It has been said that there are 1000’s of ways to make money online. While that is true when it comes to methods, an individual who starts the journey of making money online will fall into 1 of 11 levels of making money online’s hierarchy. Since it’s my blog and I’m a boss like that, we’ll call it Healey’s Hierarchy.
*Not everyone will go in a linear order, and many people will skip most of the steps entirely. Nevertheless, 95% of people with some sort of online income fall somewhere on this hierarchy at any given time.
Technically you can start at any level within the hierarchy on your journey to making money online, however, most people who are truly noobs tend to be overwhelmed. Therefore they start with the lowest common denominator.
It’s mostly out of blissful ignorance, although I suspect some are just prone to taking baby steps. There is nothing wrong with starting at one of the lower levels, as long as you move up to a higher level as fast as possible.
Without further ado, below are the 11 levels.
*Note: I do not look down on the people doing this small cash method. It’s how a ton of people start making money online, to get their feet wet.
It’s a good primer to understand what a grind affiliate marketing can be, which is where a lot of them will end up one day.
In fact, when I was 16 years old – I joined PTR email sites, and clicked links in emails for pennies. The goal back then was to “build your downline” and earn off referral stats. We had organized secret forums and everything, all for a few hundred dollars a month.
These days, there are much better ways to get your feet wet (as you’ll soon see). The only reason these things are still alive is because members continually exaggerate their success to build referrals.
Looking back, I do wonder if I’d be where I am today if I didn’t go through that grind, and of course network with all those budding entrepreneurs.
That being said…..
It blows my mind that these things are still popular. People will slave away for hours just to make $8 taking surveys and clicking advertisements.
10-15 years ago, when you typed in “make money online” into a search engine, you would get a barrage of these sites. Today, not so much. Mostly people first see them in a comment section of a large media site in the form of spam, or through paid ads.
It shouldn’t be surprising that some people at the top of the food chain now got their feet wet opening emails for pennies. The important fact is that they moved on. GPT sites are not a legitimate way of making money online, and should be avoided at all costs.
If you have the ability to work for hours on end with speed online, you can do better than this level for sure.
- The work: Clicking links, filling out forms or surveys, other menial tasks.
- The pay: Cents and dollars. With true grinding and a nice downline, maybe a few hundred a month.
- How to start: Read a few threads on Reddit of people pining over the non-payment of a few bucks, and be thankful you read this mini-guide (and will never take part in that racket).
- What success looks like: Getting out and going up the hierarchy immediately.
This is only 1 short level above the get paid to click crowd, working for dimes and quarters at sites like mturk. I would highly suggest staying far away from these types of sites unless you live in a country where the USD is actually worth much more. The ironic thing is, all of the decent paying offers are usually for US or Canada only.
You will never make more than minimum wage at one of these sites, and you will be working like a dog.
- The work: Doing extremely menial tasks such as leaving comments on a blog or forum. You may bore yoruself to death.
- The pay: $0.05 – $1.00 per task.
- How to start: Sites like Mturk and Digital Point Marketplace can offer some microgigs. The competition is extremely strong, and I wouldn’t recommend it unless you are in a country where the USD is worth exponentially more than your currency.
- What success looks like: Moving on to freelancing to provide a specific service to people with budgets.
Fiverr (and any knock-off of it) is on a level all of it’s own now, as it’s above the dimes and nickels of the microworkers, and still lower than the next level up.
There are a ton of different ways you can make money on Fiverr, and it’s good for a few extra bucks once you get going.
If you are just starting out making money online and have a skill in demand that won’t take you long to perform, this could be an option.
Be forewarned: This site has massive competition so even though there is huge traffic, you need to fight for it. The vast majority of Fiverr gigs die out as quickly as they were born.
The major key to making money on Fiverr is simple, but certainly not easy. You need to build a customer base with $5 entry gigs, and then upsell hard once you have a few positive ratings. You can put gigs up to $100 each on this site, and common upsells include higher quality versions of the same work, more time put into a design, rush orders, etc.
- The work: Sign-up for free at Fiverr. There are dozens of categories on Fiverr, so you can browse them for inspiration, or just go ahead with a unique idea. What are you good at? You can charge $5 for a “entry level” version, and pair it with all sorts of upsells. That is how you make money on Fiverr.
- The pay: $4 (they take a fee) – $100 per gig.
- How to start: Even though there are tons of gig sites, Fiverr is the original and the only one worth checking out. Only try this method if you are committed and have upsells to put in. You aren’t going to make much if you’re only charging $5 at a time.
- What success looks like: Having a popular gig(s) with many reviews, with an entry level gig for $5 with multiple upsells at different price points. Can earn thousands a month if done right, however, the vast majority of sellers on Fiverr will not see that type of success. Move on to freelancing as soon as possible with your gigs.
Freelancing is a legitimate way for people to make money online full or part-time. There are hundreds of different services you could provide, and as long as there is enough demand, you can succeed.
Some of the most common things to freelance online: Design work, content writing, programming, PA work, etc.
Don’t limit yourself though – whatever you are good at can be turned into a freelance position.
Where do you find the work:
99 Designs (For Designers)
Envato Studio (For all sorts of Creatives.)
- The work: Similar to the gigs above, whatever you are good at can be your ticket in freelancing as well. You will be doing things for other businesses on a per project or per hour basis. The rates can go quite high too.
- The pay: Pay for freelancers tends to be a lot better than any of the previously mentioned levels. The prices range from low-end to high-end and everything in between. You can make a full-time living as a freelancer once you build up your book a bit.
- How to start: First of all you need to have the skill you’re going to provide, and decide where you’re going to find customers. You can find them on online freelancing sites, forums, or even start knocking on doors in the real world. If you have a skill that other people can benefit from, you can charge for it.
- What success looks like: Freedom, lots of good clients (or just a few high-paying ones), and waking up doing what you love everyday. You also get to set your own schedule, one of the biggest draws of being a freelancer.
You might be surprised to see the agency-side so low on the hierarchy. Of course, there are major players that are way higher in the food chain. If you can get there, great – 95% are still small businesses though.
The truth is, running an internet marketing agency is no fun. You have multiple “bosses” being your clients, and you have to run a sales team on the side of doing the actual internet marketing work.
The worst part is that you don’t ever build any passive income. That being said, there is a potential serious upside.
The shareholders or sole owner can definitely exit for a nice payday if they have developed a large client base. I believe most agency owners have an exit plan to sell to one of the big players.
- The work: Selling internet marketing services to businesses on a retainer, per project, or per hour basis. The typical services are SEO, social media, content marketing, outreach, design and many others along those lines.
- The pay: It depends on how much you charge the clients. There are bottom of the barrel SEO agencies who charge $100 a month, while somebody like me charges $300 an hour.
- Then there are others like Shoemoney who charge $1000/hour. Guess what? It’s worth it, and the cheap option is not.
- How to start: Please do not start an internet marketing agency unless you’re actually an expert, because it won’t work for long.
- Step 1: Register domain & Hosting
- Step 2: Pick a good agency theme
- Step 3: Find your first client. Put the word out to your network that you are launching this business, and yes, do traditional business lead generation
- Step 4: Provide great services to your clients, improve their bottom line, and you’ll have a customer for life.
What success looks like: Success looks like a high profit margin, nice offices around the world, 100’s or 1000’s of great employees, and plenty of free time due to your expert delegating. Sounds like a dream? It usually is.
Affiliate Marketer (Bloggers, Review Sites, Media Buyers, etc.)
Affiliate marketing is where many of the “1000’s of ways” to make money online come from. There are countless ways to promote an affiliate program. An affiliate earns commissions from sales or leads sent to a merchant or network. The people who promote the product or services in the affiliate program are called publishers or affiliates.
These people are typically lone-wolves working on a 100% commission only basis.
There are 3 main types of affiliates, and of course many fall into all of these categories: Organic, Paid and E-mail. The common denominator is that affiliates send traffic to the merchant and get a cut for all successful sales or leads (depending on the agreement). There are also incentive affiliates (see the people who own the GPT/survey sites lower in the hierarchy).
- The work: This varies so widely that I can write an entire book on it. That being said, in it’s most simplest form, affiliate marketing is sending traffic to various offers with the purpose to get paid per lead or per sale.
- The pay: Varies wildly. Most people give up before their first $1000 is realized, others make 5 figures a day on autopilot. There are thousands upon thousands of full time affiliate marketers.
How to start:
- Step 1: Register domain & Hosting
- Step 2: Set-up WP and set-up a great affiliate theme
- Step 3: Choose a niche, and make sure there are affiliate programs with decent payouts.
- Step 4: Write affiliate reviews, top lists and mini-guides on your blog, related to your niche.\
- Step 5: Do SEO or PPC
- Step 6: Alternatively, you can start an “authority Youtube channel”.
What success looks like: Success is defined personally, but success to me for an affiliate means passive income, financial freedom and plenty of free time. After a certain point, you can graduate to the top of the totem pole directly from being an affiliate.
Most people who make a full-time income from affiliate marketing are not super affiliates, as to get to that level you need to be doing 7 figures in commission a year.
The Best Course on Affiliate Marketing: Affiliorama
An affiliate or CPA network is a middle man between the affiliate and the merchant/advertiser. Rather than an in-house affiliate program, many companies join an affiliate network where hundreds of different companies can be promoted from within the same dashboard.
The network makes money by taking a % from every sale driven by affiliates, and may also make a kickback from the merchant themselves.
The network acts as an intermediary between the affiliate and a merchant, providing protection to both parties in various ways (mostly fraud protection for the merchant, and making sure you get paid as an affiliate). A network is not necessarily “above” all affiliates in the hierarchy, as you will see once you get to the top of the list.
- The work: This business has 2 sides to it. The first is attracting affiliates in the first place, and the second is securing deals with merchants. You need to have a wide range of offers to attract a wide range of affiliates. You make money from middle manning every transaction, taking cents or dollars off the top of each sale/lead.
- The pay: The pay can be substantial with the right amount of volume. It is a volume game, however, and you need big players (super affiliates) to push your numbers up. Some networks also run internal campaigns, though I have to attest that that could be viewed at as conflicting interests.
- How to start: You start as an affiliate or merchant or both. To try to jump into being a network owner without massive experience and financial backing is just plain daft. It is a cut-thorat industry and without connections or huge money backing you, there is no point in starting one.
- What success looks like: Being known as a trusted network that gets the best offers and has it’s affiliates best interest in mind. Always pays on time and therefore attracts heavy volume from super affiliates.
Merchant/Product or Service Owners (includes e-commerce sites)
These are the people who have an actual product or service and are looking for an online sales force (the affiliates/publishers). They are higher in the hierarchy than a normal affiliate or a network, because they are receiving free marketing and sales promotion without paying anyone a salary. Affiliates are generally only 1 avenue of their marketing efforts, and likely spend great deals of money on other forms of online advertising.
They only payout to affiliates on successful sales. Payouts can be either a CPA (one time payment) or a rev-share (recurring income). The super affiliate is still higher on the hierarchy than a merchant because the super affiliate can literally send 7 figures worth of business their way, sometimes in a month. Of course, there are product owners/merchants who are also super affiliates themselves. In these upper levels, things aren’t so cut and dry.
Being a merchant in this space isn’t easy, but it is simple to setup an affiliate program if your company already sells things online. The difficult part comes trying to find affiliates to promote your stuff.
Being an amazing product or service in the first place, combined with a high payout to affiliates, will naturally attract them. To attract super affiliates and big players you will have to do some additional outreach campaigns.
- The work: Varies widely, but generally it is just running a typical online business – products (diet pills, loan companies, poker sites, guides, courses, etc.
- You can attract affiliates/publishers either directly with your own inhouse affiliate program, or run it through a CPA network and let them handle the lion’s share of work.
- Typically, affiliate marketing is only one avenue of revenue for online companies, however, some offers are made specifically to be run by affiliates.
- The pay: Just like any other online business, you can fall flat on your face or strike it rich. Having an army of affiliates, however, makes life a lot easier on you.
- How to start: This is far too advanced to just jump into without knowing what you are doing. You need to have a vision for a great product or SaaS before you try to be a merchant. Make sure your offer actually converts before trying to attract an affiliate team, or they will back off as fast as you approached them.
- What success looks like: Massive sales and profits, an affiliate salesforce pushing your product/service in high volume, while not taking a salary.
A consultant (SEO consultant, marketing consultant, etc.) charges high fees and works on their own schedule. They are paid in most cases for giving reports, training, scenario forecasting, strategy, etc. As many of you know, I am the leading Toronto SEO Consultant in our beautiful city.
They are high up on the hierarchy simply because they can command high rates by using their knowledge and experience, without ever being held down by a 9-5 or boss. Companies are paying big money to talk to these digital marketing consultants, so they are generally treated with a high level of respect by whoever they are dealing with internally.
- The work: Assisting businesses and other entrepreneurs with their digital strategy.
- The pay: Anywhere from low 5-figures to 7-figures
- How to start: If you actually can demonstrate that you have the knowledge required to help another business succeed online, offer a free consultation. Specializing can help if you are just starting out, ie (SEO Consulting, Social Media Consulting, etc.).
- What success looks like: Being highly sought after even when you continually raise your rates due to demand. Helping others succeed.
The Guru is pretty high up in the chain of making money online, though he or she catches a lot of flack from the general affiliates underneath them. They are also massively looked up to by the beginner make money online crowd. This is not referring to a self proclaimed guru, but I digress.
A guru is different than a super affiliate because they are putting themselves out there with their main business income being training courses, product launches, 1 on 1 and group coaching, etc.
Also falling into this level are genuine Youtube Stars, who sometimes run channels earning $1 million in sponsorships and ad revenue a year.
- The work: Product launches, webinars, high-level coaching
- The pay: 6-7 figures for the actual top industry players. The very top dogs can crack 8 figures/year.
- How to start: You can’t just start up as a guru unless you are already an expert at something. If you are, then “productize” your knowledge through video courses or even an ebook to start.
- What success looks like: Hitting “send” in your e-mail provider, taking a nap on the beach and waking up to thousands of dollars in sales or affiliate commissions.
These individuals are affiliates but are not below any merchant or network. The term itself is old school and tongue in cheek – it simply means an affiliate with massive volume of sales.
In fact, a super affiliate has so much traffic that they can make or break another corporation’s month by deciding to run traffic with them or not.
This is why you see all the big dogs being courted around at affiliate conferences. It isn’t just so the affiliate manager can get his cut and keep the relationship going. That is part of it, for sure – but the companies themselves are desperate for super affiliates and will wine and dine them in the hopes of a lasting business relationship.
A super affiliate is traditionally not referring to the big players on the paid traffic side, who are running some sort of arbitrage or temporary campaigns.
A true super affiliate has a traffic source completely owned, meaning all campaigns are run at insanely high profit margins. Super affiliates are usually those with massive authority websites in their niche, even bigger massive sites (PC mag), or massive e-mail lists (Ryan Deiss: a super affiliate and a guru).
When I launch my product later this year called “Social Selling”, I’m going to hit up Ryan to be my affiliate. If he chooses to do a mailout to his list, I could make $1 million overnight.
Then I’d ship 50% to Ryan.
Of course, I’d make sure I had industry top EPC before even approaching any influencers. With all the talk about influencers these days, it really is just a new term for the old-school guru.
The super affiliate sits alone at the top of the hierarchy of making money online. They already own the entire traffic source, and can do with it as they please. These traffic sources are usually extremely targeted, and/or extremely high volume.
Many sites who sell traffic on a CPM basis could become super affiliates with the right consultant on board. Believe me – testing your own campaigns on your own traffic source will make you more money than selling the traffic to other people doing the same.
- The work: Like a normal affiliate but with much bigger moves, larger investments, huge scaling, etc. Often will have entire teams to delegate tasks to.
- The pay: 7 Figures and up
- How to start: Start from the bottom and work your way up – just like every other super affiliate did it.
- What success looks like: Total freedom, both financially and with your time. Power & respect. That opportunity to give back to less fortunate people. Owning huge amount of traffic through properties you own, leading to massive passive income.
I think you will find most entrepreneurs making money online fall into one of the above levels. Of course, there are other fringe methods. But the majority of you aren’t going to be licensing your hit song, or running a Paypal/Ebay type fees processor, etc.
There are more advanced types of companies as well, like traffic brokers, mobile traffic companies, etc. There are countless sites that provide a service with a fee-based income model, and of course several new and emerging markets to make money online.
So where do you fall into the hierarchy?
*All pictures from Pexels.com under a CC0 license.