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5 Real Ways to Make Money Online in 2021 [Ranked]

The past year encouraged all of us to embrace the great indoors. No surprise, then, that the interest in making money online from the safety of our homes is now on the rise. It’s time to make your house a home office.

Americans are working remotely from home offices. With so many jobs outsourced, everyone has a chance to earn some money remote. As an entrepreneur, you need to learn how to interact with your customers effectively so that they buy from you–without ever having to visit your store.

The internet is a great way to make money in today’s “buy and sell” economy, as long as you’re strategic about it. There are many online survey sites out there, but not all of them are created equal. Many survey companies offer goods and services that can add up to more than just money in your pocket.

5 best ways to make money online

To make choosing the best ways to make money online easier, we’ll look at several key factors:

  • Business type: whether the idea is product based, service based or driven by an audience.
  • Effort: how much time, skill, or experience you’ll need to put into the idea. 
  • Leverage: how well positioned you are to turn the idea into a money-making one that increases in value without needing your direct attention. A high-leverage idea isn’t a 1:1 trade of time for money. 
  • Startup costs: the upfront budget you’ll likely need to launch the idea.

1. Dropshipping

Business type: Product based

Effort: Medium

Leverage: High

Startup costs (out of 5 💸): 💸

As online sales continue to grow, many online retailers are finding that the traditional concept of inventory runs counter to their business. Rather than carrying a lot of goods on heavy shelves, some businesses prefer a less formal approach that involves more time consuming processes and lower profit margins but enables them to keep a close eye on customer satisfaction.

If you’re just starting a business, dropshipping is an easy way to make money that doesn’t require an initial investment. Instead of buying products in bulk and storing them until they sell — which can be a hassle for large businesses — dropshipping lets you package products with companies like eBay, Amazon, and Etsy. As soon as you ship the order and receive payment, your business is up and running!

Dropshippers have a habit of chasing the latest trends. And while there’s nothing wrong with catching a trending product wave, know that there also are many product categories that are steady and offer similar opportunities to do well. At Shopify, we regularly see these categories in our list top performers:

  • Women’s clothing and accessories. Far and away the most popular category of products on Oberlo. There are a variety of interesting niches within this category, too, including dresses, accessories, intimates, hoodies, socks and hoseries, and rompers. Since these products have a large market, are purchased relatively frequently, and are successfully sold through great marketing, they’re consistently a top performer for dropshipping.
  • Jewelry. If you want to turn jewelry into a profitable small business, dropshipping is a good model to try. You can sell in a variety of categories, including fine jewelry, fashion or costume, and collectibles. Or sell jewelry made from different materials, like gems, wood, textile, or metals. 
  • Home and garden. Home and garden is one of those dropshipping niches that seem to always be trendy. People are always looking to add personal touches to their space to make it feel warm and cozy, which can make this an exciting (and profitable) niche to sell in. 
  • Beauty. The beauty and personal care market is projected to be worth $511.4 billion by the end of 2021. Beauty is a thriving industry fueled by younger generations entering the market and is strengthened by social media and ecommerce. You also have options in the beauty niche: you can sell cosmetics, skin care, personal care, hair care, fragrances, and more.

Dropshipping is a great way to start a business and earn an income, but it is not easy. You need to start with a niche that you are passionate about, because if you don’t care enough, then no one’s going to care about your product either. Yet if you do care enough and love what you do, dropshipping can be extremely rewarding—and the support from customers makes this a lot easier than starting your own online store or website.

Subtle Asian Treats is a top dropshipping store that sells cute plushies and cases for AirPods and iPhones. It was founded by Tze Hing Chan, a young Malaysian entrepreneur, to take advantage of the bubble tea craze happening in Asia. 

Tze explains in an interview with Oberlo, “I knew that the bubble tea trend was up and coming, especially in Asian communities, so I looked around for bubble tea stuff on AliExpress. I found phone cases, and that was my very first product.”

Tze spent months exploring and selling different dropshipping products; some earned him extra cash, while others flopped. It wasn’t until he found the bubble tea plushie that his dream store became a reality. Once he saw them, he immediately imported them to his Shopify store, ran Facebook ads, and watched customers start rolling in.

2. Print on demand

Business type: Product based

Effort: Medium

Leverage: Medium

Startup costs (out of 5 💸): 💸

Your customer chooses their design, layout and size. For example: A customer might decide to get a shirt with a simple design printed vertically as opposed to horizontally, or they would like the design applied to their favorite color (brown), printed in bright neon pink.

The only way you’re going to be able to succeed with a dropshipping business is if your products earn the trust of your customers. The most important advantage print on demand offers over dropshipping is that you have control over the aesthetic of your products—a key differentiator for product categories where the design is the distinguisher, like t-shirts or fan merchandise. If you sell mugs, people want to feel good about using them. With print-on-demand services like Amazonbasics, creating a variety of designs can make all the difference between failure and success.”

When it comes to making money online, you can also use print-on-demand services to:

  • Test online business ideas or new products lines without the risk of buying inventory
  • Monetize an audience you’ve already built, whether it’s on YouTube, social media, or a personal blog
  • Offer diverse products by selling t-shirts, books, shoes, bags, mugs, phone cases, laptop skins, wall art, and more 
  • Sell photos online by placing your images on physical products to sell to your fans

Overall, print on demand lets you create customized products quickly. You don’t have to worry about shipping or fulfillment—it’s taken care of by your suppliers. And since you have no inventory to worry about, it’s a low risk, low investment way to make money online. 

3. Custom products

Business type: Product based

Effort: High

Leverage: Medium

Startup costs (out of 5 💸): 💸💸💸

This can be a huge benefit for you, the entrepreneur. It means that you can focus on building awareness of your product before you actually begin taking in revenue. You’ll then have to choose whether to accept payment on a COD basis (cash on delivery) or wait for the funds to clear before making any other purchases. We recommend that you take out insurance against damages you may cause while delivering goods, as well as loss/damage caused by theft or theft during delivery.

Vermilyea Pelle is a New York City-based brand that makes stylish, unique and ethical messenger bags. Created by sisters Marisa and Elena Vermilyea, the company’s bags are made from ultra-durable fabrics that hold up to heavy use, while also being incredibly comfortable to carry. To add to the slim profile of their Book Bag, they managed to include an adjustable strap around the outside so it’s easy to grab onto on the go; my hands have been free of bags like these for years.

That said, a custom product doesn’t have to be completely handmade. There are many ways to find a manufacturer or supplier to help bring your product to life. For example, you could:

  • Use domestic or overseas manufacturers. If you have a unique product that you don’t want to make by hand, you could find a manufacturer to make your products. The Alibaba route is a common way to do this. You can use the marketplace to find potential manufacturers, communicate your vision to them, and get your products made. This will require some upfront investment because of minimum order quantities and storage, but it’s a good way to maintain control of your products while keeping cost per unit low. 
  • Resell wholesale items. Buying and reselling wholesale items is a straightforward, low-risk way to make money online. You buy products you want direct from manufacturers, usually brands that are already credible on the market, at a discounted rate, then sell them in your online store at a higher price. 

It’s important to understand these methods to make the right choices when creating and selling custom products. Each has its own advantages and drawbacks, which you can read about in Make, Manufacture, Wholesale or Dropship: The Pros and Cons of Each Model. 

4. Sell on Etsy

Business type: Product based

Effort: High

Leverage: Medium

Startup costs (out of 5 💸): 💸💸💸

Every online marketplace, from Etsy to Amazon, offers a shared set of advantages and disadvantages. The upside is that you get access to their network of shoppers—people regularly browse these sites when they need to buy something, so setting up shop lets you meet them there.

That said, since these channels can work in harmony with your own website, sometimes they’re a great place to begin. New online makers can use Etsy to grow brand awareness at first. They have an active buyer community of 45.7 million buyers. We’ve seen many businesses successfully switch to Shopify after generating their first few sales on Etsy, for example.

The benefits of creating your own Shopify store include:

  • You can manage the look and feel of your store. Your Etsy shop sticks to one design model with less room for creativity.
  • You can grow your product line. Etsy sellers are limited to selling handmade, vintage, or artisan products. Say you want to offer a complementary manufactured product that could create a better customer experience and boost average order value. You may not be able to on Etsy. Having a Shopify store helps serve your customers better and add new products, no matter if they are dropshipped, manufactured, or wholesale. 
  • Easier inventory management. Ecommerce platforms like Shopify provider full inventory management and analytics so you can keep your records in order and make smarter decisions for your business. 

If you have an Etsy shop and don’t want to leave just yet, you can always run both stores simultaneously. Once you set up your Shopify store, use a free Shopify app like Etsy Integration: Sync and Sell. You can easily sync inventories, manage orders, and make money online using both Shopify and Etsy. 

In the early days, Loran had no plans to grow Old World Kitchen. Each item was unique and labor intensive, and the family didn’t want to hire or outsource any part of it. Because of this, Etsy was the right platform for them. 

As their brand became stronger and more defined, their prices began to reflect those of a luxury brand. The limitations of existing solely on a third-party marketplace began to hinder their growth. They desired to sell more luxurious products and align their online store with their brand. They needed a platform that could scale with their growing business, which is why they choose to build their own online store with Shopify. 

While the brand no longer uses Etsy, Loran credits the marketplace for making the family business possible. 

5. Sell on Amazon

Business type: Product based

Effort: Medium

Leverage: Medium

Startup costs (out of 5 💸): 💸💸

Amazon has become a marketplace that welcomes new ecommerce entrepreneurs. It takes a few minutes to sign up for an account and a few more minutes to get a product listing live. 

The platform has a massive audience, it’s a global marketplace, and it’s a go-to destination for product discovery and research. Listing optimization can help your products get found and unlock new opportunities. And Amazon’s in-app promotions can increase your brand’s visibility for highly targeted audiences. 

Yet, some ecommerce entrepreneurs question the long-term sustainability of selling on Amazon. While the marketplace is great for helping shoppers surface desired products, it’s challenging for sellers to get their business noticed. Amazon attracts many resellers of the same products you may offer. Tack on fees and trying to differentiate your brand and you may end up working harder to generate sales but not grow your bottom line revenue. 

While selling on Amazon is a good way to make money from home, there are some caveats to consider:

  • Amazon sets the rules for its marketplace. We know Amazon is a leader in collecting and using customer data to create better shopping experiences, but that information doesn’t get shared with you. If you compete head to head with a product owned by Amazon, it’ll be hard to make sales. Amazon Retail tends to get the Buy Box advantage.
  • Amazon prefers sellers to use Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA). FBA is Amazon’s fulfillment program offered to sellers. Once you put a product in its fulfillment centers and a customer orders it, Amazon will fulfill the order. You must use FBA to be eligible for Amazon Prime and Amazon Super Saver Shipping, two ways to help retailers improve conversion rates and earn extra money. 
  • Amazon owns the customer relationship. Sellers cannot add Amazon customers to a CRM or re-market to them after the sale. 

That said, Amazon is a great additional sales channel for your Shopify business. Similar to Etsy, you can use Amazon to get your products in front of a built-in audience, get discovered, and use your ecommerce website as the main sales channel. You can even integrate Shopify with Amazon to manage listings and sync inventory faster and easier.

Homesick Candles, which originally wasn’t selling on Amazon, has since become one of the top scented candle brands on the platform. Amazon proved to be a good springboard for selling its products.

Despite its success, Homesick Candles used Shopify to build an online store as its homebase. This gave the budding ecommerce business a place to showcase its brand, connect with its customers, and maintain control over its sales and promotions.

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