How To Make Money Online: I Ranked 8 Popular Side Hustles So You Don’t Waste Time

You’ve probably seen those videos promising you can make money watching ads or filling out surveys. But are those side hustles worth your time? the answer is mostly no.

After years in digital marketing and attempting just about every online money-making tactic, I’m breaking down the most hyped side hustles based on their realistic earning potential, to spare you the time and frustration. I’ve ranked 8 popular ways to make extra cash from the completely misleading to the profitable opportunities. My advice for you would be to Skip the time-consuming and ineffective options and focus your efforts only on what can realistically make you money.

The Absolute Worst Side Hustles: Not  Recommended

Here are 4 popular side hustles you should avoid completely. They are not worth the nanosecond of effort despite the hype. Honestly, my advice to you is not to waste your time on any of these,  you’d have better luck getting a weekend job at your local fast-food joint.

1. Online Surveys

  • The pay is laughably small, often pennies.
  • You get disqualified all the time so you end up making $0.
  • Those referring others make the money, not those taking the surveys.

I cannot express enough how abysmal online surveys are as a money maker. First off, the gurus telling you to take surveys often conveniently leave out that they get paid when you sign up. They don’t care if you make any money. And you likely won’t make a dime.

In my experience, I’ve spent hours only to make less than $20 total over the years. Surveys constantly screen out people to target very specific respondents.

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I can’t tell you how many times I got through 98% of a 20-minute survey before being told I don’t qualify. Total waste of time that only pay digital pennies.

2. Watching Ads

  • you need to actively watch, only to earn fractions.
  • Stop watching, income stops.
  • A basic job pays way more per hour.

You may have seen ads (ironically) telling you that you can make some buck by watching ads or videos online. While it’s not an outright scam, it’s not far off.

The reality is that you need to be actively watching and engaging with the content, often clicking and moving your mouse.

As soon as you stop, so does that trickle of income. We’re talking maybe $3-5 for leaving videos running for hours. Compare that to even basic part-time work that pays at least minimum wage. This side hustle is an utter joke.

3. Focus Groups

  • Super competitive to qualify for.
  • Available groups are irregular.
  • You stand a more reliable income via a job.

Every now and then, a focus group on a specific topic will pop up and recruit participants. I have never found this to be consistent or reliable income. The available groups tend to be sporadic at best. When you do find one, tons of people apply but very few make it through the screening process.

Your odds of making extra cash quickly are far higher by applying for standard part-time jobs. Unless you love sharing your opinions for peanuts, avoid focus groups.

4. Website Testing

  • can be incredibly boring.
  • rewards with pennies for work done.
  • Get paid more as a UX pro.

This side hustle involves getting paid small amounts to review websites and provide feedback. I’ve tried a few different user testing sites, and I can tell you this gig is mind-numbingly dull. We’re talking $10 to slog through reviewing page after page while carefully following instructions.

You would get paid more working almost any basic job. Better yet, if you like evaluating websites, look into becoming a UX designer. Same work but with professional pay and way more interesting projects usually.

Pro tip: An effective strategy for becoming very profitable as a UX designer, is to purchase an Editable Premade UX Design Templates bundle. Each time you get a job, all you need do is to pick a template that fits the job description and edit it to the client’s specifications.

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Middle of the Pack: Freelancing & Fiverr

The next group of side hustles takes more effort but can make you money if done right. But know that it requires you to invest a chunk of your time and effort.

5. Freelancing

  • Huge income potential but ongoing client hustle.
  • Tend to undercharge at first.
  • Building reoccurring work may be a challenge.

Speaking from experience running a freelance web development business for 8 years, you absolutely can earn great money freelancing. In my best year, I earned over $150K. But that was after finally building up my rates and an entire process to land clients consistently.

Because in the early days, I charged way too little without understanding my true value. It’s very common when you are starting to underprice yourself while also spending just as much time pitching potential clients and hustling. You likely won’t have a steady flow of client work initially.

So while freelancing can be lucrative, expect to put in work before it pays off. Make sure to build systems and processes that will help you get customers regularly and consistently in the future.


  • Low starting rates
  • As you build reviews and credibility, you also increase rates
  • very competitive

Fiverr has potential but also some downsides. As a new seller, you face a race to the bottom on pricing. Buyers want the cheapest option from the most reviewed sellers. Yet when first starting, you have no reviews and are fighting people charging dirt cheap prices, even for valuable skills.

I offered complex AWS web services on Fiverr for $50 and still found it impossible to get sales due to dozens of people willing to do it for $5. As you build reviews, you can increase pricing. But it’s hard to charge fairly and still beat the intense cheap pricing from other freelancers.

Getting Better: Monetized Platforms

If you enjoy creating content, platforms like YouTube allow you to get paid. If you must create on YouTube, be prepared to play by their rules.

6. YouTube

  • Earn passive income.
  • Make videos in a way that the YouTube algorithm will like and show your content to more people.
  • Policies can change anytime.

I love YouTube because your videos can make money passively over time. I see each video I produce, working 24/7 to potentially generate passive income while I sleep. Who doesn’t want that?

But that passive potential comes at the price of playing to the ever-changing YouTube algorithm. Understand that your video titles, topics, lengths etc, must all cater to what the algorithm favors at the time. Ignoring these important metrics could cause your views and income to tank.

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You’re basically at the mercy of randomized changes and policy updates. What was compliant last month may get your video demonetized or banned today. So while YouTube can pay, you must play the game strategically.

Best Options: Affiliate Marketing & Digital Products

If you want to make money online, affiliate marketing and selling your digital products are powerful options.

7. Affiliate Marketing

  • Don’t need to own your product.
  • Create content, and recommend affiliate products.
  • Earn a commission, which varies by program.

Affiliate marketing simply means you recommend other people’s or company’s products/services and get paid when someone purchases after clicking your link. You don’t need to create your product, which makes getting started simple.

For example, if you have a YouTube channel teaching people photography skills, recommend a camera like the Sony A6400. Set up an affiliate account with Sony, and share your affiliate links in your content and descriptions. If anyone buys that camera after clicking your link, Sony pays you an affiliate commission. Rinse and repeat.

The more content you create around a niche, the more potential affiliate products you can recommend. You won’t keep 100% of sales though – affiliate commissions vary widely depending on the company’s program. But for minimal effort, it has fantastic passive income potential.

8. Digital Products

  • Create valuable online courses, planners, etc.
  • Solve audience problems then sell solutions.
  • Keep most revenue and huge earning potential.

To scale your income potential to the highest tier, create digital products addressing specific problems your niche faces. These can be online courses, planners, ebooks, memberships, software tools – anything delivered digitally.

Identify questions and struggles your target audience has. Develop that content into a premium package. Sell access to your mini-course for $97 about mastering aperture and shutter speed for budding photographers. Rinse and repeat for other photography topics.

The beauty is you create the product once and then sell it 24/7/365. Keep the majority of earnings for yourself while building a library of high-value paid content over time. This is how top online entrepreneurs make absolute bank year after year.


I trust you now know which online money-making tactics to avoid and where you should focus your efforts instead. Don’t fall for the hype and clickbait of earning thousands by filling out surveys or watching videos. It’s just not realistic.

Stick to monetizing a passion via YouTube or better yet, affiliate and digital products you create. That’s where the greatest control and profit potential lives for your side hustling time.

I’d love to hear about your experiences making money online as well! Have you found any side hustles worth keeping or do you agree most just waste your precious time? Let me know in the comments below.

What are some examples of digital products I can create?

Some great options are online courses, ebooks, photography presets, planners, checklists, workbooks, membership sites, and software tools. Identify knowledge and skills you have that an audience needs and package it into an online delivery format.

How much can I realistically make from a side hustle?

It depends greatly on the side hustle. Many can make less than minimum wage, while successful freelancing or selling digital products can generate over $100k per year. Focus on digital products for the highest income potential.

Is it easy to become a successful freelancer?

Not at first. Undercharging and finding consistent clients takes time to figure out when starting out. Have patience and leverage content creation to position your expertise and build a steady stream of leads.

What equipment do I need to start a YouTube channel?

You can start very basic, even filming with your mobile phone in natural lighting. As you grow, consider budget equipment like basic lighting setups and affordable microphones under $100 before upgrading down the road.

How much time does this take per week?

It varies but expect to put around 10-20 hours per week into side hustles like YouTube, freelancing, and creating digital products. Treat it like a part-time job until it grows enough to go full-time.

Which side hustle is the fastest to make money from?

Typically affiliate marketing can generate some income more quickly as you don’t have to create a complex digital product before selling. Building audiences and traffic still takes diligent effort.

What is the #1 factor to succeed with side hustles?

Persistence and consistency. All of these take months of regular effort before seeing tangible monetary returns. Avoid any tactic claiming quick overnight success without ongoing work involved.

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