Okay, so I recently had occasion to essentially start over from scratch. Here's my tips for new players eager to get out of the Sidewinder and into bigger and better ships.
1: When you start out, try to find people to wing up with. The HLP Elite crew has a discord channel here
, we can also be found in #elitedangerous on esper.net (or #bp). Most of us will be ready and willing to help you out.
2: Do missions. Almost every station you come across has a missions board where you can find a few short-haul contracts that'll bring in a few thousand credits.
3: Get used to the grind. Elite is a game that has a very slow progression in terms of your ranks (You are graded as a combat pilot, explorer and trader; certain missions are locked until you have passed rank threshholds).
4: Never fly something you cannot afford to lose. The moment you stick your nose out of a station's docking area and head into supercruise, there's a chance that someone (be it player or AI) will try to interdict you. If that goes sideways (and it will) and your bank account can't afford the insurance payment, you're back at square one and probably very frustrated.
5: Look out for accelerators. These are opportunities that give a massive return on investment. The easiest ones are the so-called Community Goals, these are timed events where players have to perform particular actions until a given goal is met or the timer runs out, participants get a bonus payment in accordance with their contribution to the goal (and whatever you do to fill the goal will also net you money).
By far the biggest accelerators however are long range trading missions or long range smuggling missions. These will regularly pay out several hundred thousand credits per ton of cargo, but they do require ships equipped for long range work. The Sothis run (named for the Sothis system, a newly colonized system 400 Ly away from the main human civilization) is the current go-to opportunity here, and to do them profitably, all you need is a Cobra Mk 3 fitted with a fuel scoop, the biggest Frame Shift Drive you can afford, and lots of cargo racks (example build here
Be prepared for a very long trip out, then a bunch of reputation-building missions going back and forth between Sothis and Ceos (a neighbouring system that was also recently colonized), and then a long trek back to civilization. Luckily, most of the trade goods offered at Sothis are legal, so you won't have to do any smuggling, and there won't be a string of wannabe pirates and cops on your ass the entire way back (Robigo smuggling runs, which have higher payouts per ton than Sothis runs, are notoriously unchill because the AI will cheat to get to you).
6: Know the external tools. Elite is really bad about providing certain kinds of information within its interface, but luckily, external sites exist that make planning your next move much easier. My two go-to sites are https://coriolis.io
to experiment with ship builds before sinking money into them, and https://eddb.io/
which has a comprehensive database of most (all?) stations in ED, and what they're selling.
Meanwhile, I am now in a shiny golden Asp, and will try to get back to an Anaconda this weekend.