14 Aug How To (Actually) Make Money Online
Latest posts by Grant Sabatier (see all)
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Not surprisingly, it’s actually pretty easy to make money online. What’s tough is to make enough money online to quit your job and do it full-time. I’ve met hundreds of people who make between $100 – $2,000 per month of income online, but very few who make enough to do it full-time.
The best thing about making money online is that it typically requires so little overhead – you don’t need an office, you don’t need a garage full of products, you don’t even need to get off the couch sometimes. But while it’s flexible – it’s a ton of work and actually pretty tough.
Of course, there are always the stories of people who make an insane amount of money online, but they are the exceptions and it’s unfortunately not as easy as running a few Facebook ads and making bank. Here’s how I know: I’ve built my entire career online. It’s made me a millionaire and helped me reach financial independence at the age of 30. Here’s what I’ve learned over the past 8+ years making money online, both the opportunities and the challenges.
How to actually make money online
There are a ton of ways to make money online these days, but the primary ways fit into three categories:
1. Build a website and monetize your content
2. Sell other people’s product or service
3. Launch your own product or service
1. Build a website and monetize your content
I’m not going to sugarcoat it for you– it definitely takes some time to make money on a website. I estimate that I spent at least 500 hours building and writing for Millennial Money before I made my first $1. I just did it because I loved. You really gotta love it to put in the time. Ninety percent of the blogs I see these days last less than 6 months – people just burn out which is easy to burn to do when your blog doesn’t have any traffic and it’s not making any money.
Millennial Money was launched in 2015 and after building hundreds of websites for other people, this is the first one I’ve built for myself. Interestingly, I launched Millennial Money because I love to write as much as I love side hustling, making money, and investing. Not to just make money. While I knew that it was possible to make money as a blogger, it wasn’t my primary motivation. Like many people, I live an insanely busy life and blogging about money is a way for me to reflect and disconnect.
I’d wanted to launch my own website since 2010, but it took me five years to find the time to actually do it. Sure, I was pretty busy between 2010 and 2015 trying to make as much money as possible and pursue financial independence. But by 2015, I had enough money in the bank to make work optional and decided to launch Millennial Money to share my story and strategies to become a millennial millionaire.
While I was very intentional about how I built all of the pieces of this website, I didn’t have any massive expectations for traffic or revenue. It took me 3 months to get to 1,000 total visitors and I was so pumped to hit that goal. I just kept writing and writing and writing. Then almost two years later….
This week Millennial Money reached a big milestone – there have been over 1 million unique visitors to this website over the past year.
My mind is completely blown. I never imagined this was possible. I didn’t have any crazy goals back then, I just wanted to write. While I was excited to share my ideas with the world, I never had any expectations people would read them. Let alone 1 million people. That’s a lot of people. Like this many people.
One of the most common questions I get from readers, friends, family, really anyone that I tell about Millennial Money, is “How much money do you make on your website?”
Over the past year from these 1 million visitors, I’ve made about $200,000 through the website, but not entirely on the website. Meaning, I have made a lot more money through connections that I’ve made through the website, then on the website through banner ads, affiliate ads, and sponsored content.
Even with all of this traffic, I make between $5,000 – $8,000 each month directly on traffic driven ads meaning so people who come to the website clock on the banner ads, or click on the links on my recommends page or in my guides on best credit cards or student loan refinancing.
On average I spend about 10-20 hours a week on the blog, so my effective hourly rate is about $100-$200 over the month, which is amazing, but I know I can push it even higher. I just need to find more time. Blogging is one of my favorite things to do in the world, but I’m also writing a book and manage two other companies, and a number of other income streams – so I don’t have as much time to put into this project as I would like.
But I do know there is a direct correlation between the amount of time I spend writing and optimizing posts and the amount of money the blog can make. So my effective hourly rate over time should continue to go up the more time I spend on the blog. I know some people who make $100,000+ per month blogging, so there’s definitely some growth opportunities! Click here to learn more about how to start money making blog.
How much traffic do you need to make money online?
Making money with a website or product online is all about traffic, but a big mistake that many people make is they focus on quantity instead of quality. The higher the quality of your website traffic, the more money you will make – period! This is why a lot of paid advertisements don’t work – because they are cold traffic. If someone sees an ad for your product on Facebook, you are probably targeting them because they’ve never heard of you or your product before. You can’t expect this person to then turn around and buy something.
2. Selling other people’s product or service
Over the past seven years, I’ve helped sell over 50 different types of products online by providing marketing services. I’ve marketed and sold so many things for people online, including master’s degrees for universities, headphones, travel experiences, hats, sports memorabilia, prefabricated homes, insurance, legal services, real estate services, dental services, and even supplements. In all of these cases, I was getting paid by someone else to sell their products online – none of these were my websites or my products.
In almost all of these cases, I was paid for my time, but in a few cases, I was compensated based on results. This is when you can really make bank – getting part of the money you help someone else make. It’s the win-win of consulting; all you invest is your time and the more profit you drive the more money you can make.
In a few cases, like with the headphones company, I was able to maximize my value by negotiating a deal where I got paid based on the amount of profit I was able to drive – which with this one client was insane. I got 20% of the profit that I drove that was directly attributable to the digital marketing campaigns that I was running. I knew that I was going to crush it, so I spent extra time up front making sure that the contract I had him sign covered a ton of scenarios. While I tried to make the case, which was true, that my strategy would help increase sales over at least the next 2+ years, the owner of the company would only sign on for 6 months.
And you know what happened? Yup, I crushed it and ended up selling over $2.5 million in headphones in that 6 month period for the owner and my cut of the profit was $200,000. Not bad for 6 months of work that didn’t really take much time. Unfortunately, even though I crushed it for him, the owner didn’t end up renewing my contract. He thought he could do what I was doing. I was so pissed. I’d made a rookie mistake when I was excited one day and showed him how part of the campaigns worked.
Over the following months, I kept a close eye on what he was doing and it was easy for me to see that he was messing up the paid campaigns that I had built, but was still clearly making a ton of money. The search engine optimization (SEO) work to help him rank higher on Google for a number of popular searches ended up helping him for a long time until his website one day disappeared. I estimate the work I did for him made him at least $5 million, but I still made a little over $200,000. Still a super solid return on my time.
If you want to learn more, check out my post on how to launch a consulting business.
3. Launch your own product or service
Last but not least, you can make money online by launching your own product or service. It’s never been easier in history to launch an online business and reach people with your product, which is both an awesome opportunity but also makes it a lot more competitive. It’s just hard to stand out.
While it’s definitely possible to make selling your own products, it’s not as easy as many Facebook ads say it is. Sure, you can get lucky and launch an Etsy product that blows up, but in most cases, like building a blog, to make money on a product you need to spend a ton of time building an audience and organically expanding your online visibility. There are very few overnight successes.
I launched my own online marketing agency in 2010, but I didn’t launch a real online product until a few months ago (Millennial Money Course). My co-creator Matt and I had a phenomenal 5 figure launch the first few days (and we launched on a holiday weekend because we wanted to control the sign ups). Putting together the course was an insane amount of work, but the best thing about creating a digital product is that you only have to create it once and then you can keep selling it. There are some people, like my fellow personal finance blogger Michelle, who absolutely kills it selling online courses – she makes over $100,000 a month on her course! Insane.
If you want to build a product, make sure that you have something to sell that people want to buy. A great way to do this is by analyzing Google search volumes using the free Google Keyword Planner to see how many people are searching for what you want to sell. This tool also tells you how competitive the keyword is, meaning how many people are bidding on it, thus how competitive it is likely to be to get visibility for your product or brand.
A word of caution, to make money your product or service needs to be unique or stand out. So many people reach out to me about a new product they are planning to launch that 99% of the time is just a copy of someone else’s product. Either the course is the same, or the app is the same, or the physical product is the same. This is a surefire way to fail. Before you launch any product, spend AT LEAST 10-20 hours online researching other similar products and figure out what makes yours unique and why someone should buy it from you. And then sell that! If you can’t describe what makes it unique or valuable, then it’s likely not going to sell online.
Be Careful! It’s not easy to make money using Facebook and Google ads
There are essentially two types of traffic – organic and paid. The organic traffic you get free from Google, other search engines, social media, and other websites. For paid traffic, you obviously need to pay for it. I’ve been running Google ad campaigns for the past 7+ years and Facebook ads since they were created and I can say without a doubt, it’s not easy to make money running them. There’s not some secret system to make money on Facebook ads without having an insanely awesome product or maybe a service.
It seems like every day I see at least 7 or 8 new ads on Facebook for tutorials on how to make money online. Since I study models for making money online, I click on some them, just to check out how others are turning clicks into money.
But unfortunately, a vast majority of them are crap. The formula is simple and usually the same – sign up for my free webinar where I will share all of my secrets with you, then comes the free 1-3 hour webinar where oddly the person gives away very little value. The free webinar usually includes a tutorial of some kind, like how to set up and run Facebook ads, or Google ads, or set up email drip campaigns, but there is rarely anything of substantive value. In reality, they are just giant sales pitches – just by signing up you’ve already given the person your email (insanely valuable since they can start emailing you immediately) and then when you attend the webinar or follow the video series.
But let me be clear – there is definitely some real value being shared and some legitimate people really making money online, but they are rare. Or they are just making money by promising to help you make money. Often there ends up not being a lot of “there” there. Then the person asks you to make some form of a purchase – whether it’s a subscription, private consultation, or some form of course. I’m not here to dissuade you from buying these products, I’m just sharing that I’ve sat in at least 2-3 webinars every month over the past few months and all of them were crap.
If you want to go deeper and explore models for making money online, some of the best books I’ve read are The Lean Startup, Ask: The Counterintuitive Online Method to Discover Exactly What Your Customers Want to Buy…Create a Mass of Raving Fans…and Take Any Business to the Next Level, and DotCom Secrets.
Phew. Thanks for reading to the end. I hope this was helpful. Be careful out there and best of luck making money online. If you have been doing this for a year or so, just keep going. You will get there. While it’s a ton of work, it’s pretty sweet making money online. 🙏
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