Today, I’m sharing the two quickest ways to generate an income online. In this post, you will learn:
- Gary Vaynerchuk’s timeless lesson on patience and hard work.
- How your skills are foundational to your online business success.
- The many benefits of starting with freelancing.
- How to adopt affiliate marketing into your business.
- Why quick has value, but how being too quick can also set you up for failure.
On my podcast, AskPat, I’ve collected over 3,000 voicemail questions related to starting an online business. The most common question of those I get is this:
“What’s the quickest way to generate an income online?”
Before I get into my answer, let me tell you exactly why this question is tricky and a little problematic. There are two specific reasons for this:
- First, the emphasis on being quick. I’ve witnessed several new business owners who’ve put speed over quality and value, only to end up further behind than where they were when they started. Quick can be good, but if that’s your focus, you may be setting yourself up for a stumble down the road.
- Second, it implies trying to avoid the work it really takes to make money online. Building a successful business takes a lot of effort and strategy. From research to execution and everything in between—it takes blood, sweat, and tears. The question is in search of a magic button, but there is no magic button.
Gary Vaynerchuk puts it best. In order to succeed, you need “micro hustle, and macro patience.”
Micro hustle is focusing all of your work and effort on the next task at hand (not the task ten tasks from now), while macro patience is about allowing time to give you the results, because they will not often happen right away.
The question “What’s the quickest way to generate an income online?” is the opposite of Gary’s advice.
I’ve thought for years about how to best answer this question. I’ve been asked this question in person before, and even during a live Q&A on stage in front of hundreds of people, and my answer usually reflects the two points I’ve made above.
After I share my thoughts with those who’ve asked this question, their body language usually very clearly reflects disappointment. They were expecting an all-in-one solution, after all, and it’s not that simple.
As I’ve thought more deeply about how to answer this question over the years, I’ve come to a realization that the problem is not the answer, but the question itself. For those who’ve asked it, I don’t think it’s always coming from a place of “quick money.” If we reframe the question, I think there’s room to empower and actually help those who’ve asked it—to give them a foundational understanding of what it really means to generate an income online.
Here’s how I would reframe the question:
“With the resources I have available to me now, what can I possibly offer to others in exchange for money?”
Now this is a question we can begin to answer. And, as you can likely tell, the answers will come to each person on an individual basis based on the resources they have available, and to whom they may be able to share and offer those resources.
The answer doesn’t come from me, it comes from the individual.
If you’re ten years old, you might not have much, but perhaps you may have access to a lawnmower in your garage, so you (after asking your parents) offer to cut the lawn for your neighbors, in exchange for money.
If you’re a writer who’s been trying to build your own brand and sell your own books, offering your talent to others who need it would be the best way to go. It’s a resource you have available to you now, and it’s something others (i.e. non writers) may be willing to pay for if they need writing for their website or blog.
By the way, today’s post is on “quick,” but if you have more time and want a more in-depth look at how to make money online, check out my recent video on how to create multiple streams of income online:
Okay, back to our topic today: If you’re struggling to figure out how to make money online FAST—in a way that focuses on your strengths—that’s how you do it. Think about the resources you have available to you, the skills and talents you have, the superpowers that you’ve so severely underrated these past years, and journey out there to find those people who are looking for the resources and skills you offer. They are out there.
Remember, the skills you have are an asset, they are your “unfair advantage.” They are essential to your unique personal brand, and you can start making money online using those skills if you have the right strategy, tactics, and mindset in place. Another way to describe this is your “unfair advantage,” a term I was first introduced to by Lain Ehmann in SPI Podcast Session #37.
Lain described an unfair advantage as a skill or asset that you have that no one else has, or very few others might have in your specific niche. There are a few different types of unfair advantages, including:
1. Your Rolodex: The People You Know
You know and have access to the right people in your industry, people who others do not have access to. You’re a connector, and you can provide value to a specific audience by using the connections you’ve made over time.
Who do you know that others in your industry may not know?
2. Your Experience: What You’ve Been Through
I watched an episode of Shark Tank once where I was introduced to Major Robert Dyer. Major Dyer was pitching a new energy drink called The Ruck Pack Energy Drink. It’s not like the world needs another energy drink, but he was able to convince both Kevin O’Leary and Robert Herjevic, two of the investors on the show, to give him $150k in exchange for 20 percent of the company.
Major Dyer used his experience in the Army to create an energy drink that was perfect for a combating soldier. He was actually in Afghanistan when he came up with the concoction.
His experience became his advantage because he was in extreme conditions that allowed him to create and test a drink of this kind of caliber, one that provided this kind of energy and focus that a combating soldier needed. I doubt the guys at Red Bull or Monster put themselves in the line of fire when testing the capability of their drinks.
When I started SmartPassiveIncome.com, I already had experience with a successful, automated online business at Green Exam Academy. A lot of people were providing online business advice at the time, but most were using other people’s businesses as examples, or just spoke theory with no real case studies to back it up. Here, I was able to use my own experience as evidence, and it helped me become more credible right from the start.
What experiences in your life have given you the ability to prove yourself or your business more than others?
3. Your Story: And How To Tell It
Stories are incredible marketing tools. They stick. People who listen to or read stories transport themselves into the situations that are described and the storyteller is better able to make a deeper connection with their audience.
We all have a story to tell. If you have a good one, tell it and use it to your advantage.
I know I have a great story. I’ve shared it here on the blog and I even went deeper into the story for my first book, Let Go.
It’s funny because when I’m interviewed for podcasts and radio shows, many times the interviewer will apologize and say, “I’m sorry . . . I know you’ve probably told your story hundreds of times before, but I’d like you to tell it again if you don’t mind.”
I always respond with “Of course!”
I love telling my story, not just because it reminds me of where I came from which always gives me a motivational boost, but because I know it’s a great way to connect with an audience. To have the opportunity to share it right from the start is awesome.
Of course, your stories should always be true, but if you have a good one make sure there’s a way for people to hear it.
What’s your story and how can it help your business?
4. Your Hustle: How Much You Put In and Where
Gary Vaynerchuk would probably agree with me when I say that sometimes all you need to do is hustle. I mean like, truly hustle. The all-out just insane amounts of work kind of hustle.
Not everyone has the time or ability to hustle, and of course the work that’s done has to be the right kind of work – the right kind of hustle.
John Lee Dumas, host of Entrepreneur On Fire, is a perfect example of someone who is using his ability to hustle to his advantage.
John has a daily (yes, daily) podcast where he features an interview with a successful entrepreneur. Now, John enjoys many hundreds of thousands of downloads per month, he’s written a book, has products and has opened up a ton of opportunities for sponsorships and partnerships that wouldn’t have come otherwise. He’s not the first person to have a show dedicated to interviewing rock star entrepreneurs—not even close—but he’s definitely the fastest to see these kinds of results.
He’s not just working hard either, he’s working smart. Hustle doesn’t mean just pure physical and mental work, it can mean spending the time to put the right systems into place to generate more output.
What’s something successful that other businesses are doing that could use your hustle to stand out?
5. Your Personality and Your Ability to Connect With Others
Out of the 7 billion people in this world, you are uniquely you. Within specific markets and niches, you are definitely uniquely you. If you have a personality that people can easily connect with you shouldn’t be afraid to share it.
In 2009 when struggling to get traffic to this blog, I had a chat with Jeremy Frandsen from Internet Business Mastery.
He told me I had a magnetic personality and I should find other ways to share it. That’s when I started my YouTube Channel, and then later, my podcast, which just passed 33,000,000 downloads.
How will you connect with others and grow your business by being you?
6. Your Ability To Listen, Build, Measure, and Learn
All companies build something, but not all of them measure, learn, and then adapt or shift.
In Eric Reis’s The Lean Startup, a fantastic book about how today’s entrepreneurs and startup companies are approaching the way they create and innovate, Eric talks about how vital it is to use validated learning and scientific experimentation to be able to steer a company in the right direction. In other words, to use customer feedback and quantified data analysis (of real, non-vanity metrics) from a minimal viable product to make decisions and pivot a business one way or another.
If you have the ability to see what holes lie in existing markets before you enter it, the ability to listen to a target market (or become a customer yourself who is extremely conscious of the overall customer experience), and learn from the wins and failures of the companies that already exist, you will have an edge over your competition.
Like I mentioned earlier, coming in late in the game can be an advantage if you listen, learn and provide solutions for what seems to be missing. Even coming into a market with a minimal viable product, you’ll have the advantage of being able to get deep into the customer experience to shape your product or service to what it should be, again, all based on what you’re able to measure and learn.
There is a lot more to be said about lean startup methods and the build-measure-learn feedback loop.
7. Your Specialization: Who You Serve and Your Ability To Do So
It’s not just the skills and experiences that you have to offer that can give you a competitive edge, it can also be that fact that you want to serve a more specialized segment of a market.
Generally, the more specialized you get, the less competition you have to deal with. In addition to that, the more specialized you get, the better you can hone in your skills for a particular group of people. Your advantage is your knowledge of and ability to serve that particular segment of the larger market.
Take for example, shoes.
Everyone (well, almost everyone) buys shoes. If you wanted to enter the shoe market, you might think your competitors are retailers like Zappos, EastBay, Sketchers and other large online retailers. Then there’s Nike, Reebok too. It’s virtually impossible to compete with them, especially when you’re bootstrapped. So what can we do?
Instead of getting into the market to sell all types of shoes, how about serving a part of the market that’s looking for a specific type of shoe: running shoes, walking shoes, children’s shoes, etc.
Even at this level of specialization, however, it’s not quite an advantage yet because companies already specialize in these types of shoes: Foot Locker, The Walking Company, and Stride Rite, respectively. Now what?
Within running shoes, how about soccer cleats? Within soccer cleats, how about women’s soccer cleats?
When your target market is women who are looking for soccer cleats, it’s much easier to do market research and enter the build-measure-learn feedback loop. You have an advantage over others who are targeting a larger segment of the market.
Trunk Club, is a great example of this kind of specialization at work.
Like lots of other businesses, they sell clothes. That in itself is not very special.
But, their target market and who they serve is special, and it’s not everyone. Their target market is specifically men who want to dress well who either don’t like to go shopping, or don’t have the time to do so.
It works like this:
You speak to a personal stylist over the phone, they ask you a number of questions to get to know you a little better and figure out your style, and then they send you a Trunk with a number of pieces of clothing in it based on your conversation.
You try stuff on, keep what you like, and ship back what you don’t like in the same trunk. Shipping is already paid for.
Boom. New clothes and I didn’t even have to leave my house. No membership fees, you just get a trunk whenever you want, and they charge you for pieces that don’t return.
I’ve received two trunks so far and another is on the way. I’ve kept roughly 35-40% of what was shipped to me.
I heard about this service from a friend, and I’ve definitely passed this service onto others. Not everyone, but other men around the same age who are in situations where they might need to dress up and they might be too busy to go shopping on their own.
You see, when you specialize and can provide value to a specific segment of a market, those people within that market tend to talk to each other about you.
How can you specialize and become the topic of conversation when those people get together?
All of this brings me to the first way to generate an income online, and that is:
When you think of all of your skills, and what you have to offer the world, your “unfair advantages,” chances are there’s someone out there who will pay you for it. No, it’s not at all passive, but it’s the quickest and easiest way to get paid for something that can actually help people and solve one of their problems.
There are two more major benefits of going down the freelancing route:
- It’s a fantastic way to immerse yourself in an industry and get to know the lay of the land—the marketplace—so you can carve out your own niche in the future in some way, shape, or form. You’ll also be able to connect with the people you need to connect with, and build on those relationships to create more opportunities.
- A freelancing service is something that can, with the right strategy and action, turn into something more productized and passive. Brian Casel, featured guest on SPI Podcast Session #158, talks about how he was able to turn his stress-inducing one-on-one design service business into something that was actually more productized, passive, and profitable. I highly recommend you listen to that episode if you have a service-based business and you feel stuck.
You can also check out my post, How to Start Freelancing (and Get Your First Client), which walks you through the steps you’ll need to kick off your freelance gig, including:
- Why there’s huge opportunity in freelancing.
- The many freelance skill sets you can build into a freelancing career.
- The secrets to landing your first freelance client.
- Five ways to make more money as a freelancer.
- Career and business options for freelancers.
And once you get started, here’s a great video on FIVE WAYS to make even more money as a freelancer:
Okay, so beyond freelancing, what else can you do to make money online? Well, you could literally just start contacting everyone you know and offer a service today, right now, right at this moment.
I’ll just wait a moment while you do that 😀
There is one more method of generating an income I’d like to share with you. This method is:
- Even easier and faster than freelancing.
- Something that has helped me earn more than $3 million since I started my online business.
- Something you’re likely, in a way, already doing.
What is this sorcery I’m speaking of?
It’s not magic. It’s simply recommending products you already use to those who trust you. In online business terms, we call this:
Affiliate marketing is the process of generating an income through a partnership you have with a company by recommending their product(s) to others.
To learn about the basics of affiliate marketing, watch my Affiliate Marketing 101 video series:
Just think of how often you’ve shared with a friend or online network an amazing tool, service, or product that you love. What if you could potentially earn a percentage of the sale of any products you helped sell through your recommendation? Well, that’s possible, and it’s been around for a while.
The term affiliate marketing has taken a bad rap over the years, primarily because people are abusing just how easy this is to do. Internet marketers are finding products they don’t even use because they come with a sweet commission, and are spamming everyone until they either buy, or unsubscribe. This is also known as the dark side of affiliate marketing.
That’s why I sometimes hesitate to even say I participate in affiliate marketing. But that’s not how I, or you, should approach it. I’m here to lead the change and show people there is so much opportunity out there in affiliate marketing the right way (and the smart way). It’s insane to me that more people aren’t really realizing their full potential with this.
There are products that already exist in this world that provide solutions for your audience (and future audience), and when you align your attention to really help them, with the products out there that already exist, it’s a recipe for success and a win for everyone.
How do you make affiliate marketing work for you? There are a few affiliate marketing principles I stand by:
1. Affiliate Marketing Starts with the First Impression
First impressions are huge because they set the tone for a visitor’s entire experience through your website, including any possible transactions that may take place now, or in the future.
What is the first impression that you get when you go to a site and it’s splattered with advertisements, for example? What does a site like that say to a first time visitor?
“Hi, nice to meet you – click here so I can earn a buck?”
It’s like if you met someone for the first time and the first thing they ask you is if you’re interested in buying something from them. I’d much rather get to know somebody first, trust them, and then have them tell me what they might have to offer. Or better yet, be genuinely interested in what they’re doing, and ask them about it myself. This is the kind of philosophy that I use when promoting other people’s products.
2. Only Promote Products That You Have Used
As I mentioned in a previous post on the 3 Types of Affiliate Marketing Explained, the way I earn money with affiliate links in ALL of my online businesses is by promoting only products that I have used, and only what I would recommend to my friends who want to achieve similar results. I feel that anyone with an audience has a responsibility to do the same thing.
There’s something fishy about someone promoting Apple Computers who only uses a PC.
3. Always Describe the Product You’re Promoting
If you have an affiliate link that’s just a banner ad, or a link at the bottom of a post with no real description – it’s a waste. If you’re actively promoting a product (that you’ve used), you obviously know something about it. Share your knowledge with your audience, and they’ll be intrigued and more likely to click through to learn more.
4. Content First, Affiliate Link Second
Although I just said you should always describe the products you promote, the content that you write should drive the affiliate links that you offer, not the other way around. Don’t write posts just for the sake of placing an affiliate link within.
5. Share Your Experience with The Product
When describing whatever it is your promoting, share your experience! If you can throw in some data or graphs to go along with it, even better. Back when I was more actively writing about eHow, I promoted an ebook that I read which helped quadruple my earnings per article. I created a graph that showed how much I earned before I read the book versus how much I earned after. To this date, that ebook has been one of the most successful affiliate promotions I’ve done on this blog.
6. Only Promote One or Two of the Same Type of Products
There are a number of reasons why you should never promote more than two of the same type of products:
- The more products you promote, the less believable each of them becomes. If today I recommended Company X, and tomorrow I recommended Company Y and Company Z, each of their “stock” immediately goes down.
- The more products you promote, the more difficult the decision to choose between them becomes. I’ve been to a number of personal finance websites that offer sign-up bonuses for 4 to 5 different banks (sometimes within the same post!). It hurts my brain.
- If you keep promoting the same products time and time again, your audience will begin to realize that there must be something special about the specific ones you keep bringing up.
7. Starve the Horses and Feed the Stallions
This is a fancy (and thankfully not literal) way of saying that you should only promote the products that you know make you the most money, and forget about the ones that don’t. You will only know this after trial and error, so see what works, and get rid of the rest.
For a while, I had a number of banner ads on this blog that were not generating any type of income for me. There’s no point in wasting valuable ad space with banners that don’t pay out.
Test, test, test.
8. Utilize a Resources Page
A resources page is a page that consists of helpful links to websites, products and services related to your niche. This is a perfect spot for affiliate links, so take advantage of this if you haven’t already.
It takes the “books I’m reading” area you often see in blogs (within Amazon affiliate links) to a whole new level. not only is this great for you, but it’s extremely helpful for your readers who may be looking for additional resources related to your niche. Plus, they may come across products or services they weren’t originally looking for while on your resources page.
You can learn more about each of these principles in Chapter 2 of SPI's Guide to Affiliate Marketing. In Chapter 2, we cover exactly how to start affiliate marketing. Check out the guide to determine if affiliate marketing is right for your business, and to learn how to get started.
So there you go! There are two QUICK ways you can generate an income online. So go get started today!
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