Forget looking for your next job in a traditional office. Armies of recovering cubicle dwellers are making an honest-to-goodness living in online careers-and we don’t mean by selling diet pills or kitchen accessories to unsuspecting friends and relatives.
From online writing jobs and graphic design to software development and social media marketing jobs, countless creative types are hanging their own virtual shingle, often with a minimum of overhead, sometimes even surpassing the salary they made as an employee. Herewith, seven successful web workers share their different types of web careers, how they did it, how you can follow in their footsteps, and what pitfalls to watch out for when working online.
1. Blogger Jobs. According to the Wall Street Journal, 1.7 million Americans make money blogging and 452,000 of them derive a majority of their income from it. Ariel Meadow Stallings is one such blogger, dividing her time between the blog she writes for her part-time corporate job and her own blog, Offbeat Bride. “It took about a year to build traffic to the point where advertising and sponsorships made sense,” says Stallings, who’s been publishing OffbeatBride since January 2007 and now averages nearly a million page views a month. Her advice to would-be career bloggers? “Just blog. And then blog more. And read other blogs.” For tips galore on earning a living as a blogger, see ProBlogger.
2. Freelance Web designer. Bloggers often need help updating their site design and code, which is where freelance web designers like Liz Andrade of CMD+SHIFT Design come in. Like many web jobs, once you have the skills in the bag, the office overhead is minimal. “If I have a laptop and an internet connection, I’m in business,” Andrade says. And while she studied design in college, she learned far more about web design and business branding on the job. To follow in her footsteps, Andrade suggests first working in a junior position at a boutique design firm. She also suggests meeting other freelance web designers on at popular online water coolers like FreelanceSwitch, FreelanceFolder, and Web Worker Daily.
3. Social media marketer. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 1 in 10 U.S. adults now use microblogging sites like Twitter to update friends and colleagues on their status, mood, or latest personal news. Not surprisingly, publicists and marketing mavens like Lisa Hanock-Jasie have begun promoting their clients on these social media sites. “It’s become more a virtual work existence these days, with the majority of client contact via the web — be it live web chat, e-mail, or IM — or phone conversation,” the independent publicist says. The upside: finding work in online careers is easier than ever. The downside: the isolation. To beat the solitude, Hanock-Jasie regularly schmoozes with several professional groups on LinkedIn.
4. Web community founder. With the Pew Internet and American Life Project reporting that a majority of U.S. adults under age 70 use the internet, it’s no surprise that web communities have been sprouting up like weeds, and so have online careers supporting them. But launching a successful online community is much more involved than starting a freelance business, says Lara Eve Feltin, who in 2005 co-founded Biznik, an award-winning web community for the self-employed, with husband Dan McComb. “Dan built the first version of the site in his spare time,” Feltin says. “And because our product helps small businesses, a lot of people offered to help us for free.” Dan’s web development work alone saved them hundreds of thousands of dollars, Feltin says. In short, be prepared for lots of ramp-up time and-if you have no volunteers-lots of programming and legal expenses.
5. E-commerce site owner. Armies of savvy craftsters and artists sell their wares online. Take Maggie Kleinpeter and Michael Pittard, who in 2001 opened the online store Supermaggie, where they sell Kleinpeter’s hand-made scarves and print t-shirts to retail and wholesale customers. “It took about three years for it to provide full-time income for both of us,” says Pittard, who built and maintains the website. The pros of running an online boutique: “The world is your storefront, and we have practically no overhead,” says Pittard. The cons: There are no dressing rooms online, and customer feedback isn’t instantaneous. To learn more about starting your own online career in the e-tail business, see the community pages on Etsy and sites like The Switchboards, SuperNaturale, and Craftster.
6. Social media application developer. In March 2009, the blog TechCrunch ran the headline “Some Indie Facebook Developers Pulling in over $700,000 a Month.” While web developer Jesse Stay has yet to hit that financial jackpot, he does credit SocialToo-the online collection of social media tools and services he built-with providing 80 percent of his income. (The rest comes from online consulting work.) His advice for hopeful social media developers? “Don’t expect to get any investment.” Most startups never see a VC dime, even in good financial times. Instead, he says, you’ll need to rely on your savings until you make enough cash to pay yourself a salary. To learn more, see the blogs All Facebook and Inside Facebook and the developer forums and wikis of your favorite social media platforms.
7. Infopreneur. You know that old saying about making money in your sleep? There’s an entire population of web entrepreneurs who aren’t just waxing poetic about it-they’re doing it. Erin Blaskie, an internet marketing specialist who was making six figures by age 23, is one of them. Though she got her entrepreneurial start in 2004 as a virtual assistant, she now creates and sells virtual training programs for entrepreneurs who want to promote themselves online. Her advice to hopeful infopreneurs? “Check out what already exists in your market and see where there are gaps.” Also, “Ditch the perfectionism! The cool thing with info-products is you can produce it, publish it, and edit it later if need be.”
Michelle Goodman’s latest book is “My So-Called Freelance Life: How to Survive and Thrive as a Creative Professional for Hire.” Visit her blog at Anti9to5Guide.com.