3. Marketing your hobbiesCrafters, photographers and artists also are tapping into the Web's potential as a marketplace for their goods.
Notley Hawkins, a fine art photographer from Columbia, Mo., started selling online by uploading his photographs onto Flickr, a popular digital photograph storage Web site.
Flickr subsequently partnered with Imagekind, a Web site that specializes in selling fine art prints. Since then, Hawkins has sold about 50 of his prints through Imagekind.
Hawkins has found that having a Web site and selling photos online helped to enhance his reputation offline. He says his online presence helped him gain credibility with area travel magazines, for which he does freelance work.
"It's helped my career in many ways," Hawkins says of Imagekind. "It's helped me make some money, which is very important."
Starting out as a photographer
Hawkins urges budding photographers to start gradually by posting their photos to a site like Flickr.
"Try to establish a reputation online by publishing online," he says.
In the crafting world, Web sites such as Etsy offer merchants of handmade goods a way to expand their customer base while conveniently selling their products. Sellers who use Etsy can use the service to take payments via PayPal or money orders.
Other craft-selling Web sites include FreeCraftFair.com and Handmade Catalog.
Adam Brown, spokesman for Etsy, says handmade jewelry and craft-making supplies are two of the site's most popular categories.
To make money online, Brown says sellers must pay particular attention to posting good photos of their products and writing eye-catching descriptions. These skills are important, since the Web page has to substitute for a tangible product.
Brown also recommends the age-old suggestion of good customer service.
"When people contact you, you should always respond quickly," he says.
He says other smart marketing moves -- such as throwing in freebie extras when a customer orders something -- can build customer loyalty.
"Adding a personal touch really helps," he says.
4. Contributing to a Web siteAll over the Web, passionate fans are providing their expertise in music, movies and sports to niche Web sites. Many are earning sizable amounts of cash for doing things they love.
Brian Swaw of Chicago hires seven staff writers for his content fantasy football Web site, GameTimeDecisions.net.
Swaw's writers get paid roughly $100 per month, and in return, each writes one to two articles about football players and fantasy draft picks every week.
Want to pen about your passion for a Web site? Swaw recommends volunteering to start.
"That's how I did," he says. "There's a ton of sports Web sites out there that are looking for volunteers and it's a good way to get your name out there."
On the Internet, there are sites indulging just about every hobby, so opportunities abound.
EHow is an informational Web site where you can get paid writing "how-to" instructions on just about anything.
If you're into video games, you might try GameZone and GameFAQs. For movie reviews, check out Badmovies.org and the All Movie Guide.
If you have a green thumb or a sweet tooth, try gardening sites such as The Growing Edge, or cooking sites such as Cooking For Engineers that pay small wages to contributors.
Music geeks should try the All Music Guide, a popular music review site that pays its contributors. Music Emissions is an alternative music Web site that accepts reviews from all members and will promote you to their editorial team if they like your stuff.
Finally, most major cities have a slew of entertainment Web sites, some of which pay reviewers. CenterstageChicago.com, for instance, proffers clear and simple instructions on how to contribute to the site and get paid.
Check your city's entertainment Web sites, and don't be discouraged if there aren't instructions for reviewers -- try e-mailing the editor.
All that glitters …Sellers, writers and others who are clever and persistent often make a profit through their online activities. However, not everybody makes money, and there are many potential obstacles to success.
Some ventures, such as craft sales and blogs, can take a long time to get started. You may find yourself investing a lot of time and effort -- and even some money -- before you begin to see a return.
Brown says it's all too easy for craft sellers to take dismal sales personally and start doubting the quality of their artistry.
"People tend to get discouraged very easily," he says.
Another downside of e-commerce is that Web sites often charge fees to sellers.
For example, while eBay and Amazon.com offer a window into a world marketplace, some say there's a steep price for prime access.
"When I first started selling on eBay, the fees were very low," McClain says. "As with anything else, when a corporation smells blood in the water, they put out more chum and the fees go up dramatically."
McClain says he also has noticed increased postage prices for mailing packages to customers.
In addition to rising rates, e-venders must also contend with the stiff competition that manifests itself in a massive online market.
"The inherent problem is (that) everybody that you're competing with is selling at the same place," says McClain. "When you're selling on the Internet, you're competing with every single person that has the same product line and interest in the world."
In addition, some people find it difficult to find an outlet for their interests that will also generate revenues.
Freelance music writer Philip Sherburne said he has a hard time getting paid to write about the music he likes.
"I'd say the biggest struggle is simply finding outlets that share my musical interests, since I've always specialized in electronic and experimental music," says Sherburne, an American expatriate now living in Spain.
Pop and indie rock are music genres with a broader online following than electronic and experimental music. However, those types of music don't interest Sherburne as much.
"I'm rapidly losing any kind of grounding in the worlds of pop or indie rock," Sherburne says.
Despite such challenges, determined sellers continue to find success. If you're interested in making money on the Internet, a little perseverance and luck will go a long way.
"If you go on our blog there's a 'quit your day job' series; we actually have people who have really awesome stuff and they ... quit their day job," Brown says. "Now, they support themselves by what they make."