Entrepreneurship has expanded to the digital landscape in recent years, where online retail and e-commerce stores have become the new normal. You no longer need a physical space to have a new business since so many companies make money online. In fact, there are 7.9 million online retailers globally, 2.1 million of which are in the United States.
Online businesses offer accessibility and cater to a larger customer base that otherwise wouldn’t have access to their products or services. Opting for an online business model can offer lower startup costs and fewer resources than traditional businesses for early-career entrepreneurs.
To get your foot in the door, we’ve compiled a guide full of innovative online business ideas.
1. Start a clothing line
Creating a unique clothing line is an excellent way to enter the e-commerce industry. Not all designers make their own items with a sewing machine; instead, they create beautiful designs printed on various clothing items, from T-shirts to socks.
2. Dropshipping store
Instead of having an inventory of items at your home, consider a dropshipping business where you outsource product and shipment while sticking to the online part of the business.
What’s amazing about the dropshipping business model is that you don’t need a physical location for your inventory — meaning you can operate from anywhere as long as you have an eCommerce site.
3. Subscription box provider
Some customers dread going to the store and prefer to get their products shipped directly to them, often monthly through a subscription box service.
4. Homemade shop
There’s no doubt that organic and natural beauty products are a growing market. It makes a homemade beauty business an excellent alternative to the drugstore or high-end beauty products with ambiguous ingredients.
5. Mystery item store
Who doesn’t love a good surprise? Setting up a store where customers are surprised by the mystery items they get is an excellent way to build anticipation with an innovative business model.
6. Fulfilled by Amazon (FBA) shop
Starting a business where Amazon fulfills your items is similar to dropshipping in that a third party is doing the hard work of packaging and shipping your product. The FBA model is even simpler since the third party is already determined instead of you having to find it on your own.
7. Sell art online
Selling meaningful artwork to those looking to add some decor to their space is an excellent way to profit off your hobbies or break into freelancing. Whether you simply collect art or make it by hand, selling it online is an excellent online business idea.
Paintings, music, photography, and designs are all art forms that are always in demand.
8. Stock photographer
Being a photographer is a handy skill as you can pivot to various business models, whether portrait or stock photography. Selling your photos online on a stock photography website like Shutterstock or Getty Images will get your work out there.
9. Video production
Arguably the most popular video platform, YouTube is the place to start your career as a video producer, editor, or content creator. You could also offer your skills through tutorial videos online and ultimately monetize your videos through sponsorships on your YouTube channel once you obtain subscribers.
10. Beauty and fashion blogging
Many beauty and fashion bloggers start their blogs to create passive income through affiliate links from brand partners. Bloggers who use affiliate marketing gain a percentage of the sale if their customers click their link or use their code.
11. Lead generation consultant
Lead generation is a digital marketing strategy that captures a potential customer’s interest in your product to sell it to them potentially. Many companies will outsource lead generation services for their businesses regardless of the product.
There are two types of lead generation: inbound (SEO, social media, PPC) and outbound (cold calls, direct mail, advertising, and email marketing).
12. Freelance content curator
Help companies with their marketing efforts as content curator. This role primarily centers around finding industry-specific content to share on a blog or website in general. It can include but isn’t limited to new research in the field, personal opinions, or expertise from professionals in the business.
13. Freelance Facebook advertiser
The social media landscape has become populated with ads, especially on Facebook. Many businesses hire Facebook ad consultants to set up the automated process for them and analyze the effectiveness of their campaigns.
14. Pay-per-click advertising consultant
Quantifying how effective an online advertisement is by the number of clicks it gets is called pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. By creating your own online consulting business, you can advertise your skills as a PPC specialist for hire. The company will pay you when the ad is clicked on because this ultimately increases website traffic.
15. SEO consultant
Search engine optimization (SEO) is a useful skill that specialists can offer to businesses. You can advertise your skills to small businesses and companies looking to rank on the search engine results page. Just set up a personal website detailing your services, experience, and testimonials to appeal to customers.
16. Presentation designer
Presenting a slide deck to your peers requires aspects of design that some individuals outsource to presentation designers. Since it’s a graphic design niche, those with skills in artistic or creative fields will be the perfect candidate for this online business idea.
17. Market research
Market research analysts study the market to address a customer’s need to find a product or service. A huge part of this role is determining whether or not there’s a need for a certain product in the market.
18. Online tutoring
People are always looking to learn new skills or disciplines, so you should definitely consider starting an online tutoring business if you have expertise in something. It can be in the format of group online classes or one-on-one classes with just one student at a time. Make sure to market yourself on your social media channels, on your website, and anywhere else you think you may find potential students.
Podcasts have grown in popularity in recent years, given their accessible format and various topics they cover. If you have a niche idea you want to talk about regularly, consider a monetized podcast with sponsorships or affiliate marketing to make a profit. You can also release episodes early for a special price on websites like Patreon and slowly increase the price for each podcast download.
20. Social media influencer
If you have a significant following on your social media channels, you may want to consider becoming a social media influencer. Ensure you post regularly and have marketing campaigns with companies that offer products or services relevant to your audience. Once they purchase a product or service through your affiliate link or code, you can get a commission from the sale.
21. Health and nutrition consulting
Offer your skills as a nutritionist by creating your own online nutrition and diet consultancy. Clients can book appointments with you online or through a video conferencing platform like Zoom to discuss their diet, nutrition, and overall goals. Nutritionists’ main responsibilities are educating and advising clients on living healthier life through their food choices.
22. Website design services
Almost every person and business have a website, so the demand for website design services is always there. Instead of waiting for customers to request a website, you can design website themes and sell them online. Be sure to post your skills, services, and previous work to your website to show customers what you’re capable of.
23. Software as a Service (SaaS) developer
Creating software and selling it via subscription license is a profitable online business idea since there’s a high market demand for such software. It’s more convenient than selling traditional software because there’s no need for a physical storefront.
24. Freelance writer or proofreader
Get paid to write articles and other content as a freelance writer or proofreader. Strong writing skills can be used as websites always look for content writers to bring interesting ideas to life. You could also focus on a specific niche like film or book reviews, cultural criticism, or traditional news.
25. Foreign language expert
Knowing more than one language is a beneficial skill that you can use in various ways, two of which being a foreign language teacher or translator. Offering your services as a foreign language teacher or translator to help students learn a language or translate on behalf of organizations is an excellent online business idea that you can conduct through a video conferencing program.
26. 3D printing provider
3D printers have the unique ability to create three-dimensional objects from a digital file. While the price for this type of printer can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, many customers are looking for businesses that can 3D print items for them without spending a lot of money themselves.
27. Webinar creator
Web conferencing or webinars are an excellent way to communicate important messages to the masses online. If you have highly sought-after information, offering paid webinars for your knowledge is a surefire business idea.
28. Develop and sell Chrome extensions
If you have coding knowledge under your belt, developing a Google Chrome extension is an excellent way to monetize your skills. Google’s browser customization option allows users to add extensions for specific functions, like finding email addresses or analyzing articles for search engine optimization.
You can then sell them online on the Chrome extension web store as a profitable online business.
29. Food blogger
Food and personal finance bloggers make the most income in comparison to other blogging niches. Food bloggers make most of their income from advertisements and affiliate marketing. However, you can also sell recipes and cookbooks to widen the breadth of your products. If you like to whip things up in the kitchen, you should definitely share your creations online to garner a following.
30. Personal training businesses
Personal trainers do much more than encourage clients to work out; they sell their own workout programs and meal plans and even host virtual workout classes. Many personal trainers have clients while also maintaining a career as health influencers on social media, generating most of their income. Having a website with all your offerings will entice customers to improve their lifestyles.
31. Create and sell royalty-free music
Creating and selling royalty-free music is an excellent way to put audio engineering skills to good use. When you’re not making music for clients, you can upload your creations online for YouTubers or content creators to purchase. There are plenty of sites where you can upload royalty-free music like Bensound, PremiumBeat, and Epidemic Sound.
32. Graphic design consultancy
Every business wants to catch the attention of customers with aesthetically pleasing visuals. Outsourcing your skills as a graphic designer is an excellent online business idea to make your own graphic design firm.
Many designers who previously worked at an agency will often become their own firm or operate as freelancers to have a flexible schedule and more freedom.
33. White hat hacking business
Hackers who test an organization’s security systems for malware and cybercriminals are called white hat hackers. What’s referred to as “ethical hacking” is the main responsibility of a white hat hacker, as they’re testing the functionality and protection of companies’ cybersecurity efforts. Creating your own online business where you offer white hat hacking services to businesses is an excellent way to monetize your skills.
What kind of online business is the most profitable?
E-commerce of digital products like SaaS is a popular online business format, so it’s likely the most profitable of the online businesses since you’re selling products and services. The market for SaaS is valued at $123 billion, so it’s definitely worth exploring as an online business idea.
Blogging is also a lucrative online business, given there are so many opportunities for streams of income like affiliate marketing, advertisements, and selling products like recipes or workout plans. The content marketing and blogging industry is said to be valued at $412.88 billion.
Last but not least, dropshipping and FBA are highly profitable business models because of the upselling aspect. Buying products cheaply from wholesale sellers allows you to sell them for a higher price on online marketplaces like Amazon. The market value of the dropshipping industry was valued at $149.4 billion in 2020.
What is the cheapest online business to start?
Business ideas with low startup costs are the most appealing since they’re accessible for those with all income levels. Buying expensive equipment or going back to school for a degree can put you in debt before you even get to break even.
Online sales have the lowest startup costs, but that depends on what you’re selling. Creating homemade beauty products or selling mystery items have meager startup costs, so you can easily break even after buying the items you need to put your product together. E-commerce platforms charge low monthly fees to sell your product on their website.
Virtual teaching or training businesses also have seemingly no barrier to entry except having a computer and high-speed internet. Webinar creators, personal trainers, and any sort of online instruction is a great way to share your knowledge and get paid for it.
Advertising products on social media through affiliate marketing is another lucrative online business with minimal startup costs. Since most of it’s done through social media, you don’t have to spend very much out of pocket. You can do affiliate marketing at a low cost with no fee affiliate programs.
How to start an online business
Starting an online business is like starting any business. You need to start with an idea, build the foundation of your business, adhere to local laws and regulations, and make sure there’s a market for your product before you dive in. Below, we’ve detailed the steps you need to take to start an online business.
Step 1: Find an idea
Every business starts with a novel idea. Questions to ask yourself when coming up with a business idea include:
- What are my passions?
- Who will buy my product?
- How is my product different from what’s already on the market?
- Will this business idea give me the profit I’m looking for?
These are just a few of the many questions you should ask yourself when determining what makes a successful business idea.
Step 2: Do your research
Once you have a promising idea, you can begin doing research and allocating resources. Researching the type of legal structure your business will be (sole proprietorship, limited liability company (LLC), corporation, etc.) is the first step to legally establishing your business with the state.
After that, you can start writing a business plan. This document includes essential research like an industry and customer analysis. These sections inform you about the market you’re entering, if it’s growing, and if customers need your product. In the long run, this will tell you if your business will be successful over time.
Step 3: Register your business
Following the research step, you’re ready to start registering your business with the state so you can reserve your business name, appoint a registered agent, and get an employer identification number (EIN).
To become a recognized business entity, you must register the articles of incorporation document with your state government, which includes the business name, purpose, and your legal business structure, among other things.
Next, you can appoint a registered agent whose responsibility is to handle tax and legal documents on behalf of your business. Other names for a registered agent include resident or statutory agents. In most states, LLCs, nonprofits, and corporations are required to have a registered agent.
Finally, you can obtain your EIN from the IRS to pay taxes and hire employees. Sole proprietorships with no employees don’t require one.
Step 4: Get your finances in order
The key to protect your assets is separating your business and personal finances. The first step in doing so is opening a business bank account, followed by obtaining a business credit card for your business-related expenditures. It also helps to use bookkeeping software like QuickBooks to keep track of every dollar. You can even outsource your accounting to a professional.
Step 5: Spread the word
Once all your legal and business affairs are in order, you can start your marketing and advertising campaigns to spread the word about your business. It includes setting up your website, social media marketing, and email marketing.
Online businesses are an easy way to enter the market as they don’t require a physical location, and they have lower upfront startup costs. However, that doesn’t mean it will be easier to be a small business owner. It’s vital to assess your finances, motivation, and business model as your company grows. To reiterate the points mentioned above, we’ve included an informative infographic below.