The 26 Online Income Models:
- Do you dream of a cubical-free life? working from home without the office drama?
- Is the old fashion blue-collar hard word taking a toll on your health and energy?
- Are you changing careers or looking for early retirement income.?
- Do you want to travel or live abroad while still earning an income??
- Do you just want to make money online in a side gig?
Chances are you said yes to one of those, I said yes to several.
I have been a home-based worker for over 10 years now, and a location independent one for the last seven years – primarily in Southeast Asia. With a low cost of living, great beaches and warm weather and people. I can run my online business from any digital nomad co-working space, cafe or my home while enjoying a great destination.
While some work from home I am fortunate to have the freedom to work anywhere. Everyone understands the value of travel; it is one of life’s great pleasures. And who doesn’t see the benefit of living in beautiful places that have a low cost of living? However, the reason many parts of the world have very low costs of living is that they have low wage scales and often weak currencies. The wages scales and local work permit requirements mean you really can’t plan on working in these local economies. You can start a home-based business and move into a location independent lifestyle after you get some traction.
The goal is to earn USD while traveling or living in a country with lower valued wages and currencies … geoarbitrage.
Don’t expect quick earnings. Don’t expect passive income, few online ventures are. Plan for a real business that requires daily attention. That’s really the best approach.
A part-time effort, expecting a “set it and forget it” business, particularly when starting out, will yield few results. Plus a full-time business keeps you engaged and your mind fresh.
Let’s see what types of location-independent individuals there are.
Work from Home
There are many people who are ideal candidates to work from home. New mothers who have inflexible schedules but want to be active and working. Early and regular retirees who want to supplement pensions and Social Security. Disabled people who have trouble getting to an office but still have much to contribute. Then there are the wanderers …
Digital Nomads and Location Independent Workers
in my experience, there are two types of people working independently abroad — Digital Nomads and Location Independent Workers.
Digital Nomads typically move around from location to location after short amounts of time. They may be in Ecuador for 2 months, move on to Costa Rica for a few weeks and then head off to Chiang Mai — the Digital Nomad capital of Asia (and maybe the world).
I identify more with what I would call Location Independent Workers. I prefer to set up a home and office situation for a year or two. Really get to know an area and have the ability to create a good work zone and establish a rhythm.
“There are two types… Digital Nomads and Location Independent Workers.
But whatever kind of remote worker you are – you need income to pay the bills and keep your savings intact and growing. Let’s take a look at the top online sources of income for digital nomads or location independent workers.
Most of the options in this list involve you starting a new independent venture. Why not just find a company willing to hire remote workers? Finding an employer who is receptive to location independent workers is great for both parties. The employer gets local coverage and skilled worker at a reduced rate. The employee gets a premium to local wages. Even those who don’t specifically want remote employees will often hire independent contractors.
You can also look for subsidiaries of companies from your home country to see who is doing business in your guest country.
Many people are familiar with affiliate marketing.
With affiliate marketing, you find a product of interest to your audience, promote it, and getting a commission from that sale. Affiliate marketing is one of the most common ways of making income online practiced by thousands of people. It has the big advantage of requiring very little upfront capital.
Many companies have affiliate programs for their products. Some will have a direct relationship with their affiliates and many use marketplaces. Some of the larger programs include:
- Commission Junction
These are platforms where you find thousands of products (both physical and digital downloads) that you are interested in and promote them. With niche affiliate marketing, commissions generated can vary depending on your agreement with the product owner but most physical products like at Amazon pay <10% and software, memberships and service products ranging between 30 – 65%. The most important thing is to choose products that solve a need for your audience.
But how to generate traffic to your site?
With SEO traffic you are earning while learning vs. paid ads where you are spending while learning.
If you choose to become an affiliate marketer, the biggest challenge you’ll run into is generating enough traffic to sell the product. Since only a small percentage of visitors will click through to the product offer and another small percent will purchase – it takes a lot of traffic to earn money. You need to create an audience that is interested in your niche. You can either build a website or blog in your selected niche and/or use email, videos or social media. The typical niche marketer has a website as the foundation of their business and supporting social channels and video traffic. Search engines are the major source of traffic. Keyword focused content marketing strategies with solid SEO is the dominant strategy. Check out our section on SEO for affiliates to get a better idea of this process. The other traffic option for affiliates is paid ads usually used in conjunction with e-mail marketing. Running an effective ads campaign is a skill you must learn but you can turn traffic on and off with the purchase of ads.
One of the most powerful things with the internet is that it created the opportunity for people all over the world to harness their skills and provide services from almost any location by doing remote work.
There are many tasks that can be done remotely. English language skills are a key advantage, but whatever your skill is, you can likely find people somewhere in the world, who are looking to hire you.
Skills that are always in demand and are remote-friendly include: coding, design, writing, copywriting and translating. You can do your own research and contact prospective employers directly. There are also many outsourcing portals to bring together workers and contract employers.
It’s very easy to get started with these sites. Some like UpWork gives you the opportunity to take proficiency tests to help promote your skill level. The payments are quick so if you need money this month, they are a good resource. Each has its strengths and weaknesses and fees you pay for them bringing you a contract. The fees are typically a percentage of the fees you charge the employer. Many people start on these sites and move on to building a simple website and directly sourcing jobs. This is best done after you have a portfolio and references. Competition can be fierce at places like UpWork and Fiverr. A typical starting strategy for the marketplaces is to start your rates at the low end of the skill level scale and get some great references. Then you can raise your prices to a market rate.
One of the most reliable forms of making money online is by email marketing because you directly communicate with an audience that you already have a relationship with. Although building an email list can take time and a lot of effort, at the end of the day its worth it. Once you have a good email list, in the niche you prefer, you have a reliable source of income.
There are many ways to build your email list. Typically you will create valuable long from reports, checklists or other content that you will “trade” for their email and subscription. You can also use e-books, PLR products, and other giveaways to attract subscribers. You want to use a third-party email marketing company to take care of your list management, email popup forms, and list segmentation. Some companies like MailChimp have free programs to get you started. Some top eMail marketing service companies to consider are:
You need to be sure to set up the account properly to get as many of your emails into the subscribers’ inbox and not in Promotions or Spam.
Never buy an email list it is not worth it.
Keep your email audience engaged with high-value information so the occasional offer is well received. The idea is to build a conversation and trust with your email audience.
Living in SE Asia I see many English teachers. There are a few types of jobs for English teachers.
- Local language centers
- Government schools
- Private lessons
- Online teaching
REQUIREMENTS – For most jobs, the minimum credentials are that you are a native English speaker, have a 4-year degree and have passed a TEFL or CELTA course to learn to teach English as a foreign language. You can take a TEFL online through an actual course with practical teaching experience is preferred. You can take the TEFL in your target country and have some job placement assistance.
You should also enjoy people and teaching … remember, you are working with children and young adults who deserve your respect.
You should check the documents needed to bring from your home country as each country has specific requirements for you to work in the field. These documents can be difficult to get notarized and apostilled once you leave home.
OPPORTUNITIES – Assuming you have all the credentials the best-paying positions are in language centers. These can be anywhere from universities to shopping malls. Private lessons are particularly appealing to people who want to teach older kids. Typical private lessons involve training teens for pre-university English language tests and working with professionals who involved in tourism or foreign firms. Online teaching is great to fill in the gaps and for people who can not commit to a full-time position in a school. Government schools pay the least but provide the most authentic cultural experience.
English teaching is by far the dominant employment category in many locations. It is rewarding and a stable source of income. If you are planning a long-term move to a distant country, get yourself qualified to teach. If you don’t have a 4-year degree there are still opportunities to teach in smaller language centers and private lessons. Taking an online or in-person TEFL is the starting point.
Copywriting is the creation of persuasive content for sales and marketing. It is very different from writing longer niche articles. Every landing page, sales launch page, product pitch, etc. was (or should have been) done by a copywriter. It is a unique skill that is always in demand by product owners.
Good copywriters will increase your sales conversion rates. It is as simple as that!
So what is copywriting? First, copywriting has nothing to do with copyright law. And the lines between content writers and copywriters can definitely blur. Some general content writers can create very good advertising copy and vice versa. For the sake of distinguishing content writing from copywriting, I look at whether the writing is designed to have the reader take action or to inform them. Some typical content that a copywriter is used for includes:
- Home pages
- Offer Landing Pages
- Product Brochures
- JV Affiliate Pages
- Launch Pages
Copywriters are like salesman working via the printed word. Marketers respect copywriters unique skills and will pay a premium for them. It is easy to justify the expense due to the direct relationship to sales revenue. One great advantage is this work is that copywriters are not in the race to the bottom price per word that challenges many content writers. There are even opportunities for joint ventures and royalty arrangement for the right project and copywriter.
There are many types of agencies you could create; marketing, SEO, Social Media are a few examples. Companies and individuals use agencies for tasks that they can not afford to have a full-time resource for and to reach a broader talent pool that is outside their company. You need to find a unique identity that resonates – companies generally have generalists but need specialists.
Companies need to find fresh ideas to stay competitive. To be sure they are always relevant many will outsource parts of their customer relationship, pr or other marketing efforts. Smaller companies will need to have companies take full charge over things like SEO as having staff would not be cost-effective. Niche agency examples include:
- Social Media Marketing
- SEO Auditing and Performance
- Site Performance & Security
- Affiliate Marketing Setup for Products
- Translation and Localization
Many companies need 24-hour customer support channels. There are positions for phone support and email/chat. If you have technical skills you can look for help desk opportunities, either as a remote worker or independent contractor.
You can also look for companies that have shorter-term needs to meet peak needs around launches, holidays or other high-demand times.
There are many kinds of companies that need customer support. Software and Software as a Service (SaaS) companies often have a triage system where the first line of support is a generalist with some product knowledge. These would typically be answers that are easily responded to. The generalist escalates calls or emails that require detailed product knowledge to product specialists who in turn escalate to engineers if problems are identified.
With 75 million websites out there using WordPress, there is a huge market for plugins and themes that extend and present content for WordPress sites. This has been the backbone of my online income (though I am moving towards SaaS products).
The market is so huge that it will pay to be highly specialized in the beginning. Look for a market where 10% penetration would yield sufficient revenues.
The WordPress ecosystem is big enough to allow for many revenue opportunities:
- CSS and Design
If you are creating a plugin or theme, a common sales strategy is to have a lite and premium version. The lite version is ideally available at WordPress.org and you promote and support the premium version from your website. Themes and plugins can be a steady source of income and the buyers are great opportunities for future offers. There is an ongoing expense for support and maintenance engineering that you must consider. In addition to plugins and themes, WordPress services and frontend development can be a lucrative revenue source.
There are people who do very well selling on eBay, Etsy and similar sites. Some people create boutique crafty products, others buy low and sell higher.
Selling your own excess material goods is also a great option to build a little cushion before you start your location independent life.
There are a number of sources for products that you might sell on eBay, Etsy and other sites that bring together buyers and sellers.
- Create products
- Export Local Products
- Retail arbitrage
Hand made niche products is what Etsy is all about. If you are hosting a party or decorating your home and want something special – Etsy is your marketplace. Living in areas like SE Asia, Central, and South America, or other low-cost areas will almost certainly bring you in touch with local craftspeople making unique goods. Exporting these home and selling is an opportunity. Wholesalers and manufacturers can also be a source of products though you will be competing with other retailers with the same goods. Retail arbitrage involves buying at retail close-out and other deep discount periods and reselling. Finally, don’t overlook Amazon and similar sources where sellers often need to sell below cost to liquidate a product or get reviews going.
Shopify offers a very convenient and feature-rich platform for creating a retail store. If you want to focus on branding, marketing, and products while outsourcing the technology – Shopify is a great option. Sure you can likely do everything in WordPress that you can in Shopify. But, you will be dealing with plugins and plugin extension. This either requires a dedicated technical resource or for you to take time away from other tasks to maintain software.
Shopify is the leading SaaS tool for creating online stores. You will be in good company if you choose to go this route. Per Shopify the product has
- 600,000 stores have been built
- 1,000,000 active users
- More than $82bn in sales generated by stores
You can have your own domain name at Shopify. The biggest downside is the cost for monthly fees and add-ons can get expensive. But remember with WordPress and e-Commerce you will need help or time away from marketing.
How about making sales on physical products which you actually never have to touch with your hands?
Would you like to sell real products but not have the issues of inventory and shipping?
Dropshipping provides these types of benefits. With dropshipping, the product owner handles the inventory process and receiving from the manufacturer. Your job is to sell the products to your traffic. This can be an audience you have created or paid traffic
Once a customer visits your website and they place an order, the product owner is notified and they are responsible for packing, shipping and delivering the product. Basically, your customer orders from you, you then order from your supplier, your supplier ships to the customer.
Dropshipping has some clear advantages:
- greater margins per transaction than affiliate marketing
- No money tied up in inventory
- No warehouse cost
- No picking, packing, and shipping
It’s not a perfect system of course. You are likely paying more than true wholesale and your customer has a longer lead time, particularly with Chinese and other international shipping points.
FBA stands for Fulfilled by Amazon. FBA takes the best of e-commerce and dropshipping while giving you access to the best sales conversion machine on the planet – Amazon.com.
Your customers will never slow down their purchase decision as they consider if it is being supplied by a reputable source. Everyone trusts Amazon.
There are a few steps in the FBA sales process:
- You create or source products
- You ship them to Amazon
- Customer buys at Amazon.com
- Amazon picks, packs, & ships the product
- Amazon deals with any return issues
Sounds perfect right? Well, it is a great program but you must follow all of Amazon’s rules. As a huge company with millions of products, the procedures for coding, shipping, packaging, brand ownership, and advertising can seem rigid. This is not the business for an undisciplined owner. The bigger issue is the fees. You must pay for storage and other fees. You need to get to the top of Amazon’s search results and that can require ad spending at Amazon. You need a significant amount of capital to start and you need very healthy margins on your sales to cover the expenses.
VA stands for Virtual Assistant. It is a great way to make some cash and learn more about the Internet Marketing industry. A VA is hired by companies to take care of details and tasks much like an executive assistant might be. Typically a VA is a “jack of all trades” type of person. The most important thing is to have good communication and organization skills – and to be dependable.
The actual tasks required by the VA manager may include:
- Backlink outreach
- Basic writing
- Social Media management
- Email response to customers or partners
- Appointment management
There is a large demand for VA staff. Typically the pay is not at a high rate as the manager is looking to offload simple tasks to allow him/her to work on more important items. A typical VA gets $5-$10 per hour and you will compete with low wage, English speaking areas like the Philippines. You won’t get rich but you won’t go hungry.
Websites can not have too much content. With existing sites growing and gaining more visitors, new and smaller sites must add content to compete for search traffic. Google has a strong preference for sites with lots of valuable information for their search customers. Content marketing is the dominant way to attract traffic for affiliates and many other types of websites.
Content continues to be king.
As someone who purchases and sells writing services, I can attest to the difficulty of finding good writers at affordable costs. The least expensive writers will be in the $.05 per word range. Below that price, you can probably create better content with spinning software which is not recommended.
This means a 1000 word post (the shortest I deal with) will be $50. And this is for the lowest wage scale where you may or may not get a useable product. At the other end of the scale are professional, credentialed writers who will not even want to work by word-count. You can easily spend $500 for the same 1000 word article – and it may be worth it. It really depends on the site with affiliate copy not needing to be as polished as Fortune 500 copy. After-all your job with affiliate content is to get them to Amazon.
There are a number of sources for finding writing positions.
Just like other freelance jobs, you may want to start your pricing at the lower end of the wage scale and build a portfolio of business. I wouldn’t bother trying to compete with the very lowest wages though. If you are a native English speaker with strong writing skills I would be looking at $75-$100 for a 1000 word article. Get smart about keywords and SEO and you will be in great demand.
Affiliate sites focus on buying keywords (best xyz, sale price xyz, etc.) – they want search traffic from buyers, not those just looking for information. Not all sites are generating their revenue from a product or affiliate sale to visitors. Another strategy is to create a site that just has information, news, entertainment etc. All the keywords are information or other non-transactional keywords. These keywords are easier to rank for than buying keywords.
The goal is to drive large amounts of traffic to the site. The traffic does not need to be qualified from a sales standpoint. These types of sites can a lot more traffic than a competitive niche affiliate site. Trending topics are a typical strategy. But there are many others:
- News and current events
- Political topics
- Humor and Entertainment
- Professional Sports and Athletes
With affiliate marketing, you want to aim for 10,000 visitors, with ad-based you need to get to 100,000 monthly visitors. You can sell ad space to Google Adsense or other companies like Mediavine. Avoid any controversial topics like drugs, sex, etc. as many advertisers will not want that traffic.
Most writers face the challenge of monetizing their talent. You can be the most creative person with amazing works, but finding the market for it can be challenging. Publishers are more and more selective as the book marketing consolidates.
This is where self-publishing ebooks and audiobooks come in. Sometimes the revenue comes directly from the eBook other times the eBook is used as a lead magnet.
The old stigmas of self-publishing are eroding as the market for these products increases. There are many reasons and types of ebooks you may want to create:
You may want to create these as giveaways in exchange for an email address for your marketing campaigns or you may want to create a novel or photographic essay. If you want to sell them there are marketplaces like Amazon Kindle Marketplace and Lulu for your work,
Blogging is all about finding an audience for your topic. Whether you blog about politics, early retirement, raising kids as a single mom or investing – you want to reach an interested group of people. You need your blog to have a focus.
Random streams of consciousness will not attract many visitors unless you are already famous.
Don’t worry about monetizing your blog until you have an audience. Only a small percentage of people will click to your offers and only a small percentage of those that looked at the offer will take action and purchase. Get to at least a few thousand visitors a month. Until then focus on refining your content.
Once you have an audience, how can you make money from your blog?
- Affiliate Marketing
- Develop a product
- Membership or Mastermind private group
- Seminars and training
Always be sure that anything you create or promote is a great product that solves a problem for your audience. The biggest mistake you can make is to promote random, crappy products because they pay well. You will quickly lose trust along with your audience
This is also known as vlogging.
People love videos so does Google. With YouTube you are also not such a needle in the haystack that you are with a blog or niche affiliate site. There are 20+ million YouTube channels and 650 million websites published.
The first step is to create a YouTube channel, you can then connect that to Adsense or other advertising networks once your audience grows.
Just like website blogging and niche marketing, you need to first create an audience for your content. Once you have visitors, there are many different ways that people earn money on YouTube.
- What’s in the box affiliate videos
- Shopping at store affiliate videos
- Influencer marketing videos
- Training videos
- Video ad revenue
With YouTube, there is more opportunity for viral rapid growth than say a niche affiliate site. Affiliate traffic is more incremental. It is key to advertise your channel on your social media platforms. Also using a specialized Video SEO plugin like Yoast Video can be helpful for search traffic.
Memberships sites are a model that has been used by both solo entrepreneurs online and large corporations who charge for a monthly fee for their services. It is a really great business model for a couple of reasons:
Monthly Revenue – There is nothing better than selling something once and getting paid monthly
Captive Audience – Once you have a group of people that have joined your members only area, you have a set of people who trust you and are warm leads for additional products and services.
Membership sites are very easy to set up. There are many WordPress plugins that can manage your membership fees, restricted content area and communication with members. Some of my favorites are:
There needs to be high-value content in the member area and it should be regularly updated. Many membership sites drip content to new members for training and similar applications. A private member-only FaceBook page or another place for dialog is also valuable once you have a core group of members.
With over 24 million students, Udemy is the go-to-place if you want to sell your courseware. With Udemy you build your course or training and it is sold on their platform. The nice thing about selling training this way is that it is like a book, you create it once and can sell it for many years with just periodic updates to keep it fresh. You also establish authority in your niche which will help with future SEO traffic.
You can offer a course in almost any topic at Udemy. Popular courses range from short-lived photography courses to intense multi-tiered courses in programming and data science.
Some of the more popular course areas are:
- Web Development
- Programming Courses
- Internet Marketing
- Photography and Videography
- Business and Accounting
- Foreign Languages
You want to create a course with multiple modules and sections and you will need some basic video and presentation skills.
Flipping websites is the practice of building a new website or buying an existing website and reselling it. It is a great strategy for experienced Internet marketers or those with good business sense. Affiliate websites sell for around 20x monthly earnings based on the previous 3-month average.
Good places to look for sites to buy or sell include:
You need to be careful and do thorough due diligence. Always remember that business brokers work for the seller. In the case of Empire Flippers, they do vet the sellers and verify the stated income. Most brokers do not.
I am dating myself but I remember buying mailing lists of target customers. We could choose a set of zip codes and other basic demographic information. The list-broker would send us a set of stickers with the prospect’s address printed on them. We would design a promotional mailing. Usually, we created a single sheet flyer or post-card (for cheaper mass mailing – postcard stamps are less) and we would send out thousands of pieces at a time. Generally, a 2-3% response could be expected.
Solo ads are the 21st-century version of a mailing list. But instead of renting snail-mail addresses you are renting an email list.
If you have an email list and you want to monetize it without the hassle of selling any product to them, selling solo ads is an interesting option. Solo ads work by you mentioning another company’s product or service in an email sent to your subscribers. You provide a link in the email to a page of the person who rented your email list. The more open and link clicks your email list gets the more you can make. Most solo ad buyers pay per the number of clicks generated to the solo ad buyers site. The standards rates are between $40 – $80 per 100 clicks. Some things to consider with solo ads as a seller:
- You will have a high unsubscribe and spam rate
- You must constantly build your list to make up for unsubscribes
- Most buyers are in the Make Money Online Niche
- There are many scammers with fake clicks and other tricks in the industry
You can set up your own Facebook page or website to sell your ads. There are also marketplaces like Udimi just for solo ad buyers and sellers. You need to use a product like ClickMagic to manage the clicks and get reporting.
Social Media marketing is the monetization of your social media audience. If you have many many followers on Instagram or Pinterest you can make money by either selling products to them or by leveraging your influencer status.
You need many thousands of followers to do this but it can be very lucrative.
There are a few specific ways you can monetize your social media followers:
- Sell shoutouts
- Affiliate marketing
- Create a training course or other product
- Become a Social Media Marketing consultant
Shoutouts are a bit like the solo ad system. In this case, you are paid to mention another person’s social media channel. So if you have an Instagram account with many followers you would be paid to mention the buyers Instagram account. This attracts followers for the shoutout buyer. You can also do this and other Social Media consulting as a service.
Almost any financial instrument can be traded online these days. Stocks, bonds, Currencies, Crypto, etc. There are very sophisticated trading platforms that will give you historical and real-time data to analyze your positions. It is not for the faint of heart, however. Definitely best to practice with some simulated accounts first.
The most important qualities of good traders I have seen are:
- Discipline not hunches
- Quantitative thinkers
- Good Risk Managers
- Interested in small incremental gains, not home runs
This is one of the riskier ways to try to make money while traveling. Most people I meet that are traders were traders before they started traveling or worked in the industry. Very few people can beat a standard index like the S&P 500 over an extended period of time. In fact, many professional traders with huge staffs and research departments can’t.
There are lots of things that your new local community will need. Everything from IT support for their computers to yoga training. If you are in a larger city or area with a large expat community all the better.
You also have the opportunity to sell your services to restaurants and other local companies that service the tourism industry.
People who are traveling often want services that they miss from home. Maybe it is life coaching or help to fix their computer. Many remote parts of the world have little experience with things you have expertise in and travelers will come to you for these services:
- Nursing and Medical Care
- IT Support
- Personal and Life Coaches
- Yoga, guitar, meditation training
- Foreign Language translation
If you are working in the local community and not online you need to check the local visa issues. Most countries do not want you working in the local economy on a tourist visa.
It is important to understand cash-flow expectations from different online work.
Immediate (or nearly)
You have little lead time to set yourself up with certain online work. If you are a VA, teach an online English Course, provide a service on Fiverr or Upwork or sell things on eBay and Etsy; you can expect to have the money within a week of processing time. If you need short-term income these are your best bets.
Anything that requires you to develop an audience to sell to will have a much longer lead time. If you are going all SEO based traffic and niche marketing it is at least 6-months to get significant search traffic. You use that time to create content. Your income is out that same 6 months — at best. But building an audience is creating an asset. You can accelerate it with ads to squeeze pages and e-mail campaigns to provide value and create trust.
Multiple Revenue Sources
Many of these activities can and should be done together. I use parts of the agency, e-mail marketing, affiliate marketing, theme/plugin development, and others from this list to stay location independent.
Working online or creating an online business requires strategy and effort but it is very rewarding. Living a financially independent life in an exotic destination is a joy. It is definitely best to get started at home before you hit the road. Set up bank accounts, PayPal account and other financial needs from your home base. But go for it – you will never regret it.