So you’ve lost all the money you earned in the dot-com boom. Don’t fear – you can still use the Internet to make money! In addition to telecommuting opportunities and online brokerages, the worldwide web offers a variety of means to make a little extra spending cash (or earn gift cards to stores and restaurants) in your spare time:
Sell stuff. Clean out your closets, find some good deals for resale, or create your own items to sell on auction sites, specialty sites (such as Half.com for books, DVDs, and CDs or Etsy for crafts), or your own site.
Read advertisements. With the saturation of advertising in our culture, some companies have turned to promoting their wares through websites like MyPoints and FreeRide, which pay for your attention. Sign up at one or several of these sites to earn points or cash for reading advertising email or visiting companies’ websites. You “earn” more (get money back) if you shop through these sites, but you can slowly add cash or points to your account without buying anything.
Search the Internet. Working on a similar principle, sites like SearchCactus pay you a small amount to use their search engines. They work by pointing you to advertisers’ sites and by sharing their revenue from the banner ads they sell. At least one site, GoodSearch, allows you to choose a charity to receive your share of the revenue instead. One downside to using these search engines is that the results, particularly for specific and unusual searches, are generally not as good as the results you’d get from a more well-known search engine.
Write articles or shoot videos. Sites like Associated Content and Gather pay users to produce content for their sites. These community-based sites, which also operate by sharing their advertising revenue with you, sometimes offer bonus incentives for commenting on others’ work, as well.
Sell advertisements for your own site. If you have original content ideas and computer skills, you can build a following and potentially earn more selling advertising on your site than you would earn working for a revenue-sharing site.
Let marketers follow you. Often billed as getting paid to surf the ‘Net, several websites will pay you for downloading and running a “toolbar” that tracks your online activities. One leading site in this category is Nielsen Net Panel, which I haven’t tried personally. In my experience, these toolbars often malfunction, and they significantly slow down computer operations, but at least they pay to invade your privacy, unlike many other sites that place spyware on your computer without your knowledge.
Take surveys. An alternative to having marketers follow you with software is taking surveys, which gives you greater control over the information you provide. A multitude of survey sites pay you to voice your preferences on products that are on store shelves or in development. Some sites offer entries into sweepstakes; others pay a few dollars for completed surveys when you fit a particular demographic profile. Two of my favorite survey sites are Survey Spot and Global Test Market. Beware of sites that ask questions like “Do you prefer Coke or Pepsi?” These “surveys” are usually just ploys to get you to buy something. Legitimate marketing surveys ask more in-depth questions and include questions about your age, gender, and other demographics.
Refer friends. More sites than I can count offer you incentives to encourage your friends to join. (The more subscribers they have, they more they can earn from advertisers.) Many “get-paid-to” sites, including those that fall into the categories above, offer bonuses for referrals. Some sites offer real earnings only for referrals and have a complex system that strongly resembles a pyramid scheme. (Remember, in these situations, only the few people with the most referrals earn anything substantial.)
Turk. Amazon’s Mechanical Turk website offers small cash payments (usually about a nickel each) to complete tasks that humans can do better than computers. At any given time, you can find a variety of interesting work – transcribing, finding information, writing trivia questions – to keep you entertained.
Enter contests. Contests abound on the worldwide web. Though they certainly can’t guarantee an income (even a small one), you might earn money (or win other “fabulous prizes”) by entering one or several of these often-free drawings. Like most online earning-opportunities, contests are generally tied to the advertising industries, so be prepared to get some spam. You might even consider opening a free e-mail account just for the purpose of entering contests and taking advantage of other earning opportunities.
Few of these activities will pay your rent – most pay less than minimum wage, with only a limited amount of “work” available. However, if you enjoy doing any of these things and don’t mind being online during your time off, you can earn more than you would watching TV.
Search for advice from other users before spending much time on any particular site, however. Some “get-paid-to” sites are unreliable; others pay quickly (if not well) and offer excellent customer service. As a general rule, a site that asks you to pay a fee to point you toward money-making opportunities, promises to make you an income big enough to quit your job, or has small print about completing a certain number of offers is probably too good to be true.