- The key to a great online business idea is to find one that matches your skills and strengths.
- Consulting, starting an e-commerce store, becoming a web designer, and launching a blog are examples of online businesses you can start easily.
- Online business ideas could have staying power, as growth in the ecommerce space is predicted to continue as more consumers access digital environments for personal and business needs.
- This article is for aspiring entrepreneurs looking for inspiration to start an online business.
Starting a business is a dream for many aspiring entrepreneurs, but finding an idea and launching your endeavor can be challenging. In the digital age, selling online — both products and services — can present unique, affordable startup options for aspiring entrepreneurs. The key is matching your interests, strengths and skills to a profitable online business niche.
Whether you want to become a full-time entrepreneur or start a part-time online business to generate side income, your product or service should fulfill a specific consumer need. We’ve compiled a list of potentially profitable online businesses with minimal startup costs that you can get up and running quickly.
Before starting a business, research your competitors, identify your target customers, and understand your business’s purpose.
Online business ideas you can start quickly
Owning and maintaining an online business gives entrepreneurs the freedom to make money anywhere in the world. Here are some online business ideas to inspire you to begin your entrepreneurial journey.
1. Become an online consultant.
Consultants advise businesses and individuals on various issues and business aspects. Conducting a consultancy online offers a limitless client reach, and you can get started quickly and easily.
Some of the most popular online consultant opportunities today include small business consultants, SEO consultants and social media consultants.
- Small business consultants. Small business consultants use their skills to assist new business owners with startup challenges and help experienced entrepreneurs manage business growth and overcome obstacles. Your chances of success as a small business consultant are greater if you focus your strategy on a niche aspect of business consulting.
- SEO consultants. If you know the ins and outs of search engines and have technical skills in platforms like Google Ads and Google Analytics, becoming a search engine optimization (SEO) consultant may be a lucrative option. Many small business owners don’t realize how much of an impact SEO can have on their business. Start your online SEO consulting business by educating clients on the power of SEO to help transform their websites and increase conversion rates. Then, use your marketing skills to show business owners the benefits of analytics data, strategic keywords and content structure to gain more organic web traffic.
- Social media consultants. Social media consultants are in top demand as social media for business becomes more crucial. Larger enterprises can hire an agency or full-time staff member to run their social media accounts, but small businesses must often handle their social media marketing. As a social media consultant, you can help small businesses devise tactics, create content calendars, and develop an overall content strategy to reach their target audience. As their follower counts grow, so will your business.
2. Become a niche market e-commerce retailer.
There’s an audience for everything, even if it’s as specific as dollhouse furniture or organic dog food. You can reach customers seeking your specific products with a niche e-commerce site. Finding a business niche can help you differentiate yourself from other brands and build your credibility and expertise. Look to social media or your consumer needs to develop a product to sell on your online store.
To get your e-commerce business up and running, you need a web hosting service with an integrated shopping cart feature or e-commerce software. To simplify the shipping process, you can work with vendors to ship products to customers on your behalf. This can reduce the amount of inventory you need to keep onsite.
Check out our reviews of the best web hosting services to find one that fits your e-commerce store’s needs and budget.
3. Start a web design or web development business.
If you’re a creative digital professional who thrives on forming a website’s layout, visual theme, font set and color palette, freelance website design may be a good path for you. If you have little to no experience in this field, you can learn the basics of web design and master the tools you’ll need for success.
Put your technical and creative skills to good use for business owners who want to take their online presence to the next level. Build a comprehensive portfolio and create your own website to show it off and attract a steady stream of clients.
4. Become an online blogger.
If you love writing or have crucial information to share, blogging may be a profitable business.
Starting a business blog is straightforward with website builders like Weebly and WordPress. However, consistency and quality are key to success. To gain a steady following, you must continually write and produce high-quality content that provides value to your readers. Content that educates, informs or entertains your readers gives them a reason to follow you.
Once you’ve mastered creating consistent content, you can make money through your blog by selling products like online courses, digital coaching, e-books or webinars. You can also sell ad space or sponsored posts. This business strategy may take a little more time and effort to monetize, but it can be very profitable.
5. Become a virtual assistant.
Do you have impeccable organizational skills and task management abilities? Maybe it’s time to put those skills to good use by becoming a virtual assistant. VA services typically involve basic administrative tasks like entering data, making travel arrangements, and answering phone calls. Previous experience in this field is ideal but not required.
Platforms like TaskRabbit and Zirtual make it easy for VA professionals to find jobs. They allow you to create an online profile, sign up for tasks you want to complete — such as data research, virtual assistance or basic errands — and begin building clientele.
6. Become an affiliate marketer.
If you love leaving customer reviews on sites like Amazon, consider looking into affiliate marketing as an income source. Word-of-mouth advertising is still a powerful lead generator for many companies. Many businesses are willing to share a portion of their profits with persuasive individuals who will promote their products to the public.
Affiliate programs break down into different involvement levels:
- Unattached affiliate marketing. Unattached affiliate marketing is a basic pay-per-click campaign that requires little to no involvement with the product you are promoting.
- Related affiliate marketing. Related affiliate marketing requires you to have some authority and content on the product you’re marketing, but you don’t personally need to use the product.
- Involved affiliate marketing. Involved affiliate marketing is perhaps the most effective, as you’ll be marketing a product that you actually use and enjoy.
If you have a personal website or social media presence with a large following, affiliate programs may be a profitable approach for you. PR reps always seek out brand advocates and influencers so they can send free samples.
Affiliate marketing uses trackable affiliate links to help brands see which marketing partners are driving traffic and sales to the brand’s e-commerce site.
7. Start a remote tech support business.
Many small businesses don’t have room in their budgets to hire a full-time IT employee. When their systems go on the fritz, they usually call a computer-literate friend or family member. If you’re tech-savvy and have experience working on computers and networks, you can eliminate their need to call in a favor by offering immediate technical assistance via remote desktop software.
Although some businesses may prefer you to have a technical degree, many will look to your experience and knowledge instead. You can build your remote tech support business by contacting friends, family and local business owners about their tech support needs. Use job boards like Upwork as another source for freelance tech support gigs.
8. Sell handmade crafts online.
Online marketplaces for handmade goods, like Etsy and its competitors, make it extremely easy for artisans to sell their wares online. This is an option if you can produce a steady supply of quality handmade products, such as crocheted blankets or unique painted glassware, to sell online. If you have a unique craft, selling your products on an e-commerce site is a good way to earn income while you’re at home, doing what you love.
Startup costs for this business idea are extremely low if you purchase your creative materials in bulk from a craft supplier. If you can create and sell your artwork quickly on an online store, you’ll make a profit in no time. Local artisans find higher success when they promote their businesses on social media.
9. Become an app developer.
Mobile applications are more popular than ever, with people willing to pay good money for ways to manage their lives from their smartphones. If you have a great new idea for an app and know how to code, consider creating an app. You can also become a mobile app developer for businesses that must create proprietary apps.
If you have an app idea but don’t know the ins and outs of coding, many software developers want to collaborate with other professionals on app creation. Depending on your situation and know-how, you may be able to make a lucrative business out of app development.
10. Start a search engine development business.
Google and Bing are ubiquitous, but they don’t necessarily address all users’ needs. If you’re an expert in a specific field, build your own search engine that helps people with less knowledge find what they’re seeking. Your chances of success might be higher if your search engine allows users to insert parameters, such as subtopics and source type, instead of just conducting a general search.
11. Start a dropshipping business.
If you want to run an e-commerce site, you might be worried about inventory management and storage. With dropshipping, you can take customer orders on an online store and send them directly to a third-party retailer for fulfillment. As long as your business model involves selling items at a price higher than what you’ll pay to the third-party retailer, your dropshipping business will be set for success.
12. Start an online training or education service.
There are ample opportunities to start an online business focused on training and education, including tutoring, creating and selling digital courses, and using YouTube to offer video-based education.
- Online tutoring. Just because someone takes classes in a subject doesn’t mean they understand the material well. If you’re great at explaining things in a one-on-one setting and have ample experience and knowledge in a subject, consider starting an online tutoring business in that field. You can use video chat tools such as Zoom or Skype to conduct tutoring sessions remotely and offer your knowledge to anybody, anytime anywhere. Consider incorporating a budget for ads on Craigslist and Fiverr into your business model.
- Online training. Similar to tutoring, people all over the world might benefit from you sharing your expertise with them. Starting an online business that offers digital courses to anybody interested in the topic can easily earn money — you can sell prepared written materials or other downloadable content for a fee.
- YouTube educational videos. YouTube makes starting an online education business especially easy. Upload videos of yourself educating viewers on any subject, whether beginner or advanced, and use social media to spread the word about your channel. As your number of viewers grows, you’ll be able to monetize your videos and profit from them.
Consider uploading PowerPoint presentations to YouTube so your audience can view your educational materials on their own time without missing any vital information.
13. Start a telecoaching business.
For a more personalized, one-on-one experience, consider telecoaching. Some people looking for one-on-one help might want something more than lessons. People who want help advancing their careers, improving their nutrition, or finding more meaning in their lives could benefit from your coaching through video chat software like Zoom or Skype.
Instead of giving exercises and grades, your goal as a telecoach is to offer your clients advice, guidelines, and support. If you run a blog for your business or regularly post to LinkedIn about your coaching topics, you’ll appear more trustworthy and knowledgeable.
14. Start an online podcast network.
The past several years have seen an explosion in people starting podcasts and listening to their favorites. Capitalize on this trend by starting your own podcast network. You can populate the network with any podcasts you record, but if you give other people — whether friends or strangers from the internet — opportunities to contribute their podcasts, your network will likely grow more quickly. As your network grows, you can increase the price per podcast download.
15. Become a technical writer.
The internet is full of copywriters for hire. Still, only a few copywriters have the technical background to properly write an instruction manual for a large machine or accurately convey scientific results. If you have a background in science and can write about it, start an online business through which people can hire your technical writing services. Advertise yourself on LinkedIn, Fiverr and other platforms to draw customers.
16. Become a resume and cover letter writer.
Almost everyone has sought help from others when writing resumes or cover letters. Offer your expertise in crafting compelling resumes and cover letters to job seekers. Provide examples of other people’s resumes and cover letters you’ve helped with, and share your own successful resumes and cover letters to demonstrate your expertise.
17. Start an online corporate counsel firm.
Corporations need lawyers to protect them in legal matters and educate them on what they can and can’t do. If you start an online corporate counsel consulting firm, you can offer corporate workers a way to keep their legal affairs in order without the exorbitant fees and extensive in-person commitments of traditional lawyers.
You’ll need to show proof that you’ve passed the bar exam to build clientele. Additionally, make it clear that your business is entirely online. If your client must go to court, they’ll need to hire a lawyer in their region who can represent them in front of a judge or jury.
18. Become a startup advisor.
Many of the world’s most prominent tech companies began as small startups that figured out the right business model for success. As a startup advisor, you can advise tomorrow’s companies today. Use your expertise in corporate finance, software development and other relevant fields to provide new businesses with the knowledge they need to succeed. As these startups succeed, so will your business.
If you want to start a business but are low on funding, check out our list of 25 top business ideas with minimal startup costs.
Tips for starting a successful online business
Starting an online business is exciting yet challenging. You must take several legal steps, including choosing your business name, acquiring a federal employer identification number (FEIN), determining your business legal structure, and insuring your business.
While every business is unique, follow some essential steps to maximize your chances of starting a successful online business.
- Choose a business idea or industry based on your knowledge and passion.
- Find a business niche based on gaps in the marketplace.
- Conduct market research and a competitive analysis to assess your competition and product viability.
- Familiarize yourself with the laws that apply to online businesses.
- Shop around before choosing a specific software to build your online store.
- Create a comprehensive marketing strategy (e.g., website, email marketing, SEO, social media marketing and local marketing).
Online business statistics in 2023
The growth in online business in the U.S. and globally has been exponential. This trajectory is predicted to continue as consumers turn more frequently to the digital environment to connect with business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) providers.
The pandemic pushed and popularized the idea of working remotely, fostering the proliferation of online businesses. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, e-commerce sales rose 43 percent in 2020 as the pandemic struck — from $571.2 billion in 2019 to $815.4 billion in 2020. More recent Census Bureau data showed that e-commerce comprised 14.8 percent of total sales in the second quarter of 2022.
This isn’t just a U.S. phenomenon. Digital technology means businesses can sell to consumers anywhere in the world. According to the International Trade Administration, retail consumer goods sold via e-commerce comprised 18 percent of global retail sales in 2020 and are expected to reach 22 percent by 2024.
This growth represents ample opportunity for many online businesses to prosper and grow.
Bring your online business idea to life
Budding entrepreneurs can leverage many potentially lucrative online businesses to replace or augment their other work. However, in addition to an interest in and aptitude for their online niche, successful business owners must master various administrative tasks to ensure their companies’ success. For example, online business owners must select one of the best credit card processors to ensure they can accept multiple payment forms online and meet their customers’ needs.
Consumer demand continues to grow for many types of online retail and service offerings. For those with an interest, aptitude and passion for online entrepreneurship, myriad opportunities are worth exploring.
Linda Pophal contributed to the reporting and writing in this article.