Want to join the online work force, do your dream job, or maybe just work from home? While there’s plenty of demand for online workers today, breaking in can be intimidating. Even if you’ve researched the top online business ideas and picked your best match, you still might not know how to get started or what to expect.

To help you find innovative business ideas for a digital career, we’ve compiled a list to inspire you. But before we dive into the best online business ideas, let’s talk a little about how to find the right path for you.

Woman sitting down doing researching on her computer
Design by OrangeCrush

How to find online business ideas for you

Your success in whatever job you choose will depend on your skills and talents, and your happiness will depend on what that job entails.

For starters, if you’re already a skilled laborer, you may be able to seamlessly migrate your job from offline to online. Specialized jobs like teacher, executive assistant, translator, bookkeeper, or personal shopper, all have online counterparts. Depending on your experience and credentials, you may even have an advantage over your online competition from day one.

So before you look at new innovative business ideas online, your first step should be seeing if you can shift your current job online. Of course most professions still need be handled on site, but in the wake of all the pandemic lockdowns, you might be surprised at what you can do online. Start by hitting the job boards (listed below), specifically for your field of expertise.

illustration of a woman working from home
Design by ShubhamBaakre

Of course, if your offline career is doing well, you have to ask yourself if switching online is really necessary. Maybe you like working directly with people, or maybe you prefer offline methods of attracting new business. Consider both your personal taste and the online demand for your services before making a decision to upend your offline business.

If you’re choosing a brand new career, that’s another story. Choosing a new career is always filled with obstacles and uncertainty. However, that’s just the price you pay for getting the job you want, especially with the flexibility of online work or doing your dream job. If you’re not sure where to start, ask yourself some introspective questions:

  • What am I good at? What skills, knowledge and natural talents do I possess that can be used to make money?
  • What do I enjoy doing? What tasks can I do comfortably all day every day?
  • What resources do I have at my disposal? HD camera, Photoshop license, popular social media account?
  • How much startup funds do I have? How long can I last without pay while my new career finds its footing?

The next step is finding out just how viable each career path is. The best way to begin is researching the business ideas you like online. A good starting point are the job boards that cater specifically to online work. Browse the sites below to see the expectations, salaries and demand for your the job you’re interested in:

  • Jobspesso—an international job board specializing in development, design and other solutions for tech brands like content creation and customer service
  • Dynamite Jobs—a good resource for finding remote jobs in traditional fields like engineering, financing and HR.
  • LinkedIn Jobs—the job board at LinkedIn has a wide reach and lots of variety, plus it can even assess the skills in your profile for recommendations.

You won’t find all online business ideas represented on the job boards, however. For example, if you want to start an ecommerce website or build an influencer brand from scratch, you won’t normally find job postings. Your best bet then is to check out your competitors—go to their sites and see what the day-to-day of the job entails.

four illustrations: someone working on a computer, someone on social media on their phones, world news illustrations, conversations with two people
Illustration by Tao1022

Look for details like how much they charge or what services they provide. Feel free to request a quote if they don’t disclose their fees publicly. This will help you budget your business more effectively, or reveal that it’s a dead end because you can’t compete with their prices.

Lastly, make sure you’re prepared for the lifestyle of being self-employed. The switch can be quite jarring if you’re not used to working for yourself, so read our guides on how to build and online business or how to leave your job and become a full-time freelancer. It’s not always about the job, either—such a change in lifestyle can affect your mood and perspective and it can take a lot of determination and persistence, so be prepared for that as well.

How to find your business niche

Narrowing down your job prospects is just the beginning. Your online business is more likely to succeed if you hone in on a particular niche, a very specific category of work or clientele. One of the biggest drawbacks to running an online business or freelance career is the competition—your best chance for making money is to specialize on a particular group to reduce that competition.

For example, let’s say you want to start an ecommerce business. If you sell a little bit of everything, shoppers will just continue using Amazon or Walmart because that’s what they’re familiar with. However, if you sell specialty products that aren’t readily available on other marketplaces, such as vegan pet food or your own handmade crafts, that reduces the competition and gives shoppers more incentive to buy from you.

That doesn’t just apply to retail, either. Creative professions like writers, photographers, artists, graphic designers, bloggers, vloggers, speakers and videographers can also specialize in certain fields and styles to stand out from the competition.

colorful illustration of woman sitting at the desk working on design
Illustration by Natalia Maca

Aside from specializing in a certain industry or style, you can also hone in on a pricing niche. If you’re just starting your business, you may want to avoid high rates and charge to reflect your experience. This appeals more to customers on a tight budget, and can give you an advantage over more experienced competitors who charge twice as much.

That principle also applies to ecommerce. If you’re selling the same products as a more popular competitor, you can attract more customers by undercutting their prices. You can fill the market’s inexpensive niche for shoppers on a budget.

Then there’s your own branding niche. In business, people ultimately choose the option that most appeals to them, even if it’s not the most logical option. To appeal to a certain group of shoppers or clientele, adapt your site design, social media posts, content style, etc., to match. For example, if you want to target younger clientele or come across as friendly and casual, use emojis and slang in your site copy and email marketing.

To find the niche that’s right for you, there are two main considerations:

1. Which niche do I personally understand?

It’s easier to cater to a niche that you yourself belong too. If you personally don’t use emojis, it’ll be hard to market yourself as someone who does. But more to the point, if you understand your niche, you’ll be able to identify what your clientele are looking for, including pain points, user preferences and special features (i.e. two-day shipping).

2. Where do you see a market opening?

It’s not enough to know what niche you want; it also has to be viable. What if no one’s looking for a videographer who specializes in claymation? What if you can’t beat your competitor’s prices for vegan pet food?

This is where research comes in handy. You always want to get a lay of the land before charging in. Don’t just check out what your competitors are doing, but look into how their customers feel about them. Maybe their reviews complain about something that you can offer instead.

If you’re looking at online business ideas for ecommerce, research multiple suppliers to see just how low you can sell your products while still breaking even. If you’re a content creator, see what kinds of content are in high demand but low supply.

The best online business ideas

Need some inspiration on which innovative business ideas might be right for you? Here’s a list of the best online business ideas, with what you need to get started in each.

1. Ecommerce: selling goods online

Ecommerce website design by Artyom Ost
Ecommerce website design by Creative_David
  • Investment capital: cost of supplies, cost of website
  • Necessary resources: trade tools
  • Skill set: expertise in whatever you’re making

First, let’s start with one of the more obvious online business ideas: selling your own products, art, food and crafts. If you have created a genius new product or you’re a painter, fashion or jewellery designer, woodworker or even chef, you can easily sell what you make online. The hard part is knowing how to make something; after that, all you need is time, a website and an understanding of how to ship your products. A professional-looking website can be the key to success for new ecommerce businesses, so make sure your website and all your customer-facing profiles look top notch.

Because they’re your own goods, you can modify them to fit whatever niche is available. For example, a lot of people sell homemade jewellery, but very few sell homemade banana lockets with a tiny monkey inside. If you understand your niche, you’ll be able to offer the products they want but can’t find elsewhere.

Tips for breaking in

To start, you might want to begin selling on a site like Etsy, a marketplace for homemade goods. Once you have a stable following of loyal customers, you can open your own website for more control and to create a consistent brand for your business.

When you’re ready to scale up your operation, keep an eye on how much you pay for supplies and raw ingredients—when you’re using a lot, see if you can get a price break by buying in bulk.

2. Social media influencer

online business ideas example: social media influencer
Via Instagram
  • Investment capital: low
  • Necessary resources: successful social media account
  • Skill set: social media skills: knowing what to post and how often, what to say in comments, etc.

A lot of people dream about being a social media influencer without understanding the work aspects. It’s one thing to use social media for fun; it’s another to use it as your job. You may have a natural talent for trending, but when you do it professionally there’s also technical aspects like researching what time periods have the highest traffic per platform, choosing which hashtags to use and knowing the right responses for a variety of different comments.

If you think you got those down, you can monetize your social media success by accepting sponsors and promoting their products. However, having a strong connection with your niche is essential—you’ll only attract sponsors who are trying to reach your follower group, so the more specialized they are, the better.

Tips for breaking in

Breaking into the influencer profession is hard, and you’ll likely need a successful social media account first before you start making money and receive free gifts. Like the other online business ideas, it’s best to focus on a single niche. Unify your posts with a specific theme, and make sure you’re using the social media platform that your target audience prefers.

3. Writer & blogger

online business ideas example: content writer
Via Pexels
  • Investment capital: none
  • Necessary resources: none
  • Skill set: writing and editorial skills, search engine optimization (SEO)

Content writers create the blog articles, books and ebooks and website copy that we all read on a daily basis. This job is the spiritual successor to print journalism of the past, and as such relies on the same skill set. Bloggers create this content for their own website in order to grow traffic and eventually monetize their blog through things like affiliate links, sponsored or gated content and consultations.

The main requirement to becoming a professional writer is writing ability. If you can write something that people enjoy reading, that’s enough to get your foot in the door. However, to maximize your success, you’ll also want to learn techniques for SEO, or how to get articles or websites to appear high up in search engine results like Google.

As always, it helps to focus on specific niches. You can specialize in certain topics (i.e. advice, industry news, DIY how-tos) or certain writing styles (i.e. humorous essays, dry legal copy).

Tips for breaking in

Building a successful blog take a really long time, so keep that in mind if you want to build a blogging-based business.

As a freelance writer, you’ll need a portfolio before you start apply. Write up some samples specifically for the niche you want or do some pro bono work so you have a business reference.

If you’re planning to write online content, study up on how search algorithms work so you can improve your SEO.

4. Videographer or photographer

online business ideas example: videographer
Via Giphy
  • Investment capital: varies depending on the scope of the project
  • Necessary resources: HD camera, camera accessories (i.e. boom mic, lights), editing software
  • Skill set: filmmaking and film-editing

The internet loves videos, from cats to comedy sketches to news clips. Someone with a good eye who knows how to put a film together can make a lot of money creating content for brands who need it, from social media posts to product videos.

The downside is the expenses. First and foremost, you usually need your own film equipment, which certainly isn’t cheap. Ambitious projects also require hiring a film crew, potentially with professional actors, not to mention additional fees like studio space or props.

Tips for breaking in

To get started, it helps to make a reel of your best work. This acts as your portfolio, which you can show to prospective clients to see if you match their style. Just like with content writers, you might want to do some pro bono work for business references.

5. Dropshipping ecommerce

online business ideas example: dropshipping ecommerce
Via Spocket
  • Investment capital: website or shopping platform
  • Necessary resources: none
  • Skill set: sales and marketing

Compared to traditional retail, dropshipping ecommerce is far simpler. In dropshipping, the supplier handles all the storage and shipping of goods—the seller only focuses on making a sale, and then forwards the sales order to the supplier for fulfillment. The downside, though, is that the supplier takes home the bulk of the profit, leaving the seller to get by on what’s essentially a commission.

If you love the selling and marketing aspects of ecommerce but hate the shipping logistics, dropshipping is a perfect fit. The dropshipping seller focuses on sales strategy, promotions, outreach, advertising, customer service and branding—the customer-facing side of retail only. However, because you’re sharing your profits, you have to sell twice as much to make a comfortable living.

Tips for breaking in

We explain with more detail how to get started in our guide to dropshipping. If you want some quick tips, first find a supplier in your niche, then look at your competitor’s prices and finally crunch the numbers to see how much you’d have to charge and what your profit would be.

6. Podcasting

online business ideas example: podcasting
Design by GrApHiCaL SOUL.
  • Investment capital: media host, marketing funds
  • Necessary resources: professional-grade microphone, recording and editing software
  • Skill set: speaking skills

If content writing is the spiritual successor to print journalism, then podcasting is the modern equivalent to talk radio. It’s the career of choice for people who not only like to talk, but also are good at it.

To succeed in podcasting, you must create something worth listening to, which requires excellent speaking skills. Good podcasts are entertaining, emotional and informative, so figure out a niche where you can achieve all three.

Tips for breaking in

If you can, leverage your following from other online outlets like social media or YouTube. If you have friends in podcasting, guest star in each other’s shows to reach new audiences. It may take awhile to develop a large enough following to monetize, so be patient.

7. Selling services online

  • Investment capital: none
  • Necessary resources: website
  • Skill set: any special skills

This online business idea is all about the special skills you have that others don’t. Whether you’re a speaker, bookkeeper, consultant or coach, you can sell your services online. If you’re an expert in your niche, all you have to do it is find the clients that are in need of your services.

You can do that through word of mouth and recommendations, using online freelancing platforms or reaching out to potential clients via email. You can also advertise your services on Google or social media or you can start a website or blog to attract clients organically.

Tips for breaking in

The key to selling your services is presenting your business online. You need to showcase your unique skills and why you’re the right person to do the job. The easiest way to do that is creating a professional-looking website with plenty of convincing examples of your work and some great customer testimonials.

8. Affiliate marketing

online business ideas example: affiliate marketing
Via Wikipedia
  • Investment capital: none
  • Necessary resources: a successful online channel
  • Skill set: marketing and advertising

If you own a successful channel online, like a popular blog or YouTube channel, you can “rent” your traffic to other businesses, a subtle form of advertising known as affiliate marketing. Though it comes in many forms, affiliate marketing today is most common in sponsored content.

For example, if you manage a blog, other companies would pay you to post articles they wrote about themselves, or even just posting a link to their site with a favorable mention. Sponsored content is one of the more subtle approaches to advertising online, but creates more natural ads that are less likely to be ignored.

Tips for breaking in

To succeed in affiliate marketing, you need a preexisting source of internet traffic. The more traffic you can generate, the more you can charge. If you know whom you’re affiliating with, you can tailor the specifics of your site to optimize traffic for their particular audience.

9. Retail arbitrage ecommerce

online business ideas example: retail arbitrage ecommerce
Via Giphy
  • Investment capital: depends on your product range
  • Necessary resources: website
  • Skill set: shopping skills, bargain hunting

Retail arbitrage is when you buy products at a discount and then resell them at a higher mark-up. It may sound illegal, but it’s perfectly fine as long as you follow the rules.

For example, let’s say your local Walgreens is having a clearance on Halloween masks in November. You can buy the whole stock, put them in storage for about a year, and then sell them next autumn at full price to turn a profit.

In practice, retail arbitrage involves lots of legwork, specifically going around to store after store looking for deals. You also don’t have much control over what products you offer, which can make it hard to target specific niches. However, for people with a natural talent for shopping, it’s a good way to put those skills to use.

Tips for breaking in

The key to retail arbitrage is having a wide reach: you need to know when there’s sales from multiple stores so that you always have a source of products. Pick and choose the right sources and become familiar with their “special discount” MO—how often they run sales and which items are usually discounted.

10. Freelance designer

online business ideas example: freelance designer
Design by Konstantin Kostenko
  • Investment capital: none
  • Necessary resources: design software
  • Skill set: graphic design

Last but not least, freelance designers can work almost exclusively online. Most SMBs don’t have the budget for an in-house designer, so they look to freelancers to handle their one-off projects, like a logo or website design. Because the work is done remotely anyway, it’s no hassle to manage a freelance design career online.

Getting started as a freelance designer is the hard part. To begin, you need an impressive portfolio of samples to show prospective clients, so they can gauge your talent, professionalism and artistic style. Then, you need to find employers, but if you’re just starting out it might be hard to launch your career just by answering job ads.

That’s where platforms, like 99designs, can help. These platforms have a built-in audience, so it’s a great way to build a client base before setting out on your own.

Tips for breaking in

Like the other online business ideas for freelancing, you’ll need a portfolio before you start. Again, try pro bono work to get some early experience. When you’re ready to start applying, you can build your own portfolio or join a platform, which already gets plenty of traffic and will send some your way.

More online business ideas

Couldn’t find the right idea for you? Here are some more online business ideas to consider:

  • build an app
  • start a Youtube or Twitch channel
  • career, fitness or life coaching
  • digital advertising
  • social media marketing
  • sell an online course
  • business, SEO or IT consulting
  • create an online game
  • start an online agency
  • software or website development
  • tutoring or online teaching
  • virtual assistant
  • researcher
  • 3D printing
  • online recruiting
  • music or voiceover work

Conclusion

There’s never been a better time to follow your dreams! With all the new social media platforms and communication tools, it’s easier than ever to do what you love and make money from it. Not only does the new technology make it more realistic to work remotely, the communicate network allows you to work for people anywhere in the world. Maybe none of the local companies like your videos, but to an entrepreneur in India, you might be just what they’re looking for.

Just remember to pay attention to branding and design as you’re building your new online business. If you’re not a design expert, that’s okay! You can always enlist the help of a professional designer to make your website and brand look outstanding.

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