When you dream of opening your own business, you might envision four white walls and a mess of boxes to unpack in a commercial space. However, it doesn't have to be this way. With today's technology, you can start and run a business online, often with little to no cost.
By focusing on your strengths, you'll be able to build a client roster and get your online-based business started. Here are 15 great ideas you can run with.
1. SEO consultant
Do you know the ins and outs of search engines and have skills in platforms like Google Analytics? The owners of a lot of smaller companies don't realize how much of an impact search engine optimization (SEO) can have on their business. Educate those business owners on the power of SEO to help transform their websites into a more SEO-friendly property. Use your skills to show business owners how to read and use their analytics data the right way, and how to properly use keywords and structure content to get more traffic.
Real-Life Success Story: AJ Ghergich
2. Business coaching
If you possess a great deal of business experience and knowledge, why not create a business that helps aspiring entrepreneurs find success? You can use your skills to help new business owners get off to a good start and help experienced entrepreneurs keep up with demand. To show off your knowledge and skills and bring in clients, you can also write articles about business on platforms like LinkedIn.
Real-Life Success Story: Michael Port
3. Specialized retailer
There's an audience for everything, whether it's making dollhouse furniture or creating organic dog food. With a specialty e-commerce store, you can reach those customers who are seeking your specific products. All you need is a web-hosting service with an integrated shopping cart feature or with e-commerce software, and your business will be operational in no time. You can even work with vendors to ship products to customers on your behalf, which means you don't need to own a lot of inventory. [See Related Story: A Small Business Guide to E-Commerce Shipping]
Real-Life Success Story: Sunny Decals
4. Social media consultant
Larger companies can hire an agency or full-time staff member to run their Facebook and Twitter accounts, but small businesses often have to handle their own social media marketing. With so many responsibilities, business owners are often too busy, overwhelmed or undereducated about the importance of social media to spend time developing and implementing a great social media strategy. As a consultant, you can help them determine the best tactics, posting schedules and content for their target audience. As their follower count grows, so will your business.
Real-Life Success Story: Mark Schaefer
5. Web design
There's nothing more off-putting than a poorly designed website, and often, it kills credibility. If you know HTML and have a good eye for design, you can launch a service to create attractive, easy-to-use websites for small businesses. Put your skills to good use for business owners who want to take their online presence to the next level. Build a comprehensive portfolio, and then create your own website to show it off and attract a steady stream of clients.
Real-Life Success Story: Leslie Bernal
6. Resume/cover letter writing
It's a tough truth to swallow, but a standout resume and cover letter can make all the difference when you're applying for a job. While listing career accomplishments might seem like an easy task, the fine art of "humble bragging" eludes some of us. Find work by helping others to get hired with the aid of stellar resumes. Capitalize on the increasingly important social media branding bandwagon and offer to fix LinkedIn profiles as well.
Real-Life Success Story: David the Fixer
7. Assistant/task manager
Do you have impeccable organizational skills? What about cleaning skills? Can you quickly and efficiently carry out these tasks? Maybe it's time to put those skills to good use by becoming an online personal assistant or task manager. Companies like TaskRabbit or Zirtual allow you to sign up for tasks you want to complete — including data research, virtual assistant or running errands — and begin building clientele.
Real-Life Success Story: Lynn Sudlow
8. Professional freelancer
You might not think of freelancing as a business, but with more and more companies turning to part-time contract workers to fill their skill gaps, it's not hard to imagine making a living providing businesses with a variety of freelance services. Depending on your skill sets, you could work for multiple companies in a variety of fields that offer you flexibility and a refreshing change of pace. According to the freelance job listing website Freelancer.com, tech services, content creation and web design are popular fields for contract work.
Real-Life Success Story: Sonia Roselli
9. Affiliate marketing
If you're a person who loves leaving customer reviews on sites like Amazon, stop doing it for free. Word-of-mouth advertising is still a huge lead generator for many companies, and a lot of businesses are willing to share a portion of their profits with persuasive individuals who will promote their products to the public. If you have a personal website with a large following, this might be easier to accomplish (PR reps are always seeking out brand advocates they can send free samples to). Smart Passive Income breaks down three types of affiliate marketing and explains which one is most profitable.
Real-Life Success Story: Darren Rowse
10. Remote technical support
Many small businesses don't have room in their budget for a full-time IT employee, so when their systems go on the fritz, they'll usually call a computer-savvy friend or family member. If you have experience working on computers and networks, you can eliminate their need to call in a favor and offer immediate remote technical assistance.
Real-Life Success Story: Jamie Minter
11. Virtual consignment store
Bargain hunters and thrift store enthusiasts can turn a nice profit reselling their vintage clothing finds. Brand yourself by setting up an independent website as your virtual storefront, but use a managed service like Google Checkout to handle transactions. High-resolution images and catchy copy for your products will make you stand out in the sea of internet users trying to sell their used items.
Real-Life Success Story: WebThriftStore
12. Handmade craft seller
Online sites like Etsy and ArtFire are platforms that make it extremely easy for crafters who can produce a steady supply of quality handmade items, like crocheted blankets or unique painted glassware. Startup costs are extremely low if you purchase your materials in bulk from a craft supplier, and if you can turn around orders quickly, you'll be making a profit in no time at all. It's even possible to turn your store into a full-time gig.
Real-Life Success Story: Coralie Reiter Jewelry
13. App development
Mobile applications are more popular than ever, and people are willing to pay good money for ways to manage their lives from their smartphones. If you have a great idea and happen to know coding, you can run with it and create your app yourself. If you just have an idea and don't know the ins and outs of how to turn it into a reality, there are plenty of software developers looking to collaborate with people on app creation.
Real-Life Success Story: Evan Spiegel
If you have ideas and words bursting within you, you've most likely thought about starting a blog, at the very least. With the freedom to create your own beat and style your platform the way you desire, you can completely personalize your blogging experience and reach millions of people across the world. The larger the audience, the higher the chance you have at creating a successful business out of it. [See Related Story: How to Turn Your Blog into a Business]
Real-Life Success Story: Jill Nystul
15. Bridal Concierge
The wedding industry is booming, and with all of the stress and pressure that piles on every couple during their engagement, it's nearly impossible for brides-to-be to enjoy their wedding planning. However, if you have a knack for organization and a passion for weddings, you can start your own career as a bridal concierge, dealing with the nitty gritty wedding details so the bride doesn't have to.
Real-Life Success Story: The Invisible Bridesmaid
Additional reporting by Shannon Gausepohl and Nicole Taylor.