I am a low-hour Econ player trying to settle in at about 6 hours a week (probably closer to 10 if I'm realistic about it). Which forces choices. Sailing, crafting, combat, and trading all take time so you have to pick something. I actually like economic game play so that is what I do.
Combat junkies might consider that to be a casual player. It is anything but a casual activity.
So here is a thumbnail of hard-core Econ 101.
The core of the strategy is find a niche and out-compete most everyone else in it. Including players who run alts. And the niche must generate repeatable, sustainable, positive cash flow.
This requires understanding what stuff actually costs, which in NA means things like breaking down crafting recipes to per-unit resource costs, and knowing the price by weight total hold values of trade goods for the ships in use.
It also requires knowing something else. A commodity put up for sale is only worth what someone else is willing to pay for it. Folks who put up Trader's Lynxes in national capitals for 200K clearly do not understand that. Unless they are exploiting the occasional sucker who clearly has no idea that the boat probably cost the seller about 15K to build.
It requires a realistic sense of the risk/time/reward balance. Sailing time is money. Sailing distance is money. Ships, resources, and trade goods are money. All that factors into cash-flow. Sealed bottles are not money, at least not in a merchant sense. One-time cool things to find, but not a basis for merchant activity.
If you are a successful Econ player, you are essentially running a business. And you are likely self-sufficient. What you don't produce, you know where to buy, and for how much. You keep a large cash balance that allows you to seized an opportunity to buy bargains.
Realistic risk means expecting to chased and lose a few ships in the Open World. If you want risk-free activities go play on the PvE server. But the balance is, that for any trader with a life outside of the game there isn't time to be chased around every night, and generate positive cash flow.
Intermittent dances with raiders are fine. But If a route is too hot, abandon it.
Concerning clans. Some say they want revenues. But if a clan wants you to trade from a particular port and won't make a reasonable effort to run off the raiders, find a different clan. Or run independent. If a clan is completely about port battles and hostility, that's fine. But that clan might not be a good fit for an Econ player.
And no, you do not need an alt to do this. But if you have the time and inclination to buy 2nd and 3rd copies of the game that's fine. It's your money.
In a bit over two months after moving from PvE I've gone from no money beyond a modest startup kitty (from doing a few missions) to eight outpost permits, a level-three shipyard, and fourteen dock slots. The shipyard cost about 2.6 M to build. And that final permit was pretty spendy. As were the last three dock slots.
No alt needed. Just a plan and a bit of patience.