3 Realistic Ways to Earn an Income Online in 2020

With the cost of living relentlessly inching north and a 60-hour week fast becoming the new norm, more people are turning to the digital economy to pay the bills. Today, about one-third of the American workforce freelance their way through life.

There are obvious reasons why people ditch their traditional jobs. Freedom to dictate your own pace and slow down is a luxury the corporate pressure cooker does not provide. The ability to earn more, coupled with health and travel benefits are further nails in the coffin for the tie-wearing slave-drivers. While it has never been easier to make a move to a cloud-based income, the ability to successfully re-skill is what creates most doubt for future digital entrepreneurs. You would be forgiven for not knowing where to start too. We’re bombarded by “gurus” promoting overnight success stories, enough to scare most innocent onlookers away.

Below you’ll find a closer look at three realistic ways to earn an income online and what it takes to get you started as a digital entrepreneur. As with any new venture, a reasonable degree of re-skilling can be expected. Once you get the hang of it though, a world of freedom awaits.

Affiliate Marketing

Start-Up Costs: Under $1,000 Time & Effort: High Potential Income: The sky is the limit

As an affiliate marketer, you earn commissions for promoting other people’s products. You simply find a product you like, promote it and receive a piece of the profit for every successful sale you refer. The sales are tracked with your unique affiliate link.

Getting Started

If you’re serious about making money as an affiliate, you’ll need your own website. Luckily, these come cheap if you’re willing to be creative. Take care of your site and you’re good to go, since most affiliate programs are free to join and you’re spoilt when it comes to choice.

Web Design

This will be the biggest driver in determining your start-up costs. DIY website design is common, even without any technical know-how. The best of all – it’s free. WordPress is the world’s largest open-source system used to build websites. It’s free to use but comes with optional paid themes and plugins. It’s entirely possible to build a professional-looking site without having to pay for it. Thanks to its easy to customize templates and drag-and-drop site builders, you can create a website in days.

Too much hassle? Outsourcing to a freelance web designer can cost anywhere between $500 and $5000. To find an affordable designer, consider searching on sites like Fiverr or Upwork.

Marketing Strategy

This one overlaps with cost and time. As an affiliate marketer, you’ll have to decide where and how to effectively reach your audience with messaging about your products or services. There are two main marketing strategies affiliates use to reach their audience: organic and paid.

Organic marketing is a free way of reaching your audience. If you’re willing to put in the work, you’ll never have to pay to reach your audience. Creating useful content on your blog and posting on your social media accounts are ways to generate organic traffic. Organic marketing focusses on educating your audience, search engine optimization (SEO) and building relationships through your brand.

With paid marketing, the sky is the limit. The focus here is to get a faster return on investment. Paid marketing strategies also allow you to target a particular audience by reaching them exactly where they are already looking.

Time & Effort

To get you started as an affiliate, you’ll need nothing more than a solid work ethic and persistence. Probably a lot of persistence. Most people start out solo. In that case, you’ll wear many hats, learning how to reach your audience and drive traffic to your offer.

So how much effort does it really take to see results?

Here’s a general answer. With affiliate marketing, it takes about 12 months of consistent effort to start seeing success. Generating website traffic takes time. Expect 6 months of regular blogging before good volumes of organic traffic will be sent your way from search engines like Google. With a paid strategy, you can start reaching your audience from day 1.

You’ll also need to have a broad knowledge in many areas, but only really have to become an expert in one: your niche. The great thing about affiliate marketing is that the product sells itself if you are genuinely passionate about it.

The Flipside

Consistent effort sets you up for future success. Expect to start seeing your work pay off gradually over time. When done right, affiliate marketing has a multiple six-figure earning potential. A good piece of content never goes away, and you allow you to reap the rewards of content you created years ago.

Now, doesn’t that sound sleek.

Freelance Writing

Start-Up Costs: Free Time & Effort: Medium Potential Income: Quality-based

The creative soul’s dream. Becoming a freelance writer is arguably the fastest way to start earning an income online. Say goodbye to commuting and hello to… literally anywhere as long as you have your laptop and a cup of coffee.

Getting Started

When you’re just getting started, you’ll need clients. Luckily, there are many ways to spread the word about your skills, so you don’t have to make use of a paid marketing strategy.

Online freelancer sites, like Upwork or Copify, are great for connecting you with potential clients. You’ll want to build up a portfolio to showcase your skills. Over time, referrals and repeat clients will become your primary source of new work. Be sure to ask for testimonials after you’ve put together a stellar piece.

Time & Effort

How long does it take to master the art of writing? Some people spend most of their lives trying to perfect this skill. But you’re here to make an income right?

The reality is your income will be determined by the quality of your work and not how much time you spend writing. Freelancing rates for a 1000 word article vary wildly from $30 to $300. You’ll want to sharpen your ink slinging skills on a daily when you’re a newcomer.

The fastest way to improve the quality of your writing is to start a blog. This can be a great way to practice and showcase your skills. That doesn’t mean you can’t earn while you learn, though. Try signing up for Copify to connect you with writing gigs of all shapes and sizes.


Taking a creative writing course can be a great way to improve your chances of being hired and landing high-end jobs. Think about this as an investment and you’ll be sure to reap the rewards. There’s a lot of courses out there, although not all are created equal. The American Writers and Artists Inc. Copywriting Course is taught by some of the best copywriters in the world. They cover a wide range of topics – making you very versatile as a writer. I would recommend doing some research before deciding on a course that fits your budget, skill level and time required for completion.

The Mindset

There’s a ton of freedom that comes with being a freelance writer. Choosing the way you spend your time, where you spend it, how much time you dedicate to work is up to you. Bear in mind that the best part of being a freelancer is that you’re responsible for your financial success. The worst part is that you’re responsible.

It takes discipline.

Create Your Own E-Store

Start-Up Costs: Under $1,000 Time & Effort: High Potential Income: High

Online shopping has sky-rocketed over the past decade. People are buying everything from food to furniture and getting their goods delivered to their front door. And it’s going nowhere. The Guardian reports the Internet is expected to account for more than half of all UK retail sales in 10 years.

Leveraging one of the biggest emerging global trends is…Wait, need I say more?

Getting Started

The greatest advantage of selling our own products online is the cost of getting started. Compared to setting up a traditional brick-and-mortar business, the only question you’ll be left asking is where do I start.

With Shopify’s Lite plan, it’s possible to get started for a little as $9/month.

 Time & Effort

Building your own online store will feel overwhelming at first. There’s a lot you need to cover. Assuming you’ve got your product nailed, you need to move on to researching your competition. Building your store, manufacturing, marketing strategy and using analytics to cover insights are just some of the skills required to be successful.

Luckily, you don’t have to do it alone. If you’re looking for step by step guidance, finding a mentor is the fastest way to success.

Building your Store

Building your own online store is often the most exciting part of the process. With a plethora of site builders and tools available to your disposal, it can be a complete rabbit hole if you have an untamed creative side. Don’t forget to focus on functionality, though, as a frustrating user experience is sure to leave you hanging.

Check out 50 Exceptional Shopify Stores for inspiration. https://www.shopify.com/blog/shopify-stores

Understanding SEO

Having a basic understanding of Search Engine Optimization is key to your success in any online venture. In short, SEO helps you to create a site that attracts large volumes of organic traffic. There are a few simple steps you can follow to ensure your store ranks in the search engines.

Marketing Strategy

Getting your products in front of your target audience is what sells. For organic traffic, try focussing on social media marketing and informative or educational content on your blog. Answering specific questions or doing product reviews is an excellent place to start.

A paid marketing strategy allows you to reach a highly targeted audience. Keeping track of your cost to sell an item will help guide your approach.

Data and Analytics

What sites are referring traffic to your store? Where on earth are your customers coming from? How did your Black Friday marketing campaign perform last year?

Making sense of the numbers doesn’t sound like the hottest plans for a Friday night, does it? Cancel your party plans, as It is the only way to increase your chances of being profitable and scaling your business. Once you’ve nailed your product, audience, marketing strategy and analytics, autopilot seems to be the only fitting description.


Earning an income online has never been more realistic than today. It opens the door to a new realm of freedom and the opportunity to truly live life on your own terms.

However, it is often portrayed as low-hanging fruit with success only one click of a mouse away. Your chances to create lasting success will depend on your ability to re-skill and adapt to an ever-changing digital environment. It takes discipline, grit and perseverance to carve out a living online. Some might say it’s a small price to pay for a life of financial, time and geographic freedom.

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