If your pocket's feeling the pinch this year, then you don't need to look any further than your computer to make some easy money.
Since the early days of the web people have made small fortunes by trading online, and the fierce expansion of the web around 1996 made record numbers of online millionaires.
Starting a business online is easy once you have an idea, and domain names are cheap, so it's easy to get yourself set up on the web. Building a site doesn't require immense skill or effort, and it's possible to get something set up using built-in site builders with web hosts such as 1&1 or Fasthosts.
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If you're already running an active online business then there are several things you can do to get some extra business. Paying for Google Adwords is one way to boost traffic to your site, and get people visiting and hopefully buying your products and services. Alternatively, if your site generates a lot of traffic already, but doesn't sell a product in order for you to make money, an affiliate scheme can also lead to some easy money.
Join an affiliate scheme
Becoming an affiliate revolves around people coming to your site and clicking through to your affiliates. If your visitors click through to your affiliated sites, the company is charged and you get a share of the profits, making it an easy way to make money from your otherwise non-profit making site. One of the most popular affiliates is Amazon, which pays up to 10 per cent of the price of any item bought by your visitors. Go to https://affiliate-program.amazon.co.uk to sign up.
The best affiliations are companies that sell stuff close to the subject matter of your site. If you run a website about cricket, then Amazon might not be the best affiliate. Instead, choose a site that sells cricket equipment, so a greater majority of visitors will click through and earn you money.
Sell on eBay
Of course, not everyone has a website popular enough to milk for easy cash, so for the rest of us there's always the other stalwart of easy cash: eBay. The New Year is a fantastic time to get rid of unwanted gifts or the other junk taking up all the room in your house. With the current economic downturn people are flocking to the auction site in droves, making it the perfect time to make some easy money.
The secret to selling on eBay is to use a decent picture of your item, so be prepared to take some time and effort over your presentation. The prevalence of companies trading on eBay means that many of your competitors will have professional photos and descriptions, so a grainy camera-phone photo of your dusty old belongings won't attract many bidders.
Use a proper digital camera and try to snap your item outside where the light is even to get the best shot. There are plenty of added extras that you can bolt on to your listing to make it more attractive to prospective buyers, such as borders, bold text and advanced listings. While some of the added extras are a waste of cash, a plain eBay advert will simply disappear into the mass of listings, so it's important to differentiate your items.
Sell photos online
If you're a budding photographer then another avenue you could explore is the stock photo industry. Picture agencies have been quick to take advantage of the popularity of digital photography by offering the opportunity to amateurs to sell their pictures.
iStockphoto is one such agency. iStock enables photographers to upload their shots to the website, where they can be browsed by people and organisations from across the world. Any photos iStock sells on your behalf nets you 20 per cent commission. If you become an exclusive contributor, meaning you don't sell on any rival stock photo sites, then this figure rises to 40 per cent.
iStock isn't flooded by amateurs selling grainy camera-phone shots of their dogs, as the company has a strict policy regarding quality. Anyone wanting to sell their photos must pass a quiz, and then submit samples of their work to pass the quality control. Once you're in, you can start reaping the rewards of your hobby and make some real cash.
Play games for money
Another way of making some easy cash on your PC is by playing games for money. SkillGround runs a series of games including online golf and motor racing with free and paid elements. The idea is, when you get so good at the game that you think you can start beating other people, you set wagers on games. Before you play you decide on a pot and then the winner takes all. SkillGround also runs competitions that you pay to enter, and winning earns you big money. The most popular of the games is UTour, a golf game, but there's also motor racing, too. Making money has never been such fun!
First published in Windows Vista: The Official Magazine, issue 27