It's hard to remember a time before the internet. For as long as most of us can recall it's the place we've automatically gone to research topics, book tickets, interact with friends and watch whacky video clips – but how can it be used to make money?
Considering how many hours we put in to surfing the web each week it makes sense to spend at least some of that time productively. Therefore, we asked a number of online gurus to give us their top tips on how it can be used to help generate a full or part-time income.
1. Become an eBay trader
The Godfather site of the e-commerce world has been going since 1995 and boasts more than a million users across the globe. It can be used to buy and sell virtually anything – and from a business perspective your "shop" can be viewed 24-hours-a-day.
The key to success is focusing on certain products, according to Emma Jones, founder of Enterprise Nation. "Don't try and sell everything – be as niche as possible," she says. "The businesses that I'm seeing perform best at the moment are those that have a very clear product that they market to a well-defined audience."
2. Sell goods you've made online
Stepping on from eBay trading is manufacturing the goods that you sell. This can include anything and everything from model cars and plates to jewellery and clothing. Services such as create.net enable you to set up and run your own online shop.
Lesley-Anne Pace set up The Cotton Bee (thecottonbee.co.uk) after being given her aunt's 40-year-old sewing machine just after her daughter, Phoebe, was born in November 2009. She used it to make a patchwork play mat and hasn't stopped sewing since!
"I create handmade patchwork quilts and sell a selection of fabrics," she says. "I am currently developing a range of hand-embroidered items which I'm looking forward to offering in the next couple of months."
The 39-year-old, from Gateshead, likes the fact she can run the website around her life and studies, although admits it can be tough keeping organised. "I have an artistic personality and am easily distracted with new projects," she says. "My advice is to make use of social media to advertise and connect to potential customers as it's free!"
3. Start up a blog
There are a staggering number of blogs around the world but setting one up and building a loyal readership cannot only provide a source of income but a potential springboard to full and part-time work opportunities.
Journalist Susie Boniface is a prime example. Under the alias Fleet Street Fox (fleetstreetfox.com) she wrote an opinionated blog as a way to move from being a national newspaper reporter to columnist – and it resulted in a book deal with The Diaries of a Fleet Street Fox being published earlier this year.
"I don't make very much money out of my blog but for me it's a shop window," she says. "I get asked to write about things that my followers have seen me talking about on the blog or to appear on television shows."
The 36-year-old says the keys to her success were having a memorable nickname, keeping on the pulse by tweeting during popular shows such as Britain's Got Talent, and falling back on established tabloid newspaper techniques to get readers. "I stuck to very simple colours – black, white and red – and a simple serif font," she says. "I also made sure there was plenty of spacing and regular use of photographs and links to substantiate the points I was making."
Susie's advice to would-be bloggers is to think up a catchy name and include lots of links to raise your profile as people will link back to you.
"You need to know what people are talking about and be interesting and witty," she adds. "You need to engage readers and this takes a long time as there's no brand loyalty on the internet. It's not like they go to the shops to buy the same paper every day."
Alex Campbell, deputy managing director at The Search Agency, says the most popular and simple way to monetise your blog is through services such as Google's AdSense which enables site owners to incorporate cost-per-click advertising.
"You can also use affiliate schemes to generate revenue, with hundreds of brands willing to offer commissions if your site helps directs traffic to them and generates revenue," he says. "Affiliate Window and Commission Junction are two of the most popular schemes."
AdSense effectively allows a site owner to include spaces within the design of their pages that Google will populate with either text or banner adverts targeted to the site's visitors. When a visitor clicks on one Google makes a little money (typically between £0.05 and a £2) and you get a share.
Affiliate schemes work with hundreds of individual brands who are willing to offer commission to sites that can help them generate revenue.
"You can then choose the affiliate schemes that you believe are most suitable to you," explains Mr Campbell. "Factors to consider are the percentage commission paid and the relevance of the product/service offered to the content of your site," he adds.
For example, if you blog about travel you might want to sign up with the affiliate programmes of an online travel agent.
When a visitor to your site clicks through one of these links and goes on to make a purchase or booking, you'll get a percentage of the revenue generated, typically 1-5 per cent.
4. Take online surveys
The deal is that you answer questions or review products and get rewarded for your efforts. While it won't make you thousands of pounds it's still a smart way to boost your income, according to Guy Anker, news editor of MoneySavingExpert.com.
"Dedicated survey-stashers can make £200 a year in cash and vouchers, while some of our users have even pushed it to the max and made £800 a year," he says. "It's best to focus on survey sites with decent payouts, low payment thresholds and a reliable volume of surveys."
Avoid sites that charge you to register and keep a record of all surveys that you've filled out, making a note of the title and the promised payment. Taking a screenshot and noting down any reference numbers can also help you with any subsequent disputes.
Of all the sites, MoneySavingExpert.com suggests Ipsos (iap-interactive.com), Swagbucks (swagbucks.com), Global Test Market (globaltestmarket.com), Crowdology (crowdology.co.uk), and MySurvey (mysurvey.com).
5. Set up a photo library
If you are a budding photographer then why not sell your images? You can, of course, set up your own website but it will be up to you to generate "traffic" to your site in order to make sales.
An alternative is to sign up to sites such as istockphoto.com and earn upwards of 15 per cent commission every time one of your images is downloaded.
Case study: Becoming a web entrepreneur
For anyone wanting to earn a decent income from the internet the dream ticket is to come up with a unique web-based idea and turn it into a proper business. That's just what entrepreneur James Uffindell is planning to do with his recruitment website Bounty Network.
The site, which went live a few months ago, encourages people to put forward friends and acquaintances for vacancies – and offers them bounties ranging from £300 to more than £5,000 if the individuals they recommend end up getting the job.
"We want to get to the stage where people spend even half-an-hour on a Sunday afternoon looking through the job listings," he says. "It's all about getting to know what jobs their friends do and identifying their skills to see which ones will be a good fit."
The idea for the site came when Mr Uffindell, 34, was looking to recruit an office manager for a separate business but was reluctant to pay a recruitment company a fee that equated to a 25 per cent cut of the person's first-year salary.
"Someone contacted me and said they had a recommendation," he recalls. "I said I wasn't prepared to pay a £5,000 fee (the job was £20,000 per annum) but if it worked out I would pay £2,000. They agreed. The person was perfect for the job so I got my employee and they got their money."
Although it's early days and the site currently focuses on London-based jobs paying salaries between £20,000 and £100,000, there are plans to extend it to all trades, as well as launching an app enabling people to match their friends with jobs.
His advice for those wanting to become web entrepreneurs is simple: Dream big but start small.
"Don't bet your house on an initial plan," he says. "Start to acquire information and find things out before going full on into it. You also need to have the mind-set that it's unlikely to be successful straight away, which means you'll constantly revisit ideas to see if they will work."