It’s a universal truth that setting up and running an online business is definitely easier than setting up shop on the high street.
But how do you run an online business that’s actually profitable?
When starting an online business, you’ll need to consider your own interests and skills, the market demand, your budget, and time constraints.
If you need some inspiration to kickstart your online enterprise, just check out some of our ideas below.
1. Be the next blogging phenomenon
If you’re looking for one of the most successful online business ideas for the word-savvy folks, starting a blog could be just up your alley.
The blog market is pretty saturated, but for good reasons. There are many ways to monetize your own website or a blog, from displaying Google Ads and selling merch to leasing ad space and writing sponsored posts.
Just remember that earning a real income from blogging takes dedication and hard work. The key is content consistency; frequency alone isn’t enough and the quality of your content matters too.
Not only does pumping out consistently engaging content in a timely manner show dedication, but it will also result in better SEO.
You have to decide on a timeline that you can stick to, figure out the style, tone, and voice that represents your project, and determine the posting schedule that works for your website.
With Zyro’s website builder, you can create your dream blog in no time. It’s free, packed with gorgeous templates, easy-to-use, and most importantly, optimized for search engines.
Key takeaways: One of the cheapest online business ideas to start
Real-life success story: The Financial Diet
2. Share your story and publish an eBook
Not only is writing eBooks a great way to establish brand authority on a subject, but you can also make money out of this online business idea.
eBooks have the potential to be discovered by a broad audience since there are no physical limitations. In other words, you don’t have to rely on people visiting a bookshop to read your stuff.
There are platforms that allow you to self-publish free of charge. Just be vigilant if you have to stick to a budget: some platforms do charge royalty fees for their service.
Not sure how to start writing your book?
- 1. Come up with a unique concept. Find a central topic or idea you want to write about. If making money is your top priority, you might want to follow trends to improve the odds of selling your work.
- 2. Set an outline and a deadline. After you find the best topic or idea to write about, devise an outline, and set a deadline. Make sure to dedicate at least a few minutes a day to work on your book, and keep going even if you’re stuck.
- 3. Proofread, edit, typeset. Once you’re done with your ebook, the last thing to do is to polish it. Don’t rush and make sure it’s up to standard before publishing.
Key takeaways: A great online business idea for thought leaders, creative people and professionals
Real-life success story: Switched Trilogy
3. Monetize your photos
If you’re a photographer, you can sell your photos online by licensing them via third-party picture libraries or by creating your own stock packages for sale.
There are many types of photos you can make a profit from such as stock photos, commercial photos, food photos, or travel photos.
Selling photos online is cost-effective. As with any other online business, the internet makes this venture relatively inexpensive to start up.
It’s also convenient. Your customers can browse and purchase your works easier and quicker. You will have the advantage of being able to target a broad range of markets.
The internet is heavily dependent on graphic content, so you will always find a market willing to purchase your photos.
Key takeaways: One of the quickest online business ideas to start (if you have a camera already)
Real-life success story: Getty Images
4. Teach and earn with online courses
Successful online courses can generate over $75,000 according to Teachable. Plus, it encourages you to improve on your skills and expertise, while establishing yourself as an authority on a topic.
To do that, you first have to determine common issues your potential students are struggling with and establish how your expertise can help them.
- Conduct a survey. If you already have an email list or a following on social media, you can ask your followers to fill out a survey on the subjects they have an interest in learning.
- Gauge public interest. You can do this by using analytics tools like Buzzsumo or Ahrefs to gain insights on the topics most frequently searched for by people.
- Validate your idea. Once you pinpoint a promising niche you can teach, test the water to see how the public reacts.
- Keep the study outline engaging. Avoid info-dumps and design courses with natural progression in mind instead, one step at a time.
All you have to do then is build a website where you can host your online course, make it appealing, and promote your online course to your target audience. Then, kick back and watch the sign-ups flow in.
Key takeaways: One of the online business ideas with the highest earning potential
Real-life success story: Evolved
5. 3D-printing is the future
Just a few short years ago, 3D printing was the domain of big business and dedicated geeks with too much time and spare money on their hands.
Today, you can pick up a professional 3D printer for under a thousand dollars and benefit from the simplified software that’s now available on the market.
Since the global 3D printing industry is due to be worth over $35 billion within the next decade, this is a futureproof service niche to get yourself into.
With the cost of startup and production on the decline, the profit margins in this industry are steadily increasing.
Within the 3D printing niche, online business ideas include:
- Selling your own art designs
- Print designs sent to you by customers
- Create specialist parts
- Print scans of people, pets, or objects
Key takeaways: Easy and fast-growing online business idea
Real-life success story: Kupol
6. Dropship and never worry about inventory
If you’re worried that dipping your toes into the world of eCommerce business means spending huge amounts on stock and warehousing, just wait until you hear about dropshipping.
Instead of taking on the burden of purchasing and storing goods before you make a sale, dropshipping allows you to sell to customers in your online store and ship individual items directly from suppliers to the end-user.
You can base your dropshipping business around basically any product in any niche, so if you have a particular interest or have identified a gap in the market you think could be profitable for you, find a supplier.
Getting started with dropshipping is as simple as:
- Choosing your product(s)
- Connecting with a supplier
- Setting up your eCommerce site
- Marketing to your target audience
- Making sales that will be shipped directly to customers
Key takeaways: A lucrative online business idea for those with a passion for marketing their own products
Real-life success story: Best Choice Products
7. Crafty? Sell your homemade goods
Creativity meets eCommerce in this online business idea.
Are you amazing at sewing shirts and dresses? Are your handmade mugs out of this world? Do your baked goods make people smile?
While big business may have ensured that most online transactions involve mass-produced products, there’s a huge market out there for niche, artisan, and homemade products.
Platforms like Etsy popularized the idea of selling homemade and handmade products online, but there’s no reason why you can’t set up your own online store to offer the same kind of goods.
For example, we spoke with Lapsa – an eco-friendly handbag brand that started selling on Etsy but then took matters into its own hands.
The process to get started selling handmade products is the same as any other products, but in this case, you simply have to put in the time to create the product beforehand, or when customers order them.
This kind of small business relies on you being able to message the extra quality and ethical value of people buying handmade over factory-made.
Key takeaways: One of the best online business ideas for the crafty and the creative
Real-life success story: Lapsa
8. Launch your own clothing line
Sure, there are literally thousands of people selling printed goods and t-shirts online, but there’s a good reason for that.
This lucrative business idea has almost constant demand and if you hit upon a successful design, it can become a great source of income.
While basic t-shirt and items like tote bags and mugs might not be premium items, customers are more than willing to pay if there is an attractive or trending printed design included.
You might begin by thinking up some design ideas you can start off with, or you might decide to allow customers to upload their own designs for you to print on their behalf. Another avenue would be to hire a freelancer to come up with some designs for you.
If you’re not ready to invest in a ton of inventory for your t-shirt company, don’t worry. There are plenty of suppliers who will print items on demand for you, and often ship directly to customers.
All you need to do is set up your own online store and you’re good to go.
Key takeaways: A successful online business idea for those on a budget
Real-life success stories: Surf Happy
9. Make a name for yourself as a graphic designer
If you’ve got an eye for design and know your way around Photoshop or another image editing software, there’s a good chance you’re set up to start a business offering graphic design services.
If you spend 5 minutes on the internet, you’ll realize that the place leans heavily on visual elements. Companies are always in need of people with design skills to create logos, banners, website elements, and other visuals.
According to Zyro’s UX designer Eglė Zaleckienė:
‘The most important thing is to be hungry for knowledge, be a self-learner, keep pushing yourself forward and follow the trends. But a great designer also has their own style and aren’t afraid of showing their work to more experienced designers – after all, you can only grow and perfect your skills by getting honest feedback.’
Most graphic designers use social media heavily to drum up new business, but they also heavily rely on a great-looking portfolio website of their own to get new clients.
Key takeaways: An ideal online business idea for individuals looking to try out freelancing
Real-life success story: Alex Coven
10. Establish yourself as an SEO consultant
Do you know your SEO from your PPC, and do you know the secret of doubling traffic in a matter of days? Well, companies and individuals would love to apply your skills to their digital marketing needs.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the key to success for most companies that do business online, and marketing skills in areas like pay-per-click (PPC), content marketing, or email marketing are always in high demand.
If you have the right knowledge or experience, it’s easy to market your skills out to the highest bidder.
These skills are also applicable to pretty much all the online business ideas in this list, and are especially helpful for things like affiliate marketing.
So, getting familiar with them is helpful, whichever small business you decide to start.
Key takeaways: Best suited for anyone interested in running content marketing campaigns
Real-life success stories: Neil Patel
11. Be a social media consultant
Here’s a little secret: most celebrities and many companies don’t actually manage their own social media accounts, even if it looks like they have the best social media marketing strategies out there.
Because they don’t have the time or skills to make a success of it, there are loads of people willing to hand over their Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram login credentials to people who know what they’re doing.
Does this sound like the perfect job for you? If so, you should start an online business as a social media manager and get paid to do what you love.
First, you need to make sure that your own socials are up to standard, then set up a professional website and just start reaching out to people you think might be interested in your services.
Most online businesses rely on social media traffic and user engagement in their branding efforts, so get networking and make sure everyone knows you’re available to help.
Key takeaways: One of the best online business ideas for the social media enthusiast
Real-life success story: Eli Rose
12. Start your translation business venture
Can you speak two or more languages fluently? Lucky you.
Why not put those skills to use and make money as a translator?
Google Translate will only get you so far online and companies are always on the lookout for people who can help them get their message across in different languages.
There are different ways you can put your translation skills to use online:
- Simultaneous translation. This might involve you sitting on a Zoom call with two or more people who don’t speak a shared language. You would translate what someone says into another language the other party understands.
- Copy translation. This simply means you’d take a piece of text in one language and convert it into another language.
- Localization. This involves taking a holistic look at a company’s online presence and changing all the elements which will make it more familiar to people who live elsewhere and/or speak a different language.
Key takeaways: A flexible online business idea with low startup costs
Real-life success story: Kornelijos Vertimai
13. Hone your copywriting skills and bill by the hour
If you like writing but don’t need the hassle of managing a blog, copywriting is a way to make money online worth considering.
Copywriting, in the most conventional sense, is the act of writing to advertise. It often overlaps with content writing’s main focus which is to inform.
Regardless of the specific context, copywriting entails working with written content, which is constantly in demand. As long as we need to communicate via writing, a copywriter will never run out of jobs to do.
The content can range from blog posts, emails, industry reports, white papers, social media captions, and of course, marketing copy.
Other perks of copywriting include a flexible work schedule, opportunities to learn something new, a chance to be creative, and most importantly, everyone can do it.
Key takeaways: Suitable business idea for those with the right kind of words, laptop and internet connection
Real-life success story: Copyblogger
14. Offer virtual assistant services
A virtual assistant is a freelance contractor who offers remote services to a company or an individual.
Virtual assistants are always sought after by companies, as they can save them up to 78% on annual operating costs, according to OutsourceWorkers.
That’s because a virtual assistant is usually cheaper than hiring a full-time employee, as they are only paid based on how many hours they work. Plus, the contractual nature of this job means that they’re only hired when needed.
Typically, virtual assistants have experience in secretarial positions, although it’s possible to be one even without such qualification.
As long as you’re tech-savvy, able to do basic administrative tasks like using word processors, and have some knowledge in marketing and graphic design, you can apply for the role.
It’s reported that in 2018 the value of outsourced services was worth $85.6 billion, with its compound annual growth rate predicted to reach 4.4% between 2018-2022.
Key takeaways: A great way to run a profitable business online even in a part-time capacity
Real-life success story: Fly High Virtual Services
15. Become an affiliate marketer
Affiliate marketing programs let you promote a product, service, or merchant in exchange for commissions on sign-ups or sales.
In general, there are three models:
- Pay-per-sale. The most common affiliate program, in which you’re paid according to how many sales you’ve sourced for a business.
- Pay-per-lead. The money you earn from this format is based on how many conversions you can generate from leads. Leads in marketing are basically prospective buyers.
- Pay-per-click. As its name implies, you’ll get paid for the number of clicks (visitors) you drive to the merchant’s website.
This online business idea is flexible and convenient for affiliates. They can do it anytime, anywhere, and they don’t need to have special expertise. Overall, becoming an affiliate marketer a great way to earn passive income on the side.
Key takeaways: A popular monetization strategy for websites with an existing audience
Interested in becoming an affiliate? Consider joining one of the popular programs such as ShareASale, Amazon Associates, Shopify Affiliate Program, eBay Partners, Rakuten Marketing Affiliates, or Zyro Affiliates.
16. Web developer, create an app
Do you have an idea for an app that will solve a problem no one else so far has been able to overcome?
This is one of the best online business ideas that has the potential to make you a log of money – congrats.
Apps are the perfect way to turn great online business ideas into reality, since they’re relatively quick to make, and can bring you huge returns.
Of all the ideas on this list, building your app could prove to be the most profitable. Since the global mobile app industry is worth over $106 billion annually, there’s certainly room in the market for you to get started.
Despite being one of the most potentially profitable online businesses, app development does cost a good amount of money if you need to hire developers. Or, it will majorly eat into your time and resources if you try and go it alone.
If you plan to make money from an app, you’ll also need to invest time and money in app store optimization (ASO) and other marketing efforts. In such a competitive market, this can prove a challenge.
But if you love app development and have always admired startup business owners, why not just give it a shot?
Key takeaways: Perfect for developers hungry for new challenges (and extra cash)
Real-life success story: Summly
17. Trade domains
Yes, you can actually make money buying and selling domain names for websites online.
As far as online business ideas go, this is a risky one.
It involves quite a lot of investment in time and money to find domains you think might be desirable, and you always run the risk of losing money if you can’t sell your domains again.
There are two main approaches to trading domains:
- Buy up domain names that you think lots of people might want. These tend to be one-word domains that could apply to a number of different companies or individuals. Their value comes from the competition.
- Buy up longer or more specific domains only one or two companies or individuals might be interested in. You then keep hold of the domain and offer it at a mark up to the parties you think may be interested.
If you’re a creative individual who’s great at coming up and combining keywords, as well as predicting future trends, and have a decent intuition, this can be a great business idea.
In case you’re interested in purchasing your first domain, you can search and buy domains on Zyro.
Key takeaways: Ideal side hustle for the techy kinds
18. Code the next-level SaaS
Software as a service (or SaaS) are some of the most essential tools we use every day. From project management tools like Asana or Monday, to office suites like Google Docs, Sheets and Slides, it’s likely you’ve used multiple SaaS products today.
This is another online business idea where you definitely need to be a developer or have the resource to hire developers to be able to turn your idea into a reality.
With SaaS, your customers are just as likely to be other businesses as they are end-users.
Common types of SaaS include:
- Customer relationship management tools
- Email marketing applications
- Cloud storage services
- Project management tools
- Online office services
Zyro’s AI engineer Matas Minelga encourages all budding web developers to focus on having an attitude geared towards problem-solving and persistence:
‘Every developer will come across something that’s seemingly unsolvable, maybe in the form of a bug or a complicated feature. But you have to be willing to just sit down and try to solve the issue no matter what, even when you think you’ve already exhausted all of the options.’
Key takeaways: A great business idea for developers hungry to take on Slack and Salesforce
Real-life success story: Slack
19. Dive into the world of digital goods
Products don’t have to be physical and some of the best online business ideas are for digital products.
If your customers can simply download your goods, your profit margins can be a whole lot bigger than if you have to manufacture actual items.
You’ll definitely need to be able to put some amount of creativity and expertise into your digital products, but this is usually a one-time effort.
Great examples of popular digital products include:
- Art prints. Graphics which customers can print themselves at home.
- Themes. Layouts for beautiful websites.
- Templates. Which customers can use for emails, resumes, or anything else that needs to be designed.
- Printables. Anything from workbooks to calendars that can be printed at home.
- Swipe files. Guides that share your expertise.
- Stock music. Tunes you can earn money on the royalties from.
Key takeaways: Best suited for the techy and creative types
Real-life success story: BenSound
20. Market your personality as an influencer
Instagrammers and Youtubers serve as brand ambassadors, content and product promoters, and much more.
An influencer is someone who has influence within a niche or a community (usually on social media). Because of that, they have a say and power in affecting trends and other people’s buying decisions.
An infographic made by Invespcro shows that 40% of people purchase products used by influencers. An astonishing 94% of respondents claimed that they trust influencers more than their friends or relatives when making a purchase.
Generally, influencers can be divided into four categories:
- Celebrities. These are people in showbiz like models, actors, or musicians.
- Industry experts. This type of influencer has even bigger importance due to their professional qualifications and experience in the industry.
- Content creators. Bloggers and social media stars usually fall under this category. When they’re more niche-driven, they can overlap with the last type of influencers.
- Niche influencers. These guys and gals are also known as micro-influencers. These are the everyday people who wield influence within a specific niche on social media because of their knowledge and expertise.
Aside from monetary gain and free goods from merchants, being an influencer offers the opportunity to connect to your audience in a more authentic way than straight-out selling stuff to them.
Also, companies are spending more than ever before on influencer marketing, so as long as you can build an audience for yourself, you could start making money online.
According to Zyro’s Head of Influencers, Kristina Banyte:
Your main task is to build a strong relationship with your audience, so focus on that. Actually, don’t even see it as an audience, but a community. Everything else – business success, inspiring collaborations, and exponential growth – will come after that. You’ll just need to give it enough time and stay true to yourself.
Key takeaways: If you understand how social media works, becoming an influencer is a great way to do what you love and have your own business
Real-life success story: Zoe Sugg
21. Become the next viral YouTuber
Yes, vlogging might feel like something out of 2005, but it’s now a legitimate business idea.
The top YouTube stars earn up to $22 million per year. While it’s unrealistic to expect yourself to be able to reach up into those kinds of numbers, many thousands of people make a decent living from the platform.
The secret is finding a niche that is specific enough that your content has a clear theme, but broad enough to have mass appeal to a big audience.
You can make money with your YouTube channel in a number of ways:
- Revenue from the ads that play before or during your videos
- Subscriptions for premium content
- Selling merch to your fans
- Taking sponsorship deals from related companies
- Recommending other companies and taking a commission for sales (affiliate marketing)
Often, companies will have a YouTube channel in addition to their regular business as an extra revenue stream and as a marketing channel.
Key takeaways: Ideal for anyone with a passion for filmmaking and video production
Real-life success story: Markiplier
22. Start a podcast in a niche market
Until relatively recently, podcasting wasn’t taken very seriously as a profession, but podcasts with mass appeal like Serial and The Joe Rogan Experience have really put the medium on the map.
In 2021, the entire podcasting industry is expected to be worth $1 billion.
The revue models are pretty much the same as with YouTube, but of course, it’s usually just an audio file rather than a video.
The beauty of podcasts is that they can be about pretty much anything. As long as you have an interested audience, you can talk about anything from news and current affairs, all the way to music, art, TV, or just whatever’s on your mind.
For example, we recently spoke to a couple that run a podcast geared towards aspiring authors. As we said, it can literally be about anything you want.
Since there are tons of podcasts out there, it helps if you have a very specific focus which lots of people are going to find interesting.
Key takeaways: A fantastic business model for those with the gift of the gab
Real-life success story: MFA Writers Podcast
23. Sell your art online
Running an online business that focuses on your art is a great way to make the crowds aware of your talent and generate income.
Unlike some other online business ideas on our list, an art-focused online store is easy to set up and manage – after all, you only need a website and a vision for your next masterpiece.
Minimalist website designs work a treat for online art stores since they let you display your art in what’s essentially an online gallery.
Depending on the type of art you produce, you could include multiple pictures of the pieces under each product listing, or create prints, postcards and t-shirts of your collection to keep your prices down.
Key takeaways: One of the best business ideas for artists looking for additional income
Real-life success story: Stounson
24. Start an online consulting business
Have you made a career in a particular field and consider yourself quite the expert in it?
Then setting up an online consulting business could be an ideal way to make waves and monetize your expertise, be it accounting, operations management or social media marketing.
Usually, you’re expected to have both the theoretical (some level of formal qualifications, like a degree or certification) and practical knowledge (in most cases, a couple of years of work experience) in whatever you’re fancying being a consultant for.
Chances are that you already have an extensive network, so look at building a strong online presence on the social media platforms that most of your colleagues, potential customers and business partners use.
Key takeaways: Perfect way to monetize your skills online and make more money
Real-life success stories: In-House
25. Launch a subscription box business
If you want to start an online business that’s both fun and has high earning potential, subscription boxes are one of the trendiest things to sell online right now.
To build a successful business in this field, you need to provide excellent customer service and have a unique selection of items available.
Ideally, you want your own brand to be closely tied to a wider niche or topic – think countries, cuisines and pop culture.
A subscription box business is really an online venture you can make your own, especially if you base it on your own interests and passions.
Key takeaways: Perfect for anyone with a passion for curating collections and talking with customers
Real-life success stories: Bokksu
26. Put your knowledge to use in a tutoring business
Do you love sharing your expertise with anyone who cares to listen?
Or maybe you’re really driven by the fact that you want to help others succeed in life?
Becoming an online tutor or teacher could be just up your street.
There’s a reason why there are so many online businesses that focus on tutoring and mentoring: the field is expected to grow at a whopping rate of 16.1% every year, being already worth nearly $5 billion dollars.
As an online service provider, you need to create a strong profile on a tutoring platform, or your own website detailing the fields you can tutor in. Also, make sure to research the average hourly rates to avoid over or underpricing your services.
Key takeaways: The perfect business idea that combines teaching and remote work
Real-life success stories: Gooroo
27. Love perfecting cover letters? Be a career consultant
Let’s be real: in today’s competitive job market, it’s not easy to stand out.
Whether you’re a seasoned HR professional or one of those people who find it easy to put your own expertise and skills to words, you could start an online business in career consultancy.
You could focus on perfecting people’s cover letters or offer interview practice sessions.
Many companies in certain industries (especially in tech and IT) also have various tests for their applicants, meaning that you could help hopeful web developer applicants prepare for coding tasks and give them feedback.
This small online business can easily take off with a good one-page website and a Zoom account.
Key takeaways: Perfect for perfectionists and anyone with HR experience
Real-life success stories: Katie Sandler
Get your new online business off the ground and sell online
Good online business ideas have one thing in common.
Many small business owners make the mistake of thinking that to sell online equals an eCommerce site and a business license.
In reality, you also need to market your business and actively look at ways to scale what you’re doing into something even bigger and better.
There is an almost unlimited number of online store ideas out there.
To give you the best possible start to your online selling journey, we’ve created resources to inspire and guide you along the way:
- 24 Excellent Home Business Ideas to Make Money Online in 2021
- How to Advertise on Instagram: A Complete Guide (2021)
- 49 eCommerce Website Examples: Get Their Attention, Sell More 👀💸
- Social Media Marketing for Small Businesses
- How to Launch a Podcast in 2021: A Step-by-Step Guide
- 57 Business Ideas You Can Get Started on Right Now