In the past, starting a business usually required a significant amount of capital. After all, for brick-and-mortar businesses, you have expenses like rent, inventory, and employees to consider.
It’s never been more feasible and affordable to start an online business thanks to technology. With the right idea and website, you can reach a global community of customers and avoid many of the fixed costs of running a traditional small business.
Granted, starting an online business that’s profitable still takes time and hard work. However, there’s no better time than the present to begin a new venture, and you never know where your next online business idea will take you.
Best Online Business Ideas to Start Right Now
Although there’s a range of online business ideas you can try, most online businesses typically fall under a category like:
- Freelance-based businesses
- Online services
- Media and entertainment
Whatever option you choose, just remember to identify your target audience, your skills, and what your competitive advantage is. Creating a business plan that outlines your goals and plan to market is also worthwhile because it can help guide your first few months of operation.
Ultimately, making money online is competitive, so if you can leverage your existing experience, you’re already off to a strong start.
Here are several ideas for kinds of online businesses you can start today.
1. Freelance Writer
If you know how to research new topics and have strong writing abilities, starting a writing business is a natural fit for your online business.
Content marketing is an ongoing expense for many businesses. According to Hubspot, 70% of marketers use content marketing to attract new customers. Although content marketing also includes videos and social media posts, articles are a popular tool businesses use to promote themselves online.
If you want to become a freelancer and start an online writing business, it usually helps to pick a niche. Picking a niche helps you specialize in a topic and network with companies within the same industry, making it easier to land referrals through word of mouth.
Once you pick a niche, you might have to take some lower-paying jobs on freelance websites like Upwork to build an online portfolio and get your name out there. However, as you gain experience, you can pitch your services to businesses or online editors for different publications and increase your rates.
According to Payscale, freelance writers earn $24.08 per hour on average. Freelance writers typically charge per word or per article, so keep this in mind when negotiating contracts.
Pro tip: If you love writing but not sure where to start in your quest to become a freelance writer, consider taking an online course. Freelance writer Holly Johnson teaches how she’s built a six-figure business in her course, Earn More Writing.
2. Web Design
Because starting online businesses is becoming more popular, it’s no surprise that the business of developing websites for others is thriving.
Website designers create websites for other freelancers and business owners. While platforms like WordPress, Shopify, and several other alternatives make creating your own website straightforward, the technical side can still overwhelm people. Additionally, some website projects require custom coding and design work, which is where a website design expert steps in.
This online business idea is ideal if you already know how to program and have an eye for design and branding. However, it’s not uncommon for website designers to focus on the technical aspects of creating a website and to outsource graphical work to subcontractors.
Whatever the case, like freelance writing, start by building simple websites for clients for your portfolio. Once you get several websites under your belt, pitch your services to businesses in your city that don’t have a website or have an outdated one that needs a refresh. You can also find website design clients on freelance websites like Fiverr.
According to Indeed, web designers earn $23.17 per hour on average. You can charge an hourly rate for your services or a per-project fee.
3. Accounting and Bookkeeping
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there’s more than 1.6 million bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks in the United States. Millions of individuals and business owners require help managing their expenses and filing their taxes each year. If you have experience with accounting and bookkeeping software, becoming a remote bookkeeper and accountant is a potentially lucrative online business idea.
Just note that unlike many freelancing jobs where a simple portfolio is enough to land clients, this business idea probably requires credentials or a degree to get started. After all, because you’re dealing with sensitive financial information, clients need to trust your expertise.
Thankfully, Bookkeepers.com can help you start a virtual bookkeeping business and includes tutorials that teach you how to start and scale your business.
Bookkeepers and accountants earn $19.82 per hour according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, Bookkeepers.com has a course that aims to help you reach six-figures with your remote bookkeeping business.
4. Graphic Designer
Another online business idea that’s a perfect fit if you’re creative is starting a graphic design business. Having experience with Adobe Creative Cloud is a plus, but things like Canva or PicMonkey make graphic design possible for most people. Like other freelancing industries, the most difficult part is finding your first clients and creating a portfolio that helps you land higher-paying, stable clients.
However, there are multiple avenues you can use to find clients, including:
- Partnering with a website design firm
- Finding gigs on freelance websites like 99designs.com
- Working with local businesses on projects like business cards, brochures, and advertising material
Another strategy is to sign clients on a monthly retainer fee and essentially work part-time on any graphic design work that comes up. This strategy can help you secure enough predictable weekly hours to sustain you, and if you establish several retainer contracts your graphic design business can certainly scale to full-time.
According to Indeed, graphic designers earn $17.54 per hour on average.
5. SEO Specialist
Search engine optimization, or SEO, involves improving the traffic that comes to a website from search engines. Typically, this involves tasks like:
- Increasing website speed
- Improving website content quality
- Improving website authority by obtaining backlinks and positive press
Overall, SEO work is incredibly technical. Companies are willing to invest in SEO because getting more website traffic can be immensely profitable.
In fact, according to Ahrefs, the average monthly SEO retainer fee is between $501 to $1,000 per month. Additionally, many SEO contracts last several months or a year or more because it takes time for website optimization efforts to yield results. This means a single contract can pay recurring revenue for long periods.
There isn’t a single option for becoming a SEO specialist. Typically, people learn SEO skills from running their own online business or from a digital marketing job. However, you can also take courses like Stupid Simple SEO to learn the fundamentals.
According to Salary.com, SEO specialists earn $33 per hour on average. However, like other freelance jobs, monthly retainer contracts and building a support system to outsource tasks can help you scale your SEO business to multiple clients and considerable revenue.
6. Social Media Manager
Like content writing and SEO, businesses are increasing how much they spend on social media marketing. According to eMarketer’s forecasting, social media advertising spending will surpass $50 billion by 2021 in the U.S. alone.
Although some businesses hire an internal social media expert, many businesses still outsource this responsibility. If you know how to grow followers on Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and other social channels, this business idea might be for you.
Upwork and Fiverr are popular marketplaces where business owners hire experts to help plan and execute a social media marketing strategy. Alternatively, you can create a platform-specific business and specialize in a single social media platform.
Responsibilities of a social media manager include creating content, scheduling posts, growing follower counts, and driving website traffic. If you can improve a client’s social media’s impact on their revenue, you can likely earn a positive testimonial that can then help you secure more clients within the same niche.
According to ZipRecruiter, social media managers earn $24 per hour on average. Some social media managers charge clients based on how much content they create and post, whereas others charge hourly or monthly retainer fees.
If you want to start a low-cost online business, it’s hard to find a better model than dropshipping.
With a dropshipping store, you sell products from partner manufacturers and have them ship orders directly to consumers when your store gets an order. This means you never handle inventory, logistics, and shipping. It also means you don’t pay upfront for merchandise and only pay the manufacturer for their cost of goods plus shipping and handling fees.
Approximately 33% of online stores sell products using dropshipping. Typically, dropshipping stores use Shopify to power their storefronts and source products from inexpensive overseas marketplaces like AliExpress and AliBaba.
Dropshipping is competitive because there aren’t many startup costs or barriers to entry. However, dropshipping is still a viable business idea to consider for 2021. As long as you pick a niche you understand and source quality products rather than cheap, trendy goods that won’t be in demand after a few weeks, your dropshipping business can grow into a profitable e-commerce store.
8. Amazon FBA
Like dropshipping, starting a Fulfilment by Amazon (FBA) business is another online business idea that reduces your logistical responsibilities.
As an Amazon FBA seller, you purchase inventory you plan to sell on Amazon and then ship it to Amazon warehouses for storage and future fulfilment. This lets Amazon use their logistical expertise and saves you from having to store boxes of merchandise in your garage and worry about shipping.
Amazon charges sellers fees of $0.99 per unit sold or $39.99 per month. Additionally, you pay monthly fees for storage, fulfillment, and shipping preparation. Despite these fees, Amazon FBA is immensely popular. In fact, more than 70% of U.S. Amazon sellers currently use Amazon FBA to power their online sales.
The downside of Amazon FBA is that you pay for inventory upfront, so you need starting capital. If you want to start an online business on a budget, begin with a small amount of inventory and gradually reinvest your profits into purchasing more products.
Pro tip: Before you start selling items on Amazon, make sure you check out Jungle Scout. They will provide you with tools and tips to build a successful business including how to find the most profitable, in-demand products. Sign up for Jungle Scout.
9. Paid Advertising Specialist
According to Statista, global e-commerce sales will reach $6.54 trillion by 2022. Considering how popular online shopping is, it’s no surprise that another viable online business idea is to offer paid advertising services to other business owners.
There’s a variety of platforms where business owners can buy ads to drive traffic to their store or site. Typically, business owners use Google Ads and Facebook Ads to target potential customers as they browse the Web. Companies like LinkedIn, Bing, Pinterest, and Snapchat also let you create ads on their platforms.
As a paid advertising specialist, you create and manage advertising campaigns to help businesses drive online sales. Typically, advertising specialists get paid in one of two ways:
- Monthly Retainer. You charge businesses owners a flat rate for managing their advertising campaigns.
- Percent of Spend. You charge business owners a percentage of the money they spend on advertising.
It’s important to note that you’re spending your client’s money in both cases, not your own capital. This means that running profitable ads is important to keep clients happy and to maintain your contracts.
There are multiple ways to learn paid advertising. Commonly, paid advertising specialists work in larger marketing agencies that offer the service before branching out to start their own business. Additionally, Google and Facebook offer courses on the fundamentals of advertising on their platforms.
Paid advertising will continue to be a valuable service for businesses as e-commerce grows. Start out slow by working with local businesses that are dabbling in e-commerce. As you gain clients and experience, you can pitch your services to larger businesses with more significant advertising budgets.
According to ZipRecruiter, paid advertising specialists earn $26 per hour on average. However, monthly retainers or percent-of-advertising spend are common arrangements for compensation.
10. Print on Demand
Print on demand, or POD, is another online business that’s ideal if you have graphic design skills and an eye for spotting upcoming fashion trends.
POD is also a type of dropshipping. With POD, you work with manufacturers and upload your designs to existing products like t-shirts, coffee mugs, and canvas prints. When you make a sale, the POD partner manufactures and ships the product directly to your customer and charges you a fulfillment fee.
Unlike dropshipping, you can start a POD business by selling on an existing POD marketplace. For example, websites like Redbubble and Society6 let you create a free storefront, upload your designs to dozens of products, and reach an existing customer base.
Alternatively, you can create your own POD store by connecting a third-party service like Printify to an independent e-commerce platform. Printify integrates with Shopify, WooCommerce, Etsy, and eBay to give you control over where and how you sell.
POD margins are usually tight because you sell cheaper products and pay for manufacturing and shipping. But, if you take advantage of trending designs and continue creating new products, you can grow a POD business into a reliable source of passive income.
11. Sell Handmade Goods and Printables
Another e-commerce business idea you can try is selling handmade goods or digital downloads on Etsy.
Etsy is a popular marketplace for buying and selling handmade crafts, jewelry, artwork, clothing, and even furniture. Additionally, creating an Etsy shop is free, and you only pay a $0.20 listing fee per product you sell plus payment processing and shipping fees.
By selling on Etsy, you gain access to a robust marketplace where buyers can find your store as they search for products. Etsy also lets you run ads to promote your store, but the fact that buyers can find your site organically without you having to pay is a major selling point.
If you already make handmade goods, don’t be afraid to turn your hobby into an income stream by selling on Etsy. You can also sell digital downloads on Etsy if you prefer making online content. Digital downloads include printables like digital art, calendars, budget planners, and other organizational tools.
It might take time to get your first Etsy sales and customer reviews. However, if you design quality products and stick with the platform, it’s possible to turn Etsy into a successful online business without having to worry about the technical side of running a store.
12. Affiliate Marketing
Affiliate marketers make money by promoting products and services on behalf of other businesses. If you’ve ever read an online product review, chances are you were reading content created by an affiliate marketer.
This online business idea might seem strange because you’re essentially a middleman for other companies. However, affiliate marketers create value by helping consumers choose the right product or service to meet their needs.
Commonly, affiliate marketers create niche websites that have buying guides and instructional content. For example, if you love golf, you can create an affiliate website that promotes different golfing products and provides tips on how golfers can improve their game. If your readers purchase golf clubs or apparel through your affiliate links, you earn a percentage of the sales.
Niche websites are just one popular affiliate marketing method. Email marketing, YouTube, social media, and paid advertising are also other channels you can use to reach potential buyers.
According to PayScale, affiliate marketers earn $18.78 per hour on average. It might take time to grow your audience so you can reach enough buyers, so keep the time-to-earn factor in mind before pursuing affiliate marketing.
13. Online Tutoring
Becoming a tutor is often thought of as a college side hustle or side gig for high school students. Although it’s true that tutoring doesn’t have to become a full-on business, it’s still possible to start your own online tutoring business, especially with many schools already adopting online education.
Typically, online tutors work for existing tutoring companies. Online English secondary language platforms like VIPKid and EF Education First are prime examples where tutors can earn $18 per hour or more teaching English.
However, you don’t need to stick with tutoring companies to find business. Alternatively, you can create your own tutoring website for a language or subject you specialize in and cut out the middleman altogether.
The downside to this strategy is that you need to attract clients on your own and handle payment processing. The advantage is that you have more control over your lesson plans and pricing. Plus, you can sell additional services like homework modules or even trip planning assistance if you’re an expert in another country and teach that native language.
According to ZipRecruiter, online tutors earn $21 per hour on average.
14. Online Personal Trainer
With COVID-19, we’ve seen a rapid change to millions of people working from home. There’s also been the adoption of services like telemedicine and online consultations. Even as life returns to normal, it’s clear that people are more comfortable with remote services and managing their life online.
While this trend largely extends to the workforce and medicine, fitness is also changing. Online personal trainers have existed for several years, but as gyms have shut down, more people have begun to consider their at-home fitness plan.
If you’re a certified personal trainer, you can create an online personal training business where you offer clients:
- Custom workout plans
- Meal planning tips and recipes
- Skype consultations to track your clients’ progress
- Live workout classes where clients can follow along with your exercises
Often, successful online trainers attract their clients by growing an Instagram and YouTube following where they share fitness advice. If this doesn’t sound appealing, you can try starting a local coaching business instead and offer at-home and online programs.
According to ZipRecruiter, online personal trainers make $24 per hour on average. Keep in mind, upselling custom coaching packages and meal plans can help increase your earnings beyond a flat per-hour coaching fee.
15. Virtual Assistant
Becoming a virtual assistant is another online business idea that’s an excellent fit if you’re organized and have strong attention to detail.
A virtual assistant, or VA, is an online administrative assistant that supports business owners with tasks like:
- Scheduling meetings
- Organizing calendars
- Email correspondence
- Making business travel arrangements
- Managing invoices and accounting
- Data entry
- Social media posting
Successful VAs are timely, professional, and have excellent communication skills. Additionally, you should be comfortable taking on multiple roles for another business because VA responsibilities can shift depending on how busy your clients are.
As a beginner, you can work through companies like Fancy Hands to learn the ropes. As you become more experienced, you can branch out and offer your own independent VA services and launch your own business. With enough clients, you can hire junior VAs to work under you and begin to delegate responsibilities.
Another option for beginners is the $10K VA course that teaches you how to scale a profitable VA business to five figures.
VAs earn $15.89 per hour on average according to PayScale. However, you can scale your online income as you begin to outsource your work to junior VAs.
If you’re an expert in your field, becoming an online consultant is another business idea that also can be immensely lucrative. After all, according to ZipRecruiter, consultants earn $40 per hour on average, with the 90th percentile earning $70 per hour or more.
There are also numerous types of consultants, including:
- Business consultants
- Life coaches
- Financial advisors
- HR and legal specialists
- Risk and compliance consultants
- Management analysts
- IT and security consultants
Of course, the type of consulting you offer depends on your previous work experience. Additionally, because consultants are usually hired for important and costly projects, it’s not unusual for companies to hire consultants based on referrals and reputation rather than using online job boards to find an unknown candidate.
Ultimately, this means networking and building a name for yourself as an industry expert can help create consulting opportunities in the future. You can still post your services on freelance websites like Upwork or LinkedIn, but this business idea probably requires significant experience and having some good connections in your professional network.
Despite being an entertainment source, starting a YouTube channel is still like running an online business. After all, YouTubers are responsible for creating content, branding their channel, reaching new viewers, and ultimately monetizing their videos with advertisements and sponsorships.
YouTube now requires 1,000 subscribers and 4,000 hours of watchtime to enable advertisements. However, you can still make money through sponsorships and affiliate deals if you find companies that want to partner with you.
Generally, as you grow your YouTube channel, brands will take the initiative to reach out with sponsorship deals because you’re essentially an influencer. Between affiliate income, sponsorships, and advertisement revenue, your YouTube channel can grow into a profitable online business with diverse revenue streams.
Just remember that YouTube is competitive. YouTubers upload more than 500 hours of content every minute according to the company. Start your YouTube channel as a side hustle and see how your channel grows within the first year. Don’t quit your day job to become a full-time YouTuber until the money your channel earns can replace your regular salary.
If blogging is a relatively foreign concept to you, you might think starting a blog is nothing more than creating an online journal where you write about daily life. Although this type of lifestyle blogging is popular, the reality is that running a successful blog is a type of online business.
Many bloggers begin by turning a hobby into a business. For example, if you’re an avid baker, you might create a baking blog that shares recipes and tips. As you grow your audience, you can then make money blogging with revenue streams like:
- Hosting advertisements on your blog
- Writing sponsored posts for companies
- Affiliate sales
- Online courses
- Selling your own products
- Offering membership plans for premium readers to unlock more content
Growing a blog takes time and effort. Many bloggers rely on SEO to attract readers searching for topics on Google. You can also use social media to promote your blog.
Like YouTube, don’t expect to quit your day job to become a full-time blogger immediately. Rather, cultivate this online business as a hobby and scale your efforts as you begin to make money.
Pro tip: If you’re thinking about setting up a new blog, get started with Bluehost. You can get set up for less than $4 per month and you’ll get a free domain name.
When you consider how many online business ideas there are, getting started might seem intimidating. However, it’s important to avoid paralysis by analysis and to pick an idea to begin actually working on.
Ideally, start a business that leverages your existing strengths and previous work experience to maintain a competitive advantage. You can also start your online business while working full-time. As your business income increases, you can decide if you want to go all-in on the entrepreneur lifestyle or simply maintain a side hustle.
Just remember to consider how a side business impacts your taxes and to track your income and expenses throughout the year. If you stick with your business idea and put in the effort, there’s no reason why you can’t start a successful online business in 2021 and transform your career path entirely.