The world of making a living online with blogging often has a stigma attached to it. This is a sad, but true fact. It continues to be fueled by hypocritical answers and certain information that’s withheld in success stories you read across the web.
Making a living online isn’t difficult, and anyone with a computer and internet connection can start. However, making an HONEST living online is a completely different story.
Still, I’m determined to bust through the myths that you either have to make a living online by selling your soul or working yourself to death. I have personally overcome both of those misconceptions and am averaging $8,000 a month in revenue from this blog.
How to make a living online
Before I explain the different methods you can use to earn an honest living online, I first want you to understand that there are actually several completely different paths you can take as a business owner.
- Become a freelancer – A blog is one of the best ways to display your work as a freelancer. It’s literally a living, breathing portfolio. Obviously, this is the route I’ve currently decided to go in. I started Careful Cents as a reflection of a personal writing style, relationships I’ve formed with brands and expertise as a past accountant.
- Establish a brand – This can come in the form of a personal brand, as exampled by Mariah of Femtrepreneur, or a company brand, as detailed by The Write Life. Both of these brand-building routes are good choices, and offer the capability to increase your popularity, authority, and income, as an entrepreneur.
- Build an empire – With this method you’re basically becoming a serial entrepreneur who experiments with several different niche sites, startups and other income stream opportunities. However, according to my research and personal experience, it takes an average of 3 years before entrepreneurs turn a profit from their entrepreneurial efforts. A great example of this venture is my friend Matt, from MoneyLab.co, who works on multiple income experiments every month.
Let me be clear, there are no right and wrong ways for making a living online. There are only right and wrong ways FOR YOU as an entrepreneur. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.
No matter how many ethical ways other entrepreneurs spin it, or how many case studies they publish to prove it works, it has to work for you to be effective.
There are dishonest people all over the internet (and among my blogging friends). This should not come as a surprise to you. Even well-established bloggers are hiding the fact that they earn money in an unethical (selling-out-their-soul) kind of way. But that’s up to them.
I’m not here to judge what others do, but to simply reveal the real truth of what it REALLY takes to earn an honest, and ethical, living as an online entrepreneur.
8 proven ways for making a living online
There are lots of other ways to earn money online but I’m showcasing the best ones based on my personal experience (through experimenting) and what I’ve seen my fellow colleagues/friends test.
Some of these methods allow entrepreneurs to earn thousands of dollars every month, while others only make a few hundred.
It takes a lot of time, energy, and financial resources to get a new business off the ground, but the reward usually outweighs the sacrifice. Here are 8 case studies (in no particular order) that prove you can earn money online without selling out.
1. Freelance writing and teaching
As I mentioned earlier, freelancing is the quickest way to earn money. The only downside is that you’re often trading time for money — unless you do it the way that Holly has perfected.
Holly Johnson is a fellow freelancer and friend of mine. We’ve met up at conferences and chatted over email. Her and her husband are avid travelers so we’re all trying to balance a business while being location independent. Plus, she’s the breadwinner for her family too!
Furthermore, she’s very open and honest when it comes to her freelance writing work, clients and her process. She really knows her stuff and isn’t just a freelance writer who writes about writing. HA!
- Name: Holly Johnson, Club Thrifty
- Method of monetization: Freelance writer, writing course author and teacher
- Monthly income: $25,000+
- Age of business: Nearly six years (launched in 2011)
Click the button below to read my interview with Holly and find out more about her freelance writing journey.
2. Direct advertising
Offering direct advertising on your blog or website is a great money-making method once you’ve established a solid online brand. You usually need to have quite a bit of traffic (in the form of pageviews) before brands will want to fork over money.
It’s also a lot easier to request a decent advertising rate when you build a separate company brand (a brand or business that isn’t focused on you as a person), versus a personal one. Alexis Grant is the creator and founder of The Write Life (who I mentioned above), a multi-contributor website that focuses on resources for published authors and writers.
Her team began experimenting with direct ads last year and now earns up to $2,000 a month from displaying banner ads in the side-bar of the blog, and in the weekly newsletter. They are very particular with what brands/ads they agree to work with, so the resources are something their readers will find helpful.
I personally chose not to go this route because I didn’t want to clutter up my blog with banner ads. I do, however, occasionally accept brand sponsorships (from brands I work with directly) to display an ad in my weekly newsletters.
- Name: The Write Life
- Method of monetization: Direct advertising and banner ads
- Monthly income: $500-2,000
- Age of business: Nearly four years (launched June 2013)
3. Coaching or mentoring
Business mentoring, life coaching — whatever you identify with — coaching offers the chance to make decent money while offering guidance and helping people.
I never thought of myself as a mentor, and never wanted to identify with the term “coach”, but over the past year I have embraced that title, as more and more go-getters reach out to me for mentoring.
Depending on what level of experience you have, and your reputation, coaching can pull down $1,000 per session, or more. (I personally know several business colleagues who charge this rate.) Don’t worry though, my 30 minute sessions are a budget-friendly $50.
I want to focus on more realistic numbers, and this is something that my friend Amanda Abella has been able to achieve. She’s an awesome coach, and author, who mentors millennial entrepreneurs to take control of their money mindsets and fall in love with their finances.
We’re a kindred spirit in the money realm — I’m sure you can see why we’re friends.
- Name: Amanda Abella
- Method of monetization: Coach and author
- Monthly income: $6,000+
- Age of business: Six years (launched in 2011)
4. Brand ambassador and sponsorships
You know those people who give out free samples of food at places like Whole Foods? They aren’t volunteers. The company is paying them to give out free stuff in hopes they can raise awareness about the food and sell more bags/boxes.
This is the simplified definition of what it means to work with brands and become a brand ambassador. In fact, the hubs has been a brand ambassador for Organic Valley and traveled around the state giving away coupons and free milk. The company paid him for his time (6 hours a day), food, and lodging for 3 days.
Sounds too good to be true, right? And how does this apply to an online business? Well, thanks to the fabulous expertise of my friend Shannyn, from Frugal Beautiful, you can learn to work with brands who want to pay you to give away free stuff, do reviews, and model goods on social media.
She’s worked with Payless, Kohl’s, CVS, and tons more companies to get hotel stays, beauty products, clothes, shoes — all for free. It was her guidance that helped me earn my first dollar working with brands like E*TRADE, TaxAct, and Lifelock.
- Name: Shannyn Allen, Frugal Beautiful
- Method of monetization: Brand ambassador and sponsorships
- Monthly income: $4,000+ (plus loads of free stuff)
- Age of business: Six years (launched January 2011)
5. Selling digital products
In the beginning stages of her freelance career, Gina Horkey was a coaching client of mine. We worked together several times a month for just over a year. In that time I helped her start craft her first online product, helping freelance writers.
She was then able to grow her collection of products enough so she could quit her full-time job, and now earns enough money to support her small family. She mentors and teaches other freelancers how to get started, find clients and make a living online.
Her digital products include a freelance writing course, a virtual assistant course and different collaborations with other course creators.
- Name: Gina Horkey, Horkey Handbook
- Method of monetization: Freelance writer, digital course author and teacher
- Monthly income: $20,000+ (of which about 50% comes from digital products)
- Age of business: Nearly three years (launched May 2014)
Click the button below to find out more about Gina and her array of digital products for freelance writers and virtual assistants.
6. Requesting donations
The donation model is a much lesser-known way to make money as a blogger or creative. One of the first trail blazers to go down this path is Maria Popova, of Brain Pickings. She makes thousands of dollars a month from readers who love her work and want to continue reading.
My good friend (and accountability partner) Steph Halligan also went this route when she launched her new passion-project, Art to Self. It’s less than 6 months old but already brings in several hundred dollars a month in donations from loyal fans and readers.
She produces daily inspirational comics, delivered via email, and people are eating it up. If you have a creative side, and want to share your art with the world, consider the donation model as a smart way to earn a full-time living online.
- Name: Stephanie Halligan, Art to Self
- Method of monetization: Donations
- Monthly income: $800+
- Age of business: Two years (launched January 2015)
7. Private membership subscriptions
The ladies who run One Woman Shop are truly inspirational. They each have separate businesses but have partnered up to build an amazing brand and business. It’s taken a lot of time and effort on their part, and they are still trying to turn a decent profit.
The reason I’m showcasing them is because not all brand-building endeavors should be entered into with the sole idea of making money. Sometimes it’s about making a difference, changing lives, connecting with others, or even personal fulfillment. These benefits often outshine any amount of money.
They’ve built an incredible community, that’s both supportive and full of valuable resources. As a female entrepreneur myself it’s nice to know that other female business women get where I’m coming from, and are happy to support my ideas.
- Name: Sara + Cristina, One Woman Shop
- Method of monetization: Membership forum and private group
- Monthly income: $1,500+
- Age of business: Nearly four years (launched July 2013)
8. Affiliate marketing
I personally love affiliate marketing. Being the accounting person that I am, I really like the reporting, tracking, and income potential that affiliate marketing brings. It’s actually one of the first ways I monetized my blog when I made the decision to turn my blog into a business.
My friend and fellow blogger Michelle Schroeder-Gardner, from Making Sense of Cents, is someone who has been very successful at affiliate marketing. She currently brings in about $55,000 a month from affiliate links — someone clicks on her link and makes a purchase based on her review or recommendation of that product.
- Name: Michelle Schroeder-Gardner, Making Sense of Cents
- Method of monetization: Affiliate marketing
- Monthly income: $90,000+ (of which $55k is from affiliate marketing)
- Age of business: Nearly six years (launched August 2011)
Now that I’ve peeled back the curtain of what it really takes for making a living online honestly and turning a blog into a viable business, I want to hear from you.
How do you make a living online? Are you still experimenting with the best monetization method? Or have you come across a solid income plan?