Jan. 19, 2010 -- Ever since the publication of my book, "Will Work From Home: Earn the Cash Without the Commute," which became a New York Times bestseller, I've researched and tested hundreds of opportunities to make money from home.
Sadly, but not surprisingly, most turn out to be scams. That's why I'm always thrilled when I find legitimate opportunities that work. (For a comprehensive list of some of the ways to make money at home -- from a few bucks here and there to a fulltime income, visit my Web site WomenForHire.com.)
The sites that follow offer qualified users the chance to get paid to create content, tweet ads, and test Web sites. Don't count on them to pay your mortgage -- at least not at first -- but if you're what they're looking for, the money may cover your phone bill or a night out. Perhaps best of all: None of these sites will ask for a penny from you up front.
Internet Sites Pay for Material
Create quality content. If you're an experienced writer, photographer or videographer, Seed.com, which is owned by AOL, may be a high-profile home for your work. AOL operates 80 Web sites on every imaginable topic: movies, pets, golf, style, parenting and more, producing an extraordinary amount of content that attracts more than 74 million visitors a month.
Here's how it works: Seed enables AOL site editors to post writing, photography -- and soon video -- assignments that are open to anyone, which allows them to draw from a vast pipeline of talent throughout the country. Recent assignments range from a photograph of a toddler in a high chair to an article on the latest lipsticks for spring. It's a very diverse mix.
Register on the site to access the complete listings. When you see an assignment that's right up your alley, submit your work. If it's approved, you'll get paid.
AOL says payment averages $25 to $75 per assignment -- some assignments pay even more -- and only the best content is accepted. In its first month, AOL editors posted 2,000 assignments and it's expected to grow steadily from there.
Other sites to explore that also pay widely varying rates for content: DemandStudios.com, Examiner.com, Helium.com and AssociatedContent.com.
For You, Tweets Can Mean Cash
For anyone who's active on Twitter, you can turn those tweets into cash. You probably won't make tens of thousands of dollars like reality star celebrities, but you might as well give it a shot.
SponsoredTweets.com, which facilitates deals between advertisers and Twitter users, says it has 2,500 advertisers, ranging from Fortune 100 companies to mom and pop businesses that want to promote something to the Twitter audience.
Here's how it works: As a Twitter user, you can sign up for a free account to be paid for messages that advertisers want delivered to your audience. Advertisers will select you based on three factors: the number of followers you have (at least 200), the topic(s) you generally tweet about, and, most importantly, how engaged you are with your audience.
For just a few hundred followers, you may make $1 or $2 per tweet, and receive a few offers a month. If you have 1,000 followers and you're actively engaging with them, you could hit $50 or $75 a month in total payments. The more followers and the greater engagement, the more cash you can expect.
Three months ago I signed up for a free account on SponsoredTweets.com. During that time, I've earned more than $200 based on $15 per tweet. You control the ads you tweet, which means you can reject them if they're not right for you and your audience. In my case, I frequently reject offers because they don't appeal to me. If I had accepted every offer that was presented to me, I would have made four times as much.
Everyone should be using Twitter as a job search, networking and brand-building tool, so it makes sense to sign up for a free account on both SponsoredTweets.com and Ad.ly, another reputable service, to see if you can make money at it too. (I'm testing Ad.ly too and will report back on my results.)
Once you sign up, if you refer friends who become successful on these sites, you'll be eligible for minimal commissions on their earnings.
Consider Web Site Testing
In the past, if a company wanted to test the usability of its Web site, they'd set up a focus group in a lab and invite people to come in, which was an expensive and time-consuming undertaking. Now, it's done easily, quickly and inexpensively online. If you have a computer with high-speed internet, you could apply to be such a tester.
Here's how it works: At UserTesting.com, a two-year-old service, applicants complete a two-step process to be considered. The first asks for basic background information -- such as age, gender, income, zip code and skills. The second step is to take a 10-minute test that simulates a real assignment you'd receive if selected.
You could be asked to visit a specific Web site and perform an exact function -- such as to visit a clothing Web site and find and purchase a long-sleeved women's button-down shirt. While you're doing that, your screen is being recorded to track your mouse movement and clicks, and your voice (but not your face) is recorded to hear as you verbalize your steps. You must be good at verbalizing what you're doing as you navigate the site -- the imagery, text, colors, promotional messages and so on.
If you pass that, you're registered in the system to receive assignments as they come up, for which you're paid $10 for about 10 to 20 minutes of work.
Be a Web Affiliate
If you have a blog, Web site or newsletter, sign up for affiliate programs from any number of Web sites that sell a product or service that would appeal to your audience. From giants like Amazon.com to small niche sites, you can earn a healthy commission for sending customers their way just by posting links on your site.
A new entry in the affiliate space is TheGiftionary.com, which is run by my "Will Work From Home" co-author Robyn Spizman. It's free to register as an affiliate and you'll receive a custom code and link to share on your site. You'll make $25 every time you successfully refer a paid customer to the site.
Tory Johnson is the workplace contributor on "Good Morning America" and the anchor of Job Club on ABC News Now. She is the CEO of Women For Hire and the founder of WaggleForce. Talk to her at Twitter.com/ToryJohnson.