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There are a thousand different ways to earn online and one, surefire way to fail — That’s not understanding what you’re really trying to do.
I put this list together because I realized that the world of online projects and online work can be ridiculously murky and confusing. For a lot of us, that means unnecessary discouragement, frustration, and missing out on finding where we fit and where we should be investing our resources.
I want to encourage you to read through the entire list to get a feel for where your online projects and goals fit (you might be surprised.) A quick note first though…
- Nothing’s completely clear-cut online, but most of the efforts that people are investing in can be sorted between freelancing, online entrepreneurship, and online social/creative projects. I used those categories because those are where I see most of Black people’s online efforts falling.
- I left out certain benefits and challenges (like location independence, scammers, flexible schedules, the need to understand market potential, and lack of employer-sponsored benefits) because they’re true for all three efforts. The goal of this list is to compare them more to each other than traditional employment/earning.
- You’ll notice more pros under Freelancing than any other category. I really believe freelancing offers the best opportunity for anyone just starting out in online projects, that it’s lowest risk, and that it’s a great instructor even if your goal is eventually online business. I’ve personally found the most economic success freelancing (how I make my living now), but have more years’ experience (10+) in niche community projects and general online entrepreneurship.
- Simplest and fastest start to earning online because of the support of platforms like Fiverr and Upwork
- Lots of realistic support resources
- Fastest path to higher earning because of connection to traditional business and employment models
- Relatively short ramp up period once you find your place (2 years seems to be the norm.)
- Earning can be high (cracking six figures anually isn’t uncommon) depending on skill set, experience, industry, and investment in growth
- The most reliable form of non-employed online income.
- Low risk, low cost way to build an understanding of online business environments and potential
- Buyers are already telling you what they need, why they need it, and what they’re willing to pay for.
- Easiest and lowest cost way to build online business skills (content creation, content marketing, blogging, productive use of social media, time management, online communication, platform literacy, remote learning, email as a business-building and relationship-building tool, relating emotion/personality, problem/challenge/pain point identification)
- Can be used to build, support, and enhance a traditional career (networking, expertise-building, realistic insight into skill demand frequently missed by educational work.)
- Can be used as a springboard into well-informed online entrepreneurship (products, apps, coaching, lifestyle brands, online courses, etc.)
- Exposes you to opportunities to expand into other opportunities like consulting, building an agency, joining startups
Speaking of which…if you want to learn more about freelancing, sign up for our free, weekly newsletter at the right.
- Work is centered around the needs of other businesses/people
- Creativity can be limited/non-existent
- Your business is shaped by client and market demands/needs
- Less (if no) opportunity for personal branding attention
- Income has a ceiling that is fuzzy and somewhat tied to employed counterparts (i.e. businesses and individuals will only pay so much forthe services you sell)
- Downward pressure on income in some skill sets because of non-localized/global nature of work (might actually be an opportunity depending on your location)
- Higher earning might require focus on a skill/industry you’re not interested in
- Less social clout in some spaces (unless you move into consulting)
- The possibilities are limitless
- LOTS of resource options
- Incredibly high earning potential if you can find your place/serve the right need
- Plenty of space for passion projects
- Great opportunity to make change in individual lives
- Can be a profitable, life-long exercise in personal development with the right goals
- Becoming more respected in Black spaces
- Generally more fun/inspiring
- It snowballs — Lessons you learn tend to build and expand into new business opportunities.
- Getting a clear picture of potential can be difficult/impossible because of the popularity (and profitability) in appearing successful
- Your first projects will likely earn nothing/lose money and be mostly learning/refining opportunities (still important)
- Easy to get caught up in the hustle/grind for their own sake (plenty of people assume all work is inherently and equally beneficial and will encourage this)
- Too many resource options so it’s difficult to gauge quality (i.e. Knowing who to believe/finding good mentors can be difficult)
- Profit is not guaranteed. Ever. Even after a long time.
- Easy to conflate internal passion and external opportunity (Plenty of people out there exploit this. It’s a business model for some.)
- Refining your market, product, goals, and strategy can become an endless, unproductive cycle. It’s hard to know when to quit.
- Understanding how to create value for your buyers can take years. (Profit still isn’t guaranteed if you do.)
- Difficult to understand exactly why people buy from/engage with you (buyers frequently don’t even know themselves).
- Hard to sort attention from actual growth (also people who give you attention vs. those who actually pay for what you create)
- The markets you’re exposed to and interested in might have depressed earning potential because of racial, economic, and other social issues (i.e. the same service for Black people might have lower potential for profit because of earning discrepancies)
- More exposure to online violence/harassment (especially true for Black women and any non-normative folk)
- Easy to only become an income source for other entrepreneurs/marketers who play on people’s hopes and not realize it
- Finding the opportunity that works best for you can be difficult because of narrow perception of “online business” (i.e. We don’t all need to be the next Facebook or YouTube star. Lots of variation around and in-between those.)
Social/Creative Brand Building
- Extreme freedom and personal reward
- More engaging activities and interesting projects
- No need to worry about the growth of your brand for growth’s sake only
- Freedom in (likely) separation from economic survival
- Boundless opportunities to build communities and projects that can change lives and change the world
- Ethics can get especially hairy once money and online status are in the picture (i.e. “social entrepreneurship”, “guru” status, panel seats)
- Can get caught up in/drained dry by the needs of a community/art (self-care is extra important here)
- Highest level of exposure to online harassment/violence without the protection of the social value afforded businesses in capitalist spaces (especially true if addressing social issues)
- Not a definite source of a livable income (or any income)
- Highest general risk for hurt, trauma, and abuse of you as an individual
- Fickle because consumption is frequently tied to personal branding (even if branding is not intentional on your part)
- More political challenges to navigate
Clark Alford says
Great list you have there. Location independence is what it’s all about for me.
That was a big one for me too. Funny thing is, I move around even less now…lol
I appreciate this post so much. Truly. I think people really need to understand these differences to get a sense of what they’re trying to do, especially online. One of the best business posts I’ve read all year.
Thanks! It really is something people need to understand better, even if only for their own well being.