You can certainly make a bob or two ferrying trade goods from one part of the galaxy to another, but the best way to get started with making money in Elite Dangerous is to pop to a local station and peruse the mission Bulletin Board. Here you'll find plenty of missions which are unlikely to make you rich overnight, but will get you up and running with some essential starting capital.
To get hold of these missions, simply make your way to the nearest Station (major hubs tend to have more mission options than Outposts), open up the Station Services section of the interface once you've docked, and then select Bulletin Board to get a look at all of the missions currently on offer to pilots.
The game now does a very good job of separating the missions you can undertake from those you cannot. This might be because you don't have enough cargo capacity in your current ship, for example, or because the faction involved simply doesn't trust you enough with the work. Either way, there should be at least one or two NPC activities you can get stuck into.
Here's a quick breakdown of the type of work you can be expected to undertake, and how you should go about getting the job done quickly, so you can get paid and get started on the next mission.
Making the most money from courier missions
Courier missions aren't exactly a get-rich-quick scheme, but they are readily available in just about every Station and Outpost, and they reward a steady flow of cash as you work your way up towards a better ship. You won't be able to accept a mission that you don't have the cargo capacity to carry though. If you have any space left over, check if there are any cheap goods you can stuff in your hold that will likely sell well at your destination. There might even be a good return trade to complete if you're really lucky. Have a look at the trading tips section of this guide for more information.
Finding goods for delivery missions
Certain missions will task you with tracking down a specific commodity, then bringing it back to the station, but finding these goods can be tricky to work out at first. We often reference the Elite Dangerous Wikia hub when we want to pin down the economy type that produces the item in question. Once you know the type of economy you need, you can use the Galaxy Map filters to find the right system. Note that you're not guaranteed to find the item when you get there, but a little bit of local mooching about should help you find what you're after.
Making money from combat missions
If you're looking to get stuck into something a little spicier, take one of the pirate kill missions and get ready for battle. Once you've accepted the mission, make your way to the target system, and then head to the Nav Beacon when you're ready. If the ships you need aren't here, scout around the planets of the system, and check out every Unidentified Signal Source you encounter. Eventually you'll find your targets, but make sure you scan everyone first to make sure you're not targeting an innocent civilian - that's not good for your wallet.
Successfully completing an assassination mission
Be very careful which of these mission types you take on during your very early days with the game. As a general rule, if the job pays more than 100,000 space bucks then it's an assassination mission that's beyond your capabilities - at least until you're flying something like a Viper with a beefy array of upgrades under the bonnet.
If you think you're ready for the challenge though, saddle up, scout the Nav Beacons and Unidentified Signal Sources in the target system, and get ready for a tricky fight when you track down your foe.
Understanding faction basics
Keep in mind that the mission timer keeps ticking even when you log out. If you fail a mission, you'll suffer a fine and a faction penalty, so try to finish up all of your business before logging out for an extended period of time.
Certain factions are aligned to the major factions of the game as well. If you want to boost your reputation with the Federation, Alliance or Empire mega-factions of the game, you can still contribute to these causes by completing missions for an associated minor faction. To see what's what in your local system, go to the System Map of your ship's interface to see who rules the roost in your current part of space.
The next part of our guide covers combat in Elite Dangerous and how to use your ship's systems to stay alive.
Stuck on something else? The rest of our Elite Dangerous guide can be found via the index page.