A Beginner’s Guide to Making Money Online - NerdWallet (2024)

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Still in the dark about how to make money online? Side hustles are all the rage, but not everyone has tried one. You’re a beginner, and that can be the case at any age.

The internet has opened up a lot of ways to make side money, but so many options can be overwhelming. That’s why we say to do a little personal discovery first to decide what you like. Then dive in with a positive attitude and flexible mindset. Because the money is out there, but it isn’t guaranteed.

Here are four steps to get you started.

Step 1: Take inventory of your skills

The term "side hustle" assumes you already have a full-time obligation, like a job, school or family responsibilities. If you’re going to spend your precious few hours of free time on another form of work, you ought to do something you enjoy. Start with a personal assessment of your interests and emphasize the ones with online earning potential. Grab a piece of paper and jot down your answers to these questions:

  • What do I like to do the most? Consider the hobbies, interests and activities that bring you joy, but add a work slant because you probably won’t get paid to watch videos.

  • Of the interests listed, which ones do I do well? Narrow down your initial list to the areas where you have the most skill. Do you write well? Do you know the ins and outs of a certain category of collectible merchandise?

  • What kind of work would I be happy doing for hours on end? Make sure going all in on a potentially paying hobby won’t make you hate it.

Step 2: Focus on monetizable skills and ideas

Did you identify any skills with earning potential? You can probably answer this with common sense. You’re more likely to be paid to design a logo than make a meme.

Do you know how to code and do you like it? How about writing website copy, articles or marketing emails? You might have a future in freelancing, and that’s a side hustle tailor-made for making money online.

Maybe you listed vintage fashion as a top interest, and you know more than most about clothes. Do you like selling stuff and communicating with potential customers, too? Because reselling clothes is a way to monetize a hobby (and support a habit) from your laptop. If you have crafts or bespoke products to sell, you could open an Etsy shop online.

Once you match a passion, skill or idea with a monetizable opportunity, you can find the right online service or platform to facilitate your business.

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Step 3: Research the top places to make money online

There are plenty of online platforms that can connect you with customers, gigs and tasks. The hard part is narrowing the list down to the ones that are worth your time. We can help you focus on real ways to make money online (and offline, for that matter) and explore home business ideas. The work you did in the skills inventory step should help you quickly eliminate the noncontenders.

Be realistic about how much you can make

Once you pick a skill and a platform, you can give your online side hustle a try. How much money you’ll make (and when it comes) will vary.

Online freelance work may take time to gain traction, but you can pick a site like Upwork or Fiverr that connects you with paying clients and post your pitch today.

Places to sell stuff online typically have few barriers to entry, which is great for beginners. But make sure profit margins are worth your time. Selling a used book on eBay for $7.50 won’t amount to much side money when you factor in fees and shipping.

Using an online service to get task-based work can be a way for a beginner to make real money with less wait time. Depending on where you live, quick gigs like driving people or delivering packages and groceries can be in high demand. And signing up for gigs through a service like Uber or Instacart can connect you with customers and have you driving in no time.

Walking dogs is one of the highest paid side hustles by average hourly wage, according to an analysis from online tutoring platform Preply. Rover and Wag are two sites that match dog walkers with paying customers.

Other ways may require more patience

Some popular ways to make money online, like starting a blog, making YouTube videos or sharing influential advice on social media can require a lot of effort and time before you’ll see a dime. Don’t let us discourage you from your dreams of content creator stardom, but influencers typically need a sizable following to see big money.

Of course, anything is possible, and there are peripheral ways to make money on digital media, like displaying ads or affiliate links on a blog.

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Monitor your credit, track your spending and see all of your finances together in a single place.


A Beginner’s Guide to Making Money Online - NerdWallet (2)

Step 4: Evaluate and pivot

Flexibility is key when it comes to making money online. Give it a couple of weeks (or months) and evaluate your progress. If the dough is low, you might need to adjust your approach or switch to another platform. Maybe it’s time to pivot to a different monetizable hobby. Go back to your skills inventory and give something else a try. Enjoy the experience, and don’t quit your day job.

A Beginner’s Guide to Making Money Online - NerdWallet (2024)
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