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9 Realistic Ways to Make Money From Home in 2021 (+ 5 To Avoid)

Illustration of a person imagining all of the ways they can make money from home

Disclaimer: The top ranking articles for “ways to make money from home” would never tell you what I’m about to tell you.

To really make money online, you will have to unlearn the pillars of your informal digital education. Avoid online survey sites that pay through PayPal or gift cards. Run for the hills when someone asks you to join Fiverr or Upwork. Use your own knowledge and experience to build a business on your own instead.

There are no limits to business building, and you can sell whatever you want. The more determination you have, the more money you’ll make online. It’s that simple.

Skip the usual website tester gig and become a business owner. Use this article to discover a new online business idea you can turn into an exciting, profitable venture that’ll pay more than one dollar per survey.

Free: The Big List of Business Ideas

To help you find the inspiration to start, we compiled a list of 100+ in-demand business ideas, broken down into categories like fitness, apparel, and gaming.

9 ways to make money from home

Gone are the days of low-paying cash-back credit cards and stressful Airbnb rentals. If you want to make a lot of money from home, you’ll want to start a small business that pays you dividends over time.

Here are the top home-based businesses you can start:

Sell custom products

Product development isn’t the easiest route, but it’s often the most rewarding; and it may not be as hard as you expect. Making custom products is popular amongst jewelry brands, fashion brands, and home decor brands, yet expands through virtually any industry where you make stuff from scratch.

We recently turned to shoppers to ask about their post-pandemic shopping plans: What are they planning to buy once the pandemic is under control? The infographic below shows how they answered. Use these items to inspire your own custom product to sell online and make extra money.

top 10 post-pandemic products

Some evergreen categories you could sell in are:

  • Apparel and clothing. Clothing is one of those categories that seems to always be trendy. People look for clothes and accessories that match their style and personality, which can make fashion a fun and profitable space to sell in. The market is expected to rise above $3 trillion by 2030.
  • Home decor. Home decor is another popular sales category. People want to add personal touches to their space to make it feel cozy and enjoyable. You can sell home decor online to anyone, anywhere, at any time, while keeping overhead at a minimum. The home decor market is forecasted to reach $202 billion in 2024.
  • Health and beauty. The beauty and personal care industry is set to reach $716 billion by 2025. You have many options in this category: you can sell skin care, cosmetics, hair care, fragrances, vegan products, and more. Grand View Research identified growing demand for men’s grooming products and anti-aging products that are expected to drive the market over the coming years.
  • Arts and entertainment. While movie box office revenue took a -66% dive last year, some interesting areas show impressive growth in this multi trillion-dollar industry. Digital newspaper revenue saw a 10% increase, video game revenue saw a 6.9% lift in sales, and consumer books saw a 3.8% increase. The esports industry continues to see healthy growth in this segment, forecasted to reach $37 billion by 2024. In short, there are a lot of innovative and exciting products you could sell in the arts and entertainment industry.
  • Food and beverages. The food and beverage industry will never die. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the segment is projected to grow at a rate of 8.21% per year, reaching $379 billion by 2025. It’s also poised for an ecommerce breakout, with up to 20% of food and beverage industry sales to be made online by 2025, a 10x increase from 2016.

Evaluating market demand and following trends is a great place to start when finding popular things to make and sell. Once you have a product, you’ll want to start your business and set up a Shopify store with a free trial. And just like that, you’re ready to start selling!

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In less than 40 minutes, let us walk you through how to find product ideas, how to validate them, and how to sell the product once you have an idea you want to pursue.

Create a print-on-demand business

Print on demand refers to working with a supplier to customize white-label products with your own designs, then selling them underneath your own brand. Businesses can create products like hats, t-shirts, tote bags, and more to sell to an audience online.

The best part? You don’t have to pay for any products until after you make a sale.

When you work with a print-on-demand company, everything from printing the item to shipping is handled by the supplier. Once you set up an online store with your designs, it takes a few minutes to fulfill an order after the customer checks out.

Creating a print-on-demand business is a great way to make money from home because:

  • You can create products fast. After you design a product, you can put it up for sale on your website in minutes.
  • You don’t have to worry about shipping. Your supplier will handle the fulfillment process. You’re just responsible for providing good customer service after the sale.
  • It’s low risk, low investment. It’s easy to add new products to your store and test ideas since you don’t hold any inventory. Your upfront business costs are minimal because you only need an online store to start.

A print-on-demand business also gives creators many opportunities to connect with fans through nice products, especially products sought out for their aesthetic design. Take Boba Love, for example.

Boba Love homepage

For all its products, the retailer focuses on one theme: bubble tea (also referred to as “boba”), a drink that originated in Taiwan in the early 1980s. Bubble tea has become extremely popular around the world and has a dedicated fan base.

Boba Love sells shirts, totes, blankets, hats, and stickers around the idea of the drink. When a shopper orders a product from the store, the supplier creates and ships it to the customer.

Curious what types of products you can create? Read A Canvas For Creativity: Here Are 10 Print on Demand Products You Can Sell (Without Holding Inventory) to learn more.

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Free Webinar:

How to Get Started with Dropshipping in 2021

Learn how to find high-margin products, add them into your store, and start selling—fast.

Make a subscription box

Illustration of a man holding a subscription box

A subscription business provides customers with products on a recurring basis. The subscription ecommerce market is expected to reach $478 billion by 2025, with more customers taking advantage of it each year. Research from McKinsey found that 15% of US consumers have signed up for one or more subscriptions to receive products regularly.

The benefits of creating a subscription box include:

  • Predictable revenue. Businesses know how much money is coming in each month and can plan growth initiatives accordingly.
  • More cash on hand. Subscription businesses ask for full payment upfront at a discounted price, which creates regular cash flow.
  • Lower customer acquisition costs. Customers pay you on a regular basis, so you don’t need to convince them to make additional one-time purchases in your store.

Running a subscription business from home is a proven winner. Our research shows that 63% of founders who sold subscriptions were satisfied with business performance, compared to 55% of founders who did not sell subscriptions.

Two types of subscription businesses we found thrived in the past year were:

  1. Replenishment model, where subscribers receive the same or similar products each cycle. An example of this would be grooming brand Harry’s. A customer purchases the Harry’s starter set, containing a handle, shaving gel, and razor cartridges. They then receive automatic gel and blade refills monthly, based on their usage and preferences.
  2. Membership model, where subscribers get access to exclusive products and perks in exchange for a monthly or yearly fee. Freelance writing community Peak Freelance runs on a membership model. Members pay a set fee and receive access to private Slack groups, on-demand tools and content, expert interviews, strategy sessions, and more.

Want to start a subscription box from home? Read How to Launch a Subscription Box: Lessons from a Successful Korean Beauty Business to learn how, step by step.

Sell on marketplaces

Sell products on online marketplaces—but beware! Selling sites can be a great launchpad for many businesses, but the current marketplaces come with a Faustian bargain: you get access to customers if you build your business on someone else's land. Their land, their rules, and they'll change them at any time.

Popular marketplaces include:

  • Etsy
  • Amazon
  • eBay
  • Handshake
  • Mercado Libre
  • Rakuten
  • Facebook Marketplace
  • VarageSale

Eventually, you’ll want to diversify your business by building your own site—you don’t have to choose one or the other. The big advantage is that the profit is yours: there are no fees to pay on sales and no rules to abide by but your own.

Resources:

Sell digital products

Illustration of an envelope with internet browser windows being placed inside to represent delivery of digital products

Digital products are intangible assets or pieces of media that can be sold repeatedly online. They come in the form of streamable or downloadable files, such as PDFs, plug-ins, and templates.

Digital assets are becoming more popular because they have high profit margins. Sure, it may take some time and money to develop them, but once the media or software is made, it’s not expensive to store or deliver to customers.

There is no limit to how many products you can sell. Digital products help creators scale themselves by using their expertise to create kits, printables, files, and other assets professionals can benefit from.

Started in 2013, UX Kits sells wireflows, user personas, flowcharts, and other products to assist the design process.

 digital product example from UX Kits

The brand has sold kits to over 10,000 designers, developers, and product managers in more than 100 countries. It’s since expanded to sell three physical products, but continues to drive sales from the digital assets created years ago.

Digital products aren’t just for business professionals. Home fitness business Street Parking sells a variety of digital products—from workout plans to online courses—and membership subscriptions for people who need at-home workouts.

online course and training example from Street Parking

Whatever you decide to create, figure out the needs of your target audience and work backward from there. Think about the kinds of assets they need/want and create products that are in demand. This will make it easier to sell and earn more money working from home.

Sell your creative work

It’s easier than ever for creators to sell their work online. Whether it’s music, videos, digital art, photography, magazines, or podcasts, you can set up a digital shop and start selling with little limitation.

While selling creative work sounds similar to digital products, the difference is that your products are more creative ventures. They are a way to express yourself online versus satisfying a buyer’s needs. Creators and artists who don’t have a network or connections with galleries and PR can now make money online doing something they love.

What started as a cartoon on Instagram for Harry Hambley has grown into an international icon and ecommerce brand. As described in an interview with BBC, the Ketnipz creator skipped university to draw cartoons online.

Ketnipz homepage

And Hambley’s strategy certainly paid off. The Ketnipz brand has over 2.9 million followers on Instagram, sells clothing and accessories online, and can even be found on murals around the world.

Using a combination of social media and an online store, you can make money online. Start building an active presence and engaging with your audience to establish your brand and find new customers.

Resources:

Monetize an audience

Monetizing an audience is definitely a challenging endeavor, but the creator-to-commerce business model is becoming more successful in modern times. Bloggers and influencers today don’t need to be internet celebrities to make money from home online. All they have to do is find their people on one or two platforms and they can turn their audience into passive income.

Sonja Detrinidad, founder of Partly Sunny Projects, an online plant shop, turned one of her part-time pre-pandemic hobbies into a full-time business through TikTok marketing. She didn’t set out to become TikTok’s favorite plant mom, but discovered by accident the possibilities of monetizing an audience.

partly sunny projects homepage

Sonja processed over 1,200 orders in one month at the height of plant-shopping season last summer. She also increased her subscription box customers by more than 4x since becoming a TikTok sensation, with over 350K followers on the platform.

Some ways you can monetize an audience are:

  • Building your own website and selling online
  • Through affiliate marketing commissions
  • Using Instagram shoppable posts
  • Starting a YouTube channel and running ads
  • Adding Google AdSense to an active blog

Regardless of how you go about it, monetizing an audience is a legitimate way to make money from home. It may take some time to build a targeted audience, but the investment will be well worth your time in the long run.

Become a freelancer

One home business idea becoming more popular is offering freelance services to clients online. Almost any role a business would hire for is reasonable as a freelance service:

  • Freelance writing
  • Graphic design
  • Marketing
  • Data entry
  • Illustration
  • Transcription
  • Online tutoring
  • Shopify store setup

Most of these services are best positioned toward business clients. Why? Because online businesses are the ones who are willing to spend. Freelancers can charge based on the outcome of their work versus the deliverable, which gives them leverage when it comes to pricing their services.

“Every freelancer eventually learns that there are desired business outcomes tied to their work,” explains Elise Dopson, co-founder of Peak Freelance.

“Freelance writers, for example, are not just blogging for a company. They are creating content that increases traffic, leads, and customers for a business. The sooner you learn that, and can deliver on it, the more money you’ll make freelancing from home.”

Elise has worked with brands such as ConversionXL, HubSpot, Privy, and other leading B2B SaaS companies to produce incredible content that gets results, which is how she broke the six-figure-income ceiling by the age of 21.

elise dopson freelancer homepage

If you have a passion for writing, designing, or organizing stuff, turn it into a freelance service. You won’t be disappointed with the results.

As more companies become completely remote, the opportunities to earn money from home freelancing will only become more abundant. It just takes a little know-how and determination to make it happen.

Become a virtual assistant

Illustration of hands typing on a laptop keyboard

With so many businesses moving online, the demand for virtual assistants is growing. Virtual assistants (VAs) are contracted workers who work with business and individuals on the jobs that you give them.

Virtual assistants work from home and help with tasks such as:

  • Time management and administrative tasks like responding to emails
  • Financial tasks like bookkeeping and client invoicing
  • Team management tasks like following up on deliverables, organizing training sessions, and creating task templates
  • Social media and digital marketing tasks like publishing and managing content
  • Personal tasks like managing investment properties, paying bills, and planning trips
  • Content tasks like video or podcast editing

Each VA has their own speciality. I myself have worked with VAs for years in my writing business, many of whom make a full-time living as virtual assistants.

Alexandra Froese, a VA specializing in systems and strategizes, works with clients to streamline redundant tasks and work more efficiently in their businesses.

Virtual Assistant Alexandra Froese homepage

Alexandra helps entrepreneurs by doing the tasks herself or by developing workflows that makes a client’s business run smoother.

My best tip for new VA's is don't be afraid to learn something new. Just because you aren't an expert in something doesn't mean that you can't become an expert.

Alexandra Froese

You can make good money with a small number of clients, but once you stop working, the cash flow stops coming. VAs can start a blog, sell digital products, or coach other VAs to create new revenue streams and make more money from home.

Home jobs to avoid

Now that you have a good idea of different ways to make money from home, let’s look at some jobs to avoid.

Freelance marketplaces

Marketplaces like Fiverr and Upwork might be a way to get your start, but quickly can turn into a price race to the bottom. You’re forced to compete on price and don't have a way to differentiate your services or offer something premium. Long term, this isn’t the way to go. You are better off creating a freelancer website and building a business that doesn’t rely on renting digital space in a marketplace.

Online survey sites

The pay is very low from online survey sites, and you accrue no long-term value. You’re not building skills or building an asset, you’re just losing time. Trading time for extra cash is always a reasonable short-term side hustle, but if you can, it's better to think long term.

Online survey sites include:

  • Swagbucks
  • Survey Junkie
  • InboxDollars

Building an app

Look at most websites promoting legit ways to make money online and they’ll tell you to build an app. All new ventures are hard and most fail, but consumer apps are hyper-competitive: the average person only uses 9 apps on their phone per day, most developed by major companies.

A better option? Grow your skill set by building useful, problem-solving apps for businesses via growing marketplaces like the Shopify App Store or Salesforce Appexchange.

Side gigs

If you want to make a quick buck, then side gig apps like Rover or UserTesting are good options. But similar to online survey sites, you aren’t building anything valuable for the long run.

You are better off learning skills in your spare time, like running Facebook ads or starting a dropshipping store, which can make you money repeatedly, versus a one-off cash gig from Craigslist.

Anything that’s pay-to-earn

Real businesses require investment, but anything that operates in a pay-to-earn model should be treated with extreme caution. For example, sites that promise you can win money by spending money, or multi-level marketing groups that require money not for inventory or product, but just to join.

Most gimmicks are scams in disguise: the simple but hard truth is that you need to sell something people want.

Learning how to make money from home

If you have an internet connection, you can make money from home online. Sure, the lure of fast and easy cash gigs may seem like a great idea, but it will only keep you on a hamster wheel of trading your time for cash—and time is our most valuable asset in life.

Use your time wisely and invest in building a business that’s rewarding and will pay you a bigger salary than any tester or survey site. $100 per day does sound nice, but what if I told you that an online business could net you $500+ per day. Would you still choose finding side gigs on Craigslist?


Make money from home FAQ

How do I make money from home?

Anyone with an internet connection can make money from home today. You can find an online business idea or trending product to sell, set up an ecommerce store with a free trial, and start marketing online. You could sell dropshipping products, digital products, or make your own products to sell to people online

How do I make an extra $1000 a month?

  • Sell custom products
  • Create a dropshipping business
  • Sell on online marketplaces
  • Monetize an audience
  • Sell digital products
  • Become a freelancer

How can I make money from home with no money?

  • Become an English tutor
  • Sell stuff on eBay or Craigslist
  • Become a virtual assistant
  • Start a print on demand business
  • Sell your creative work
  • Build an audience and monetize it
  • Start an ecommerce store
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