Running an online business is a dream for entrepreneurs worldwide. An online business offers flexibility, financial freedom, and, best of all, flexibility—the ability to work from anywhere.
You can turn this dream into a reality by coming up with a great idea for an online business.
If you know you want to start an online business but you’re struggling to come up with an idea, this guide will steer you in the right direction.
What Makes an Online Business Unique?
For the purposes of this guide, an “online business” refers to a company that’s completely digital. You don’t need office space, warehouses, or any physical presence to start and operate it.
Compared to a traditional business, online businesses are unique in the sense that they’re easy to start, scalable, and typically have low overhead costs.
This means that anyone with internet access can start an online business with less than $1,000 in the bank.
9 Best Online Business Ideas
To help give you some inspiration, I’ll share some of the best and most profitable online business ideas to get you started. Not all of these will necessarily be a great fit for you and your skills, but you can dive deeper into subjects that pique your interests.
Website Design Services
If you have graphic design experience, great. If not, no problem.
Today, anyone can offer website design services and turn a profit from this online business. With user-friendly website builders like Wix and Squarespace, you can just start with a template and customize everything from there—no coding or technical experience required.
There’s no shortage of potential clients in this space. Every business needs a website. So you can help bring small businesses into the digital age by cold calling or cold emailing them offering your design services.
To get your foot in the door, you can even offer to do the first couple of designs for free as a way to build a portfolio and showcase your work. From there, you can generate recurring revenue for maintaining those sites for your clients.
Before you know it, you’ll have a full-blown website design agency.
Start a Dropshipping Ecommerce Store
The ecommerce industry is booming. But there’s still plenty of money to be made in this space, especially for entrepreneurs that want to start an online business.
Dropshipping makes it possible for you to sell goods online without ever touching the product. Everything you sell gets shipped directly from the manufacturer, wholesaler, or distributor.
You’ll benefit from getting wholesale rates on products, and all you have to do is maintain the website. Once you start attracting customers and driving conversions, it’s easy to turn a profit.
With that said, don’t expect dropshipping to be an overnight goldmine. You still need to research to find the right products, and driving traffic to your website is much easier said than done. But it’s a low-risk way to start an online business, as you don’t need to buy inventory upfront.
Start a Blog
Anyone can start a blog. While this won’t necessarily be the fastest path to cash, there are many different ways to make money in this space.
Once you get your blog up and running, you can sell advertising space on your site as a quick and easy way to generate some cash. Beyond ads, you can also become an affiliate marketer and get lucrative commissions for products mentioned in your posts.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of affiliate marketing categories to target. It all depends on your interests, knowledge, and the type of visitors you want to attract.
Success running a blog is directly tied to organic website traffic. So make sure you educate yourself about SEO if you want to have a fighting chance in this space.
Instead of writing content on your own website, you can get paid to write for other websites. There is a high demand for freelance writers in nearly every industry right now and in the foreseeable future. This is an excellent opportunity for anyone with good writing skills.
Getting your foot in the door here is the hardest part. Start applying for freelance writing positions on different job boards like Flexjobs and Indeed or on content platforms like Fiverr and Upwork.
Be prepared to work for little pay if you’re starting without a portfolio. If you have a couple of articles or blogs to use as writing samples, you do not have to start at a low rate. Quality work speaks for itself. You can be a freelance writer as a small side hustle until you’re landing gigs that pay enough for a full-time job.
The best part about this online business idea is there’s virtually no overhead. All you need is a computer, internet, and time.
Sell Photography Online
If photography has always been a hobby of yours, you can easily turn this into a business.
Start by investing in the right equipment. You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on a camera, but you’ll need something a little better than your iPhone.
From there, work on your editing skills and upload your photos to a portfolio website. Once you’ve uploaded everything, you can sell prints or digital copies online. You can also sell your photography to stock image sites.
Teach an Online Course
Do you have a specific skill or in-depth knowledge on a particular subject? Turn your area of expertise into cash by creating an online course.
I love this idea because you only need to create the course once, and then you can sell it an unlimited number of times to generate revenue. Alternatively, you can create a membership site where you charge a monthly or annual fee to access the online course. Then you’ll continue to generate recurring revenue from your members.
Niche categories for online courses include cooking, painting, knitting, carpentry, animation, interior design, health and wellness, meditation, survival skills, time management, public speaking—the possibilities are endless.
Become a Mobile App Reseller
If you’re tech-savvy and have big aspirations, this is one of the most creative and lucrative online business ideas out there right now. Beyond having a website, businesses in nearly every category are recognizing the importance of going mobile. But many of these businesses don’t have the time, money, or skills to launch a mobile app.
That’s where you come in.
Look for a no-code mobile app development platform that has a reseller program. You’ll pay a fixed monthly fee to use their platform to create apps for your clients.
Similar to a website builder, you don’t need any coding abilities to do this. It’s just a matter of picking a template and customizing it to the needs of your clients.
For example, let’s say you want to create a mobile booking app for dentists, barbers, or massage therapists.
The booking feature is essentially the same across the board. You just need to change basic details about the app like logos, color schemes, and contact information for each business. So you can continue using the same templates over and over again, drastically reducing the time spent to create each app.
Best of all, mobile app resellers can generate recurring revenue each month, quarter, or year for maintaining the app. So you’ll be paid indefinitely for the lifetime of the apps you build for clients.
Be an Online Fitness Trainer
If you’re into fitness, you can take your skills and become an online personal trainer. This requires much less effort and money than training someone at a gym and paying high commission fees.
There are lots of different paths that you can take in this space.
You can create a video series, 30-day workout challenges, publish meal plans, and offer the same content to all of your members.
Alternatively, you can create custom content for each client and charge a premium price for these services. You can even do live training sessions via Skype or Zoom.
Write an Ebook
Here’s another online business idea that’s perfect for someone with excellent writing skills.
There’s basically no overhead required to write an ebook beyond your time. Once it’s finished, you can sell it online forever and continue generating profits from the same book with each sale. The only real investment here is paying for an editor to ensure your ebook is professional quality.
The hardest part about selling an ebook is getting people interested in it. Why should they read what you’re writing?
You need to drive traffic to your website and position yourself as an expert in a particular category. But once you’ve nailed this, you can continue writing more ebooks in the future and get the same people to keep buying them.
3 Tools to Improve Your Online Business Ideas
Take advantage of software at your disposal as you’re putting an online business idea into action. These three tools will make your life much easier:
#1 — LegalZoom
An online business is still a business. So you need to make things official by formally registering your entity with the state. LegalZoom’s business formation process simplifies everything and files all of your formation paperwork directly with the right state agency.
You can use LegalZoom to check a business name availability, obtain an EIN (employer identification number), and even use them for registered agent services—which is something you need to have. Business formation packages from LegalZoom start at just $79.
#2 — Wix
No matter what type of online business you’re starting, you’ll need to create a website. Wix is the easiest way to create a professionally designed website in a matter of minutes. This simplicity allows you to focus more on the online business itself instead of worrying about your digital presence.
The cool part about Wix is that it can support all different types of online businesses. Whether you’re starting a blog, selling photography, running a dropshipping site, or offering memberships, Wix has you covered. The software also has built-in payment processing, making it super easy to get paid online. Wix Business plans start at just $23 per month.
#3 — QuickBooks
Separating your personal expenses from business expenses is one of the first things you need to do after starting an online business. So I strongly recommend using accounting software like QuickBooks to stay organized. They offer a freelancer plan for self-employed individuals starting at just $7.50 per month.
QuickBooks makes it easy to track income, track expenses, organize receipts, run accounting reports, and estimate quarterly tax filings. As your online business grows, you can also use the software for invoicing, accepting payments, sending estimates, managing 1099 contractors, paying bills, and so much more.
3 Tricks For Coming Up With Great Online Business Ideas
Keep these quick tips and best practices in mind as you’re evaluating different online business ventures. This advice will help ensure long-term success for whatever path you take.
Trick #1: Set Realistic Expectations
Starting an online business is easy. But being successful and generating enough money to make a living doesn’t happen overnight.
Be prepared to face some challenges and run into some obstacles along the way. Again, an online business is still a business. It’s not all beaches and sunshine.
You’ll still have to deal with customers, run a website, drive traffic to your site, and figure out how you’re going to scale. Most online businesses generate very little pay in the early stages. So don’t quit your day job until you have a solid financial plan in place.
Trick #2: Start With What You’re Good At
Don’t try to reinvent the wheel and learn a new skill just to start an online business.
For example, if you’ve never gone to the gym in your life, becoming an online personal trainer probably isn’t for you. Don’t launch a cooking course if you don’t know your way around the kitchen.
Take a minute to evaluate your skills and see what you can start doing immediately with any knowledge or expertise you already have. If you’ve always been a good writer, starting a blog or writing an ebook would be a logical area to narrow your focus. If you’ve been doing yoga every day for the last five years, you could be a good candidate for teaching online yoga classes.
Trick #3: Don’t Forget About Your Audience
Lots of people come up with really creative online business ideas. But those ideas are useless if there’s not a market for the product or service.
At the end of the day, someone has to buy whatever it is that you’re selling. Whether it’s a dropshipped product, digital book, or advertising space, there must be a consumer.
If your online business idea doesn’t add value to a particular target market, scrap it and think of something else. Don’t make assumptions, either. In some cases, you might need to do a bit of market research to verify the idea’s validity.
What to Do Next
You’ve finally landed an online business idea and decided you want to proceed—that’s great news. Now it’s time to take that idea and put it into action.
Name your business and make things official. Check out our guide on how to register a business name for more information on this process.
You’ll also want to legally protect yourself and separate your personal liability from the online business. For online startups, an LLC (limited liability company) is typically the most popular business entity to form. Review our step-by-step guide on how to start an LLC for in-depth instructions here.