcing products, entering them into the website, dealing with enquiries and orders, and fulfilling the orders (unless you are drop-shipping), as well as dealing with returns.
Similar to selling products, you can also advertise services you sell online. You can sell services such as mentorship, training, counselling and advice online, by offering virtual one-to-ones. Consider whether you want your clientele to be able to buy these services online, or whether a more traditional business-to-business model of invoicing for payments will work. A key factor is building up the visibility of your website enough to deliver a regular stream of potential customers who get in touch to find out more about your services. You may need to be found under particular keywords relevant to the services you offer, including geographic regions or locations - or you may need to build a brand effectively so that people identify your brand with a particular service, and come to your website when they are looking for that service.
Many membership websites put content exclusively for members behind a paywall, offering a 'taster' of what is available to whet the appetite. You can allow members to have recurring subscriptions, or charge a one-off ‘lifetime access’ fee. You can even combine this with selling courses and training materials that are relevant to the membership, to what is effectively a captive market. Any kind of online content can work for a membership website - but it helps if it has particular value to potential members e.g. it is rare and specialist, it will help them in their job or career, or few other sites deliver this type of content. Ensuring people will see enough value in the membership to persuade them to sign up is one thing - the other is ensuring they wish to keep renewing their membership.
Getting a sponsor for a blog, video, or other online content can boost your revenue - many virtual events or meetings which are being marketed online will also have a sponsor. Bear in mind when you're planning or creating content who might be interested in sponsoring it - you can get together a list of target sponsors relevant to your niche and that you’re happy to endorse to your audience, and create a pitch for why they should sponsor your content. The amount of visitors who will see details of the sponsor and their demographic profile is also important to attracting sponsorship, so make sure you have as much information as you can to hand to show a sponsor how valuable the sponsorship will be to them.
Sell Advertising Space
If you have a website, you may well be able to sell advertising space on it - though whether you want to may depend on whether it will detract from services or products you offer and affect your reputation. If you are happy to have specific relevant advertisers appearing on your site, then try approaching companies in your industry / niche to negotiate an advertising arrangement. If your site is too small or has too little traffic to be of interest to specific advertisers, you can try setting up Google AdSense (though that may be targeted less to your website’s content and more to your audience’s browsing history, so adverts that you may consider to be inappropriate may be shown on your site). There are also advertising networks availabl,e though they may have certain parameters you need to meet in order to be considered for their programmes.
If you regularly link to products and services from your own content, such as books on Amazon, then affiliate marketing may let you monetize this. If people purchase a product after clicking through your link or with your discount code, then you will receive a small 'commission' fee from the transaction. Affiliate programmes need to be signed up to, and frequently have complex rules governing how you can drive traffic and when and how (or whether) your commissions will be paid. If you are driving traffic to an affiliate link through underhand means (such as sending unsolicited commercial email or 'spam') then you will probably have your affiliate account blocked. Also beware of rule changes which may reduce the amount of commission you receive, or schemes that only allow you to receive commission when a minimum amount has been reached.
Online events have surged in popularity since the Covid-19 pandemic. Your potential audience is worldwide, especially if there are attendees who might not normally be able to network internationally. Budget carefully though, especially if you’re paying speakers.
Audiobooks / Virtual Products
E-books, audiobooks, podcasts, even digital art commissions – all of these can be sold online, either alongside physical versions or standalone. They also often have lower overheads than their physical counterparts.