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Starting a business is easier than ever now thanks to the Internet: it’s no longer strictly necessary to invest in creating a physical product and having a physical storefront.
If you’ve dreamed of achieving financial and location independence, starting an online business probably appeals to you.
You might be hesitant to go all-in straight away, but the good news is that you can start your business as a side hustle and let it grow.
What Are The Best Online Businesses To Start in 2020?
The business idea you ultimately choose depends on where your strengths and interests lie. To make things easy, these online business ideas are broken down by category.
Here are 51 of the best online business ideas:
Online Marketing Businesses
Creative Online Businesses
Online Consulting / Coaching Businesses
Online Selling Businesses
Online Service Businesses
Online Influencer Businesses
1. Social Media Management
If you’re an active user of social media and you’ve managed to grow the likes and followers of your own profile, why not offer your services to others? Many small businesses know social media is important but lack the practical knowledge to pull it off – that’s where you come in.
A social media marketing business could involve replying to messages and commenting on photos to grow follower base or running advertising campaigns through social media. You could even end up creating graphics and writing captions for the company.
You might start off working with small businesses with small budgets, to begin with, but after building up your experience, you can move on to higher-value clients.
2. Social Media Consultant
An additional way you can expand a career in social media is to start a social media consultancy. A social media consultancy gives advice to businesses about how to improve their social media channels rather than directly managing their accounts, although you could offer this service too.
Having a consultancy has the potential to take you from being a one-person freelancing business to a small business with other employees – you could employ other consultants or even social media managers. If you successfully manage your budget, this allows you to make a larger profit.
3. SEO Consulting
Another increasingly important skill for the digital age is SEO. The digital world is competitive, and for businesses to attract customers, it’s important for them to rank highly in Google. Yet, many companies don’t have the resources or knowledge to do this and need to hire somebody external.
Tasks could include editing metadata tags, creating a content marketing strategy with a blog, and searching for keywords. Because lots of companies know nothing about SEO, you can quickly make a significant impact.
Even if you’re not an expert in SEO now, it’s easy to get up to scratch by taking some online courses. A great resource is this Moz guide for beginners.
4. Digital Advertising
Another in-demand service is digital advertising. For the constant changing of the algorithms on platforms like Instagram and Facebook, it can be difficult for companies to understand how to formulate an effective strategy for advertising campaigns. Yet small companies especially may not deem it necessary to have a full-time staff member working on this, so they’re apt to hire contractors instead.
As well as running adverts on social media, you could specialize in running PPC (pay-per-click) campaigns on Google, advertising in which you only have to pay when customers click on the advert.
Many people with a background in marketing carve a successful career in the world of digital advertising. You could also scale up to form a consultancy with other employees.
5. Lead Generation
There’s some overlap between the fields of lead generation, social media marketing, and digital advertising, but each has a slightly different focus. Lead generation is a way of finding and attracting clients by creating useful content rather than putting out adverts. This kind of content could include a blog post with a call-to-action, a survey, or even a coupon.
Once you identify potential customers, you’ll then work on converting them into real clients by sending them useful information about the value the company can offer them. It’s an essential part of internet businesses, so building up a client base should be straightforward.
6. Freelance Content Writing & Copywriting
Freelance content writing and copywriting is an offshoot of marketing services; you’ll be writing content to attract customers, but won’t be as involved in the direct process of converting clients.
Content writers create all kinds of content for companies, including blogs and website content. This ultimately forms part of a content marketing strategy for SEO purposes and to attract clients.
Copywriting involves writing sales posts, landing pages, and emails to help companies sell more products or services. Although you won’t be managing any marketing campaigns, you must have the sales process in mind more than content writers do.
As a freelance writer, it’s important to have a niche to attract high-quality clients. Although you can be a generalist to start with, positioning yourself as an expert makes it easier to charge higher rates.
7. Freelance Technical Writing
Another type of freelance writing is technical writing. Instead of writing content to help sales, technical writers focus on items like product manuals, user guides, and white papers.
Of course, you’ll need to have the technical knowledge; technical writers often have a background in fields like software engineering.
8. Freelance Editing / Proofreading
Another business idea that lets you harness your grammar and writing skills is editing and proofreading. There are some subtle differences between the two fields.
Proofreaders look for mistakes in grammar and spelling, including consistencies, while editors may change entire passages of a text. Therefore, editors work directly with writers, while proofreaders are there to check over the final draft.
There are lots of opportunities in this field. Having a degree in English or a background in editing is an advantage, but the most important factor is a good grasp of grammar and spelling.
9. Freelance Translation
If you happen to be fluent in two languages, freelance translation could be a great option. As the world globalizes, many companies hope to expand to other countries, and they need to enlist the help of translators.
Unless they’re a native speaker in two languages, most translators only translate from their second (or third or fourth) language into their first language. This is important to consider when you want to work out how much money you could make.
If you want to translate from English into Spanish, most of your target market will be US companies who wish to reach new markets in Latin America. On the other hand, if you’re a native English speaker and you want to translate from Spanish into English, you’ll be primarily targeting Latin American companies who may have a smaller budget.
10. Freelance Graphic Design
Writing is far from the only freelancing business you can start.
If you know your way around Adobe Creative Cloud, freelance designing is an easy way for you to monetize your skills. Logos, posters, and beautiful web pages will always be in demand; now more than ever due to the vast amount of online content.
Even if you’re not an expert in graphic design software, freelance designing could still be an option if you have a good eye for visuals. Many companies need simple graphics they can post to their social media accounts or websites, and you can create these with the help of user-friendly sites like Canva and PicMonkey.
11. Freelance Research
You may not have heard of freelance research, but there’s a big market for it. Lots of the information companies need is time-consuming to find, such as market research, statistical analysis, and reports.
Wonder is a website that pays individuals to conduct pieces of research; it can be a great place to start for somebody considering this option. You’ll need to pass a test to join their team, which is a good way of finding out if you’re up to the job. However, if you want to expand into a business, it’s best to set up independently with your own clients.
12. Freelance Web Design & Development
There’s a considerable amount of demand for website design from companies big and small. New websites are being created constantly, and even existing online businesses often need their websites tweaking or redoing.
This is an obvious choice for software engineers and developers, but plenty of self-taught coders are successful too. As long as you have a portfolio to showcase your work, your chance of landing clients is high. It’s therefore crucial for you to have an excellent website; for web developers, this is your chance to differentiate yourself from the competition.
If you have good design skills, too, this is another great way to make yourself stand out. Try to keep on top of the latest trends in user design.
13. Freelance Accountant / Bookkeeper
If you’re already an accountant or bookkeeper, using your skills for a virtual business could be a smart move as you can use the clients and network you’ve built up to establish yourself independently.
This industry can be tough to enter if you have no experience as it’s highly qualification-based. There are also lots of service providers from countries with a weaker currency, so it can be hard to position yourself competitively against them. That being said, if you’re willing to put the work into building a long-term career and you believe it’s the right fit for you, why not give bookkeeping a go?
14. Freelance Videographer or Video Editor
As marketing and content increasingly move to video, editors and videographers are more in demand than ever. If you know your way around video editing software and can make a professional-looking video, you can tap into this market.
If you can shoot the video yourself and have the equipment to do it, that’s even better as you’ll be able to take the product from start to finish. Clients in all kinds of industries need videos to post on their websites and social media, and good videography is a difficult skill, so you’ll be in high demand if you do it well.
Freelance photography is a competitive sphere to enter, especially as many clients will want you to work for free, and people often devalue good photography in the iPhone era.
To find high-quality photography clients, it’s important to have a niche. Limiting yourself to something as specific as vintage wedding photography might sound counterproductive, but it will make you far more attractive to people looking for that specific type of photography.
Many people want the best photographs possible to mark their special occasions; these are the kinds of clients you need to find.
To make some extra money on the side, you can also try selling stock photography to sites like Shutterstock and iStock; the commission you’ll receive on each image is low, but if you sell enough photographs, it can add up.
16. eBook Writing
Freelance writing may not suit all writers; you must manage the business side actively to look for new clients and track your finances. eBook writing allows you to focus on the writing side more since you’ll be working on longer projects and, unless you’re ghostwriting, you’ll have creative control over the work you’re doing.
In the past, publishing houses were king, and they’ll probably always hold more prestige. Nevertheless, many authors and companies now prefer self-publishing due to the greater profit margins. Publishing houses take large commissions in return for marketing and administration services. You could either opt to become a self-published author or to ghostwrite content for other companies or individuals, which can be very profitable.
But it’s not just about the writing you must think about. Because of the vast amount of content available on eBook stores, you must stand out – choosing the right keywords can be even more important than high-quality writing. You’ll also have to learn how to format your work correctly – uploading a Word document straight into an eBook isn’t a good strategy. You’ll probably need to outsource an editor and a front cover designer, which means hiring other freelancers.
The good news is that, if you can sell hundreds of copies within your first week, Amazon will start promoting the book for you for free. This is an amazing opportunity to make a serious amount of money. It’s therefore worth putting a lower price for the first week to boost sales, then raising the prices at a later date.
Many people don’t realize that running a blog can be a serious business – but only if you do it right and you’re prepared to put the time into growing your audience. Many bloggers earn thousands a month, but it often takes years to reach this point as you must gradually increase your domain authority and attract more visitors.
Once you have an audience, you can make money by monetizing your blogs. There are a few ways to do this. One is by selling physical goods or services; this could be merchandise that uses your branding, such as T-shirts or mugs.
A second option is affiliate marketing. You’ve probably noticed that many blog articles contain links to products such as online courses and books; if anyone makes a purchase from this link, the blog owner will receive a percentage of the profits. For websites that have hundreds of blog posts and thousands of website visitors every day, the earning potential is huge.
Many blogs also establish partnerships with brands and advertise a company on their blog posts in return, as well as allowing direct adverts on their websites.
However, you must make sure you choose a lucrative topic. Three of the most profitable niches are dating, weight loss, and making money online – however, choosing a niche that isn’t yet being tapped into could be a successful approach under certain circumstances.
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18. T-shirt Designer
Freelance graphic design isn’t the only option for talented creatives with an eye for details.
If you’re confident in your idea and designs, you could also invest in more professional equipment and sell your goods directly to customers; this can lead to larger profits in the long run.
19. App Development
Another way for coders to utilize their skills is by developing apps. You could create apps for existing businesses – which can be extremely profitable – or make your own.
If you’re successful, the profits can be huge as you can monetize through in-app purchases or adverts once you have a lot of users. The problem is that you need to be sure your idea would be popular before you invest your time into taking it further; you could get friends and family to take a survey to find out.
Even if you’re not successful, having made an app or two looks great in your portfolio and can lead to more freelance clients.
20. SAAS Development
If you want to go one step further than developing an app, you could create SAAS (Software as a Service). This a type of online software that performs a specific function for the individual.
Examples are Dropbox and Google Apps, but there are many more. If you create the next Dropbox, you’ll be raking in the money, but this is no easy task. As is the case with apps, first, you must ensure there’s a genuine demand for the app you want to create, and then you must maintain it.
21. WordPress Theme Developer
A further application for your coding skills is to create a WordPress theme. This is a slightly smaller project than developing an app or SAAS, so it could be a good place to start.
People are making new WordPress websites and blogs all the time, but most of them don’t know how to create a theme from scratch, so there’ are lots of potential customers.
You can choose to either create a free theme but incentivize people to pay for extra customizable features or make a paid theme.
22. Life Coaching
There’s no set route to becoming a life coach; although you’ll need a certificate, it requires no particular background or degree. It’s technically open to anyone.
However, the most in-demand life coaches are those with fantastic interpersonal skills and who can demonstrate their success in life. The exact ‘success’ you’ll need depends on your niche – some life coaches are more geared towards career and business development, others towards relationships or health. Significant achievements, like losing fifty pounds or having an entrepreneurial background, are a big bonus.
Once you decide on your niche, you must look for your target clients. You can seek them out online using social media accounts or advertising by building a brand for yourself.
23. Career Coaching
Arguably, career coaching is a more specific form of life coaching. You’ll be helping clients prepare for interviews, write resumes, and offering guidance about their direction.
You must have reached a high level in your career for clients to take you seriously; this is your unique selling point. If you’ve climbed the corporate ladder, but now, you’re looking for a career change or a side hustle, career coaching can be a viable option.
24. Business Coaching
Most clients of business coaching are new entrepreneurs who need feedback to grow their businesses. To attract clients, you’ll need an impressive history in business, and the testimonials to back it up.
If you have the right skill set, business coaching can be a great option. There are many would-be entrepreneurs willing to invest significant sums into growing their businesses ideas into fully formed companies or expanding their existing enterprise. It can also be incredibly fulfilling to watch people achieve their dreams.
The coaching can take place via video calls or phone calls rather than just in-person, which means you have a vast clientele available.
25. Travel Agency
Travel agents typically advise customers about vacations in person, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do the same thing online. If you’re passionate about travel – or want to travel full-time – starting a travel agency could be the perfect option.
If you want to get some experience working as a virtual travel agent before you start your own company, you could look for a job at one of the following companies: Travel Planners International; Nexion; Outside Agents, and Avoya.
26. Cybersecurity & IT
With so many companies online, the demand for help with security is more significant than ever before. Of course, you’ll need a technical background to provide high-quality advice. Services include evaluating systems, running tests, and giving advice.
If you’d prefer to give general advice than focus on cybersecurity, you could start an IT consultancy instead, and troubleshoot for companies to help solve their problem.
27. PR Consulting
Running a PR consultancy is similar to running a social media marketing agency, but as well as running social media, you’ll be thinking about press releases, campaigns, and public image.
PR consultants typically have to join an agency or PR firm, but it’s now become a viable option to operate as a freelance consultant instead. You could then eventually start your own agency.
28. College Consulting
For many parents and students, getting into a good college is of paramount importance, and they’re willing to fork out huge sums of money to increase the likelihood of that happening.
If you happened to attend a good college yourself, why not cash in on that need by teaching others how to do the same? Other than a solid educational background, all you’ll need is good writing skills and possibly a knowledge of scholarship and bursary options.
Like other types of coaching and consulting, everything can take place by video or phone calls.
If you’ve managed to achieve good grades at a high level, why not put that knowledge to good use by starting a tutoring business? The better grades you’ve achieved and the more prestigious an institution you attended, the more you’ll be able to charge.
Of course, it isn’t just the subject knowledge you need. Tutors should also have a solid understanding of the relevant curriculum and to understand exam techniques – but you should be able to learn these easily. Chegg and Studypool are two websites that hire online tutors.
30. Recruitment Consultancy
As candidates become more flexible about moving to new cities or even new countries, it makes more sense than ever for recruitment consultancies to be digital. The primary skills you’ll need are excellent people skills and research ability.
It’s long and grueling work but a very lucrative industry. There’s also lots of chance for expansion if you’re willing to hire a team of trustworthy recruitment consultants. Many small companies can’t afford or don’t need a dedicated human resources team, so they’re willing to pay a small fortune for you to source the right candidate for them.
31. Start a Dropshipping Store
Selling goods online is a great place for budding entrepreneurs to start – and it’s becoming easier than ever to start an online store thanks to dropshipping.
By listing products through third-parties like Shopify, you can sell goods without ever having to touch the inventory yourself, although, of course, you must pay the third-party commission.
But think hard about what type of item you want to sell. You’ll need to choose relatively expensive items to make a profit and a market that’s growing rather than declining.
32. eBay Shop
eBay has been around almost since the dawn of the internet, but there are still many people making money with it.
You can start by selling your unwanted items (it might surprise you how much you can make) then move on to reselling. Some eBay business owners make a profit from selling discounted or thrift shop items on the site for a higher price.
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33. Affiliate Marketing Website
Many bloggers use affiliate marketing as one of their income streams, but you can also set up a website entirely for the purpose of affiliate marketing.
Choose a profitable niche, start a website, and dedicate the content to providing links to relevant resources with affiliate links. If you can rank highly in Google and bring in lots of videos, you’ll be able to make real money.
34. Virtual Thrift Shop
If you think you have a good eye and you’d be able to buy products cheap (either online or in-store) and then sell them on for a larger price tag, starting a virtual thrift shop could be perfect for you.
You can either utilize a platform like eBay or start a new website, like thredUP.
35. Handmade Business Owner
If you’re selling goods you made yourself, you won’t need to worry so much about the profit margin: you must account for the raw materials you use and the postage costs but little else.
Etsy is the most popular site for selling handmade goods. Take a look at what’s popular and see if you could recreate any items yourself.
36. Amazon Arbitrage
Amazon arbitragers find discounted goods on Amazon and relist them for a higher price to make a profit.
You need to do this on a large scale or sell high-value items to make a profit, but it works for some people.
37. Currency & Crypto Trading
Foreign exchange and cryptocurrency trading is a type of buying and selling that certainly won’t require you to touch the products. Experienced traders buy currencies when they’re at a low point and sell them on when they reach a higher value.
However, to have success, you need to understand what you’re doing and carry the risk involved.
38. Domain Selling
The ultimate online business is buying and selling other online businesses – that’s precisely what you’ll do if you start domain selling. Many people sell their domains and businesses for a relatively low price because they want to move on and do something different; if you’re prepared to improve the site, you could sell it for a profit at a later date.
Like any type of arbitrage and trading, there’s risk involved. It might be difficult to sell domains straight away, so you must hold on to them for a while until you can find clients. But if you can afford to navigate through the uncertainty, it can be a very profitable business.
Search for domain names:
39. Online Course Creator
Course creation can be a great option for creating a passive income out of a field you’re knowledgeable about and enjoy.
Sites like Udemy and Skillshare are good places to start. The challenge is promoting your course once you create it – you could either pick an area you think is in demand but which nobody else is covering or promote yourself through adverts or a landing page.
40. Sell Email & Media Kit Templates
Another passive income option is to post resources online that you can make once and sell many times. A great example is email or media templates; many new online businesses are looking to buy these.
Again, the main problem is advertising. You could start a website where visitors can buy and download the resources, but you must attract customers in the first place.
41. Telemarketing / Customer Service
All telemarketing requires is a telephone and some excellent customer service skills: you can easily do that at home.
Many companies are now looking for remote employees to do customer service for them, but you can make more money by starting your own companies and going directly to companies.
42. Tech Support
As well as general customer support, tech support is in high-demand; all you’ll need is technical knowledge, a phone, and a computer.
Again, you can look for companies hiring remote employees to gain experience and then go freelance.
43. Personal Assistant
Personal assistants perform a wide variety of tasks for companies or individuals, such as data entry, event management, and research. If you want an exciting role with a variety of tasks, it could be perfect.
I’ve written an entire article about how to become a virtual assistant.
Transcription isn’t generally a high-paying business, but it’s very accessible. You’ll be converting audio files into text, so a fast typing speed is the most important skill.
Not anyone can become a therapist – you must have a background as a psychologist, therapist, or counselor. But thanks to apps like BetterHelp and TalkSpace, it’s easier than ever to offer therapy sessions digitally.
Patients who have lower financial resources or who feel too anxious when talking to a person about their issues physically often prefer to speak to a therapist digitally. This industry is likely to increase further in the future.
46. Online Fundraising or Grant Writing
Online fundraising involves working with clients to help them find prospective donors, promote the business, and bring in more funding. This is typically a more hands-on route that involves lots of communication.
Grant writing involves filling out applications for significant funding opportunities; it can be a long process but is better suited for those who prefer writing to talking.
47. Voiceover Artist
Every time you listen to an advert, TV program, or video with a narrator, they’ve probably used a voiceover artist – it’s a big industry to get in to.
48. Meal-plan Service
In an increasingly busy world, many working people have less time to plan nutritionally sound meals. If you know the basics of nutrition and enjoy cooking, you could make some money from planning their meals for them.
49. Instagram Influencer
Instagram accounts with significant followings can earn thousands per post to advertise specific products and brands.
There’s no shortcut for getting your account to that level, though. You’ll have to post good content regularly and engage your followers. Then once you’re there, you have to be careful not to lose the trust that you’ve gained by posting advertisements regularly.
YouTubers can make money through direct ad revenue and also through paid advertisements for supporting brands in their videos. Again, you need to be careful not to lose trust amongst your audience.
It’s a competitive platform to enter, but if you consistently create high-quality content, you may breakthrough, eventually.
YouTubers often have a podcast too. This is a great way to expand your audience or tap into a brand-new audience; many people don’t want to waste time sitting and watching a video but like to listen to a podcast while driving, working out, or doing chores.
Podcasting is also a huge area in its own right now. If you don’t have a high-quality camera or you feel uncomfortable at the prospect of appearing on videos, recording podcasts could be a better option.
Which Kind of Online Business is the Most Profitable?
The most profitable online business for you is the one that is the best match for your skillset and which you can expand the most.
It’s possible to make thousands a day from trading foreign currencies, but if you don’t know what you’re doing, you’ll probably lose your money straightaway. Equally, being a personal assistant isn’t hugely profitable in general, but if you have a knack for it and go on to create your own agency, the sky is the limit.
What Are the Most Successful Small Businesses Online?
Again, to ensure your small business is successful, it’s important that you’re passionate and knowledgeable about the area you choose to enter. Think long-term success rather than short-term gains.
What can you see yourself still doing in five years? What would you choose to do even if you didn’t need the money?
If you’re not sufficiently motivated, you’ll risk burning out before you ever reach success.
How Do I Start An Online Business with Little to No Money?
Many of the businesses mentioned in this article only require a computer and an internet connection to get started; if you’re low on funds, it’s no excuse to hold off on creating an online business.
However, the more you invest in your business, the quicker it will grow. If you can afford to, consider investing in professional equipment and marketing.
Start Your Online Business
There are lots of ways to make money through online businesses, but the one you ultimately choose comes down to your needs and goals.
Don’t overthink it; choose something, work hard, and it will pay off in time.