If today's economy has left you in need of more cash, consider this emerging trend: Millions are using the Internet -- and a minimal amount of time -- to bring home extra bacon.
Whether delving into e-commerce or selling ad space on a blog, Internet sellers often benefit from a rock-bottom initial investment, the convenience of working wherever and whenever they please, and the freedom of being their own boss.
Making cash online
- Selling books, music and other products.
- Marketing your hobbies.
- Contributing to a Web site.
However, before you quit your day job, it's important to consider the potential pitfalls of selling on the Internet. These include startup time, extenuating costs and stiff competition.
"There are a lot of people trying to do the same thing," says Robert Spector, author of the book "Amazon.com: Get Big Fast," a book covering the history and development of the Web giant.
"What's going to differentiate the book I get from you versus the book I get from your competitor?"
Following are four ideas for turning the Internet into your own personal cash cow, and suggestions for staying ahead of the competition.
1. BloggingWeb logs -- now almost universally know as "blogs" -- were once the sardonic voice of dissent on the Web. Now, everyone seems to have a space on the Internet where they offer opinions or other reflections.
If your blog captures the imagination of the public, you could earn money while you entertain.
Eden Kennedy of Santa Barbara, Calif., started Fussy.org when her son was 3 months old. She's been blogging about parenting, marriage and the hilarity of daily life for eight years now.
Kennedy says she built a readership by reading, commenting on and showing interest in the blogs of others.
Making money from blogging
Eventually, Kennedy had enough of a following to sell advertising space on her blog.
She works with several different advertising networks, each of which compensates her with anywhere from $1 per month to several hundred dollars per month.
One day, Kennedy had another flash of entrepreneurial insight: She decided to sell T-shirts to her readers.
She had shirts printed up with the phrase "Writing well is the best revenge" and watched the orders roll in.
"Just that phrase, it hits people pretty well," Kennedy says. "Actually, a lot of academics buy the T-shirt."
Kennedy now earns roughly $200 a month selling T-shirts. That income is in addition to the advertising dollars she rakes in.
Kennedy says her online pursuits have been more fruitful and less time-consuming than her former "real world" job working in a bookstore.
"Usually a post, no matter how long it is, takes me about an hour to write, and lately I haven't been updating more than twice a week," says Kennedy, who adds that designing her blog and dealing with advertisers takes an additional five hours per week.
How much is Kennedy earning from her blogging?
"It still adds up to more than I made selling books for 40 hours a week," she says.
Not every blogger is guaranteed to make good money. However, bloggers who truly love what they do are the ones who flourish, Kennedy says.
"I think the people who really succeed and last in this just really enjoy writing and taking pictures," she says.
If you'd like to try your hand at blogging, the Web sites Blogger, WordPress and LiveJournal offer free blog templates.
If you'd like to sell ad space on your blog, check out sites such as Google AdSense, Text Link Ads and the BlogHerAds network (for women only).
2. Selling books, music and other productsAmazon.com and eBay revolutionized e-commerce in the 1990s. Since then, countless individuals have made money selling books, movies, clothes and every other commodity under the sun.
E-commerce is becoming easier than ever, and the complications of arranging payment over the Internet are disappearing fast, Spector says.
"A lot of the uncertainty is taken out of the equation thanks to the technology," he says. "You're going to get paid before you send out the product."
Spector, author of the book on Amazon.com, says sites like Amazon can help small-volume sellers reach a wider audience.
Advantages of Amazon and eBay
"(Amazon) makes it easier and more beneficial for small book collectors who obviously have either rare or out-of-print books to do business ... it's worth it for them to give Amazon a little piece of that business in order to be in a very high-profile space," he says.
Mick McClain has been selling music on the Internet for 10 years. He sells everything from rare and out-of-print compact discs to new releases and used albums.
McClain uses eBay and Amazon.com to market his products. He also operates a Web site where potential customers can peruse his collection.
The San Diego resident says his startup costs were minimal. He had to spend to buy a "little bit better computer" and to build up his inventory, 90 percent of which comes from brick-and-mortar stores.
For newcomers to e-commerce, McClain recommends sticking to something you know.
"Your mind has to be a database," he says. "That's why I have never gotten into anything other than music because I would get eaten alive by the people who were the authorities on (other products)."
Advice for selling things online
Spector offers two tips to aspiring e-merchants.
"First of all, have a unique product," he says. "There needs to be something separating you from your competitors."
Spector's second tip is to make sure you can deliver on your product promises.
"Live up to what you promise," he says. "If you promise a book ... in a particular condition, at a particular price, and guarantee it to arrive on a particular day, then do that."