When Kelsey Freeman, a photographer based in Alexandria, Va., wanted to earn some extra cash for the holidays a few years ago, she made use of her camera skills. She took landscape and nature shots and posted them on the website SmugMug.com for anyone to buy. She made a couple hundred extra bucks, which let her buy gifts for friends and family. This also prevented a repeat of the previous year's situation, when she ended up giving gifts late. "It made me feel terrible," Freeman says.
Freeman is among the half a million people who find ways to temporarily boost their income over the holidays. Many of them do so by working in retail, but others, like Freeman, create their own sources of income by selling products and services online. Payment methods such as E-junkie and PayPal make it easier than ever to sell online, and social media provides a quick (and free) way to reach potential customers. Here are six more ways to generate extra cash this season:
Sell a wacky service. For those interested in a more unusual approach, the website Fiverr.com allows users to sell and buy services for $5. Current services include sketching a stylized portrait, writing a name on a grain of rice and digitally restoring a photograph. It's one of the trendiest ways to make a quick buck for the Internet-savvy; dozens of videos, websites and blogs offer tips on how to earn money off the site. The best advice? Since you're only going to make $5 a pop, sell a service that you can provide easily and quickly. Once you make some sales and develop a solid track record, the website allows you to upgrade your offerings and charge more than $5.
[Read: The Secret to Making Money on Fiverr.]
Monetize your skills. Whether your expertise lies in social networking, editing, or Web development, several websites can help you find potential clients who are willing to pay for your work. Elance.com, Odesk.com and Freelancer.com make it easy to advertise your skills and find work, which you can do from the comfort of your home at all hours of the night. To get started, explore the websites to see what might be a good fit. You can also stick with a more traditional approach and use Craigslist.org, which allows users to post advertisements for their services, ranging from household labor to music lessons.
Design T-shirts. Websites such as CafePress.com and Zazzle.com allow people to design and sell T-shirts for a cut of the profits. Some popular users manage to earn enough from sales to support themselves, but it's not always easy: Jen Goode, who earns enough through her popular CafePress shop to pay her mortgage each month, found success after a year and a half of long, sometimes 16-hour days. She's uploaded more than 2,000 designs, many of them cartoon-oriented, including her best-selling penguin series.
Launch a coaching business. All you need is a blog and your first client, and you're in business. If friends and family members are constantly asking for your advice on a topic you know a lot about, such as how to fix customer-service problems or negotiate work conflicts, why not see if there's a larger market for your expertise? People earn money by coaching clients on everything from how to be more assertive to how to use social media.
Hold a virtual garage sale. Clear out your garage and basement and sell your goodies online. Be sure to write appealing product descriptions and take high-quality photos to increase the chance of sales. EBay is easy to use, but you can also stick with Craigslist or other local sites.
[Read: Secrets of Successful eBay Sellers.]
Sell other people's products. Make-up companies such as Avon and Mary Kay are always looking for new sales representatives, as are other companies like kitchen products seller The Pampered Chef. "If you don't have to make a big investment to get into it, it's probably not a bad idea," says Marcia Brixey, author of "The Money Therapist." But she warns people to stay away from businesses that require sellers to make significant up-front purchases that they might not be able to unload.
After all, you want to make sure you're helping, not hurting, your bottom line.