Photo: Dai KE

I started working at 13 years old, helping to operate a run-down batting cage in a local park. A year later I moved on to concession stand sales, and before leaving for college I manned a power saw in a pallet factory sweatshop.

I’m telling you this so you understand I’ve never had any interest in obeying bright, flashing ads on the Internet urging me to ACT NOW to make quick, easy cash whilst sitting at home on my couch.

The following ways to make a bit of extra money online are all legit. Just be warned that the meaning of “easy” is open to interpretation.

1. Amazon Mechanical Turks

Computer programs and robots have not yet eliminated the need for cheap, tedious human labor on the Internet. Want to be an e-assembly line worker? Amazon’s Mechanical Turks Program might be right up your alley.

Suppose someone wants to create a directory of all the restaurants in Tucson, and so designs a program that combs through restaurant websites and takes out their contact information. This information might be arranged in such a way that the program misses it, or the page might be made of flash-only content. This is where the Mechanical Turk comes in.

Valued employees of this virtual sweatshop perform very cheap, contract labor for people who post jobs on Amazon’s site. Believe me, it works — within an hour of joining I had earned a whole fifteen cents! If you get a good system down, this could be an easy way to make a buck, but certainly not a liveable income.

2. Affiliate programs

If you don’t fancy lugging around a set of Cutco knives, working as an online sales rep for any of the thousands of affiliate programs out there is as honorable as being the next Avon Lady.

Like any affiliate program, whether online or not, you’re a freelance salesperson. Whether it’s sex pills and muscle building formula, hotel reservations, or IQ tests, you can choose the company you work for, and there’s something for everyone.

Again, Amazon is one of the most popular affiliate programs. You just create a blog or website where you describe and review products available on Amazon, and link visitors to the selling site. You earn a percentage of the final sales. Check out Scott Allen’s thorough guide to making money this way.

3. Matador Network’s MarketPlace

I’m biased, but answering the leads listed on the Matador’s MarketPlace is definitely a legitimate and fulfilling way of making some cash. Join the Creators’ Community here and start submitting your work.

4. Online gambling

Obviously gambling is a risky business, but if you know what you’re doing it is possible to make significant money. Many options exist for those looking to strike it rich at the online poker tables, but Full Tilt and PokerStars are two of the most reputable and popular. To really sharpen your skills, check out the coaching available at Drag The Bar.

5. Be a YouTube phenomenon.

This is certainly a fun way to make money.

Step One: Get a free YouTube account.

Step Two: Learn how to share and upload videos on YouTube, and acquaint yourself with what’s popular. A recorded lecture of your cousin’s dissertation on Keynesian economics isn’t going to get many hits, but a one minute video of your kittens on a slide might bring in over a million.

Step Three: Once you’ve uploaded a number of videos, go to YouTube’s homepage and click the Partnerships link. To become an official partner and make money from your videos you have to apply. YouTube will review your account, looking at how many videos you have, how often you submit them, and how many views you regularly receive — so be sure to build up a nice portfolio of your friends’ skateboarding accidents.

As with most things in life, your return will be related to the amount of work you put in.

6. Hawk your random skill for a quick five bucks.

Fiverr.com poses an awesome, straightforward question: what would you do for $5? Apparently, all sorts of things. The site is insanely popular, and you can find people offering just about anything, including things you didn’t even know you wanted.

Want to prank call someone, but don’t have the guts or self-control? There’s someone on Fiverr who will do it for five bucks. Want to learn some magic tricks? Buy yourself a five dollar lesson.

It’s simple to start peddling your goods or skills, as long as you’re cool with five bucks a pop. Just create an account, and you’re on your way to seeing more Lincolns than a nursing home parking lot.

7. Freelance write for content sites.

Whether you’re searching for “How to Properly Set a Dinner Table” or for a list of Uzbekistan’s past rulers, you will likely find many results from “content sites.” These sites have no particular specialization other than compiling as much information about as many popular subjects as possible, and then paying the authors for the number of page views received. Sites like Helium, and Demand Studios all “pay for performance” for just about anything you’d like to write about.

The pay rates are definitely low in comparison to what established writers should expect, but if you’re still in college, or even high school, this could be a great way both to hone your skills and break into the world of freelancing.

8. Be an independent human resources specialist.

Sites such as Referearns, Zyoin, Bohire, and WiseStep connect employers with prospective employees (who may not even be actively job hunting) via the people who know these qualified candidates. Payment for referring a candidate who gets hired ranges from $50 on up to several thousand dollars — not chump change. If you know a lot of job-seekers (and who doesn’t these days?), this is a great way to break into the recruiting business.

9. Be a middleman.

Referral fees are a common practice in business, but they haven’t been used much in online networking sites because there was no way to track them. Sites like Salesconx and uRefer now provide that.

Vendors set the referral fees they’re willing to pay (and for what), and when the transaction takes place, the middleman gets paid. uRefer also allows merchants to set up referral programs for introductions and meetings, as well as transactions.

10. Design logos.

This one is my personal favorite.

Our world is swarming with logos, but how many of them do you remember? Quite often the most memorable logos aren’t the flashiest or most graphically intensive, but masterpieces of minimalism and simplicity. A simple Nike swoosh goes a lot further than a multicolor mash-up of lines and text.

Also, most logos can be created with software as simple as MS Paint, or you can use the freeware GIMP image editor, so you won’t incur any investment cost outside of your time. Head to 99designs or CrowdSpring where you’ll find a list of projects that need logos. Come up with something brilliant, and if yours is chosen, you’ll get the money — often hundreds of dollars for even small projects.

The downside to this is that it falls somewhere between “real” work and contest submissions. But with every attempt your work will become better, along with your understanding of what people are looking for in a logo.

11. Be a Microstock Photographer.

People are constantly in need of stock photography for websites, presentations, brochures and so on, and are willing to pay for the right image.

Obviously, the greater the image quality, the more favorable it will be to buyers, so it’s worth investing in a solid DSLR camera or equivalent — but not always entirely necessary. People generally search for images on stock photography sites by keywords, not by photographer, so you have the same chance as anyone else of having your image picked. Just be careful that you don’t have images of trademarked brands, copyrighted art or people’s faces that are readily identifiable (unless you have a model release), but just about anything else is fair game, and I promise you’ll be amazed what images people need, so don’t make any assumptions. If it’s a decent photo, upload it.

Fotolia, ShutterStock, Dreamstime, and iStockphoto are a few places you can get started uploading your future grade school textbook centerfolds.

12. Play games for peanuts.

If you’re thinking that making money from playing games sounds too good to be true, think again — it’s true, it’s just too good to be easy. So, if your aspirations of becoming a professional video game tester or sponsored Halo player aren’t panning out as you’d hoped, a website called Moola.com might be the next best thing.

With Moola, players receive free “credits” to wage against others in return for watching a 10, 15, or 30 second video advertisement and randomly answering a trivia question about it. In this way, players have the ability to accrue more credits without actually risking any money. Once you’ve accumulated a confident bankroll, bets can be placed and real money won, and you can cash out after you’ve made at least $10.

In theory, after winning 27 consecutive games you’ll have a balance of $1,342,177.28. However, whether anyone’s ever reached this far (much less the top of the Moola Tower) is both debatable and unlikely. The upper limit of winnings ends somewhere around $10 million.

13. Start a content site.

The most common way webmasters earn money is probably from contextual programs such as AdSense.

It’s quick and doesn’t involve any complicated new skills. Simply put up a website containing useful content, add the code provided by Google, get a few links to the page, and wait. In theory, traffic will start flowing in, the volume depending on the website topic and the quality of content.

Visitors see ads served by Google and related to the content of the page. Each time they click on an ad you get anywhere from a few cents to several dollars. I personally know at least 20 webmasters who earn in excess of $10,000 per month this way.

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