Last Updated on July 1, 2022 by Alex
Especially now, with a recession looming, it is a better time than ever to launch a side business, and to make that side business one that has the potential to grow exponentially over time.
Yet with so many platforms to choose from, it can be difficult to decide where to expend your energy and time when you want to launch an online business.
In this post I review Medium, Upwork and Etsy, which fall into three broad categories. Medium is for those who want to write, UpWork for those selling their skills to clients (which can include writing too), and Etsy for those wanting to set up a store.
These are trusted online earning sites and leaders in their respective areas and if you can make it on any one of these platforms you will find that you can leave your old job behind, or at the very least give a big boost to your financial security in uncertain times.
What is Medium?
With over 100 million visitors every month Medium is a publishing platform that has become a go-to site for writers looking for freelance writing income as well as bloggers and affiliate marketers seeking to drive traffic to their websites.
Medium hosts blogs as well as what they call “publications”, which are essentially theme oriented magazines within the site.
Medium is clean, not cluttered by ads and is very much content oriented. Articles tend to be substantive, well-researched and written and often long.
It is considered an authoritative site by Google and its writers tend to be professionals who take the writing itself seriously.
It is not an ideal place for product promotion, although affiliate links are allowed. Instead it’s a place for the promotion of ideas.
Medium has free content and content behind a paywall that requires a $5 per month subscription to access.
Who can write for Medium?
Anyone can write for Medium.
They have an open writer policy, meaning you sign up and you can start publishing.
It is well worth the time to read widely on the platform to get acquainted with the wide variety of topics that they cover. You will find everything from technology and entrepreneurship to philosophy, political and social affairs, general ideas, life and self, money… you name it.
You may find you are inspired to write about topics outside of your usual niche.
And you should be. Because Medium isn’t just for bloggers who need to bore down into a niche in order to be read, but for writers who take an interest in a broad range of topics.
That’s because of the thousands of publications on Medium. You see, you are not limited to the subject area of a blog you can publish on Medium—and if you do have a blog there you probably should indeed focus on a specific niche. Publications, each of which has its own thematic focus, allow you to publish across various topics.
To become a Medium writer just go to their website and sign up. It’s as simple as that.
Once you start publishing, one of your goals is to get your stories curated and featured.
Curated stories are distributed by Medium according to topic. Medium curators are assisted by artificial intelligence to spot articles that are likely to get good reader time if distributed widely enough.
If your story is chosen to be featured, then Medium will go a step further and recommend your story and display it prominently in the Medium feed.
Your story can be chosen to be both curated and featured, but in that case it will be curated first and featured later.
How do I get paid?
The Partner Program
In order to be paid for your writing on Medium you have to join the Partner Program.
To join the Partner Program you need to publish at least one story and gain 100 or more followers.
Yes, it’s a hurdle, but Medium wants to make sure that you are serious. So if you are serious, invest the time and be prepared to put in a good amount of effort to qualify for the Partner Program.
It might happen very quickly, or it might happen slowly.
My advice is to launch your own blog on Medium, with a tightly focused topic area, and then if you also have an interest in other topics publish on those in various publications.
In the meantime, participate in the community as much as possible. Read other writers’ stories, comment on them, clap on stories you like, and reach out and ask if writers you admire will read your work.
Medium pays according to the time paid up Medium subscribers spend reading your work, so if you want to be paid directly then you need to put your stories behind the paywall.
Be prepared to put in a good six months to one year of consistent publishing before your popularity on Medium and income really take off. A good rule of thumb is to publish at least 3 articles each week, and as much as 2 or 3 times per day, and not to judge your success or failure on the platform for at least 6 months.
Note that if you launch a Medium writing business not all of your posts need to be long and in-depth. Consistency is key in getting off the ground. Once you are established, the pace of posting can slow down.
Medium allows affiliate links, they just need to be labelled as such. It isn’t the ideal platform for affiliates but you can do it.
While it isn’t so common for stories with affiliate links to be curated, it’s possible and does happen. If you want to have affiliate links it might be a good idea to publish stories both with and without them.
If you refer others to Medium you will get half of the membership fee for as long as those you refer remain members. This is a good deal and Medium makes referrals easy.
Promote your existing blog on Medium
Medium allows you to republish articles from your existing blogs on their site, passing the ultimate authority for the content to the website from which it originates.
Just sign up for Medium and use their import tool to republish your content. You would do well to republish your top blog posts. Republishing on Medium should help drive traffic to your blog.
Another option is to create a Medium publication in which you republish all of your blog posts from blog. Publications need not be multi-author outlets, although you may choose to allow guest authors on in your publication.
In short, Medium allows you to syndicate your content and although you don’t have control over Medium itself you do have complete management control over your content.
What is Upwork?
Upwork is the premier trusted online earning platform that brings together freelancers with clients from all over the world. It is professional and flexible, allowing you to set your own rates.
Rates will vary widely according to previous experience as well as the reputation you build on Upwork and the completeness of your profile (for instance, you will want to include as many testimonials from any clients you’ve ever had).
Who can work through Upwork?
Anyone with professional skills can set up a profile at Upwork and apply for jobs listed on the site.
Areas that freelancers work in through Upwork include but are not limited to content and professional writing, AI, robotics, cloud computing, graphics, statistical and GIS modelling, social media marketing, SEO, video production, project management, data analysis and a wide variety of computer and software specializations.
Since Upwork allows you to set your own hourly rates, anyone from recent graduates with no experience to seasoned veterans can compete for jobs, which can last from less than a single day to 6 months or longer, and can be full time or part time.
It takes about 20 minutes to complete an Upwork profile and I would recommend doing it for everyone with marketable skills—which is everyone reading this. There are no significant cons in having a profile and making yourself available for work if you are looking for a side gig and are not in a hurry.
How do I make money and what does it cost me?
In your profile you set an hourly rate, of which Upwork takes 20% when you get your first job. That’s pretty hefty.
However, after $500 you pay Upwork only 10% of your wages, and after $10,000 it drops to 5%.
Hourly rates vary widely, and beginners may charge as little as $10 an hour while highly experienced professionals may demand $60 an hour or more.
When you set up your profile you will choose between 2 membership plans: the Basic and the Plus.
The Basic Plan is free but will require you to pay $0.15 for each gig you apply for, paid for in “connects,” which are internal tokens. You can carry over 140 connects from month to month.
When clients contact you, you pay nothing.
The Plus Plan gives you 70 connects a month, allows you to see what rivals have bid for a job, gives you the option to keep your earnings private, allows you to change your URL, and will keep inactive profiles visible.
Upwork features a Work Diary that tracks your time spent on hourly projects and logs all of your work. Using Work Diary will qualify you for Hourly Protection, a feature that provides assurance that you will be paid for time spent on a project in the event that the client disputes payment.
When you work by the job the client sets aside the amount you will be paid you may receive partial payment for reaching milestones and intermediate deliverables.
Upwork has a dispute resolution mechanism in cases where clients and freelancers disagree about whether work has reached milestones or completion.
Pros and cons of Upwork
Upwork allows for a great deal of flexibility and because the site is so well known it attracts thousands of clients and a wide variety of jobs.
It can accommodate freelancers at all levels of experience.
Upwork can help you find jobs.
There’s very little downside to giving it a go. The cost is mainly the time you spend creating your profile and looking for jobs, plus the small fee for connects.
You may run into unpleasant or dishonest clients, though reports of this are rare.
It may take a good deal of time to get momentum on the site—you have to be patient.
Upwork’s 20% fee on jobs is substantial so you would want to take that into consideration in setting your hourly rate.
What is Etsy
Etsy is an ecommerce platform that specializes in art and digital printables, handmade arts and crafts, and vintage items, from clothes to postcards.
Etsy is profoundly different from other ecommerce sites like Amazon in that third party sellers who have Etsy stores develop brands and loyalty based upon themselves, their personalities, talents and tastes. It is one of the most trusted online earning sites out there and is gathering unto itself millions of entrepreneurial and creative people and connecting them with buyers who crave a more personal consumer experience.
Etsy blew up during the pandemic when people were stuck at home, and is now the go-to destination for buyers from around the world looking for unique hand-crafted or vintage products, both physical and digital.
Etsy is my favorite site to make money, not least because my wife has an Etsy store as a side gig and I have been able to observe up close just how much fun and profitable having an Etsy store can be.
It’s something she does very much on the side while raising our two young children and writing her Ph.D. dissertation, and yet even with minimal effort, no advertising, and basically keeping the store on the backburner, it has grown in the past two years to the point where she now averages several sales a week of her hand crafted jewelry and amigurumi toys.
For people with more time to put into their stores, Etsy provides an outstanding opportunity to turn a side gig into a full time income.
Who can open an Etsy store?
Anyone can open an Etsy store.
I know that some people may think that Etsy is just for artists and other creatives, but that actually is not the case. Yes, it’s a great place for artists and craftspeople. There is no better.
But Etsy is also for anyone else who is willing to take the time to either learn a new skill or is able and willing to resell products online.
Reselling is limited to vintage items and craft supplies-but these are very wide categories. Let’s say you are into antiques and other vintage items and regularly visit vintage shops, yard sales, or estate sales. Items that you may pick up for a dollar from sellers who are eager to quickly get rid of them you can resell for much more on Etsy.
If you are located in a secondary town or city where local second hand stores have no choice but to sell old postcards or vintage appliances for cheap, you stand to make outstanding money by carefully picking out the best of what you can find locally and listing them on Etsy.
If that sounds like a possibility, check out the whopping prices for vintage appliances by putting “vintage appliances” into the Etsy search bar.
Another option for folks who don’t consider themselves to be very creative is to learn how to make digital files-which is easy and costs nothing with the free education that is available on YouTube and blogs. Or if you want to go a more formal route you can spend a little money and take a course from Udemy, or-my favorite-subscribe to Skillshare and take more of your courses there.
There is a craze now for SVG files-which stands for scalable vector graphic-which is a file format that can be cut by a machine to create t-shirts, mugs, greeting cards and any number of other items.
There are very successful stores on Etsy that feature mainly downloadable SVG files that are bought at low cost by people looking to make their own shirts or mugs or whatever. A truly surprising number of people don’t want to learn how to make the files, they just want to do the manufacturing of the final product.
Learning to make SVGs is not difficult. I learned how to make them on Inkscape in about two hours and you can too.
My oldest son’s girlfriend has a small Etsy shop where she sells mainly SVG files with religious slogans and children’s themes, and again with very little effort it has grown incrementally over time to the point where it is a substantial side hustle that grows organically-the more downloads she gets, the more prominent her store becomes and the easier potential customers find her.
The magic in having a store devoted to digital downloads is that once you have done the work to create the files, there’s nothing left to do. No packaging, no shipping, no recreating the item over and over. You make it once, put it up and that’s it.
This is the definition of passive income.
If you think this might be for you, browse Etsy for digital products and familiarize yourself with the variety of digital art and crafts that people are selling. Learning programs like Inkscape and Canva is well within the capacity of most people in a few hours of effort.
If you want to see what stores are doing exceptionally well and what products are selling best on Etsy, use eRank to see sales volumes and explore keywords that people are searching for. Later you can use this tool for SEO for your shop.
Etsy charges a number of fees, including a listing fee, a transaction fee and a payment processing fee. The total adds up to about 10% of the listing price. Shipping is usually paid for by the buyer, although Etsy sellers can choose to offer free shipping.
Here is a hypothetical breakdown.
It takes a while to build a successful Etsy store but without a doubt it can be done, even now, even when the economy is slowing down. People want hand-crafted and personalized products, and they love feeling like they have a relationship with a seller. Buyers on Etsy carefully scrutinize who they buy from, read the reviews and like to communicate through the app with sellers. My wife spends a good deal of time exchanging messages and taking custom orders.
Unlike other platforms, Etsy creates a personal experience by highlighting the creators/sellers, and as a result stores have unique personalities and can build a loyal base of buyers.
The cost of launching a store is minimal, and with over 80 million people visiting the site, the pool of potential buyers is vast.
Whether your inclination is to write, leverage your skills as a freelancer or to open a store, you can rely on the most trusted online earning sites in order to grow a business and make the most money you possibly can. Medium, Upwork and Etsy provide outstanding opportunities for anyone willing to put in the work and none of them entail significant upfront costs.
Now I’d like to hear from you.
Which of these platforms would work best for you?