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Nine (legitimate) ways to make money from home

Ads claiming to provide lucrative payment for easy or unspecified work are probably scams, but that doesn't mean making money from home is impossible. 

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    The Airbnb Haus at The 2014 Sundance Film Festival. Renting out your home on sites like Airbnb and VRBO is an increasingly popular way to earn a little extra cash.
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Everyone's seen them: the ALL CAPS comments at the bottom of news articles claiming to have the secret to making $500,000 per month from home, or the ads featuring a smiling woman and her laptop with the headline: Area Mom Making $5 Grand a Week From Home! Click Here to Learn Her Secret!

Sadly, most of these ads are nothing more than straight-up scams. Some are check-cashing schemes: a fraudulent company might send you a check, ask you to take out a portion of that money, then send the rest back pronto. When that check inevitably bounces, you'll be on the hook for the money you took out AND the check bounce fee--ouch. Others claim to give you access to easy work at home jobs for a "small" registration fee (often a few hundred dollars!), and once you've paid up, they shut off all contact with you. For a comprehensive list of these kinds of scams, check out this 2010 ABC News article, orthis 2011 piece from Forbes, and if you think you've been scammed, here's a post I wrote a while back on how to get your money back from your credit card company.

So yeah, most ads claiming to provide lucrative payment for easy or unspecified work are probably scams, but that doesn't mean making money from home is impossible. In fact, in the internet age, it's easier than ever to do so, if you know where to look. I did some research and talked to the personal finance experts here on the Brad's Deals team, and came up with this list of nine legitimate ways you can make money from home.

1. Rent out your home for the weekend

Want to use your house or apartment to make money without having to lift a finger? Consider renting it out the next time you go on vacation. Vacation rental sites like VRBO and Airbnb have risen in popularity in the past few years, and it's not hard to see why. Renting an apartment is often cheaper than staying in a hotel, and in addition to perks like having access to full, working kitchens and multiple bed and bathrooms, spending the weekend in a lived-in home is a much more immersive and authentic vacation experience.

Miami-based medical student Julia A. frequently uses Airbnb to rent out her two bed, two bath Miami Beach apartment when she and her roommate are out of town. They typically charge between $200 and $300 per night, and as Airbnb only takes a three percent commission, this can add up to a full month's rent if their guests stay more than a few days. (Of course, Miami is a hot vacation spot, so they can charge more than someone in Boise, Idaho probably could. Do some research on how much similar apartments in your area are going for before deciding on a price.)

Although she enjoys the extra money she makes through Airbnb, she does caution that it's not for everyone.

"I would say that you have to really have your logistics figured out," she says. "Both in terms of letting your guests into your apartment if you're already away, and making sure you won't get evicted if you're caught by your landlord."

If you own your own home, this shouldn't be a problem, but if you're a renter, it gets more complicated. Renting out an apartment you don't own is technically subletting, even if it's just for a few days, and your lease probably requires your landlord's written consent before you're allowed to sublet. Add to that the fact that your neighbors might not be so happy with the random people coming and going at all hours of the night, and you could have some serious legal issues on your hands if you decide to rent out your apartment without your landlord's prior knowledge.

"I have a friend who is likely losing her $2,500 security deposit because she got caught using Airbnb in her big building," she says.

Many landlords will allow Airbnb rentals as long as they get a cut of the profit, but some prohibit it outright. If you host an Airbnb guest without alerting your landlord, just know you're gambling with both your money and the roof over your head.

2. Use your skills and freelance

Quick! What are your skills? Writing? Graphic design? Photography? Web design? Painting? Animation? If you're good at time management, can work on a deadline and are able to churn out quality products, you can probably make a little extra cash as a freelancer. There are dozens of freelancing sites online that allow you to offer your specific skill set to an international market of clients and actually make decent money, even if you don't have any experience. Every site works differently, but most take a small cut of your paycheck for each job. If you need some ideas about where to go, here's a quick list to get you started:

  • Elance.com -- Free to join, but adds an 8.75 percent service fee to the price you quote for a job. When the client pays you, that fee is deducted and you get the original quote amount.
  • Freelancer.com -- Free to sign up, create a profile, bid on 8 projects a month and enter contests. Freelancers with free membership plans who work on fixed price projects will be charged a 10 percent fee (or $5, whichever is greater), which will be taken out of each payment made to you.
  • iFreelance.com -- Freelancers pay a monthly subscription fee of between $6.25 and $12/month to create profiles and bid on projects, but iFreelance doesn't charge any commission or transaction fees.
  • Craigslist.com -- Totally free, but a little harder to ensure payment. Still, every job (and apartment!) I've had since I graduated from college I found on Craigslist, so take that as you will.
  • Upwork.com -- Free to join, but a 10 percent commission fee is deducted from each payment you receive.
  • Guru.com -- Free to join, but you'll pay between 4.95 and 8.95% in project fees, which are based on your membership level, and if you have a free membership, you can only bid on 120 projects/year.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, as most of the sites above are general skill sites. If you have a specific skill, you can find lots of sites that cater to that one particular area.

3. Sell unwanted stuff online

Maybe you recently inherited an attic full of creepy porcelain dolls from your great aunt, the bulk of which you're 99 percent sure are possessed by demons. You don't want to throw them out because demon vengeance is typically swift and painful, but you also can't stand the feeling of their tiny little doll eyes following your every move. Luckily for you, these terrifying monstrosities could actually fetch you a pretty penny on eBay or Etsy -- no seriously.

And it's not just ghost-infested toys that go for the big bucks on e-commerce sites. Things like the gently used electronics, textbooks, antique furniture, crafts and collectibles that have been sitting around gathering dust in your basement could be untapped goldmines. No matter how weird something is, you can bet there's someone on the internet who'll pay good money to buy it.

I put together a pretty comprehensive how-to guide for selling your stuff online a few months ago, so check that out if you need help getting started.

4. Start an online vintage clothing business

Once you've learned the basics of selling things online, you might decide you like it and want to go a little deeper. That's what happened to Cat Polivoda, who now owns and operates Cat's Closet, an online, plus-size thrift shop.

Polivoda, who lives in New Orleans, is essentially an online style curator. She scours local thrift shops for cute plus-size items, and then sells her finds on her website. She started selling clothing online last winter, but her business really took off when she began to use social media to promote her business.

"I wanted to get rid of some clothes and make a little money," said Polivoda. "I took pictures in my clothing meaning to post them on eBay but decided to post them on Facebook first to see if any of my friends and acquaintances wanted them. They did! And I quickly knew I was on to something."

For six months, Polivoda sold clothes exclusively off her Facebook fan page, taking pictures of herself in outfits she wanted to sell, and posting them for her followers to buy. This January, she decided to expand her brand to a blog, Cat Inspired (which she created using SquareSpace), which is where her virtual store now lives.

Polivoda spends about 15 hours every week on Cat's Closet. "I have a whole system, each week I am usually thrifting at least once, taking pictures, editing pictures, writing descriptions, and posting clothes, sending out shipments, and publicizing throughout the week on social media--Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter."

While it's still a part-time job for now, Polivoda has plans to expand the business this summer. "I am actually quitting my full-time job at the beginning of June to focus more on my personal entrepreneurial endeavors," she said. "I am going to amp up Cat’s Closet, posting more frequently and also doing more in-person shopping events."

Polivoda said she loves her work, because she loves fashion and empowering women. If you're considering starting a similar business, her advice is to use yourself as a model, just like she does:

"One tip for selling clothes: people like to see it on a body! Right? Wouldn't you? So, I encourage you to wear them in some pictures so people get an idea of what your garments look like on a human!"

5. Virtual Transcription

If you're a fast typist with some extra time on your hands who doesn't mind a little (read: a lot) of repetition, then virtual transcription might be a good option for you. It won't make you a millionaire, and you probably won't have steady work every week, but if you're looking to make a little extra cash in your spare time, it's not a bad gig.

Most transcription jobs are for medical transcription, so you need to be fluent in English, have knowledge of basic medical terms in order to be considered for this kind of work. You can find transcription jobs on the aforementioned freelance sites like Elance and Freelancer, but there are also a handful of legitimate transcription websites out there too.

I say a handful of LEGITIMATE transcription jobs because a lot of the classic "Area Housewife Makes $300K/Year at Home" scams claim to be transcription or data entry positions from the get-go. A good way to filter out potential scams is this: if you're being asked to pay for training or software before you start working, steer clear. Legitimate companies will not make you pay for the privilege of working for them, and will also not ask for personal details like your credit card or social security number.

The legitimate transcription-specific sites I came across in my research for this post were these, but please keep in mind I haven't tried any of them personally:

  • QuickTate.com -- This company has been around for a while, and has a good reputation for paying their freelancers on time. However, you're not going to get rich transcribing for them. They typically pay about $1 for every 400 words, or 1/4 of a penny per word.
  • TranscribeMe.com -- The pay is a little better here, at around $14/audio hour. But that's AUDIO hour, so if it takes you 4 hours to transcribe one hour of audio, you're making roughly $3.5/hour.
  • Tigerfish Transcription -- Apparently pays more than these other two according to online forum commentators (who claim to have made $15/hour), but I'm skeptical about this, as those posters could easily be Tigerfish plants. There's no information on pricing on their website, so I have no way to verify these claims. Suffice to say you probably won't be making $15/hour, but you might be able to scrounge up a little extra pocket money if you get hired on.

6. Use your crafting skills to start an Etsy business

Are you the DIY queen of Christmas and birthday presents? Do your friends come to you constantly with requests for your signature homemade clothes, jewelry, or other crafty creations? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you might be sitting on an Etsy goldmine.

I talked about this in my aforementioned article about selling stuff online, but Etsy is an online marketplace best for selling original art, crafting supplies and hand-made or vintage clothing, jewelry, accessories and knickknacks.

There's no monthly membership for having a shop on Etsy, but it does cost $0.20 to list an item, and Etsy takes a 3.5% cut of every sale, make sure to check out their seller's fees info page before you list anything.

My pro tips for a successful Etsy business:

  • Good photography makes a serious difference. If you're expecting to sell the antique plates you found in your attic using pictures taken on a Motorola Razr, you're in for an unpleasant surprise. Make your photos Pinterest-perfect and watch the money roll in.
  • Treat it like a business--yeah, the stuff you're selling might seem like junk to you, but Etsy shoppers are a different breed than those on eBay and Amazon. They're not using Etsy to buy essential items that they NEED, they're using it to find unique things that they WANT.
  • Try out some social media marketing--create a Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest account for your business and share those perfectly crafted photographs with the world.
  • If you're selling something that requires a pattern, make sure the pattern is original. It's illegal to sell something you made from someone else's pattern without their permission.

7. Earn extra cash by getting fit

Need an extra incentive to burn off that stubborn belly fat before summer hits? Did you know you can actually make money by using mobile fitness trackers and meeting your goals? Brad's Deals Content and SEO Manager Rebecca Lehmann wrote an entire article on this exciting new phenomenon a few weeks ago:

"There's a whole host of websites and apps out there that connect to fitness trackers like Fitbit and Jawbone, along with other tracking services you may use like RunKeeper or your Withings scale, and the more you steps you take, the more food you track, the more health data you feed them, the more points you earn to cash in for things like gift cards," wrote Lehmann in her post.

From Walgreens Balance Rewards points to a cool new app called Achievemint, Lehmann's post goes through all your options for staying healthy and making a little extra cash. While you definitely won't become a millionaire using her method, you do have the potential to earn some pocket money, save big on your everyday purchases while at the same time tracking your health. For more information on how to do this, check out the full story: 7 Ways You Can Earn Cash and Rewards With Your Fitness Tracker.

8. Become an Amazon Mechanical Turk

You probably assume that most of Amazon's product suggestions and tags are done automatically by robots using some kind of complicated computer algorithm, and while you're partially correct, those robots sometimes need help from their human overlords, and that's where Amazon Mechanical Turks come in.

Named for an 18th century robotic chess machine that was actually run by someone sitting inside of it, according to NPR reporter Zoe Chase, Turks are "actual humans doing stuff to the Internet that you probably think is automatic."

The jobs are quick. For example, you might be given different four photos of a product and asked which one best represents the item. You'll choose one, and will then be awarded a few cents for your efforts. Anyone can sign up, but in order to earn any money at all, you need to be on your game. There's lots of competition, the jobs go quickly, and even the most dedicated Turks usually earn less than minimum wage.

Still, if you've got some free time on your hands and enjoy taking mini surveys and helping to teach robots how to appropriately tag merchandise, this could be a good option for you. Check out their official website at mturk.com.

9. Start a social media training business

If you're a fitness fanatic, a gym selfie queen and an incessant meal-prepper who knows how to use social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook to your advantage, you could have a business on your hands.

Weight loss is a $60 billion industry in this country, but the vast majority of the products sold set people up for failure. If you can offer the market something new that actually works, you could make a killing. I follow a quite a few personal trainers on Instagram, and in addition to making money off their personal training sessions, most of them also offer remote monthly challenges that come with detailed meal plans, daily workouts, and constant online support. These plans vary in cost, but usually range from $15-$50/month, depending on the popularity of the trainer.

To get started, you'll need a decent-sized following. If you don't have that already, try searching hashtags like #getfit, #gymtime, #motivation and other fitness-related words and phrases to find and follow people who are actively trying to improve their fitness and documenting the process on Instagram. In order to get these people to follow you back, you'll have to make your posts motivational. Show off your before and after shots, post pictures of your delicious and healthy meals, and videos of easy workout routines. Make sure you're actively commenting and giving advice to your followers, and once you've got a few thousand, start offering monthly or weekly meal plans and workout routines for a small fee.

Not only is it rewarding to use your skills and knowledge to help others get healthy, but it could also lead to a real-life, offline personal training business if you play your cards right.

What are some ways you've successfully made money from home? We want to hear all about them, so leave us a note in the comments!

This article first appeared in Brad's Deals.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best personal finance bloggers out there. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here. To add or view a comment on a guest blog, please go to the blogger's own site by clicking on the link in the blog description box above.

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