How To Make Money Online for Beginners, Part-Timers, and Students

There’s money to be made on the internet—in fact, thousands of people around the world rely solely on the web for their income.

But if you aren’t one of their ranks already, it can be hard to know where to begin. There are so many paths you could take to start making money online that it can feel impossible to get going. 

Rather than overwhelm you with complicated options, this article covers how to make money online for beginners, or people who are working or studying full-time and just want some extra income. 

I’ll break down the big-picture options to start earning via the internet and give you the resources needed to pursue the right path (that suits your personality and lifestyle). 

How to make money online for beginners is part of our money series. Check out these other helpful resources:

How to make money in college
College saving guide
How to budget in college
Ways to make money from home
How to make passive income
Learn how to pay off student loans


The reality and myths of making money online

As you’re researching how to make money online, you’re bound to come across a number of people who boast about how they’ve earned [insert absurd amount of cash] fast and easy via the internet. 

Don’t listen to them.

While there are ways to start earning money online fast, the idea that you can earn huge amounts of money with little effort is simply a myth. 

The reality is every method for making serious money online requires either a time investment, a financial investment, or both. 

Sure, there are simple ways to earn small amounts of money (like taking surveys for $25 gift cards). But if you’re looking for a way to make money online that actually brings in decent side income—over a long period of time—then get out of the “get rich quick” mindset, and start thinking about investing your time and energy into making this dream a reality

That being said, there are plenty of people (including me) who make a good full-time living through online means. But except for the very lucky few, anyone who enjoys that kind of money from the internet put in time and effort to get there.


How to choose the right path for making money online

One of the issues beginners run into when setting up their internet business is how many options there are. In today’s world, there are literally hundreds of ways to make money online, so where exactly should you start? 

The best way to answer this is to think about two things: 

  1. What skills do you have now? 
  2. What kind of work do you enjoy? 

The first question you can ideally answer with a bit of soul-searching. Think about practical skills you have (like coding, marketing, photography) as well as soft skills (like people management, organizational skills, or attention to detail).

To help identify your abilities, check out our soft skills list, and don’t shy away from listing skills you’re still working on. The idea is to make your list as big as possible, so you can start mapping your abilities and interests to the various ways to make money online. 

As for the second question, remember that you’ll likely be investing a lot of time and brainpower into your online endeavor. If you don’t enjoy something, you’ll be much less likely to see it through. 

With both of these questions answered, you can start looking for ways to make money online that fall in the sweet spot of what you’re already good at and what you enjoy.


Making money online as a freelancer

One of the most common and popular ways to make money online as a beginner is to start freelancing. But the term “freelance” can refer to a lot of different career paths. 

At its core, being a freelancer simply means you offer some sort of service to more than one company. In many cases, “freelancer” is interchangeable with other words, like “contractor” or “solopreneur.” 

When it comes to making money online, most freelancers fall into this category in some shape or form. And even freelancers who perform their services in person (like photographers or personal chefs) will usually have a web presence of some sort, which they’ll use to find and attract new clients or maintain a personal brand

There are so many types of freelancers out there, but here are some of the most common categories: 

Freelance writers will create copy for ad campaigns, websites, blogs, magazines, newspapers, or their own monetized websites. 

Freelance marketers will work in fields like SEO, content marketing, paid advertising, consultancy, social media management, PR, or any other channels businesses use for marketing. 

Freelance photographers might work at weddings and events, offer headshots, provide businesses with custom images, or focus on photo editing. 

Freelance videographers can record and edit footage, manage on-site shoots, or create scripts. 

Freelance web specialists can work as coding specialists, web developers or designers, UX experts, site technicians, etc. 

Freelance financial experts can offer financial planning, accounting and bookkeeping, or tax services. 

Freelance virtual assistants provide all types of tasks for businesses and busy individuals. They can do anything from appointment scheduling, social media engagement, lead generation, and project management. 

Freelance tutors and teachers provide online education to students of all ages, or in specific areas of learning. 

Of course, there are other freelance jobs that don’t fit into these categories, but if you’re looking for a place to start, consider which of these general categories are the best match for your skills and interests.


How to get started freelancing

Once you’ve decided what type of freelancer you want to be, there are a few ways you can get started. In general, there are two major options (and they can be done simultaneously): 

Option 1: Sign up for freelancing platforms 

Websites like Fiverr and Upwork, or apps like TaskRabbit, can be a good way to start freelancing if you’re a beginner. These platforms allow you to upload a profile outlining your skills and experience, set your rates, and start connecting with people who need your services. 

The downside with this method is that it can be hard to make good money. There are people who competitively price themselves on such platforms, and if you don’t have a lot of positive reviews, you’ll need to go even lower to get your first few clients. Not to mention, the platforms themselves take a large cut of your income. 

That being said, these platforms can be a great way for you to get some side income as you learn and practice your skills, or they can introduce you to clients who may need more work (at a higher price) later on. 

In other words, these options can be a good place for beginning freelancers to cut their teeth, but if you want to do this long-term, you’ll eventually need to move on to option two. 

Option 2: Start building your own business

The other option for starting out as a freelancer is to build your own business from the ground up. With this method, you’ll eventually have more control over what types of clients you take on, and how much you can charge. 

On the flip side, setting up a business takes a lot more work to get started than the other option. Even if you only plan to do this part time, you’ll need to take on some or all the following tasks: 

1. Setting yourself up as a legal business entity 

2. Purchasing and putting up a website for your business

3. Updating and managing your social media pages 

4. Setting aside money for taxes and making quarterly payments 

5. Continually marketing your business to find new leads 

Not to mention actually serving your clients! But, if you have the time and patience to put all of that together, you stand to earn a lot more long-term than you would solely through the freelancer platforms mentioned above. 

There are more resources for freelancers here, or check out these articles from the archive: 


Making money online by selling products

If you don’t want to go down the route of offering freelance services, then the other path you can take is to sell products online. Once again, this method of making money online can go a number of different ways, so let’s explore what options there are.


Selling digital products online

If you’re interested in making money online through sales, you can cut out a lot of the complicated parts by focusing solely on digital products. These would be assets you create that are valuable enough that people want to pay for them. For example: 

  • Ebooks 
  • Research papers 
  • Digital artwork
  • Templates and guides 
  • Checklists 
  • Content subscriptions (like an online magazine or newsletter) 

Of course, simply making one of these products isn’t enough to start earning cash. You’ll need to get the word out about what you’ve made, by leveraging an existing platform or doing marketing on your own. 

For example, if you want to write and sell a book, you can use Amazon and other digital publishers to get the book out in front of your intended audience. You can use their existing marketing services (which cost a fee), or do marketing on your own by soliciting reviews from book influencers or researching ways to make your book appear in more searches. 

If you plan to sell your digital products on your own website, then much of your time will be spent marketing it through paid advertising, social media marketing, search engine optimization, or word-of-mouth marketing.


Selling physical products online 

These days, it’s easier than ever to sell physical products online and earn a bit of extra cash. How you go about it largely depends on what you’re planning to sell. 

If you are making your own crafts and artwork to sell online, the easiest way might be to open up your own storefront on Etsy, or use other similar resellers to market your products. 

If you don’t want to make products yourself, you can also look into earning money through online sales by dropshipping, which allows you to sell products and use a different company (often Amazon) to store, package, and ship the products. This method requires you to stay abreast of what sort of products are selling online, and use marketing tactics to make sure your digital storefront get plenty of digital traffic.


Reselling products online 

Another option for selling products online is to sell things you already own, or purchase products and “flipping” them—selling them for a profit online. 

We have several articles that talk about both of these methods of online selling in more detail: 


Start as a beginner, grow into something more

No matter what method you choose to make money online, there will be bumps in the road as you experiment and learn through trial and error. 

Fortunately, you’re already on the right track, finding articles like these to guide you. If you want to earn more and grow your online sales presence, the key is to keep researching and learning by consuming content like this, or by looking for mentors to guide you

Don’t expect a big windfall of cash right away. Instead, if you stick with it and invest your energy in the right way, you will see the income you earn online grow slowly and steadily, until it can become your full-time gig.