If you’re reading this, you’re thinking of making money online, but you likely have no idea how. Maybe you’re tired of working a 9-to-5, or maybe you dream of taking control of your time—and your life.
Whatever the reason, if you’re thinking of starting an online business, you’re on the right track! Starting a business online isn’t as challenging as you may think. Maybe you’re afraid you don’t have enough “real” business experience. Or you’ve heard going to a top business school is a prerequisite to success.
But the real kicker—you don’t need any of that to start an online business.
As we like to say at Foundr, “You’re living in the greatest time in history to be a self-starter.” And I couldn’t agree more. In fact, I’ve traded my corporate dream to start an online business that now allows me to live a life of uber flexibility.
Today, you can start an online business with some research, minimal resources, and a laptop.
In this post, I’ll answer all the questions you’ve ever had about starting an online business and share some insights from those that have started the same.
Why start an Online Business?
According to a recent study by VPN mentor, ecommerce sales in 2018 came up to $2.8 billion, and it’s expected to grow to $3.4 billion in 2019. These statistics strongly hint at the benefits of starting an online business. To paint you a better picture, here are a few key benefits of starting an online business today.
Reason 1: Flexibility
With an online business, you’re not tied to your desk. You’re longer working on somebody else’s own schedule, and instead, can create your own. You can travel the globe, choose a lifestyle where you’re constantly on the move and manage your own agenda without external constraints.
Reason 2: Cost
Apart from flexibility, the start-up costs of online businesses are quite minimal. After all, digital resources (think: website, online marketing) is significantly cheaper, especially when compared to starting a typical brick and mortar business.
Here’s a brief breakdown of the costs of starting a simple online business for beginners:
- Setting Up a Website: $30-$60
- Basic online marketing: Email marketing software + eBook $50+
- Resources from online experts: $20
- Freelancers in low-cost regions: $8/hour
For more information, check out our article on how to start your online business for under 127 bucks!
Reason 3: High ROI
Another huge benefit of starting an online business is the earning potential, which is pretty much unlimited.
Thing is, in online business, your income isn’t determined by your working hours, but instead, by the level of productivity you can produce during the hours you work.
For instance, you can spend your resources on value-adding activities (think: growing an agile remote team, systemizing processes, etc.) to significantly reduce the number of hours you have to work in order to bring in a sustainable income.
Online Business Ideas for Beginners (w/ Examples)
Now that you know why you should start an online business, let’s go over a few solid business ideas that have been proven in the real world. Here’s the four we’ll cover:
Have you worked in a particular field prior to thinking of starting up your own business online? Do you have expertise in any technical skill or profession that makes you marketable?
If you answered yes to any of those questions, then you might be in a good position to start up your own online consultancy business. Whether it’s in accounting and taxation, IT or even engineering, if you have the smarts for it, you can offer value to your customers.
All you have to focus on is making your services visible and forming a reliable brand image that goes beyond the screen and to your customers.
So what do you need to do to get started? It’s simple.
Your skills + online communication channel = your consultancy business
Profit margins are high for online consultancies because of the low levels of capital required to get started. Unlike ecommerce businesses, you’re not handling any inventory.
Instead, all you’re selling is your own expertise and you’ve got all that stored in your head. The only equipment you need to start a business is the devices connecting you to your client.
To see if you’re ready to start an online consultancy, ask yourself:
- Can I offer an attractive service that adds value?
- Do I have a sizeable market and an identifiable pool of clients to begin with?
- Do I have a strategy and system in place to retain and grow my clients?
- Is my business model adaptable to the market environment and my clients’ needs?
Although on the outset, there might not seem to be much that goes into starting an online consultancy, as your business scales and grows, you’ll realize it’s all about having a flexible and logical system in place.
In some online consultancies, you don’t have to be the rockstar expert to sell the service. You just have to act like one and manage the people who do have the skills.
Running a consultancy online, but outsourcing the work is also a viable option. You can enjoy a low set-up cost and leverage other people’s success stories to build your own brand visibility.
Evidently, the framework may differ from an independent to an outsourcing model. However, it all comes down to one thing: having the bare minimum of physical resources to manage clients and provide a value offering they can’t turn down.
Case Study: Adam Enfroy’s 6-Figure Consultancy Business
Adam Enfroy’s high-end consulting blog is an example of a successful online business. In his blog’s first three months, he generated $17,000 per month.
“It’s a pretty simple formula when you’re just starting out,” he says. “Less traffic * high average price = high traffic * low average price.”
Enfroy points out the importance of focusing less on passive income sources at the start, such as ads and affiliate links, and focusing more on value services like being a consultant.
“While passive income comes with time, charging a premium price out of the gate will be the seed money to invest in your blog and make it grow faster.”
To do this, he suggests you leverage your existing professional skills so you can charge a premium price and then begin to develop your online presence.
Here are Enfroy’s steps to getting started as an online consultant:
- Build an online presence with a new website
- Create a hire me page
- Develop a sales funnel with this landing page
- Close your consulting deals and charge a monthly price
- Start a blog and begin funneling your consulting money to content creation and link building to grow your traffic
- Add in your affiliate links and ads after 3-6 months
The results of this technique? He made over $35,000 in his September blog income report, only nine months after the launch.
2. Start a Freelance Business
Freelancing is considered one of the most attractive options if you’re looking to start an online business.
In the US, freelancers make up one-third of the working economy and this trend is expected to continue over the years as the promise of flexibility and independence attracts eager minds.
What’s more, freelancing is a great way to get the gist of an industry before committing to it. Unlike in a full-fledged job, you’re not tied to a desk, or even locked into a contract, instead, you can quit whenever you want (provided you fulfill your client obligations).
This flexibility makes freelancing an attractive choice for those who are unsure about what career path they’d like to take, as it gives them the option to dabble in many. No strings attached.
You might be looking to freelance part time before making the leap into your next big career role or maybe you’re thinking of going all in as a full-time freelancer. Regardless, there’s a lot of options available for you to choose from.
Wondering if you’ve got the chops to do it? Ask yourself these questions:
- Do I have the self-discipline to resist distractions and stay focused on my work?
- Do I have the time management and organization skills to meet deadlines and deliver to my clients?
- Can I keep myself motivated on the bad days (because not every day will be rainbows for a freelancer)?
- Do I have the people skills to deal with clients and form lasting relationships?
Another important point to consider is your financial stability. You might want to conduct an analysis of your savings and cash flow before you quit your job to go into freelancing full time.
There are a number of freelancing roles you can take up depending on your skill set. To list a few:
- Freelance writer: for content marketing, copywriting, ghostwriting, etc.
- Virtual assistant: A parallel to an office assistant job in the real world
- Freelance programmer: For developing websites, digital programs, etc.
- Graphic designers: For creating logos, slogans, typography, depending on client needs
- Freelance photographers: Many niches from wedding shoots to newborns
Depending on what you pursue, the specifics may change, but a general set of guidelines on how to begin your freelancing business are highlighted below:
- Define your goals: Determine what your end game is. Is this a temporary gig or do you want to establish yourself as an expert freelancer in the market? Do your research on competitors and quantify your goals so you know what you’re working towards.
- Identify a market and prospective client base: The freelance market is saturated, so it’s crucial you identify a niche that you can stand out in. After doing so, narrow down on some clients whose needs you feel you are best placed to address. Starting small is always advisable.
- Set strategic prices: Set your prices on the basis of the value you are offering to a specific client, not competitor prices.
- Build a website: Get your name and your brand out there by highlighting your work and portfolio on your own website.
- Deliver and build success stories: Having chosen your first set of clients wisely, deliver to them on your projects and you will generate positive buzz through word of mouth.
With freelancing, you have complete ownership of the kind of business you want to run and the goals you wish to see through. Freelancing can even lead you to a path you didn’t expect by building your skill set in a specific niche.
Case Study: Marijana Kostelac, Successful SaaS Writer
Marijana Kostelac (she goes by Marijana Kay) is a freelance writer and content strategist based out of Dublin who develops content pieces for brands in the SaaS and marketing field.
She began her journey in journalism before building up her skills in digital marketing, and used that knowledge to her advantage to become a successful business writer. Having started off as a journalist, Marijana never guessed she would end up running her own online business.
“I also think this job is the best thing that could have happened to me because I get to learn and grow every single day,” she says.
And rightly so! Marijana’s success is rooted in her personal happiness and flexibility gained from running an online freelance business but also in the quality she delivers to her clients.
If you’d like more information on how to start and scale a consulting or freelancing business, check out our free in-depth guide.
3. Start an Ecommerce Business
Another solid online business idea is an ecommerce shop. Basically, selling stuff on the internet. Although competition is fierce in this arena, the market is huge with a ton of opportunity to make a full-time income.
Building an ecommerce business has a lot of parallels to building a business in real life. You have to have a solid business plan, strategies in marketing and operations and the finance to get it all started.
Here are a few general tips to get you on the right path:
- Do your research: Identify an actionable niche, look into your competition and opportunities for partnership, and build a model that would work best for your offering. Do not start based on a hunch.
- Identify your brand and buyer personas: Who are you selling to? What image do you want to convey of your business? Build your website with these questions in mind and formulate a foolproof marketing and brand strategy.
- Do all the groundwork: This involves registering your business, getting the relevant licenses and permits, designing a logo.
- Open for business: Attract customers to your website using SEO tactics, build traffic and grow your customers. This is a continuous process and as your business grows, so will the importance of these tasks.
Case Study: Gretta van Riel, the Multimillion-Dollar Ecommerce Business Builder
Gretta van Riel launched multiple million-dollar ecommerce businesses starting at just 22! It began with SkinnyMe Tea, an online business that sells detox tea concoctions worldwide. SMT generated $600,000 in only four months.
And from there, it was only uphill for Gretta. She continued her streak of success with more business ideas, which include a watch brand called The 5th and Drop Bottle, an innovative glass, fruit-infusing drink bottle.
Consult our in-depth ecommerce guide to learn how to start and scale your very own ecommerce store. We’ve also got a FREE masterclass taught by Gretta van Riel where she teaches students how to start a profitable online store in 12 weeks or less.
4. Sell Online Courses
The popularity of online sources has grown rapidly in the last decade.
Whether your audience consists of full-time students or people just looking to build their skill sets in a field, the opportunity in online courses are aplenty. There are a lot of perks to making your business in selling an online course.
To begin with, you have low costs and high-profit margins as with most online business ideas.
But additional perks that are specialized in the realm of digital products such as online course offerings include:
- An opportunity to automate and streamline your offering
- Unique marketing campaigns like free trials
- It has no expiration date and can be updated and improved upon
- Learning can’t go “out of stock”
- It’s in line with the tech trends of the future
Depending on your area of knowledge, what you choose to offer to your students can vary. But the tools at your disposal remain the same.
You have the option to sell your knowledge through online tutorials and courses, and through existing platforms like Udemy and Coursera, MOOC platforms that are widely known for the variety of their course offerings.
If you choose to retain more control over your courses, you also have the option to run a course independently through your own website and manage your own webinars.
Offering course tutorials and videos on Youtube as a marketing tactic is also a widely used strategy in this field.
While there are a lot of online courses that are already out in the market, if you get creative and identify an offering you can make, you have a shot at success!
Check out this post on the steps to create an online course to get you started.
Case Study: Travel Rewards Coach for Travel Hackers
One example of an online course designed on an independent website is Travel Rewards Coach.
Aimed at an audience of travel lovers who are looking to exploit the game of travel rewards points to make their experience better, the course offers hacks to maximize the value of every penny they spend on their adventures.
Ranging from which credit cards are the best in the travel biz to luxury hotel offers and free flights, the course isn’t your typical learning experience, but incredibly beneficial to those looking for it.
If you want some more ideas, check out the following video where Nathan, Foundr’s CEO, goes over five profitable online business ideas you can implement this year:
The Wide World of Online Businesses
You might have your doubts about leaving the security of a corporate routine to start up your own business, and that is a natural fear to have.
But if you go about it the right way, the benefits outweigh the costs by far. As the world becomes more engulfed in digital technology and the cloud, it offers vast opportunities for those who are ready to grasp them.
If you know you’ve got a stellar offering you can make, then why hesitate?
Over to you:
Are you feeling inspired to start your own business online? Or have you already embarked? Let us know in the comments.