Easy ways to make money with your PC

9th Oct 2011 | 07:00

Easy ways to make money with your PC

Innovative ways technology can help you make money

Easy ways to make money with your PC

Let's be positive. Forget the credit crunch and the age of austerity - we're going to help you make some money. Don't worry if you're no Alan Sugar; thanks to the internet and your PC, all you need is a good idea.

If you don't even have one of those you can transform your spare time into cold hard cash - legally. This isn't a guide to selling your old vinyl on eBay or flogging knackered paperbacks on Amazon. We've done our homework, trawled the web and put together a list of new, exciting and innovative ways in which technology can help you make money.

We'll explore topics such as human intelligence tasks: jobs that computers and software can't do, but are essential to the function of an electronic business. All you need do is sign up for a service, set aside a few hours and do the jobs you're assigned.

If might not be glamorous work, but if you have a PC and some time to spare it's a great way of earning a few quid. If you're feeling brave, we'll also explore how to start your own electronic business in a thoroughly modern way.

Back in the pre-wired age, the banks held all the cards. If you wanted to start a business, you had to convince your bank manager that your great idea was profitable. Today you can forget the big four. If you have an ambition to launch an amazing new site, all you need to do is convince a community of lenders. If they're happy with your plan, the cash will turn up.

The equation works the other way too. If you have some savings and fancy being a venture capitalist, read on.

Before we get stuck into making our fortunes, a word of warning: keep your wits about you. The web is groaning with scams and scammers. We'll look at a few classic examples. You should also check out our definitive guide to staying one step ahead of the con men.

Don't be put off though. The internet is a great place to make cash - just remember the old adage: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Peer-to-peer lending

Services such as Zopa make it possible to borrow and lend without the bankers taking a cut

The internet gets rid of the middleman. Bloggers can publish to the web, bands can sell their music direct through iTunes, and now, you can borrow directly from the online community - no bankers involved. It's called peer-to-peer lending or social banking, and it uses the principle of crowdsourcing.

Let's say you want to borrow a couple of grand to start an online T-shirt business. Sign up to Zopa and you can get a loan at a very attractive rate of interest, plus a flat fee. The money comes from a network of lenders, not a bank, and it pays to be a lender too. At Zopa, for example, the average return at the time of writing is 8.3 per cent, which is better than most short-term savings accounts.

What if a borrower can't pay back the money? So far, Zopa has done pretty well on that front, with a paltry 0.28 per cent default rate. But your investment doesn't go to one person - it's seeded throughout the community at no more than £10 per borrower. If one person defaults, it'll have little impact on your return as a lender.

Zopa is the front-runner, but other sites offer a similar service. You may get a better return from Funding Circle, for example. The main difference for borrowers is that there's no flat fee. Instead, a portion of the loan is paid to the service. Funding Circle prefers business customers, while Zopa is open to anyone with a good credit rating. You can get a better return if you're willing to take a higher risk.

That's how it works at Yes Secure. Borrowers post loan requests and you can choose who to lend money to. You put in a tender for that loan, setting your own interest rate. The return on investments averages 21 per cent, but although all borrowers are screened, it's riskier than lending to the crowd. If a borrower defaults, a debt collector will be called in to pursue your investment.

Microworking - make money for tiny tasks

Computers are becoming ever more powerful, but some jobs still need a human touch. Work at your own pace with Human Intelligence Tasks

turk

Computers have removed lots of boring and repetitive tasks from the workplace, but they've created a fair few too. That's where Amazon's Mechanical Turk comes in. Small tasks that can't be performed by software are farmed out to its subscribers, who turn the job around for a few cents at a time.

That unusual name? It comes from an 18th century sideshow attraction. A chess-playing robot was toured around Europe, amazing audiences with its apparent skill and intelligence. It was, however, controlled by a human being hidden from sight.

The micro-jobs that are tendered at Mechanical Turk (called HITs or Human Intelligence Tasks) could be any quick, computer related duty. In a typical session, a user might do a bit of data entry or fill in a questionnaire. They might be asked to copy the text from a scanned image or search for a series of phone numbers. The more HITs you can complete in the allotted time, the more you can earn.

With many HITs offered at just a few cents a task, it requires a certain amount of dedication to earn a crust from Mechanical Turk - but there are advantages too. Any temping agency can get you a gig cleaning toilets or licking envelopes for half a day, but with Mechanical Turk you can work from home doing as much or little as you want, at any time you want.

Tasks that require a little more thought and effort pay more. Translating a short passage of text into another language, for example, could net you a couple of dollars a time.

Mechanical Turk is an equal opportunities exploitation deal. Workers are anonymous, and so are the contractors. You can build a credibility rating by having your HIT completion approved, but that's it. This has positive and negative effects on the process.

The site has been criticised for giving spammers an effective method of sidestepping the posting protection that's designed to screen out bots. With Mechanical Turk, an army of human bots can easily bypass those pesky CAPTCHA boxes, posting ads on blogs, message boards and on social networks.

Another nefarious use has been the artificial rating of goods and services on review sites. Including Amazon itself…

If Mechanical Turk's rewards seem too paltry, then there are similar but more specialised services to choose from. MicroWorkers offers higher rates, but the tasks are distinctly in the grey marketing category, with HITs requiring that you sign up for dating sites and blogs, or review items on Amazon.

CrowdCloud is an unusual looking enterprise. You sign up through Facebook and much of the work on offer is - at the time of writing - proof reading and translation-based. Human intelligence tasks pay up to $3, though many of the jobs on offer are less. Payment is through PayPal and support is offered through Get Satisfaction. On the whole, it inspires more confidence than most money-making and micro-employment services online.

Just answer

Finally, there's Just Answer. The model here is a little different, but still nestles in the same broad category as other HIT sites. Here, you get to use your expertise to answer live queries from users, whether that's IT support, washing machine engineering, legal advice or even medical guidance. Of course, you need to have some qualifications in the field you choose and your credentials will be displayed to users.

The system works on a bidding basis. As a provider, you scan the listings for live questions you can answer. If you can help, you set a price. It's up to the user whether they agree to pay that price or continue looking for a better deal. New providers take 25 per cent of the fee, while more seasoned experts get a 50 per cent cut.

It has its critics, with some users complaining about the quality of answers and aftercare, but Just Answer has seen off many rivals and is still going strong.

Advertise on your website

Amazon associates

The easiest way to start serving ads from your site, and earning money, is Google's AdSense. A chunk of code is provided for you to paste into your site when you sign up. People browsing your site will see adverts that fit its content and keywords.

The cash-per-click model means that every time a visitor clicks on a link, you get a share of the fee the advertiser paid. Google doesn't publicise the exact percentage of the pie that you'll get, but some keywords offer a bigger slice than others. Some AdSense users have seen earnings of over £1,000 a month.

It's hard to track which keywords are the real winners, even though there are several blogs and websites that claim to list the highest paying AdSense keywords.

Is it worth shelling out for these lists? You can use Google's own AdWords tool to suggest related keywords for free. It'll help you optimise your content for more targeted ads.

Don't click ads on your own page, and don't think asking your friends to click on them will help you either. Google considers this 'click fraud', and employs sophisticated tracking mechanisms to protect its revenue. You're more likely to get a swift, permanent ban than any extra income.

If you want to make money with AdSense, just make good, consistent content aimed at a small audience.

For more control over ads, try affiliate linking. You either take a percentage of all the sales you refer to the service provider, or you get simple cash for clicks. Amazon Associates is a highly visible example. Sign up for access to tools that enable you to create banners, badges and text links to any item on the site - just make sure the products you choose are relevant to the content you already carry.

When someone clicks an Amazon affiliate link on your site, you'll get 9 per cent of the cash they spend. Easy money.

Make money from videos, photos and ebooks

Make money with videos

YouTube

Technically, it's easy for anyone to prepare a home video for publication online. You can upload video at HD resolutions on YouTube, for example - and the service takes care of the compression at various resolutions for you. YouTube accepts video in QuickTime, MPEG, Windows Media format or as an AVI file.

Keep in mind that HD resolution is 1920 x 1080, so there's no point in going over that. Once you've clicked the 'Upload' button, it's all straightforward.

The tough part isn't making videos - it's growing an audience for your work. You'll need that audience to make money. It's easy to see which are YouTube's most popular videos. Go to YouTube Charts to pick the most viewed videos of the week, the month and of all time.

There are several common threads. First, cuteness. Cute kids and cute animals. If it's funny as well as cute, that's YouTube gold. The number one YouTube video of all time is the infamous "Charlie bit my finger".

One way to hedge your bets is to ride the slipstream. For a short time, Rebecca Black parodies and mashups were nearly as popular on YouTube as the original video. Catch the next viral smash right at the beginning of its ascent, then make a video that rides its coat-tails and your efforts will benefit from the reflected glory. It's difficult to time correctly, but pays dividends if you get it right.

Instructional videos do well too, but that subject deserves a separate discussion because there's an entire secondary market in tutorial videos. Get the video views and those eyeballs on your work can be translated into cash.

The YouTube Partner Program enables you to place advertising on your clips and earn money for every viewing. Be aware though, it's quite tough to get in. What's more, YouTube doesn't reveal hard figures - but it does publish testimonials.

There are alternatives to YouTube that let you earn revenue from adverts without having to build a following first. Revver and Blip.TV are forerunners in this market.

Sell your photos

iStock photo

Digital photography enjoys a brilliant synergy with PCs and the web. Millions of us enjoy uploading our pictures to photo sites such as Flickr and Picasa, or sharing images with friends on Facebook and Twitter. That's not all you can do though - with a little extra work, you could be earning cash with your camera taking stock photographs and selling them online.

There are two distinct markets in stock photography. At the high end are images carefully produced by noted professionals. These include shots of news events, celebrities and difficult setups. Usage rights for these photos sell for hundreds of pounds.

Your entry point to the market is through microstock - where royalty-free images are licensed for commercial use at prices starting at just a few dollars a time, from which you take a percentage cut. Like many other online enterprises, this is a volume business, with pennies per sale rather than pounds. The key is to create popular images that lots of people will want to use.

Handily, several microstock sites publish detailed guidelines telling exactly what kinds of image they're after and what they don't want. iStockPhoto reveals that seasonal themes and corporate imagery are big sellers, while shots of fruit on white backgrounds are passé.

However, the main requirement is that your shots should be well composed, at a sufficiently high resolution, well lit and in focus. Basic photography skills will serve you well here.

Other potential markets include Shutterpoint. This is a community-oriented stock repository, with a 'stack 'em high, sell it low' ethos that works well if you can produce popular images that will sell in volume. Another particularly good bet is Shutterstock, a more formal and established presence that enables contributors to make up to $30 for each image sold - and images can be sold for use multiple times.

If you'd rather go straight for the higher end of the market, you can sell your photography direct to users from your own site. PhotoShelter offers a set of tools that enable you to do just that, taking care of digital photo storage and payment systems, while you have control over exactly what you sell. The catch is that you pay a fixed monthly fee for the service, starting at $9.99 a month.

Publish an ebook

Kindle

Self-published ebooks are an ideal format for niche tomes full of highly targeted advice. Secrets of mind reading, dating advice for the socially awkward and make-up techniques of the stars are ideal topics.

Arcane expertise could net you a tidy profit too. Perhaps you rebuilt an old car from scratch, becoming familiar with every nut and bolt in the process, for example. There are probably a few hundred other people who'd love to tackle the same project with your guidance.

Self-publishing with eBooks is a great deal easier than it's ever been - especially with iTunes and Kindle publication now real options. You don't even have to create a special format for Kindle books. The Kindle Direct Publishing program accepts digital manuscripts in plain text, HTML or Microsoft Word DOC formats. That's the older Word format, by the way, not DOCX. You can use PDF too, but Amazon book publishers have reported problems with formatting.

There's a form to fill in, enabling you to categorise the book, add an ISBN and add Digital Rights Management. Authors have reported that making changes to the submission after the fact is a laborious process, so make sure every detail is correct and your text has been proof read. Next you set a price and keep 70 per cent of the mark-up from every copy sold.

Formatting books for Apple iBooks - the free book store app for the iPad - is slightly more involved. You'll need to output to the ePub protocol, supported in Apple's Pages application and Adobe InDesign. Alternatively, you can convert to ePub using the open source tool Calibre. From there, the submission system is quite similar to KDP.

One final service that is more than worth a mention is Smashwords. It makes the process of publishing to multiple formats and outlets easier - and it accepts digital manuscripts in DOC format. With one submission to Smashwords, you can have that all important ISBN number sorted out for you and publish your book to the Nook and Sony's eReader store as well as Smashwords' own site. It even publishes to iBooks.

12 sites that will help you make money

Quirky

Quirky

Got an idea but don't know how to get it off the drawing board? That's what Quirky is for.

The site helps nurture inventions from initial concept through to manufacturing and sale. Not all ideas make it through - but Quirky aims to bring two new products to market every week.

In some ways, the process is similar to open source software design. Your idea is mooted to a community of users, and if it's successful they help with research, design and testing. Once the product goes to market, everyone gets paid.

Inventors get a little more than influencers - the community of users who develop the design.

Fiverr

Fiverr

What would you do for five dollars? The micro-working concept is stretched to silly extremes with Fiverr, a site that enables people to post ads that offer any service. The rule is that it should cost five dollars.

You'll find folks making Kermit the Frog birthday videos, creating one-minute voice-overs - even doing dream interpretation. This is the fun side of the Mechanical Turk concept. Users of the site can post their own requests for tasks too.

It's fascinating to see the gulf between what people are prepared to offer for $5 and what others expect to receive for that amount.

Elance

Elance

Elance is the most prominent of a new breed of sites that help prospective employers find freelance workers for creative projects. Designers, illustrators, copywriters, ghost writers, coders and developers all ply their trade here.

Companies and individuals place job listings on the site, soliciting bids from members of the community. Again, there's that competitive element, but it's not quite the scramble to the bottom that it might sound.

Good freelancers who use the service build a reputation on the site, using a system similar to eBay's star ratings, so employers can make an informed choice.

Videojug

Videojug

You could make kitten juggling clips for YouTube and hope they go viral, or you could set up a profile on Videojug and make videos that people want to see. The site specialises in video tutorials.

Although plenty are also on YouTube, Videojug automatically cuts contributors in on a share of the advertising revenue they attract. The more viewers you get, the more you'll get paid.

A feature recently introduced enables you to set up your own tutorial sites on Videojug too. So, if you have elite skills you can demonstrate in front of your camcorder, Videojug helps you turn it into cash.

Etsy

Etsy

If you've never visited Etsy, imagine a craft fair packed full of stalls run by hipsters. Etsy is a virtual version of that.

Sellers who sign up to the service build their own online shops full of handmade jewellery, knitted monkeys, repurposed knick knacks and art prints. For buyers it represents a way to find unique and quirky items. For sellers it's a distinct step up from marketing their wares on eBay; a specialist outlet with its own identity and branding that transfers onto its users.

Get on there while it's still cool, because it won't take long for Etsy to be trumped by the next trend in online arts and crafts.

Threadless

Threadless

If we won the lottery, it's quite possible we'd spend all the money on Threadless T-shirts. For designers, it's a superb showcase for wit and skills.

Again, there's competitive edge. You submit your designs and the community votes for its favourites. The most popular designs are made into T-shirts.

Why put yourself through all that when there are sites such as CafePress that enable you to start your own shop? Threadless gives you better exposure. It's like putting your video on YouTube instead of Daily Motion - you'll get more traffic, more hits, more kudos and more money. If your design is successful, you'll get $2,500.

Kickstarter

Kickstarter

Kickstarter is like an online equivalent of Dragon's Den, specialising in creative, entrepreneurial projects. It's a way to connect people with big, potentially commercial ideas, with real investment.

Every project comes with its own page where creators have the opportunity to sell the benefit of their idea, whether it's an ice-cream business, an exhibition of paintings or a creative web service. Money is crowdsourced from Kickstarter's community.

Successful examples include Julia Nagle, a comedian with a YouTube following who's had nearly $60,000 pledged towards her new album.

Google Affiliate Network

Google affiliate network

Like a mix of Google AdSense and Amazon Associates, the Google Affiliate Network aggregates the programs of online services and retailers. Like other affiliate schemes, you earn money when visitors buy products from sites you advertise.

The selling point is that there's only one signup. You still have to apply for approval from advertisers, but it's a streamlined experience compared to trawling individual sites. You also get tracking tools, similar to AdSense, that help you decide which affiliates are more profitable for you.

Prizes.org

Prizes

Prizes.org is essentially a cross between Elance and Fiverr. The community posts creative or unusual tasks, with a cash prize for successful completion.

Some recent jobs have included a request for a poem about otters, a plea for a new living room design and a honeymoon holiday plan. One couple even offered to put the naming of their unborn child out to tender.

The dosh on offer is usually much more than a fiver, with some contests offering hundreds of dollars. And that's the key word on Prizes.org - 'contest'. There can only be one winner so everyone else has done the job for free.

Lulu

Lulu

Kindle, iBooks and Smashwords are brilliant for wordy projects, but we're still a couple of years away from the viable coffee table eBook.

With Lulu you can turn your eBooks into real volumes. It's ideal for image-rich tomes, and on-demand publishing enables you to take a cut of every copy sold after Lulu has absorbed production expenses and taken its share of profit.

Using the service takes a little more savviness than Kindle publishing. You'll need to create a PDF with a fixed layout, but Lulu provides templates and guides for all its most popular book sizes.

Varolo

Varolo

Advertisers have a problem with engaging users. Varolo's solution is to pay you and your friends to look at ads.

The site pays in two ways. Every time you watch adverts, your account is entered into a draw for a cash prize. If gambling isn't your thing, the Varolo Village may be more attractive. This lets you invite friends to your network on the site, who in turn can invite other friends.

Every time someone you've invited watches an advert, you get a micropayment. It's a form of pyramid scheme. The site tailors its content to your preferences, so it's a fairly painless way to earn a bit of pocket money.

Pay Per Post

Pay per post

If you're already blogging, why not get paid to write about advertisers' products? Some may argue that reviewing products and services favourably, in exchange for money, is unethical. Others would counter that there's not a great deal of difference between what Pay Per Post does and what affiliate services provide.

As a blogger, you can choose to just write about products you personally like - write posts that you would have written in any case. With an account on Pay Per Post, you're just adding to the ways you can make money from your blog and, as payments are small, you need to use as many methods as possible.

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First published in PC Plus Issue 312. Read PC Plus on PC, Mac and iPad

Liked this? Then check out How to make money from app development

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