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A Student’s Guide to Making Money Online

Written by Edo Odozor

Photo by: Bruno Cervera on Unsplash

student guide to making money online

There’s no doubt that times are changing, and they aren’t slowing down for anyone. So, making money online has become increasingly popular for folks that want to fill any financial gaps caused by COVID-19. 

Industries that never saw a need to have a digital presence are now pivoting to be online. As students, many of us may have had paid summer internships lined up from last year. Whether they have been canceled, postponed, or pivoted, there has been a shift in the way that we make money. 

It may be really daunting to enter the world of making money online, but I believe that students are one of the most resilient, self-sufficient demographics on this planet. I mean, who else can pull an allnighter, still brush their teeth AND make it to their 8 am? Whether you are a veteran at the digital money-making game or a complete novice, this guide will break down all the effective ways to make money as a student, on the internet.

Making Money Online: Freelancing

What is freelancing, really?

Freelancing is when you work as an independent contractor and can get paid for the different work you complete. You may be used to working at a company, where you’re on payroll. As a freelancer, you enter the realm of self-employment, where you can charge your own rates.

For the longest time, I thought freelancing meant that I’d have to scour the ends of the digital earth to find clients who might hopefully pay me half of what I’ve asked for. And maybe, that was the case at some points. 

But now that you are about to continue reading this guide, you’ll be able to bypass that experience and enter the freelancing world with a bang. 

Let’s dive into the different types of freelancing that you can do, shall we?

Freelancing as a Virtual Assistant

You may or may not have heard about virtual assistants. They are kind of like an invisible force in many businesses that keep things running smoothly. Entrepreneurs in basically every sector hire virtual assistants and with new businesses popping up and pivoting to have digital offerings, you can come along and help make those transitions smoother. Startups, small and medium-sized businesses can all benefit from virtual assistants.

If you’re organized, detail-oriented can execute tasks well, have great time management skills, and can learn quickly, this is a position that you can definitely look into.

The best part about the job is that as long as you have a steady internet connection and a reliable device, you can work from practically anywhere. (if social distancing has ended, then yes, anywhere)

Eventually, as you gain more and more experience, you can expand your business and create a small agency of virtual assistants. You can find your niche and market to them while providing services and getting paid. There is definitely power in numbers, so look long term!

There are tons of different ways that you can be a virtual assistant. First, I’ll name the types, then I will explain how you can market your services and start getting clients. 

e-Commerce Virtual Assistant

Right now, e-commerce is booming. In fact, the global numbers are hitting black Friday numbers on a regular basis. People are shopping online and people who run businesses online will always need assistance. 

As an eCommerce virtual assistant, you can help business owners (especially drop-shipping businesses) with the following tasks:

  • Managing inventory 
  • Live chat assistance
  • Optimizing Product Pages
  • Product Research
  • Product Description Writing
  • Optimizing and Editing Pictures
  • Responding to Customer Inquiries
  • Organizing Folders and Information
  • Preparing Google Analytics Reports
  • Preparing Shopify Analytics Reports 
  • Data Entry

And so much more. As an e-commerce entrepreneur, I know first-hand how effective virtual assistants are and I am always appreciative of the work they do. 

To get yourself out there as an e-commerce virtual assistant, you can first learn the relevant skills (more on how to below) and create an Instagram page with your offerings. Start creating relevant content about what you do and how you can help. You don’t need to be too sales-y, it helps if you create thought-leadership content and educational content. Use the 311 rule. Make three posts about educational content that serves your community, one post that softly sells your offerings, and one hard-selling post that outright tells people what you do, how you can help them, and how they can contact you. In every post caption, make sure to include a call to action.

You can then begin following startups (start in the 10 Ryerson Zones!), small and medium-sized businesses, and ask if they need any assistance and how you can help them. Remember to be client-focused and to really hone in on what they need.

Bookkeeping Virtual Assistant

All the finance and accounting nerds can really cash in on this one. Bookkeeping is central to keeping up good records as a business owner. Without the correct data, you can’t make the right moves.

Another thing about bookkeeping is that it takes a lot of time. If you have other things to do, (like, managing a team and trying to keep your business above water per se) sometimes bookkeeping can be the last thing you want to do with your precious hours.

Here’s where you come in to once again, save an entrepreneur’s day.

As a bookkeeping virtual assistant, you can help business owners with the following tasks:

  • Maintaining timesheets
  • Entering & processing payroll information
  • Submitting pay stubs to the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy portal
  • Categorizing financial records on their accounting software
  • Exporting cash flow reports
  • Creating detailed vendor lists
  • Researching and pitching applicable subsidies
  • Scheduling payments (tax and more!)
  • Set payment reminders
  • Send invoices 
  • Receiving 
  • Input receipts

And so much more. Maintaining solid financial records is crucial for business success and can put them on their accountant’s good side when tax time rolls around. Again, as an entrepreneur, I know first hand how valuable this is and YOU can be the one to help push business towards financial success.

Once again, learn about bookkeeping and the main online accounting software (more on this later) and start pitching startups and small businesses. 7/10 times their books are a mess, but they don’t know how (or have the time) to reverse the damage.

Content Marketing Virtual Assistant

Everyone and their grandma is on social media. Social media is now core to human existence. Some people literally believe that if you don’t have an Instagram page, you don’t exist. We consume content like we breathe air. If you’re not leveraging social media as a business owner to propel your venture forward, you are being left behind one way or another. As a content marketing virtual assistant, you are an asset to businesses that need to show up on social media channels.

As a content marketing virtual assistant, you can help business owners with the following tasks:

  • Managing email marketing campaigns
  • Writing blog content 
  • Creating content 
  • Keyword Research
  • Engaging with an online audience
  • Find trending topics
  • Content Research 
  • Analyzing competitors strategy
  • Post scheduling
  • Caption writing
  • Hashtag Research

And so much more. This is all so valuable! Being on the side of app algorithms is time-consuming, but as a content marketing virtual assistant, this is golden for businesses. More on how to learn these tasks later!

Administrative Virtual Assistant

If you don’t feel like learning software and strategies, but being a virtual assistant is of interest, you can work as an administrative virtual assistant. This is less specialized and because of this, would be highly competitive. 

As an administrative virtual assistant, you can help business owners with the following tasks:

  • Answering emails
  • Organizing emails
  • Live chat
  • Scheduling calendar events
  • Task management 
  • Reporting 

And more! You can pitch startups for these, as they probably still have gaps in these areas.

Freelancing by Teaching Online

The e-learning industry was booming before the global shutdown and now it has skyrocketed. There’s a lot of people who want to learn and sometimes, the modules and videos don’t cut it. As a student, you’re no stranger to learning and with your expertise, you can help another student (from anywhere in the world) learn a skill or subject.

Teaching Languages Online

Learning a language is always beneficial and if you know a language well, you can definitely teach it. A lot of people are at home and are craving to do something other than watch Netflix. 

There’s also parents who don’t have the time to help their kids with homework because they have to work from home. Imagine being someone who could keep the kids occupied, while actually providing valuable educational help. It’s a win/win situation all around. 

If you want to teach English online, you can sign up with Cambly and become an English teacher. Also, check your own network! Do you know any parents who are still working at home and have young children? You can gently ask if they have any needs and share your expertise. If you already have a connection, there’s more trust and a higher chance of working with them.

Otherwise, you can pitch your services in Facebook Groups or on Kijiji.

Teaching Specialized Skills Online

With everyone flocking to zoom, there’s a lot of opportunities to create digital classes. People crave community, and with a little bit of creativity, you can teach a skill live on zoom. I have paid money, actual cash, to enter webinars and online workshops that are there to teach skills. I’ve been disappointed once or twice. But the ones that were well laid out, were interactive and had value, led me to keep returning. In business, you make most of your revenue in the long term from returning customers.

Write down some skills that you are great at. Do some research and see if there’s a community that would benefit from these skills. Start an Instagram page and post free, educational content. After you build a community, you can start doing virtual workshops. If you plan them out carefully and people are happy, you can start to monetize some of your offerings (1 on 1s, Masterclasses) and really earn a decent buck. Yes, this will take time at first, but it definitely will pay off in the long run if you do it correctly.

Freelancing in MultiMedia Services

Consuming content is similar to consuming air. At this point, creating content is vital to existing in the digital world. There’s a lot of services that you can provide for people, especially if you have a great eye. If you have experience through school in multimedia services, then this is a great avenue for you.

Freelancing as a Graphic Designer

If you’re an Adobe buff and love everything about design, you don’t need to wait until you get out of school to start finding real-life clients. If anything, this is the best time! As businesses pivot online, they need to also keep up their presence through their different channels. If you have an eye for branding and for creating unique visuals, it’s a great time to put those hard-earned skills to use and pitch clients.

Freelancing as a Graphic Designer can look like:

  • Creating email templates for brands 
  • Designing logos for new businesses
  • Creating online graphics for stores
  • Creating campaign outlines for small brands
  • Creating infographics
  • Creating ebooks and pdfs
  • Creating landing pages

And a lot more! There are people who need unique visuals to stand out in this content-heavy world. Start by making a portfolio and bring all your work in one place. You can email some small startups and see if they are in need of any graphic design services. Bonus points if you know HTML and can create custom email marketing templates.

Freelancing as a Video and Photo Editor (h4)

Video is KING in this digital age. It is engaging, can hold attention WAY longer than a photo and can be very beneficial for brands. Maybe you know your way around Final Cut Pro or Adobe video editing software. 

Again, video editing takes time and can be very time-consuming. But if you’re interested in it and love to edit and create engaging content, you can definitely start getting clients as a video and photo editor.

Freelancing as a Video and Photo Editor can look like:

  • Editing youtube videos 
  • Editing Facebook ads content
  • Editing Instagram videos
  • Editing TikTok videos

And a lot more. Trust me, there are tons of people who have valuable video files that are sitting in a Google Drive folder, collecting digital dust, waiting to be edited. (I am one of those people) 

Start by creating your own content or reaching out to small startups who look like they are gaining traction. I’m sure you can be of great help to them.

Freelancing in Marketing Services

Marketing is a great industry because it’s vital to the success of most businesses. Another thing is that it takes time and is something that is often outsourced. Marketing services can be offered to businesses of any size and you can be the one to offer those services.

Marketing Services Freelancing: Content Writer

There is an endless void of information out there on the internet. Despite being able to technically research anything there is always a gap that can be filled. 

Google’s search algorithm prefers content that is lengthy and optimizes for certain keywords in a specific way. 

Think about the time you searched “how to study for an accounting exam” and results popped up. 

Every web page that pops up has optimized their content so that it would rank on Google. It gets really complicated and it’s definitely not easy to rank on the first page of Google for some phrases, but with the right content, you can make the right moves to get there.

As a content writer, you can write for brands and create valuable copy for them. This content that you write about should align with the brands offerings and aim to bring traffic and customers to their pages. 

Freelancing as a content writer can look like:

  • Creating search engine optimized blog posts 
  • Creating captions for instagram, pinterests or facebook posts
  • Write product descriptions
  • Write About Us Pages, Info Pages
  • Write articles

And more. Practically all sectors need content writing in some way and if you have a knack for creating readable and valuable content, this would be a great option for you. Do some learning on SEO and writing, write some samples, build that portfolio and press go. Start by pitching to small brands (beauty, tech, media, etc)  who are trying to build their online presence. Explain how a solid strategy for content writing could expand their presence, and go from there.

Marketing Services Freelancing: SEO Assistant

There are 3.5 BILLION Google searches every day.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a free form of advertising and a powerful method for any website that exists and wants traffic.

Search engines drive 300% more traffic to sites than social media. The only thing is, doing SEO takes time and it also takes patience. A lot of businesses are not leveraging SEO because of the time investment and because they may not know much about its power. 

Freelancing as an SEO assistant can look like: 

  • Optimizing blog posts 
  • Doing keyword research 
  • Doing internal linking 
  • Reaching out to websites for guest posts
  • Creating outbound links
  • Optimizing web pages
  • Optimizing on-site photos

And more. SEO is a skill that can be learned as long as you are focused and willing to put in a time investment. If done right, you can boost the rankings for a business and help them get to the first page of Google.

Selling Things Online

Selling online has been around for ages and it’s never going to go away. There’s tons of platforms where you can sell things and make a buck. As a student, you too can get in on selling online and there are a few ways to do it.

Selling Your Old Stuff 

At any point in time, you probably have some things that could be better off with another human. As Marie Kondo says, pick up the item and ask yourself “Does it spark joy?” and most of the time, it probably doesn’t. There are a few platforms that you can use to sell your stuff such as Kijiji, Poshmark, Instagram, Bunz (mostly trading but you can get their cryptocurrency), Letgo, VarageSale, Facebook Marketplace and so many more. If you have access to a device, you can upload a picture of your gently used thing and add a reasonable price tag.

Creating/Running a Digital Store

Entrepreneurship keeps the economy alive. Maybe you’ve always wanted to dabble in e-commerce or maybe you want to get rid of your vintage t-shirt collection. I myself created an online store for hair extensions. With Shopify’s simple user interface, you can set up your own online store. Even better, is that Shopify expanded its trial to 90 days so you can set up a store for 3 months without paying any hosting fees. 

There’s a lot to learn about running a digital store, but there’s definitely rewards when you finally make your first sale. The process is super simple and you can sell things you have at home, or you can dropship.

There’s a lot to learn about dropshipping, but Shopify Blog has an endless amount of information to get you set up and make the most out of their amazing platform.

The Best Digital Skills You Can Learn To Help You With Freelancing and Selling Things Online 

With wanting to make money online comes learning digital skills. With the overload of information that exists on the internet, I’ve narrowed down the skills you can learn AND where you can learn them! By no means is this an exhaustive list, but it’s a good place to start.

Digital Skills You Can Learn for Freelancing

Digital Skills To Learn for Content Marketing:

  • Keyword Research and SEO
  • Later (Platform)
  • Copywriting
  • Mailchimp (Platform)
  • Klaviyo (Platform)
  • Instagram Algorithm
  • Pinterest Algorithm
  • Canva (Platform)

These all can be learned on backlinko.com or youtube!

Digital Skills To Learn for Financial Reporting:

  • Quickbooks (Platform)
  • Payroll and How it Works
  • Government of Canada Website
  • Google Calendar
  • Google Sheets/Excel

Digital Skills To Learn for Graphic Design:

  • Canva
  • Adobe Premiere Pro
  • Easil
  • How to Create Infographics
  • Branding and Design

Digital Skills To Learn for SEO

  • Copywriting
  • Shopify Back-End
  • Google Analytics
  • Google Search Console
  • Google Webmaster Tools
  • Blog Optimization
  • Page Optimization
  • WordPress Back-End
  • Ubersuggest
  • SEMRush
  • Keyword Research

These skills can be learned using Shopify Academy, Shopify Blogs, Backlinko.com and Youtube.

Digital Skills You Can Learn for Selling Things Online 

  • Product Photography (Shopify Academy)
  • Product research 
  • Learning about Customer Psychology
  • Hashtag research 

These skills can be learned using Shopify Academy, Shopify Blogs, Backlinko.com and Youtube.

How to Find Freelance Gigs (And Raise Your Rates)

You may be new to the freelance game or you might be a veteran. Either way, it’s great to learn about all the channels that you can get yourself in front of clients.

Find Freelance Gigs on Social Media Channels and Email

Making a social media profile is easy. Getting seen can be hard. It’s important that you pick one or two social media channels and commit to them. Pick a niche/market and provide as much value through content as you can. Use the right hashtags and build a small community. You can then reach out to small businesses and ask them if they need any help in XYZ. You’ll get a lot of No’s but you WILL get a Yes. 

This also goes for cold-emailing people. You may just get 50 no’s but eventually, you’ll get a yes.

As long as you’re ready, client-focused, and ready to solve their problems, you can secure clients over and over again. Remember that your reputation is important and to always put full effort into any project you take on.

Find Freelance Gigs on Upwork

Upwork is an online freelancer platform where you can make a profile and search for jobs that need to be done. It’s competitive, but as long as you diligently search, create samples of work work and execute professionalism in everything you do, you’ll grow. I used to use Upwork for independent contractors/freelancers and I got a lot of great help on that platform.

Find Freelance Gigs through Word of Mouth and LinkedIn 

Someone in your network may need help or can refer you to someone who needs help. The majority of the people I hired have been through word of mouth and it’s a really powerful avenue. Personal connections usually come on top, so don’t be afraid to ask around!

Leveraging your Linkedin profile is key. Many job hires occur through that platform and its important that you keep a solid LinkedIn presence.

Raising your Freelance Rates 

When starting fresh in the freelancing world, you might not be able to charge the highest rates. However, that’s understandable because you are just starting. Raising your rates is a process that takes time and effort. As you build your portfolio and start to get more positive client testimonials, you can begin raising your rates. If you really are in it for the long run, I suggest building a website and buying a domain ($10-15/year!) with your freelancing title. Make the domain professional like “YourName.com” or “TheNameOfYourBrand.com”. Start adding LEGIT video customer testimonials and go into depth about your offerings. You can really brand the website and people will take you more seriously. Then, you can raise them.

Believe it or not, there are TONS of more ways to make money online, I hope this is a great starting point! How are you going to start making money online? Comment below!

*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.