How to make actual money without leaving the house

 
Courtesy Sergey Galyonkin via Flickr

I don’t use Apple products, but this is otherwise an accurate depiction of my home office.

There are loads of articles floating around the internet about how to earn money online, make money from home, etc. And most of them are, as you would expect, written for consideration, advertising scams, and maybe at best only have a couple of good suggestions while the rest are a complete waste of time. So I’d totally understand if you saw the headline of this post and thought, “Well, crap, she’s gone commercial. First ads, now this.”

Though honestly, the ads are just one of the few ways that I’ve found to make use of my skills and resources to make a (nearly) full-time income. And the ads don’t make me that much money. This isn’t that popular of a blog.

Generally speaking, to make money online, you will have to do at least a little work. Don’t believe anyone who tells you that you can make money “just” for shopping, browsing Facebook, viewing videos, or taking a couple of short surveys (ok, there’s one exception to this last one…sort of). But you can get paid a decent hourly wage for doing things like evaluating ads, social media content, and search engine results. You can also make a pretty good supplemental income by spending a couple of hours a week testing the usability of apps and websites.

Everything that follows is either a website or resource I’ve used (or am currently using) to make actual cash money on the internet without once having to leave my house.

Content evaluation

How much do you make?  $13-15/hr

How much do you work? 5-20 hours/week (depending on the project)

How long can you do it for? 3-6 months on average (varies by project)

Companies like Appen and Leapforce contract with some companies you’ve definitely heard of to evaluate social media, search engine, and advertising content. Most of these jobs are 10-20 hours a week and pay $13-15 an hour, depending on the project. There are other companies that contract like this as well, but I’ve never worked with them so I can’t speak much to their legitimacy personally, though the WorkFromHome subreddit has a number of users who have suggested and have experiences with other contracting companies.

Companies like these usually have a fairly difficult and time-consuming training and qualification process that you don’t get paid to complete. Further, completing the training and qualification exams doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get offered work. So you have to decide whether you’re willing to put in 10-12 hours without getting paid for the possibility of getting work that is, admittedly, pretty repetitive. And since it’s contract work, you can be terminated at any time, without notice, and seemingly without a reason. So while you might be able to count on it for regular income for a few months, I wouldn’t advise planning on having the income for longer than about 3 months, just to be on the safe side.

Some people have reported contracting with these companies for years, while others have their contracts end after a month or two. Quality of work certainly plays a factor, but the process isn’t always transparent, so it’s hard to pin down a single formula that will ensure that you have long-term work. With Appen, I’ve received helpful feedback from evaluators to help me improve my work, and they provide a number of other resources to help you understand their standards and needs really well, but I’ve heard from other people who have worked with them that they occasionally have been removed from projects without any kind of prior feedback.

So if you’re willing to do repetitive, but fairly easy work (once you’ve completed the training and gotten into the swing of things) for some pretty decent, reliable (if short-term) pay, this might be a good option. You get paid monthly either by check or direct deposit.

App and website testing

How much do you make? $10-15 per test ($30-40/hr)

How much do you work? 1-3 hours/week

How long can you do it for? Indefinitely (with satisfactory ratings)

The work isn’t as regular or as frequent, but I enjoy this more than any other method of earning money online. Through websites like UserTesting and Userlyics, a very wide variety of developers and companies submit their apps, websites, and other interface prototypes for crowd testing, and those testing sites will pay users around $10 per 15-20 minute session to perform tasks and talk through their experiences. There are a number of other sites than the ones that I’ve mentioned that offer similar services, but UserTesting and Userlytics are the only two sites that I’ve actually gotten paid tests through. To test on either platform, you’ll need, at a minimum, a capable computer with a microphone (and a webcam for Userlytics).

The payment for regular tests can vary from $3 for a 5-minute “peek test,” or a quick first impression of a website or app, to $10 for a regular test. UserTesting also has a “Mobile Tester” program, which reliable testers may be invited to apply for after a number of high-rated tests. UserTesting sends you a document camera that is used to record slightly more complex tests than the ones typically done through the mobile app or the desktop platform. These tests usually pay $15 for a 15-20 minute test.

Userlytics has a similar pay rate of $5-15 per test, though they don’t have any special programs that I’m aware of, and the payment for tests varies per task and is specified up front instead of being standard per type of test.

Both platforms occasionally have opportunities for longer diary studies or focus groups that can pay hundreds of dollars for your participation. These are fairly rare, and you do have to qualify demographically, just as you do for most other tests (as clients are looking for testers who are like the users they expect), but if you get the opportunity, they’re VERY worth it. The hourly rate can sometimes exceed $60 per hour.

Most usability tests are done on a first-come, first-served basis. Userlytics is really good about sending emails about new tests that are available to you, but with UserTesting, you’ll probably want to keep your dashboard open in your browser all the time. It goes ding when there’s stuff. Userlytics tests are almost all done on your desktop or laptop computer, while UserTesting does testing on computers, tablets, and smartphones. And with UserTesting, you can’t really expect to make a whole lot of money without having at least one compatible mobile device to test on, as the web-based tests are scarcer and often have more stringent qualifications. Though in any case, UserTesting seems to have far more tests available than any other testing platform.

So in summary, to get the most out of usability testing platforms, set alerts for emails from them, keep UserTesting open in your desktop/laptop browser whenever you’re available to work, and have at least one (ideally two or more) mobile devices that you can test on. This setup will likely net you around $20-30/week to start, but after a few months, you’ll be making at least $80/week and you may begin receiving invitations to high-paid focus groups. You can’t make a living on it, but it should cover at least one of your bills.

Freelancing platforms

How much do you make? It depends on the jobs you do, but don’t sell yourself short. A good rule of thumb is to set your local minimum wage as your price floor.

How much work do you do? It’s up to you, and it depends on the jobs you get.

How long can you do it for? As long as you can find jobs you want.

I’ve had the best luck using Upwork (formerly Odesk) to do things like test apps and websites (much in the same way that I do for UserTesting), as those tasks tend to pay well for the amount of time and effort they take. However, I’d recommend having some experience doing this on a testing platform like one of the ones I’ve discussed above before venturing to Upwork for tests, as the ones on there are less structured, and it really helps to have a little prior experience, since you have to apply and “bid” for projects.

One of the troubles with freelancing websites is that you’re often competing with workers from countries with much lower wages, so you’ll often find that you’re easily undercut for the amount of work you’re willing to do for a given price. This is exceedingly common on platforms like Fiverr (which I don’t recommend) that market themselves as a place to find cheap labor. But if you’re a native English speaker or have some highly-sought technical skills, you’ll soon find a niche in which you can easily find jobs that pay a fair wage. Don’t ever sell yourself short. Do the math, work out the fees taken out by the platform, determine how many hours you’ll have to invest, and make sure that you’re making at least your local minimum wage (though given the sorry state of the minimum wage in a lot of states, you still might want to aim a little higher).

Most projects you’ll find posted will be short-term, one-off projects that have a timeline of a couple of days to a week. But if you’re lucky, you can sometimes find long-term projects that will essentially give you a steady job for months. And the only real limit to how much you can make is the amount of time you can commit to complete your work satisfactorily.

Freelance websites, of all of the ways of making money in this article, are probably the riskiest. Not all freelancing platforms are created equal, and not all employers on those platforms are going to pay you fairly (or at all). Likewise, not all types of tasks are going to pay a worthwhile wage, so you’ll likely have to do some looking and filtering. Most platforms have pretty good rating and complaint/recourse systems to prevent or mitigate things like unfair practices and nonpayment, but as anyone who has dealt with Ebay or PayPal support might know, it’s not foolproof. I’ve been lucky so far, as have most of my friends who do work through freelance platforms, but the risk is certainly there, so pay attention to things like ratings and reviews of employers before accepting contracts.

Human Intelligence Tasks

How much do you make? $6+/hr (with a good strategy)

How much work do you do? It’s up to you how much time you spend.

How long can you do it for? Indefinitely

Websites like Mechanical Turk and Clickworker can be really hard to make good money on because they have a lot of low-pay, high-effort tasks that are completely not worth your time. But if you know what to look for, it’s not unheard of to make $6-10/hr (sometimes more) doing tasks so simple that you can do them while you watch TV in the evenings.

The best place to start to learn how to identify good Human Intelligence Tasks (HITs) is to check out the HITsWorthTurkingFor subreddit. This forum focuses on tasks on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, but a lot of the principles you learn here can be applied to the tasks on Clickworker as well (though that requires an extra step that I’ll get to in a minute).

You might notice that a lot of the tasks are surveys. This is my one exception to the rule that you can’t make money answering surveys. Since most of the surveys posted to MTurk are for academic research, most of them pay within an acceptable range to be worth your time. And that’s really the difference between this and a “survey rewards” site–these pay money, not points that may or may not be exchangeable at any kind of rate to be worth your time.

A good rule of thumb for any HIT-based website is that you shouldn’t work for less than 10 cents a minute, on average. Yes, $6 an hour is less than minimum wage, but if you’re new to the sites, you’ll notice that there are a lot of tasks you don’t qualify for because you haven’t completed enough tasks. It’s a classic Catch-22. The best strategy here is to find a batch–that is, a set of HITs posted by the same requester where you do the same thing over and over–that pay 3 to 5 cents a piece that take less than a minute on average to do. You’ll start out making a bit less than that $6/hr target, but the goal here is to get your task count up. And take it seriously, because quality matters. By the time you’ve hit around 100 approved tasks, you’ll generally find it much easier to find good-paying tasks you qualify for. And as your approved task count increases, you’ll find so does your ability to make money.

Finding these tasks is just a matter of using the search box and knowing what to look for. On MTurk, you’ll want to have two tabs open–one I call my HWTF tab, the other I call my batch tab. On both, you’ll want to have the “for which I’m qualified” box ticked. HWTF are generally the one-off, high-value HITs. I set the minimum value for these usually at around 20-30 cents, then sort these results by newest posted.  For the batch tab, you’ll set a much lower minimum value–usually about 5 cents. Sort this tab by “most available HITs.” Refresh them often. For both, you’ll want to look over the HITs that appeal to you before accepting them. Think about how long it’ll take you to do the task, and whether it’s worth your time. Browser extensions like Turkopticon can also provide information on how fairly requesters pay for their tasks. The more you do this, the better the sense you’ll get of what’s worthwhile. Keeping the HWTF subreddit open in a third tab can provide an additional, more convenient resource for finding some of the highest-paying HITs without having to search for them yourself, particularly after you’ve passed the 50 approved tasks mark.

There’s plenty more advice as well as a ton of other resources for increasing your count, understanding what’s a good HIT, and maintaining a good rating on the subreddit I linked above. A lot of this can also be carried over to Clickworker, which as a platform on its own, is actually pretty awful, but they have a pair of qualifications for a third-party platform called UHRS that give you access to a number of fairly high-paying batches of tasks where making $10+/hr is not unheard of with the completion of the right qualifications and good timing. Getting started with UHRS is FAR more frustrating than with MTurk, as there’s a lot more unpaid time investment for the “good” HITs, and it only works in Internet Explorer. But in general, the work is more steady and the pay is a little better. The WorkOnline subreddit has some of the best resources for understanding Clickworker and UHRS that I’ve found.

Can you make a full-time income from this? Probably not. A few people do, but that takes a lot of dedication and some tools that are far beyond the scope of this post. The most I’ve ever made is about an extra $100 in a month, mostly from doing tasks on MTurk in the evening while watching prime time TV. I find some of the academic study surveys and tasks to be kind of fun, though I also found myself becoming frustrated with the large amount of low-quality requesters and low pay-high effort tasks that seem to pop up more and more frequently.

Passive income

Generally speaking, you cannot make a full-time income off of any of the following methods. These will give you an extra few bucks for either doing what you already do or for changing your habits slightly.

Swagbucks – This one you’ve probably heard of. Get points for purchases you make online and exchange them for cash! Unless you buy a lot of stuff online NOT from Amazon, then you probably won’t find this as amazing as all the couponing websites say. And you’d be right. But passive use can still net you some pretty reasonable, if occasional, cash rebates from some major online retailers.

The value of a “Swagbuck” works out to about a penny, which means that on most sites that do offer rewards, you’re getting 1-3% back, which is about the same reward rate as most cashback credit cards, which is pretty decent. Yes, the site also offers points for completing surveys, watching videos, and a number of other actions, but unless you’re really bored, they’re not generally worth it. But installing their browser extension and having it automatically activate the rewards for the sites that qualify has already made me back a few dollars on some impulse buys on Ebay, and it’ll give me a respectable rebate on the new laptop I’m eyeing on Newegg, so it’s not a total waste. And they don’t just pay out in giftcards and prizes, they’ll put money right in your PayPal account if that’s what you want. Which is pretty awesome.

Bing Rewards – Yeah, so you have to use Bing as your primary search engine, which might be a dealbreaker for a lot of people, but if most of your searches are taking you to the official website  or the Wikipedia article for the subject you’re searching, I promise you won’t notice much of a difference. You get points for every search you do, which can be redeemed for Swagbucks (which can be redeemed for cash), gift cards, or prizes. I usually go for the Amazon gift cards myself, since my shopping habit there means that’s about as good as actual money. You’re not going to be rolling in the Benjamins with this one, or even really the Jacksons. This has regularly netted me about $10-20 in Amazon gift cards per year for the last four years or so, which isn’t great, but it’s super low-effort.

Grocery rebate apps – There are a few of these. Hat tip to my sister for turning me onto them. They’re like coupons, but better. The best of the best is iBotta. It has rebates for the brand names and processed food you’d expect, but it also has rebates for produce, meat, dairy, and a number of other more healthy options that you usually don’t find coupons for, and many of the rebates aren’t brand-specific. Also, many of the rebates they offer are for adult beverages, which isn’t something you see too often. In order to unlock rebates, you often have to watch a video or view some kind of promotional blurb, but it doesn’t take too long. To redeem, just select the products, scan the barcode, and take a picture of the receipt. You can cash out to Paypal, Venmo, or a gift card of your choice once you hit the designated threshold ($10 for most of them, but higher for certain gift cards). Checkout51 works in a similar way, but the rebates are generally more brand and store-based, and there aren’t as many. Also, their payout threshold is much higher ($20) than iBotta.

If you shop at Walmart a lot, then the Walmart app has a feature where you scan the QR code at the bottom of your receipt, and they rebate you any price difference they discover between their prices and lower prices at local competing stores. This, of course, means that you have to brave your local Walmart (which may or may not be worth it to you depending on where you live and what your local Walmart is like). The payout is done either via Walmart gift cards or a preloaded Amex debit card.

Blog or website advertisements – This one is really situation-dependent. Don’t go making a blog or a website just for the purpose of making money through the ads you put on it. You won’t make money. Now, if you have an actual good idea for a blog or website, or you just like to write, or you’ve already got a website that gets respectable traffic, then putting an ad or two on your pages might actually net you some passive income on work you’ve already done. But unless you have some kind of break-out success, you shouldn’t expect to make much more than $10-20 a month. That’s usually enough to cover things like hosting expenses, domain name renewal, and maybe a new WordPress theme every so often. The idea here is really just to make your website cost-neutral, and if you’re lucky enough to be more successful than that, all the better. I personally use AdSense, mostly because it’s convenient, but there are a number of advertising providers to suit every taste and need.

Conclusion

Generally speaking, you’re not going to get rich working online. The hype is not real. But there are a number of ways to make a modest supplementary income (or a meager subsistence income if you’re between jobs). Not everything is going to work for everyone, which is why I discuss so many options here, but also why I may have left out something that may have worked for you. Everything I’ve talked about in this post is something that I have personally made money by doing, but I can’t make any promises that each any every one of these (or even any of these) are going to yield the same results for you. But I can at least verify for you that none of these are scams, and they do in fact pay you money for your time and effort.

Do you have a good experience with a legitimate online work opportunity? Is there one you’d like to warn against? Share in the comments!

(Due to the nature of this post, very stringent spam control rules will be enforced in the comments, so your comment may not post immediately.)

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