How to Start an Online Business: 10 Ideas You Can Start Right Now
So, you want to learn how to start an online business? Many do — it can prove to be a very rewarding decision.
Thanks to the internet, many people have been able to capitalize on the opportunities available, starting online businesses that have developed into lucrative full-time occupations.
Do you want to learn how to start an online business? Many people do, but they don’t start because they simply don’t know what type of online business to start. There are so many different options and opportunities — it can be extremely overwhelming.
There are opportunities to create Shopify e-commerce stores, promote other products and services via affiliate marketing or even start your own blog.
With so many options where do you start?
The good news is that there are so many opportunities to get started with little to no money, and when it comes to income potential, the sky is the limit. These opportunities didn’t exist before. There has never been a better time to learn how to start an online business.
What Online Business is the Right One for You?
There are endless options, so it would be impossible to cover them all in this blog post, but we have highlighted ten online business opportunities that you can start almost immediately.
These are all viable opportunities with endless potential. There are several success stories and many people have created amazing lives for themselves and their families by building an online business.
Learning How to Start an Online Business Takes Work
I want to make one thing very clear — it’s not a walk in the park. I see so many courses and programs that promise to help you build an online business with little to no work.
Guess what? That dream is just that — a dream. It’s going to take work. A lot of it.
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Those courses, webinars and programs are all designed to take your money. That is their “online business model.” So, if you are looking for a want to make money online with little to no work, save yourself the time and stop reading.
But, if you are willing to put in time, effort and hard work, then keep reading — we will show you how to start an online business the right way. Maybe one of these online business ideas will appeal to you.
1. Start an E-Commerce Business
Starting an e-commerce business appeals to many because of the many different ways to market and promote it. In the early days of e-commerce you had Google, Yahoo! and Bing — the major search engines. It was very competitive.
Today though, there are many platforms and outlets to leverage, placing your products directly in front of your target customers.
Social media has opened the e-commerce game wide-open, from organic exposure and paid as to leveraging influencers — there isn’t a niche or audience you can’t get directly in front of.
It’s also much easier to build an e-commerce website these days, thanks to platforms like Shopify, which allow you to start and launch an online store within minutes.
Years ago you would have to hire a web design company and developer, and invest several thousands of dollars to test an idea out.
Now, you can start a Shopify store (sign up for a free trial here), partner with a manufacturer that offers drop shipping and run paid social media ads — all in a single day. This allows you to test and validate an e-commerce business idea for a low initial out of pocket expense.
You can literally launch an e-commerce website with no design or coding ability and no costly inventory. If it fails your loss is minimal. If it’s a success you can easily scale its growth aggressively and capitalize on an opportunity.
E-Commerce Business Models: Brand Building vs. Drop Shipping
There are two options for an e-commerce business model. You can create your own brand, find a manufacturer, warehouse and fulfill orders yourself — or you can partner with a manufacturer that will drop ship and handle all of the fulfillment and order processing, allowing you to just focus on marketing and sales.
There are pros and cons related to both.
Building your own brand creates a business asset that has the potential to be acquired or purchased down the line — like Dollar Shave Club or Harry’s — both shaving brands were acquired for more than one-billion-dollars each. There is more initial investment, risk and operating costs — but the potential for a large exit exists.
Drop shipping has a low barrier of entry, requiring very little in startup costs, but you have less control over the operations. If the manufacturer fulfills orders slowly or encounters quality issues it directly impacts you. You also aren’t building a brand. It’s a great way to start an e-commerce business though, and see if it’s something you do want to pursue more seriously down the line.
If you do go the drop shipping route, be sure to identify a quality manufacturing partner. Don’t rush into this decision — the wrong choice can ruin your business.
If orders take 15 to 30 days to arrive you are going to face bad reviews, customer complaints and chargebacks.
The key is to pick an industry or product you are interested in. You are going to have to pour your blood, sweat and tears into this — creating something that you are truly interested in and passionate about will make the journey more enjoyable.
I highly recommend Shopify for an e-commerce platform. It’s the easier to get started with and has great support and features. It’s also highly scaleable. Some of the most successful e-commerce brands, like Kylie Cosmetics for example, use the Shopify platform.
You can get started with Shopify for free — they offer a 14-day trial that you can take advantage of by clicking here.
- How to Start an E-Commerce Business (Beginner Friendly Guide)
- How to Start a Shopify Store (Complete 7-Step Guide)
2. Start a Virtual Assistant (VA) Business
Do you have basic online skills? If so, you could become a virtual assistant almost immediately. There is an increasing demand for VAs as more and more companies outsource various aspects of their business.
From schedule and calendar management to appointment bookings and accounting — virtual assistants are in high demand.
This is a great online business for a solopreneur to get his or her feet wet. Determine what skillset you can offer to businesses that provides value and then start to accumulate clients. You can then continue to act as a solopreneur or expand, hiring an entire team of VAs to work for you, creating a thriving virtual assistant business.
There are a couple reasons why this online business model is attractive. First, it requires almost no startup capital. All you need is a computer or laptop and an internet connection. The scalability and growth potential is also attractive.
How to Start, Grow and Scale a Virtual Assistant (VA) Agency
It’s also possible to scale up the idea of being a solo VA and becoming an agency instead. In this model you find and vet virtual assistants for business owners, and get paid a referral fee for doing so.
Once you learn the business by being a VA yourself, you can then begin to add more VAs to your team and take on additional clients. You can then pivot form being a virtual assistant yourself to managing a team of VAs.
You can also use the money you make as a VA to scale your growth — completely bootstrapping your online business. Building a business without taking out loans and debt take a lot of stress and pressure off your shoulders.
The easiest way to decide what services to offer is to create a list of all the skills you can personally provide. Down the road you can expand into other offerings, but in the beginning, starting what you know you are good at is the best way to experience success early on.
You will want to come up with a business name, register a domain and then build a website to help you market your business. You will want to have an online presence prior to approaching businesses and offering your service.
3. Start a Social Media Agency
Social media is one of the most important marketing channels — every business needs to be active on social media, yet many business owners still aren’t fully aware of how social media works or how they can leverage the platform.
This has crated a huge demand for social media consultants and social media agencies. There are plenty of businesses that seek advice and guidance, while others would rather hand off the entire social media strategy to an agency.
Social media isn’t going anywhere. While some existing platforms might slow down and new ones surface, social media as an advertising and marketing channel will continue to offer unmatched opportunities in terms of reach and scale.
If you understand social media inside and out, and how to use both organic and paid reach, then you have a skill that is valuable and in high demand — two components required to start a successful business.
What You Need to Start a Social Media Marketing Agency
You are going to have to start small, but that will enable you to find your focus, develop your offering and business structure, and then scale growth accordingly.
Startup cost is minimal — you really just need a laptop and internet connection — along with your understanding of social media and ability to create campaigns to drive brand awareness and attract new customers.
If you can successfully help businesses grow with measurable social media results, then you have unlimited growth and earning potential. It all comes down to results. Start small, deliver outstanding results and then create testimonials and case studies to attract new business.
Social media marketing is in such high demand now — if you can deliver results you can scale growth quickly.
4. Become a Freelance Writer
Do you love to write? Do you have the ability to write well-researched blog articles? Is your grammar impeccable? If so, you can make a small fortune as a freelance writer.
There is a huge demand for content writers these days, and there are two major contributing factors. One, content marketing is such an effective form of online marketing that every business with an online presence needs to be publishing a blog on their own website, at the very least.
Second, text messaging and social media has created a new generation of grammatically illiterate individuals. It’s sad — the number of people that don’t know how to properly use their, there and they’re is mind-blowing.
Freelance writing is one of the fastest ways to start earning money online. The demand is massive and there are several ways you can start to land clients right now — all you have to do is create profiles on the top freelance marketplaces.
Now, you probably don’t have a portfolio of writing samples, so you will want to create one first. It’s going to be very hard to attract your first client without samples of your writing to show them.
This is easy though — you can spend a couple days creating a nice attractive portfolio that shows a diverse ability to write about multiple topics.
It’s important that you make your portfolio very appealing. Companies pay a lot of money for content, so they demand the best. After all, content that they publish — regardless of who writes it — is a direct representation of their brand.
You’re going to want to have your own website that you can market your service on, outside of the freelance marketplaces, so start a blog and publish your writing samples there. You can read this guide on starting a WordPress blog if you need help.
Tip: Write about topics you are interested in and knowledgeable about — it will not only result in higher quality content, but you will end up enjoying it more.
When you write about the same topic on a consistent basis you become an expert on it — there are plenty of opportunities to focus on one particular topic and you can often charge a premium once you establish yourself as a top freelance writer for a particular industry or topic.
Where to Find Freelance Writing Clients
Once you have your website and blog built and your writing samples published, it’s time to find some clients. The following freelance marketplaces are easy to register on and offer your service:
When you first start out you might have to write about topics you aren’t passionate about or take some lower paying jobs, but doing so can help you quickly build up completed jobs and reviews on these marketplaces.
Companies are more inclined to hire freelance writers with positive reviews — so focus on volume in the beginning, racking up positive reviews to build your profile. That will open more doors and then as you become more successful you can then niche-down.
5. Build an App
Take a look at your phone for a minute. How many apps do you have installed? How many of them do you use on a daily basis?
There is an app for almost everything these days. If you have an idea for an app that you think would be useful then there is a good chance other users will find it helpful as well.
Don’t know how to code an app? That’s not a problem — you can outsource the development. Many successful apps were the idea of someone who didn’t know how to code it — that part was done by a development team.
Where to Find App Developers
There are plenty of app developers looking for work on the development-focused freelance marketplaces. Toptal and Hired are great resources to use for finding top app developers.
The best way to approach this option is by starting small. Create an app that is minimal in features and cost — this will allow you to learn how the entire process works and you will quickly know if it’s something you want to pursue.
You will need a little startup cash for this if you are not a developer. If you are looking to make money quickly online this isn’t the route to take. This is more of a long-term play. But for those that find success here, it can be highly rewarding and lead to several more apps — creating an app empire.
6. Buy and Sell Websites and/or Domain Names
There is huge demand for established websites that need a little love and attention to realize their full potential. If you are able to identify these, buy them low and then flip them for a profit, you can start a lucrative online business.
The same applies to domain names. There is a market out there for brandable names, short names, etc. The key is to know what people are looking for and have the skill to negotiate the purchase price low enough that it allows for a nice profit margin.
There are thousands of websites for sale at any given time. There are also buyers always on the lookout for new website assets and properties to add to their portfolio.
There are going to be two types of websites that have a market of buyers:
- Established and Profitable: These are websites that are established with consistent and reliable traffic and income. They are monetized correctly and generate a nice profit. The seller knows he or she has a valuable asset and they buyer understands, and is willing to pay a high multiple to acquire the website.
- Those Needing Attention: There are also plenty of websites that have untapped potential. The owner might not have monetized it correctly or they weren’t able to properly execute an SEO strategy. These typically have no to low revenue and can be purchased low, as there is more risk involved (and work required).
Understand that not all deals will go smoothly. There will be issues that come up. Some deals will fall through. Be prepared to roll up your sleeves and learn the business as you go.
Focus on building relationships and networking. The more contacts you have, the easies it will be to match potential buyers and sellers in the future.
Top Marketplaces to Buy and Sell Websites and Domains
You can be a broker, matching buyers and sellers (similar to a real estate agent) or you can be an investor (similar to a real estate flipper that buys a distressed property, fixes it up and then sells it for a large profit).
It all comes down to risk/reward. If you buy a website that needs a little work, you have to then invest in the design, development, SEO, etc. This might not be the route you take in the beginning, as it will require a lot of upfront money, but down the line once you learn the business this is an area you can explore.
The biggest obstacle many face is just getting started. Start small — the key is to make that commitment and begin to learn the business.
You could start small, buying domains for $10 and then flipping them for $50 to $100. You aren’t going to get rich, but you will learn the business and begin to make contacts.
From there you can start to broker the sale of websites and domains. The financial payoff will be more, allowing you to reinvest in your business. Then, when your business is established and generating a lot of revenue you can look for flip opportunities that you purchase, rehab and then sell.
There is a lot of potential here — just remember you will have to start small and learn the business.
7. Build and Launch a Digital Product
When you build a digital product you only have to create it once. You can then sell it as many times as you can, over and over.
You also don’t have to physically ship anything — your product is delivered and downloaded digitally, from a PDF eBook to a video course. This is why this online business is so appealing to many.
Most digital products are information products, and you can create them with very little to no cost. When you combine a popular niche with a great product, you can create it once and sell it day-after-day.
Successful digital products deliver information and expertise that educates and informs the buyer. It can’t be fluff. There are a lot of bad digital products out there that provide little to no value.
They quickly get destroyed by negative online reviews.
You can either create a digital product based on something that you have expertise in, or you can identify a niche with huge potential and partner with an expert to create a digital product.
Examples of Digital Products You Can Create and Sell
- Webinar Training
- Video, Photography and Graphics
The best approach to launching a digital product is to draw from your own knowledge. For example, if you are an expert at social media marketing, you could create an eBook that is geared towards small business owners looking to learn about the different social media networks.
There is a huge audience to market the product to, and even if you price it at just $29, the majority of that is pure profit after your advertising and marketing costs are deducted.
While there are more financially lucrative opportunities, like software development, that requires a huge upfront financial investment, not to mention constant upkeep and customer service costs.
8. Start a Blog
It seems like everyone is a blogger these days. There are cooking blogs, mommy blogs, sports blogs — blogs for every topics imaginable.
Why is this?
Well, first, the barrier of entry is low. Anyone can start a blog. All you need is a domain name and website hosting. Second, everyone dreams of starting a blog and making money with little to no work.
This is a big misconception. The majority of blogs make no money. And the ones that do put an enormous amount of time and effort in — and it didn’t happen overnight.
There are plenty of blogs that do make money however, and they have two things in common. They are focused on a niche that is very popular and has a large audience, and the individual that started the blog is extremely knowledgable on the topic.
There are new blogs that launch every single day. In order to stand out and really start to build a loyal readership you need to publish content that the audience loves. If not, they aren’t going to come back — instead, they will find another option.
Some of the most financially successful blogs do one thing well — they solve a problem. Look at a blog like The Points Guy for example. There is no other blog that comes close to providing the information and value when it comes to travel rewards and credit card points. It is so successful because it solves a problem — it’s become the definitive source for information related to any question related to credit card points and travel rewards.
Best Ways to Monetize Your Blog
Now, it’s important to understand that you cannot put the cart before the horse here — you need to build up a large audience before you even think of monetizing your blog.
Your entire focus in the beginning needs to be on growth, and you do this by publishing excellent content and engaging with your readers, turning them into repeat visitors and blog advocates. These are the readers that will then share your content on social media, helping to introduce your blog to a new audience.
Without an audience monetization is useless, so worry about growing your blog first.
When it does come time to monetize, you have several options:
- Google AdSense
- Amazon Affiliate
- Sell Direct Advertising
- Newsletter Sponsorship
- Create and Sell Your Own Product (Digital or Physical)
If you are considering starting a blog, make sure to read these resources we put together:
9. Start an SEO and Online Marketing Agency
Now, this is only going to apply to those with SEO (search engine optimization) skills and knowledge, but if you do possess this, then you have a lucrative opportunity in front of you to start an online business with an endless amount of customers needing the service.
There are potential customers all over the world that need SEO, from local businesses and niche blogs, to national brands and corporations. If you can deliver results, there is an endless supply of customers that need and want your services.
But wait — isn’t SEO dead?
This is something that we hear often, and it’s very far from the truth. There is a huge demand for SEO, but effective search engine optimization — because there is a big difference between what is available and what delivers results.
There are several companies all offering SEO and online marketing services, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that those services will work. A lot of businesses get burnt by poor service providers and then claim that SEO doesn’t work.
For every reputable SEO provider there are dozens that simply don’t deliver measurable results. They will make ridiculous claims and promises — like delivering number one position rankings for difficult keywords in a matter of months.
When they don’t deliver as promised, the client leaves them and they simply onboard a new client. It’s a vicious cycle and it gives the SEO industry a bad name.
If you can deliver results and improve a website’s organic search visibility, and drive highly qualified traffic, leads and sales — then you will be in high demand.
If you are going to start an SEO agency then I would focus on building a few solid case studies that showcase your ability. If you have do to some work for free in the beginning, then consider that a cost of doing business.
The more solid proof you can showcase, the easier it will be to sign new clients down the road. In this industry, results do the selling. If you can prove that you have the skills to drive organic traffic, then you will not have a shortage of businesses knocking on your door.
How to Find SEO Clients for Your New Agency
Once you have some strong case studies that showcase your talents, then you can focus on attracting new clients. There are three main channels you should focus on:
Paid Media: Google Ads and Facebook ads are great places to start. With Google Ads, you can target location-specific keywords, like “[Your Location] SEO agency” or “SEO agency in [Your Location].” Facebook ads allow you to place ads in front of very specific audiences — like business owners in a specific niche. Be prepared to spend some money testing creatives and targeting.
Referrals: This is one of the best sources to tap into when just starting out. If you are delivering outstanding results ask your clients for referrals. You will find they are more than happy to refer their contacts to you. A referral is also one of the easiest leads to close — the trust level is already established because you are delivering great results for the individual or company that introduced you.
Partnerships: Working with web design agencies, for example, is a great way to bring in new business. These partners already work with your ideal client — so give the agency incentive to refer you business. A cut of monthly recurring revenue is often enough to get the referral business flowing.
Startup costs are minimal. Aside from some of the more popular SEO tools, you can sign your first client with little to no monetary investment.
As your agency grows, you can then look into extending additional offerings, like social media marketing, PPC (pay-per-click) ads and paid media, like Facebook ads.
10. Become an Affiliate Marketer
Affiliate marketing is a great online business model for a few reasons. First, you are selling services and products for other companies — there is no inventory to buy, products to stock or orders to fulfill. There are also no customers to deal with — all you have to do is focus on driving traffic to the offers you are promoting.
You can run ads to push traffic, or you can create content assets — like this blog post, for example — that contain affiliate links.
The easiest and most effective way to start affiliate marketing is by creating a blog or website focused on a specific industry or topic — and finding well-matched offers to market within your content.
The ultimate goal is to get your content ranked in the organic search results, driving traffic to your website, and then having some of that traffic convert on the offers you are promoting. You can use a tool like SpyFu to find competitors’ most profitable keywords, which you can then target in your SEO effort.
If someone visits your website and clicks on one of your affiliate links a cookie is dropped and if they make a purchase — immediate or within a specified timeframe (usually 30, 60, 90 or 120 days) — you are credited with the referral and paid a commission.
Income Potential of Affiliate Marketing
As far as online businesses go, affiliate marketing has unlimited income potential. There are affiliate marketers that are making $10,000 to over six-figures a month, with a large chunk of that revenue coming from evergreen content that continues to attract website traffic and affiliate referrals.
When building an affiliate website you can either focus on creating several smaller niche focused websites and blogs, or one authority website, where you continue to add new content on a regular basis.
The Hustler Alliance blog that you are reading right now is an example of an authority blog — it includes several different topics, yet they all revolve around entrepreneurship and business.
You can get started with very little cost involved as long as you are ready, willing and able to create the content. If not, you are going to have to outsource that part, and quality content is going to cost a little bit of money. The last thing you want to do is publish low quality outsourced content.
You will often find that creating the content isn’t the hard part (especially if you pick a niche you are interested in and passionate about) — it’s finding the time to create the content.
Wake up early, stay up later, or write content instead of watching your favorite TV show. Understand that it’s going to take a lot of work before you see your first affiliate referral sale hit.
But, once you get that first taste it will motivate you to keep going. The majority of people fail because they quit too soon. Be prepared to put in a lot of work before you experience that first conversion. Once you get the first one, the second one comes easier, and then the third, etc.
Keep putting in the work and you will soon experience the snowball effect.
Top Affiliate Marketing Networks
Here are a few of the more popular and established affiliate marketing networks to take a look at:
These are all great networks to sign up with when you are just getting started. You will be able to find offers on these networks that fit with your niche.
What You Need to Start an Online Business
There are two things you are going to need, regardless of what kind of online business you decide to start — a domain and website hosting.
Domain: You are going to need a domain name, which you can register here.
Website Hosting: We recommend HostGator for your hosting needs. It’s what we use for this website. We have a dedicated server, but you don’t need that just starting off. You can sign up for a very affordable (less than $3 per month) basic hosting package here.
Benefits of Learning How to Start an Online Business
So, why is starting an online business the goal and aspiration for so many? It comes down to two things — accessibility and potential.
Years ago, it wasn’t possible to start a business with little to no startup capital. Back then starting a business involved securing a loan, leasing a physical business location, buying inventory, hiring employees, etc.
It was a major undertaking. It required a large financial commitment.
Now, you can start an online-based business with little to no money, low overhead and operational expenses, and you can start part-time, running the business from anywhere in the world.
Imagine being able to start an online business for $20 and building it into an asset that generates six-figured or more annually? It can happen — and it happens often.
There is no better time than now to start an online business. Nothing is preventing you from getting started — beyond yourself. If you are willing to put in the time and effort, then make the commitment to start today.
What is the Best Online Business to Start?
The list about is just a small sample of the possible online businesses you can start right now. Is there other online business models to pick from? Of course.
When it comes down to it, the best online business to start is the one that best-matches your interests, knowledge and passion. When you start a business that revolves around something you truly enjoy it makes it easier in the sense that it doesn’t feel like work all the time.
That is key because it’s going to be a lot of work. A lot of people have this imaginary fantasy in their mind about blogging from the beach and just watching money roll in.
Sadly it doesn’t work like that. At least not in the beginning. You have to be prepared to work hard and dedicate a lot of time and energy into building your online business.
Do you love baseball? Are you a diehard Boston Red Sox fan? Then consider starting a blog and online community dedicated to the team. Once you build up an audience you can monetize it through banner ads, affiliate offers relevant to the team, such as merchandise and memorabilia, or even create a premium membership.
Do you enjoy reviewing video games? Start a blog that provides unbiased reviews of new video game titles and monetize it via Amazon, driving traffic to video games and video game systems.
When you are able to create an online business that intersects with your interests and passion, it will greatly increase the chances of it turning into something successful down the road.
After all, isn’t that one of the most attractive aspects of an online business? Being able to do something you truly enjoy and have a genuine interest in?
What kind of online business are you thinking of starting? Let me know in the comment below.