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Making money online

February 2006

The Internet has changed none of the basic rules of business. If you run out of money, you'll go bust, virtual business or not.

However it has had some significant effects. First, it has made your shop accessible from anywhere, at any time. Unfortunately, just like a high street shop, if nobody comes to your site you won't make any money, but unlike a high street shop the cost of maintaining your presence there need not be very high, so you don't have to do anything like as much business to survive.

Secondly, it has made it possible to deliver some entirely new sorts of intangible products online, and finally, because of electronic processing, it has made it worthwhile to accept lots of small payments. All this means that it is now more possible than ever for individuals to support themselves by trading online.

An excellent example is Jacquie Lawson, who runs and has created what is a real cottage industry, run as it is from her cottage in West Sussex. She was a freelance illustrator for over twenty years; then, in 2000, she discovered how to create an e-card and emailed to friends as a Christmas card. It was a short animated film, and it produced a tremendous response.

Since then, with a little help from two or three others, she has developed her website into a real business from which she now makes her living. For an annual subscription of £4.50 you can send as many of her cards as you wish and they are, incidentally, delightful. I particularly like the ones following the exploits of a chocolate labrador called Chudleigh. This business simply could not exist without the Internet; both the product and the method of delivery are dependent on it.

Or, consider, which is a site from which you can buy and download lots of software. They provide a shop front through which individual software authors (many of them one man bands) can market their work. The site takes 30% of sales proceeds, but the author is charged nothing to list their product. Compare them to a traditional shop: their stock is unlimited, as it takes up no shelf space, and if sold costs nothing to reproduce in any quantity. Furthermore, it can be delivered anywhere, immediately. Again, this is a whole new style of business not possible before the Internet came along.

Then there are "affiliate marketing" sites, that earn small commissions paid by merchants for any business introduced to them through the site. For example, Chris Brown wanted something to do whilst his wife watched soap operas. He bought a book on making websites and as he worked in the travel industry at the time he set up as somewhere for people to contribute their own reviews of holiday resorts.

That was in 2003. Then he started including links to holiday companies, and receiving commission on sales that came from people who clicked on these links. Nowadays over 40,000 people view the site each week, and the income from the commissions has allowed Chris to give up his old job and employ three staff. This business, and the jobs it provides, would simply not exist were it not for the Internet.

Of course all these businesses could be operated from anywhere in the world with a decent Internet link. It's happening all over the place, and I think enterprising Oldies should be doing it, too.

I'm always pleased to hear from readers, but I would especially love to hear from any Oldie readers who have found ways of generating an income online.


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