It’s the ultimate dream: make tons of money from your living room, staying dressed in your pajamas all day, working according to your own schedule, with no one telling you what to do. Sounds great, doesn’t it?
But if that’s what you think “making money online” is all about, you’re in for a rude awakening. On the other hand, if you’re skeptical and think there’s no way anyone could possibly make “real” money online, then you’re in for a pleasant surprise.
The truth is, the Internet is full of misconceptions and misinformation. And as someone who’s built an online-only career over the past five years, I’d like to help debunk some of the worst myths floating around. It’s far from what you think it is.
1. “Don’t Waste Your Time, It’s All a Scam”
There are many skeptics out there who think the only way to make money online is by stealing the hard-earned cash of others — whether by peddling useless books, selling ineffective webinar courses, or running referral-based programs that resemble pyramid schemes.
And to be fair, yes, work-at-home scams do exist and you should be aware of them. Warning signs include: paying a fee before you can start making money, doing any amount of work for free to prove your abilities, and being paid through unconventional services.
Not only that, but out of all the legitimate job offers on the Internet, most of them are crap. For example, a lot of content mills will only pay $5 or $10 per article, while some freelance coding jobs will end up paying $100 for 20 hours of work. It’s terrible but common.
However, if you know where to look and what to avoid, you really can find legitimate forms of online employment. You’ll have to sift through a lot of crap to find the opportunities worth pursuing, but with a bit of perseverance and motivation, the gems will eventually present themselves.
By the way, MakeUseOf is currently hiring skilled remote writers for several of our sections. If that prospect interests you, consider applying!
2. “Anyone Can Make Money Online”
After all we’ve said above, you have to be careful that you don’t make an unsound logical leap. Just because it’s possible for people to make money online doesn’t necessarily mean it’s possible for you to make money online. There’s a subtle but important difference there.
A lot of people like to say that anyone can do this as long as they have the dream and the ambition to make it happen, but here’s the truth: a lot of people who try to make money online end up making zero dollars.
In a sense, everyone has the potential to do it, but not everyone can realize that potential. Making money online is neither easy nor simple. Not only does it require a lot of work and effort, but it can be very demoralizing. You need a certain level of self-driven stubbornness to succeed.
Moreover, you need skills. Not that you have to be an expert, per se, but you need to be able to deliver something that someone will be willing to pay for. Your skill might be writing, photography, coding, teaching, troubleshooting, or whatever else — but you can’t make money if you have nothing to offer.
Well, let me back up a bit. There are ways you can make money even if you have no special skills. (Opinion surveys are one option and Amazon’s Mechanical Turk is another.) However, even after you’ve mastered these, you’ll have trouble earning more than a few hundred dollars a month.
So what I really mean is, if you want to make a living online, you’ll need at least one marketable skill. Fortunately, if you don’t think you’re good enough, you can always train by enrolling in free self-improvement courses. It’s never too late for that! And don’t forget to take advantage of LinkedIn as a way to find potential gigs that fit your skills.
3. “It’s All Fun, Games, and Lattés”
When someone says they work from home, it’s easy to judge them as a lazy slob who plays games and watches Netflix all day and never does any real work. They can relax whenever they want, they can skip any amount of days, and they don’t even have to shower. Right?
Not quite. While it’s true that people who make money online have a degree of flexibility that they wouldn’t have if they worked a typical office job, but that flexibility can be a huge liability. In fact, most people who make money online spend as many — if not more — hours working than a “normal” employee.
So if your job is too stressful and unsatisfying and you think the solution is to start making money online instead, think again! It may actually be more stressful and you probably won’t be earning much for many years.
Here are some things that you should consider before thinking about making money online.
- Unreliable income. Some gigs are more reliable than others, but on the whole, online income has a lot more variance than a traditional salaried position, and that can make it tougher to stay on budget. For example, if you’re selling goods on eBay or Etsy, you might make a killing in December but nothing in January.
- Money management. You have to manage a lot more than if you were receiving regular W-2 paychecks. For example, a writer or photographer might have to juggle dozens of clients, while an online merchant might have to deal with hundreds of transactions (and their fees).
- Taxes. Those who make money online are often seen as “independent contractors” or “self-employed” when it comes to taxes, and at least in the U.S., that means paying extra in self-employment tax.
- No benefits. Many companies offer benefits like 401k accounts, health insurance, and vacation time. Someone who makes money online doesn’t have any of that unless they pay for it themselves, which is more money to worry about.
- Marketing. Everyone who makes money online is always in a battle to get their name out there, and that’s true whether you’re a writer who needs more clients or an online merchant who needs more customers.
In many cases, making money online requires 24/7 attention. There are tools and resources that can help ease this burden, but no matter which way you spin it, it’s a lot more work than simply being someone else’s employee.
4. “You’ll Be Rich in No Time”
Except in extremely rare cases, if you want to make a living online, it’s going to be a slow and gradual climb. The only way to shortcut through this is if you have a lot of social clout and recognition that you can leverage to jumpstart the path you want to take.
Consider the path of a web programmer. No reputable client will take you on unless you can show that you have experience and prove that you can deliver a quality product. This means practicing your skills, building up experience through smaller gigs, and compiling a portfolio.
Or consider the path of a blogger. No matter how well you write, it simply takes time to build an audience. If you’re really good at producing viral posts, the process may takes months instead of years, but every blogger who became an overnight success actually had years of effort behind them.
Or consider the path of an online merchant. Whether you’re flipping phones on eBay or selling hand-made scarves on Etsy, it takes time to build a reputation as a quality and trustworthy seller.
All of these paths — among others — can be successfully turned into full-time careers, but you should expect to put in years of effort before you get there. Maybe it won’t take that long, but most likely it’ll take far longer than you predict. That’s just how it goes.
Anyone who tells you that you can get rich quick online is either delusional, inexperienced, or trying to scam you in one way or another. You can definitely get rich online, but you’ll have to pour out a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to get there.
5. “Only One Way to Make Money Online”
Anyone who tells you that you have to do this or have to do that in order to make money online is leading you into falsehoods. Potentially speaking, you could make money doing anything as long as you have people who are willing to pay you for it.
Here are a few ideas for you:
- Mobile apps
- Stream video games
- Web comics
- Web design
- Writing books
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. You can start your own business or find clients who will hire you, but either way, the key is to determine what problems you can solve and then convince people to pay you to solve those problems for them.
One more thing to note: there are a lot of people who claim that passive income is the only kind of income worth pursuing. (This means doing work that will keep earning you money even after you stop working.) While passive income is nice, it’s not the only way to go.
Passive income is high-risk and high-reward. You could pour years of work into your blog and earn thousands of dollars every month from ad revenue — or you might earn nothing at all. On the other hand, if you write for someone else and they pay you $100 for an article, that’s money in your pocket.
Only you can decide which way is better for you.
Do You Want to Make Money Online?
At the end of the day, the whole concept of making money online is a complex mixture of good and bad. It’s a viable career path if you’re willing to accept the risks, and even though it isn’t easy, it can certainly be fulfilling.
Want to get started? There are plenty of ideas that you can explore, including these ways for teenagers to make money online (not that adults can’t try them too). Other opportunities include teaching online, selling ebooks online, and these micro jobs that are good for part-time income.
What are the worst misconceptions and myths you’ve heard? Are you currently making money online? If so, how? If not, why not? Share your thoughts with us below in the comments!