You've got your startup gold, epic flying, and if need be a steady stream of gold through daily quests. It's not enough, you want more. The next step up the gold making ladder is the resource gatherer. These players pick up tradeskills like Herbalism, Mining, and less commonly Skinning and traverse the world picking up items that are useful to other tradeskills.
Which Gathering Profession to Pick?
For the serious money maker you'll want to write off skinning immediately. Skinning requires you to not only kill mobs, but they also must be beasts. Finding and killing mobs is significantly more time consuming than flying around looking for mineral nodes. Leather goods gained from skinning also are basically only used by leatherworkers, and leatherworking is far from the most lucrative profession. You'll want to ignore this skill completely.
Herbalism is a fabulous skill to have and can be huge money depending on the server you're on. Herbs are used by alchemists to create potions and flasks, materials which are always on demand due to the fact that they are non-reusable consumables. Herbs gathered in Northrend also have a chance to drop Crystallized Life, 10 of which can be combined to make Eternal Life -- another valuable trade good. If you decide to go the route of the herbalist it's important to know which herbs are the best money for your time spent and where to find them.
Lichbloom: Found in Icecrown and Storm Peaks, this is an ingredient in the two most common types of flasks. As such, it is usually very high in demand. The best zone to gather this herb in is Storm Peaks because there are less mobs and more herb spawning points.
Adder's Tongue: Located in Scholazar Basin only, but in huge abundance. This is the best herb to 'mill' for inscriptionists due to it milling into Snowfall Ink fairly frequently. It is also the primary ingredient in Potions of Speed which are used in massive amounts by raiders.
Depending on what you decide you'd like to farm (or what items you might need) you'll find yourself gathering in either Storm Peaks or Scholazar Basin pretty much all the time. Scholazar is a very herb friendly zone that possesses practically double the amount of herb spawns of any other zone -- you'll be flitting from node to node making tons of gold in no time.
Reminder for Druids: Herbalism is for you! Druids can stay in their Epic Flight Form while picking herbs without being switched out of, so this means that you can essentially gather while mounted. The ability to do this is a massive advantage and pushes herbalism over the top for Druids in terms of ease and efficiency.
Mining is infamous for being the most reliably lucrative gathering profession dating back to Vanilla WoW. Miners gather metal ores and occasionally rare gems. Ores can be smelted into metal bars used to craft Blacksmithing and Engineering items, and ores can also be prospected by Jewelcrafters to produce rare gems. Due to the sheer number of uses for the products that Mining yields it is always in demand.
Mining differs from Herbalism in a few ways, the most important of which is that there are far fewer mining nodes active at the same time than herb nodes. This means that in the same amount of time you'll gather a much larger number of herbs than you would metal ores. This is where the economics of your particular server come into play in deciding which route you'd like to go. If Saronite Ore, for example, is less expensive than Adder's Tongue then it's a no brainer, you're going to make a killing on Herbalism. However, if herbs are cheap and minerals are prohibitively expensive on your server you're going to be better off with Mining so do some research!
It's also important to remember that if you double up your gathering profession with a production profession it's going to be a great help if they synergize well together. Some examples of tradeskills with powerful synergy:
These synergies should definitely factor into your decision for what gathering skill you pick up if you're planning to branch into producing a particular type of good.
Efficiency: Making your life easy
The difference between making good money gathering and making great money gathering is efficiency. You need to know where resource nodes spawn and have a 'path' that you use to navigate a zone. You're going to obviously need Northrend Epic Flying to move around quickly -- a 280% speed mount is great, a 310% mount is even better. Another thing to keep in mind is that you're going to want a lot of bag space for those marathon gathering sessions. In two hours of solid herb gathering in Scholazar Basin it's not unusual to use 60 or more bag slots so be prepared!
Here are some examples of paths you can take for Mining and Herbalism in Scholazar that will cover a large percentage of the total node locations in a minimal amount of time:
Herb Gathering Route for Scholazar Basin
Mining Route for Scholazar Basin
Herb Gathering Route for the Storm Peaks
Sometimes you're going to want to prioritize gathering certain types of resources over others. When you're dealing with hundreds of different spawning locations it's difficult to remember exactly what spawns where. This is where Gatherer comes in. I mentioned this mod on the first page of the guide, and for a good reason. Gatherer remembers the location of every mineral or herb node you've ever gathered and will display it on both your mini-map and your world map. This will allow you to easily see where everything can be found!
Gathering materials efficiently will provide all the gold you could ever need for your day to day WoW needs as well as a substantial surplus, but it does take time. Much like Questing for gold, you're spending your time to collect things for resale or to be reprocessed. This is much more rewarding than questing, but is not the final stage of gold gathering mastery.
Check in later for the final edition of the Ultimate Gold Guide for the guide to Production and Speculation.