16 Online Business Ideas With Little or No Startup Cost
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In the midst of the digital era, more and more people are coming up with creative and successful online business ideas and reaping the benefits of being their own boss.
Online businesses give entrepreneurs the ability to have secure jobs and steady income without working for someone. With the number of options available, there’s something for everyone to try.
However, not all online business ideas are worth the effort. Some require too much time and produce too little income. Some won’t even earn money for years to come. There are others that seem like a risky idea, but pay off in the short and long term.
So how do you know which ones to try? That depends on your skills, interests, and the time you have to commit.
Why Start an Online Business?
Whether you’re tired of working for someone else, or you simply want to be excited about your work, an online business might be the right fit for you.
Predictably, the greatest advantage of running your own online business is that you get to work from home, and you get to set your own schedule. If you want to work four days a week instead of five, you can. If you would rather sleep late than go to an early morning meeting, you can do that, too.
An online business also means you’re working for yourself. You make the decisions about what clients you work with, what prices you charge, and what inventory or services you offer. You control all aspects of the business, so all the work you put in directly benefits you, not someone else.
16 Profitable Online Businesses You Can Start From Home
So you’ve decided you want to start an online business. But what kind of business makes the most sense for your talents, interests, experience, and availability?
Fortunately, there are lots of options with low start-up costs, and you can begin any of these online businesses while working your full-time job. Keep it as a side hustle to supplement your income or build an online business that replaces your full-time job.
1. Start a blog
Maybe you have a passion for cooking, fashion, or crafting. Or maybe you just have tons of great ideas that you know will help others. Starting a blog allows you to share your passion with the world and make money in the process.
One way to make money blogging is to place ads on your website. Programs like Google AdSense automatically place relevant ads on your blog. You choose what kinds of ads you want and where to display them. Each time someone looks at or clicks on an ad, you earn money.
Another way to make money blogging is through affiliate marketing. Affiliate marketing means you link to a product for sale on another site. When readers click your link and buy the product, you get a cut of the profits. Amazon has an affiliate marketing program that’s easy to use and a great starting point for new bloggers.
The startup costs for a blog can be low. You’ll need to purchase a domain name and website hosting.
We’ve put together a setup guide if you want to start a blog.
The guide includes a list of ways blogs make money, how to get your blog up and running, and help from professional bloggers on how to make money blogging. Keep in mind that while a blog is one of the most scalable online business models out there, it’s also one of the hardest to grow.
2. Assist other business owners as a virtual assistant
One of the most popular home business ideas right now is becoming a virtual assistant. A virtual assistant supports business owners in a variety of ways. As a virtual assistant, you get to choose which services you offer based on your unique skill set and what you enjoy doing.
If you have a good eye and a knack for grammar, you may become a proofreader. If you know your way around social media, you could offer social media management for your favorite platforms.
You could also support business owners with email management, writing blog posts, customer service, and much more. There are dozens of possibilities. It’s easy to get started as a virtual assistant, but if you want to fast-track your business, Kayla Sloan’s 10K VA course can help.
3. Help local and online businesses with Facebook ads
Think of the local businesses in your area like coffee shops, gyms, bookstores, law firms, etc. Chances are, most of them would love to get more clients or customers but don’t know how.
That’s where you can come in. You can work with them on Facebook ad campaigns to help increase their business.
Many local businesses know they need to advertise on Facebook but don’t know how and don’t have the time to learn. If you can learn how to effectively run Facebook ads, small business owners would gladly pay for your expertise.
You don’t need a fancy website or any professional marketing experience to do this. You can run your Facebook ads business in as few as 2 to 3 hours a week. The barrier to entry is low; you only need to have a Facebook profile, email address, and PayPal account.
Bobby Hoyt, an avid digital marketer and blogger, started offering a Facebook ads management service to local businesses in his area and eventually turned that operation into a sizable income for himself. He and Mike Yanda launched their own FB Side Hustle Course that teaches others how to do the same.
4. Freelance writing service
Learning how to become a freelance writer could be the first step toward starting a successful online business. Business owners often pay writers to create unique content for their websites.
Starting a freelance writing business online involves choosing a niche (or two), becoming an expert in that topic, and creating an online portfolio for future clients to see. Freelancers have to prove their worth before landing reliable and high-paying clients. One way to jump-start your freelance writing career without any clients is by establishing your own blog.
Once your online business website is complete with a well-rounded portfolio and you’re confident writing in your niche, you’re ready for your first writing client. It may take months of working for free or little money, but once you have trustworthy testimonials under your belt, landing new writing clients gets easier.
Holly Johnson’s Earn More Writing course is another option for those looking to start a freelance writing career.
5. Become a social media influencer
Instagram is a great way to start an online business. You can use Instagram to sell your own products, promote your services, or partner with brands to advertise for them. It’s quickly becoming more than just a platform to check in on your friends’ pets, vacations, and meals.
Instagram isn’t the only platform that can make you money. YouTube is becoming a full-time video blogger platform. One of the fastest, most efficient ways to grow an audience is to create a YouTube channel and make engaging videos that provide value to your audience. You can create craft or cooking tutorials, conduct interviews, or use whiteboards videos to teach lessons about a topic.
Making money as a social media influencer is simple, but not necessarily easy. First, choose a niche and research other paid influencers’ strategies. Next, open a dedicated social media account and work toward building your own engaged following. Make sure to post consistently and share valuable information geared toward your specific niche.
As your following grows, partner with affiliate companies like ShopStyle, ShareASale, or Amazon and share your unique links with followers. Each time someone uses your link to purchase an item, you earn a small commission.
6. Start Amazon-to-Amazon arbitrage
Have you ever wondered how millions of Amazon sellers have enough products to consistently sell on the platform? It may surprise you how many Amazon sellers disguise their business as a huge storefront. In fact, hundreds of thousands of businesses hold no inventory at all. So how do they do it?
It’s simple. Sellers use Amazon-to-Amazon arbitrage to create a sustainable online business. This means they use other Amazon sellers to source their own product listings.
To get started with this online business, you’ll purchase discount items on Amazon to list on your own storefront and sell at a profit. Be sure to cover all expenses such as shipping and listing fees.
The best way to build a strong Amazon store is to choose a niche to represent your storefront. Whether you source clothing, electronics, books, or toys, try to stick to a single niche. You can always set up multiple stores on Amazon if you want to sell other items.
Related: 14 Best Ways to Make Money on Amazon
7. Sell online stock photos
If you enjoy photography, you might try selling online stock photos. Stock photos are used by companies for ads and websites.
Shutterstock and Adobe Stock are two of the most popular stock image sites. Both sites allow anyone to submit their photos and you get paid each time your photo is downloaded.
To really make money selling stock photos, make sure you’re posting the kinds of photos people actually need. Companies are usually looking for fairly generic images – pictures of nature scenes, food, people at work, or doing everyday tasks like cooking or watching TV. Pictures like this sell well and can make you good money.
8. Become a brand strategist
A brand strategist helps companies figure out what consumers want and how to provide it. It’s sort of like a one-person marketing team. Brand strategists are tasked with solving all kinds of problems and helping brands tell their story to the world using things like social media, digital marketing, SEO, and effective copywriting.
As a brand strategist, you might be responsible for one or all of a company’s marketing strategies or you might be in charge of coordinating a marketing team. It depends on your skills and experience, as well as what your client needs.
Even with the rise of successful online businesses, there are still tons of small scale business owners who don’t know how to market themselves. As a freelance brand strategist, you can help them and potentially make more money than you would at a traditional 9-to-5 marketing job.
9. Design and sell website themes
Maybe you’re less business-savvy and more of a tech expert. With a little knowledge of web design, you can start an online business selling website themes. If you know how to code and have experience designing websites, it’s easy to come up with a few premade website themes you can sell to blog and business owners.
You can also branch out and make more money building custom websites. Businesses looking to establish an online presence need a professional-looking website and are willing to pay for one. Almost everyone these days needs a website, so you’re sure to have a steady stream of clients.
If your strengths land more on the side of graphic design than coding, you can start an online business as a graphic designer. From logos, to Pinterest images, to brochures and other marketing tools, businesses need someone to create visually appealing graphics. You can get started selling your services and designs on sites like Fiverr or 99designs.
10. Become a blog flipper
You’ve probably heard of flipping houses, where people buy a house that has potential but needs some work. They do the repairs or upgrades and then sell the house for a profit. While house-flipping requires a big investment and a lot of work, blog flipping is much easier.
Blog flippers start a blog with the intention of getting lots of followers and page views. Once you build a good following and have a steady stream of income, you sell the blog for a profit. Alternatively, you can also buy an existing blog, work to increase the traffic and authority of the site, and then sell it to the highest bidder.
This allows you to make money without having to constantly maintain a blog. There are tons of websites where you can buy and sell websites or blogs, but Flippa is one of the most popular.
11. Sell email newsletter templates
Every online entrepreneur needs a way to reach their audience. Many use regular email newsletters to keep customers or readers engaged. You can make good money designing and selling email or other media templates for business owners to use.
You need some knowledge of web design and basic marketing skills. But once you create a few pre-designed templates, you can sell them to business and blog owners. Your designs can be compatible with a variety of newsletter services, or you can specialize in templates for just one provider.
12. Social media management
Every business needs a social media presence. Social media allows businesses to reach a massive audience and connect with their fans or followers in a more personal way. However, business owners might not have enough staff with social media experience to run their accounts for them. You can capitalize on that by working as a social media manager.
As a social media manager, your goal is to create and share content that engages fans. If you have a knack for creating funny posts or relatable content and are comfortable with a variety of platforms, social media management may be a great online business idea.
13. Online business coach
If you’ve had success with your online business, you can make even more money coaching others. Sharing your secrets will help others grow their businesses, and other entrepreneurs are willing to pay for your expert advice. There are a few ways you can make money as an online business coach.
One of the most lucrative ways to make money as an online business coach is with personalized one-on-one coaching or consulting. Clients who have questions will pay for your expertise in an individualized coaching session.
Online seminars, trainings, and workshops
Not every client wants to devote (or has) the time or money to a one-on-one coaching session. This leaves room for you to create online seminars, training, and workshops to help your audience learn to successfully run their online business.
Depending on how many people sign up for your training or course, you have the potential to make hundreds of dollars in just one session. If you don’t want to teach your sessions live, or you can’t, you can create an on-demand video course that students can buy.
Publish a book online
Take all the knowledge you’ve gathered about running an online business and turn it into an eBook. Once you’ve written your guide to online business, you can sell copies and earn passive income while helping your clients.
Michelle Jackson’s Make Money with eBooks is a good resource to check out if you’d like to get started with eBooks.
14. Offer SEO consulting services
Search Engine Optimization or SEO is a key part of any online business. SEO is the art of optimizing content so it shows up higher on search engines like Google. Once you’ve mastered the art of SEO, you can make money by helping others.
Provide one-on-one consultations
Through one-on-one consultations, you can help clients reach their SEO goals. You’ll teach them how to find the best keywords for their niche and how to use SEO to get their website in front of more eyes. A one-on-one consultation allows you to offer personalized advice.
Monthly or quarterly SEO services
Some business owners might want more than only one consultation. Offering monthly or quarterly SEO services will help clients stay current on SEO trends to keep their site at the top of search engine rankings. You can offer services like quarterly SEO audits, reviewing search engine rankings, and checking for broken or outdated links.
Regular services like this will also give you a steady stream of income.
One-time SEO projects
Some clients might have a more specific SEO project in mind. You can be flexible and offer to assist on one-time SEO projects, like optimizing a website once or researching keywords for a client.
These projects will bring in extra cash and build your reputation.
15. Start a dropshipping business
Dropshipping isn’t necessarily a new idea, but the terminology is. Just like the technology that made it possible.
Dropshipping is the same as selling goods or products at a store but instead, you have an online storefront and manage no inventory. You simply create the product, which can be anything from mugs and T-shirts to coloring books, and offer it for sale on a platform like Amazon, BigCommerce, or Shopify.
When a customer purchases your item, rather than you having to ship or mail it to them from your home, a wholesaler will send it to them instead.
Although you’re not managing inventory, you still need to put in the effort to drive customers to your store. It’s not the simplest task, particularly if you’re opening a store in a competitive niche, but it’s possible. Paid advertising and finding products that actually sell well are going to be essential to your success with dropshipping.
If you’re willing to spend the time to learn about paid marketing and can manage to find physical or digital products to sell with great margins, you can make good money with this online business.
16. Sell products on Etsy
With platforms like Etsy, artists, knitters, jewelry-makers, and other creative people have a place where they can sell their merchandise. And customers can shop for unique products they can’t find at a big-box store.
The amount of money you make depends on what you sell, the profit margins, and how much people are willing to pay.
A good example of someone who turned a side hustle into an online business is Julie from Gold City Ventures.
Julie makes thousands of dollars per year selling bachelorette-themed printables on Etsy.
It’s a super niche product, but it’s one you can scale limitlessly, especially if you’re the creative type (i.e. expand to sell more than just bachelorette-themed printables).
She even offers a course that teaches you exactly how to start selling printables on Etsy.
The course costs a couple of hundred dollars, but if you’re selling on Etsy or interested in a new side hustle, it might be worth considering.
What Online Business Should You Start?
The internet is overflowing with ways to make money. Whether you want to sell your crafts on Etsy, use your technical skills to create website themes, or write social media posts, there are plenty of online business ideas to try.
The best online business for you will depend on your background, interests, and expertise. If you’ve spent the past decade working in marketing, you might consider social media management or becoming a brand strategist. If you’ve worked as an administrative assistant, you might want to branch out and start a virtual assistant business.
Use what you’ve learned in your career to build your new business.
On the other hand, maybe you have a hobby you want to pursue as a full- or part-time job. Maybe you love food, travel, or fashion. These kinds of interests make great content for a blog or YouTube channel.
Of course, it’s important to consider more than just what you know and like. You’ll also have to think about what can make you enough money to supplement or quit your day job. If you try to build a business in a niche that’s too small or specific, you might find that you can’t make any money.
Keep in mind that starting your online business is a lengthy process. You won’t start out making thousands of dollars each month. But if you put in the work to build a quality and reliable business and market yourself appropriately, you can make money online running your own business from home.