At one time, Mike Lam was just your average New York City office worker, doing whatever programmers do at Goldman Sachs. Then, he needed to find someone to watch his dog and stumbled upon the website DogVacay, which hooks up owners with pet sitters and boarders.
“I didn’t want my dog in a kennel, and I didn’t want to pay [hundreds] for a doggie hotel,” Lam said in an interview. So he used the online service and was so smitten he signed up as a host himself. His very first client was someone jetting off to China for an extended trip.
Fast-forward and Lam was ready to move on from the world of high-finance firms to something new. While he certainly could have taken his programming skills elsewhere, Lam decided to focus on his DogVacay services.
“What sealed the deal was realizing how lucrative it can be,” said Lam, who added that he makes about as much dog watching as he did at Goldman Sachs. “Plus, I’m not sitting in an office 10 to 12 hours a day. It’s a much happier life.”
Lam’s story is the perfect example of how regular people can use the power of the Internet to quit their 9-to-5 jobs for a more enjoyable and fulfilling career path. Forget the blinking pop-ups and spammy ads promising thousands while you sit in your pajamas. Here’s the real way to make the internet your moneymaking machine.
Identify what you have that others don’t
Start by figuring out what it is you can offer that others can’t provide for themselves. For Lam, that was an apartment close to parks, animal-handling skills, and time to walk and watch dogs day or night. For me, as a freelance writer, it was an ability to string together sentences mixed with enough marketing knowledge to provide copy-writing services.
Maybe you can sew custom dresses or design business logos or speak multiple languages. Maybe you have a home in a desirable location or a car in an urban area. Take stock of your assets and talents and ask yourself: What do I have or what can I do that others would be willing to pay for.
Go ahead and write down all of your possibilities and then narrow them down to the one most promising prospect. Focus your energy there to start.
Find the right platform
Now that you know where your moneymaking potential lies, you need to find the right Internet site to help you market it to the world.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are several sites worth considering:
- Airbnb lets you rent out rooms or your entire home to travelers. HomeAway helps you rent out your primary home or your second home to vacationers.
- Elance, Guru and Freelancer. These are bidding sites in which buyers post jobs – anything from writing to programming to legal services – and providers bid for the project.
- Uber, Lyft and Sidecar. If you have a car and are comfortable giving strangers a ride, these apps are for you.
- Getaround, RelayRides and Boatbound. Take it one step further by renting your car out to a stranger on Getaround and RelayRides. You can use Boatbound to do the same with your watercraft.
- DogVacay and Rover. Here are two sites that may be perfect for pet sitters and dog walkers.
- Etsy, iCraft, UncommonGoods and ArtFire. For the crafty folks in the crowd, these are among the most popular places to sell handcrafted items.
- Postmates, Instacart and TaskRabbit. These websites let you serve, respectively, as a courier, personal shopper or assistant to others. TaskRabbit also has categories for handyman, cleaning and moving help.
- EBay and Craigslist. These sites can, of course, be used to sell just about anything under the sun. You can post services on Craigslist, but to maximize eBay’s potential, read our article on buying and selling for profit.
Can you guess which site is absent from this list? Why, yes, it’s Fiverr. It’s not that you can’t make extra money on Fiverr, but I have a hard time imagining how someone makes a living off $5 gigs, which are actually more like $4 gigs once Fiverr takes its portion. That said, some people may make it work for them, but call me a skeptic.
That brings us to the next point.
Charge what you’re worth
On almost all of the above sites, you’ll find people buying and selling services for a song. But if you want to live off your talent, you need to charge enough to first, pay the bills, and second, make enough for it to be worthwhile.
Working 12-hour days for what amounts to minimum wage doesn’t make much sense to me. It doesn’t make sense financially, and it doesn’t make sense emotionally. Sure, you get to make your own hours, but at what cost? Working yourself to the bone, even if it’s doing something you love, is no way to make a living if you can make more and work less for an employer. After all, we want to work to live, not live to work, right?
Of course, unless you have a rock star resume, you’ll probably need to offer reduced rates to start. However, once you begin to develop a positive reputation, don’t be afraid to charge more. Yes, you’ll lose some customers, but you’ll probably gain others if you market yourself right. Remember, bargain-basement prices may be a turnoff for consumers and clients seeking quality.
Don’t forget about taxes and insurance
Part of the reason you need to charge what you’re worth is you’ll have a lot of expenses that aren’t normally part of a 9-to-5 job. The $50 made creating a spreadsheet as an independent contractor is not the same as the $50 made doing the same thing as an employee.
For starters, you need to pay a self-employment tax of 15.3 percent. This is the money that gets paid into Social Security and Medicare. If you have a regular job, your boss will split this tax with you. When you work for yourself, you’re on the hook for the whole kit and caboodle and will be responsible for paying estimated taxes quarterly.
Plus, there is health insurance, retirement savings and all those others perks that often come as part of a compensation package.
On the flip side, you may be able to deduct certain expenses, such a home office or your vehicle. However, you must meet certain eligibility criteria. For example, your home office needs to be a dedicated space used only for your business. That means you can’t claim your living room as the office simply because you sometimes check email from the couch.
I don’t say this to discourage you from working for yourself. I say it so you’ll go into self-employment with your eyes wide open. Figure in all these extras when deciding whether your Internet idea will make the money you need.
Check out local and state laws
Before you get too deep into your endeavor, you’ll also want to make sure your idea doesn’t run afoul of local or state laws.
For example, you might need a kennel license to board dogs, and some cities are considering ordinances to regulate services like Uber and Lyft. If you’re using Airbnb or a similar service, check your state’s tenancy laws well or you could be hosting guests who never want to say goodbye.
It’s still a job even if you work it on the Internet
Finally, an Internet platform doesn’t eliminate the need to work hard. This isn’t “Field of Dreams.” You don’t get to build a user profile and watch the customers come. You need to market yourself, offer customer service and, ultimately, do a darn good job at whatever service you’re providing or product you’re making.
“It’s kind of a 24/7 career,” Lam admitted about his new occupation. Then he added, “You’re taking care of dogs. It’s fun.” As if, duh, why would you want to be stuck in an office when you could spend your days taking walks and playing fetch in the park.
Using the Internet to make a living may seem unconventional, but it’s totally doable. “[Have] the realization of how possible it is,” Lam said when asked his advice for others.
So many websites offer a simple way for would-be entrepreneurs to test-drive their business idea with little risk and virtually no capital invested. There is no need to hire a programmer, build your own website or create a marketing plan from the ground up. These sites do most of the heavy lifting for you.
“It offers a platform for the everyday person to have a business,” Lam said about DogVacay. The same could be said for the scores of other Web-based business platforms available.
Having an Internet-based business isn’t for everyone, just as building houses and working on computers isn’t for everyone. However, if you have a desire to quit your 9-to-5 job and work on your own schedule, don’t let anyone tell you it can’t happen.
It works for Lam. It works for me. It can work for you.
Correction: This post was edited to clarify that HomeAway facilitates rentals of houses, rather than rooms.