The virtual products market, currently at $52 billion and growing, is exceeding experts’ boldest expectations. It’s also given rise to more side hustles than ever before. Here’s how you can join.
How to Make Money Selling Virtual Products
If you own a mobile device and live in the USA/Canada, you’ve probably purchased virtual products like apps, iTunes, or a Netflix subscription at least once this past month.
In an era when most of our needs can be met virtually — from remote work and socializing to dating and entertainment — reality has imperceptibly shifted into the virtual realm as technology caught up with our needs and wants. No wonder the virtual goods market, currently at $52 billion and growing, is exceeding our boldest expectations.
The digital economy also gave rise to more side hustles than ever before. A decade ago, making a few bucks online meant dusting shelves for college textbooks left unchewed by our dogs and crossing fingers for a customer via eBay.
Today’s online marketplaces are booming with 24/7 demand, and much of it for virtual goods. With as little as $0 starter investment and little to no legal formalities, entrepreneurs can now find their own best way to sell virtual goods.
Ready to jump on the bandwagon and find out how to make money selling virtual goods? Below, we’ll fill you in both on the “what” and “how” of the process.
Virtual products you can make from home
Virtual products (also known as digital products and digital goods) are products you can sell to other internet users via download. This can be done through your website, blog, social media profiles, or online marketplaces.
The perks of virtual products are primarily a lack of long-term commitments. Unlike a provider of virtual services, you won’t be stuck tailoring your work to a client’s custom requirements. Instead, the customer will pick out the product right for them and use/edit it on their own.
Here are the top trending ideas for virtual/digital products you can start making from your swivel chair.
Small businesses and marketers are always on the lookout for original illustrations and vector icons to use in place of stock photos.
Specifically, they’re looking for:
- stock illustrations
- vector icons
- icon sets
- infographic templates
- photoshop templates
- 3D rendered images
If your hobby is graphic design, you can easily make extra income by selling custom designs or illustrations on platforms like Shutterstock. Payments start at 25 cents per image download which may not sound like much…until you consider that one single image can tick you extra income for decades.
Skills and equipment needed: Drawing/art background. Knowledge of graphic design basics and platforms like Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop.
Ebooks and Guides
If you have something to say to the world, use your spare time to turn it into an Ebook and find your readers without printing and shipping costs. On a smaller scale, you can also make money selling PDFs and handy guides.
Digital ebooks come in many shapes and sizes from fiction to poetry, but for business purposes, stick to these exceptionally popular formats:
- life coaching/self-help books
- recipe books
- how-tos and “dummy guides” on business management, investment, sales, marketing, etc.
- email marketing and social media post templates compiled into handy PDFs and guides.
Skills and equipment needed: Writing background or solid skills. Basic knowledge of MS Word and a platform like Epubee to convert the word document into an e-book or iPages for Mac. Advanced users: a single solution like Kitaboo for creating, publishing and distributing e-books with fantastic multimedia.
If writing a whole book or even PDF guide isn’t your piece of cake, how about monetizing articles and blog posts? There are several ways to sell your writing as a virtual product and get instant payments:
- Blogging on Medium— enter Medium’s referral program and start gathering earnings from your blog posts on Medium. The only catch is you’ll only earn from articles accepted for distribution by Medium editors. Earnings range from $0 to $9000 per month depending on your output and popularity.
- Ghostwriting — on platforms like Upwork, this can range from novels to blog posts, to academic essays.
- Writing for magazines/publications — Magazines pay up to $500 dollars per fiction/nonfiction story, articles, and essays. Carefully research the publication and adapt your writing accordingly if you want to be featured.
Skills and equipment needed: writing background or solid skills; ability to work on deadlines and self-manage your time.
Pre-recorded voice greetings/messages
Small business owners are constantly googling for personalized voice greetings, messages, and IVR responses. By designing and recording custom professional greetings, you can meet the demand of one or several industries, age categories, or niches.
You can specialize in:
- Humorous messages
- Creative messages
- Industry-specific messages
- Bilingual messages
- Custom messages
Find more ideas of unique voice greetings.
Skills and equipment needed: Creativity; good diction. Quality mic and software to record/mix the greetings on your laptop
It’s been over 10 years since mobile apps have taken our daily lives by storm. While the debate between enthusiasts and skeptics is stronger than ever, the figures speak for themselves: according to App Annie, 2018 has seen a 16 billion increase in app downloads over 2017 stats.
Designing your app has become easier than ever, with some platforms allowing users to begin and publish even without coding experience. Due to the huge demand, exceptional creativity remains a must if you’re about to enter this field.
Skills and equipment needed: Programming or engineering background; knowledge of iOS/Android mobile development; ability to brainstorm your target audience and find a gap in the market.
Editable Video Content
Video bloggers and small businesses on a limited budget need editable video content to ease their video production processes. Template content, such as intro and outro clips are in demand by this audience, as are editable clips with source code.
While many generic-type clips are available for free online, by making and compiling several dozen original clips around a specific theme you can sell your videos to bloggers worldwide.
Try focusing on a specific category of video bloggers like:
- travel bloggers
- fashion bloggers
- food bloggers
- animal bloggers
Skills and equipment needed: tech background a bonus; HD video camera; movie editing software
Stock photography sites like Shutterstock, 500px prime, Dreamstime, etc. can showcase and sell work without giving you the trouble of finding personal clientele. However, any (human) models you work with will need to sign a license agreement allowing you to feature them on stock photo sites.
Most popular trends for stock photography:
- People doing specific tasks
- People socializing, relaxing, etc.
- Images depicting emotional states
- Nature (sky, water, landscape, sunset)
- Tech and gadgets
As a twist, businesses selling products and services can also use stock photography for marketing. A great example is how Square PoS is advertising its services on Unsplash via free stock photos.
Skills and equipment needed: Preferably optical zoom camera; Photoshop skills
Do you possess knowledge that you’ve always wanted to share with the world? Are you good at teaching and explaining things? Whatever challenge you have struggled with and overcome in life — from business insights to programming skills to living a meaningful life— it is unique experiences that listeners are after, not academic briefs.
Here are the most in-demand formats for e-courses:
- Single course for download
- Set of courses for download
- Course subscription (monthly/quarterly/yearly)
As an example, mompreneurs can explain how they got into business and provide step by step lessons to aspiring female business owners. Corporate marketers, salespersons, business or financial consultants can become personal coaches for the massive audience of wanna-be entrepreneurs. Healthy living or cooking enthusiasts can find their audience too!
Skills and equipment needed: Video camera or smartphone; video editing software like iMovie
How to monetize your virtual products
Building a business with a virtual product is much the same as building any business: it’s tough and it takes time. The inspiring business owners we get to read about aren’t the lucky ones who won the lottery: they’re just the small remainder who went on doing the job through the thousand little inconveniences that made others shrug and give up.
Here are 3 practical strategies to help you follow their lead.
Go for the Freemium pricing model
In a world where so much is available for free, customers are more apprehensive than ever about buying blindfolded. However high-quality your virtual product is, customers may pass it up for something more accessible and testable.
This doesn’t mean you should put in so much hard work for free. If you’re going to sell your virtual product via your website and social media sites, a great bet is to attract clients with a freemium product model.
With a freemium virtual product model, clients can get a limited-feature, basic version of your product for free, and then upgrade. This can mean “hooking” customers with a course, video clip, or pamphlet they can download for free to get a taste of your unique product.
Provide the very best sample of your work that shows just how unique the rest of your products are.
Build a website
Since your product is 100% virtual, a website is the virtual store that will sell your product. Make it as attractive and convenient as you would make a physical store.
When in doubt, evaluate these top criteria proven by web design research to attract and engage visitors:
- Minimalistic design – Give visitors lots of white space on your site and focus their attention on specific calls to action.
- Concise “About Us” page – a unique story told in the language your target audience speaks
- User-friendly navigation – help visitors navigate intuitively (including on mobile devices), so they don’t bounce from your site.
- Contact information on the homepage – 44% of visitors leave a business site without upfront contact information [SAP IGL] Grab attention with Click to Call and Callback buttons on your homepage.
- Mobile-friendly site – this little perk helped 62% of companies increase their sales [SAP IGL]. Pick up your mobile devices and check for yourself how fast your site loads (and how easy it is to navigate).
As a business selling virtual products, you don’t have the power of face-to-face interaction with customers. Neither can you engage them on that charismatic gut level. Not unless you shift your communication paradigm.
When you’re selling virtual products, customers will need to talk to you via phone, chat, and website. A virtual phone system (VoIP) is a simple solution that covers all these channels and works perfectly for entrepreneurs selling virtual products.
Best features of VoIP for virtual business:
- Toll-free number — since a virtual business isn’t pinned to any locale, customers will appreciate both your professionalism and the nationwide scope of your virtual product with a toll-free number.
- Privacy — instantly tells you whether that unknown number is a business call or a personal one, so you respond accordingly.
- 100% mobility — VoIP forwards calls to as many devices as you own (smartphone, tablet/iPad, PC/Mac, IP desk phone, etc.). Find out more about call forwarding.
- Web and social media integration — Learn how to integrate your virtual product’s website, business Facebook, and Twitter for simpler communication with customers.
- Contact book — a business contact book that’s also a mini CRM lets you keeping track of all business clients.
A virtual phone system provides you with a pro-level business image and takes care of communications across all devices and platforms. Find everything your virtual business needs right here.
With little investment, few risks, and the ability to create and sell without leaving your house (or your day job), designing a virtual product may be the perfect passion project for a rainy fall afternoon.
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