An online business is a digital-based business built on the internet. Types of online businesses vary greatly from online coaching to a subscription box service. Utilize currently owned resources such as a smartphone and computer to create an online business for no-cost such as a vlog on YouTube or a T-shirt design company.
For each online business listed below, we discuss costs and income potential, provide resources, and elaborate on ideas. Remember, you don’t have to choose one specific online business to start. You may want to combine two or three types into one business.
For example, you may want to blog, write an e-book, and do online coaching under your personal brand. It’s best to first focus on one type of business, learn how to make it successful, then expand to another. Additionally, once you’ve selected your type of online business, review online business ideas for inspiration.
1. Social Media Agency
Social media managers work with small to medium-sized businesses to create and post content as part of a business’s marketing strategy. Many business owners struggle to consistently create social media “micro-content” for their business. They are busy running the business and managing employees and don’t have time for social media. Additionally, business owners that don’t use social media themselves struggle to understand the nuances of each platform. They will hire someone who does understand the nuances.
When starting a business as a social media manager, it’s best to specialize in a certain area of social media. For example, you can specialize in a specific kind of content such as stories or animations. Additionally, you can specialize in a platform such as Pinterest or Facebook groups.
The cost to start a social media manager business is minimal. In fact, it’s possible to start this type of online business start with zero cost. However, it’s likely you’ll need a website and logo for the business, which can cost under $100. To get started, try DreamHost, which is an all-in-one website building platform that costs as little as $2.95 per month to build and host a WordPress website.
The income potential for a social media manager varies greatly. As you start out, expect to earn anywhere from $15 to $20 an hour. Once you build your portfolio of work and can show results from previous clients, you can charge up to $50 an hour for specialty work such as animations. Additionally, as your list of clients expands, consider hiring a junior social media manager to continue to grow your business.
2. Vlog on YouTube
A vlog is a video blog (video + blog = vlog). It’s a great alternative to those who want to create content, but don’t want to write blogs. YouTube is a great medium to post vlogs because it’s a free platform. Additionally, your videos receive free exposure from YouTube’s visitors. Vlogs can be about anything you’d like: everyday life with your children or pets, your job, or trips.
It will be a challenge to initially make money from vlogging. You’ll first have to build an audience on YouTube, also called subscribers. Once you can show that your videos consistently get views and viewer engagement (thumbs-up, comments, shares), brands may be interested in sponsoring videos. However, you should build at least 10,000 subscribers before approaching brands for sponsorships.
Once you have 10,000 subscribers, connect with brands through an influencer marketing platform such as Famebit, which is specifically designed for YouTube creators. Google purchased Famebit in 2016 as a way to connect creators to brands that are willing to pay for sponsored videos to the creators.
On Famebit, branded content deals start at $100 and can go up to tens of thousands of dollars. Typically, the amount of views your average video earns determines how much you can charge for a sponsored video. You can get started vlogging for free on a smartphone, however, it will typically cost around $1,000 for a mid-quality camera, mic, and video editing software.
3. Online Coaching Business
Online coaching is when someone provides advice, direction, and support to a client through the internet. Coaching can focus on a variety of fields including career, life, relationships, and nutrition. With the increased availability of cheap or free meeting software, online coaching has never been easier. The cost to get started as an online coach can be zero dollars. Use a free virtual meeting platform such as Zoom for unlimited free one-on-one meetings. Additionally, you can use the built-in camera on a laptop or smartphone for virtual meetings.
While you can become an online coach for no cost, we recommend investing in a mid-range quality mic ($80), lighting equipment ($100), a website (under $15 per month for hosting), and branding such as a logo (under $300). You can also take classes to earn a certification in your coaching field. The certification classes teach you methods to improve your coaching skills. Coaching certifications can cost anywhere from $100 to tens of thousands of dollars.
The real challenge of becoming an online coach is finding clients. Typically, this can be done by building an online following through a website, social media platform, and email list. You can show your expertise for free and then offer to take on coaching clients.
When first starting out as a coach, expect to earn under $50 an hour. Once you have a few clients who get great results from your coaching, consider showcasing their results on your website and in your sales pitch. You will be able to charge more per hour once you can point to positive results of your coaching. After building a reputation as a successful, results-driven online coach, you can earn up to $200 an hour.
4. Subscription Box Service
A subscription box business is a service where customers sign up for themed items to be delivered, typically once per month or quarter. This can be a lucrative business because once someone is signed up for your subscription-based model, they get billed every month (or quarter). One thousand customers paying $19 per month is a $228,000-revenue-per-year business.
There are several types of products to include in a subscription box business. It’s best to focus on a targeted market and specific need within that market. For example, one online business idea that succeeded is Dr. Squatch, a soap subscription box for men. The company started part-time in the founder’s house, and in 2018, the business earned over $5 million in revenue.
The cost to start a subscription box business varies depending on the type of products that will be included in the box. Plan on having at least $30,000 available for inventory, packaging, and marketing to start a subscription box business. One cost that will be required is the order management software. Cratejoy is software designed specifically for a subscription box business.
You can get started with Cratejoy for free and pay an 11.25% fee (plus a 10-cent transaction fee) on every sale, or pay $19 per month and a 1.25% fee (plus a 10-cent transaction fee) on every sale. Additionally, when signed up for Cratejoy, your product gets listed in its online marketplace for subscription boxes.
5. Online Course Academy
An online course business is where you take your expertise and teach others through online video. Typically, an online course has several modules walking students step-by-step through the course, plus quizzes throughout, and a workbook. Online courses can be delivered in a couple of different ways. One way for the course to be delivered is through pre-recorded videos that students can watch on-demand. Another way to deliver the course is through live video instruction every week over several months, similar to a college class format.
The cost to create an online course varies depending on the type of online course you’d like to create. For example, you can create a course for free on a platform like Udemy or you can use a self-hosted platform such as Teachable, which costs $79 per month. Regardless of which platform you choose, you’ll need to spend around $80 on a mic, $150 on video editing software, and potentially up to $700 on a camera (if you don’t record with your smartphone).
We recommend not launching a self-hosted online course until you’ve collected at least 1,000 emails of potential customers. This ensures that when you launch your course, you will sell at least a few courses. To collect 1,000 email addresses, you can create content on a website, YouTube, or social media, and give away a freebie document for interested followers to access in exchange for their email.
6. Social Media Influencer
A social media influencer is anyone online who has a following and can persuade that following to take an action. The influencing (or persuading) part is important because it’s likely that you’ll need your following to take action to earn money from them. The cost to get started as a social media influencer can be zero because you’re building your following on a free social media platform such as Instagram, Snapchat, or Facebook.
One of the most in-demand influencer businesses on Instagram is a travel photography-based account. Not only can you grow a following by posting beautiful photos, but brands will hire you to go on paid trips around the world and take photos of their products and services. Most brands can hire a photography influencer to do this work at a fraction of the cost of a professional photography freelancer. As a seasoned photographer with at least 10,000 followers, get paid up to $5,000 plus paid expenses for a collection of photographs.
There are several ways to earn money as an influencer. The easiest way is to sign up for an influencer marketing platform such as Izea. Influencer marketing platforms exist to connect creators with brands. As a creator, you can discover brands that are willing to pay for sponsored posts. To succeed with influencer marketing it’s important to have a loyal following that engages with your content because brands will evaluate your engagement statistics before sponsoring any content.
7. E-book Author
Creating an e-book and selling it through Amazon or your personal website is a popular way to teach and entertain. There is no cost to publish an e-book through Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing, which essentially eliminates the risk of losing money on creating and self-publishing a book.
The key to having a successful e-book is building an audience online before book launch so you have a ready-made customer base interested in your product. Additionally, if your e-book can earn quality reviews, Amazon may promote it within its book search.
Some bloggers may wonder, “Why would someone purchase my e-book when they can read several blog posts which say something similar?” Well, the reason is, many people don’t want to spend the time sifting through hundreds of blog posts to get the information they’re looking for. A tightly organized e-book will save your customers time and they will pay for the saved time. Remember, as an online business owner, you’re not trying to satisfy all customers, but provide a service to potentially a very small percent of your readers or followers.
While you can publish an e-book at no cost, we recommend a few expenses to better market the e-book. You will want a well-designed e-book cover. Consider spending $299 at 99 Designs to have graphic designers submit several e-book cover ideas. You get to choose your favorite designer and work with them to create your perfect e-book cover.
You will also want an editor to edit and revise your writing. You want to avoid simple typos because they may earn you negative online reviews. Consider using a website such as Upwork to find a quality editor for around $40 an hour. Additionally, it’s important to know that on every sale of an e-book on Amazon, the author keeps 35% of the sale price.
8. T-shirt Design Business
If you’re a designer looking to start a product-based business, consider a T-shirt business. A popular website where you can design T-shirts and list them online for free is Teespring. The T-shirt creator is only required to pay a production cost when the T-shirt sells. For example, if a shirt has a production cost of $10 and you sell it for $24, you earn $14. Create a few viral apparel products on Teespring and you could earn thousands of dollars every month.
In addition to T-shirts, you can create socks, pillows, phone cases, mugs, and posters on Teespring. One way to create a quality business on Teespring is to open a store based around a particular theme. For example, you can create a theme around a location (such as a city), a company, motivational quotes, or funny sayings.
9. Online Advertising Agency
An online advertising manager is different from a social media manager because you are managing paid online ads for businesses. Common online advertising includes Google Ads, Bing Ads Facebook Ads, Instagram Ads, and Pinterest Ads.
Typically, you can earn more as an online ads manager than a social media manager because ad campaigns tend to be tied specifically to a business earning more sales. If you can show that your ads are earning the business money, you can charge appropriately for those services.
For example, if you set up a contract to get paid 20% of the profit increase from your ads, and your ads earn the business an extra $3,000 in profit every month, you can earn $600 every month while the ads are running, even if you do minimal maintenance work on the ads. The cost to get started as an online advertising manager is minimal. We recommend setting up a website and a logo, which can both cost under $200.
10. Handmade Items Shop
Creating handmade items and selling them online is a low-cost and easy way to start an online business. Online platforms such as Etsy and Amazon Handmade handle the website hosting, order processing, payment, and customer service management for your business. This is helpful when you’re first starting because you can spend more time creating the best products for your customers.
Additionally, when you use a platform like Etsy, you get access to its millions of website visitors every month. If you create a high-quality and attractive product that sells, your product will move up in Etsy’s search algorithm and earn additional sales. It’s free to join Etsy and start an online shop. However, there are three basic fees: a 20-cent listing fee per product, a 5% transaction fee on every sale, and a 3% plus 25-cent payment processing fee.
The amount of money you can make on Etsy depends on several factors. You’ll want to consider how much your products sell for and what cost you can make them for. Additionally, you may want to consider advertising within Etsy to get your products in front of more additional customers.
In addition to Etsy, you may want to sell your handmade products on your own website. Shopify is a website platform specifically designed for ecommerce. You can get your website up and running on Shopify for as low as $29 per month.
11. Blogging Website
Blogging is considered writing online for informational or entertainment purposes. Just about every topic can be blogged about. You can blog about your own life, teach others skills, or blog about topics outside of your life such as movies and music.
If you’re new to blogging and not sure what to write about, consider a new or trending topic. A new topic will have less competition online and it will be easier to get your blogs to rank high in Google. A popular topic such as parent-related information has been blogged about millions of times, and will be difficult to rank for. However, trending topics within the parenting niche such as new toys may be good blogging topics.
One of the most common ways to monetize a blog is through affiliate marketing. This is when a blogger recommends a product or service within their blog. Under this model, you will earn a commission on every reader who makes a purchase using your unique link.
The earning potential of a blog is unlimited. Some bloggers make hundreds of thousands of dollars every month. However, as a new blogger that is writing two to three times a week, it may take up to six months to make your first $100. There is a lot to learn about blogging including writing content an audience will enjoy, mastering search engine optimization (SEO), and navigating the online publishing process.
The cost to start a blog is minimal. You can start a WordPress website for less than $75. The domain name (www.yourblogname.com) will cost around $15 a year, hosting costs around $10 per month, and the website theme is free or around $50 for a premium blogging theme.
12. Online Resale Shop
Reselling items online is when you purchase products at garage sales, estate sales, and flea markets and resell them online for a higher price. You can earn anywhere from 30% to 1000% more on an item’s original purchase price. Re-selling items online is a low-cost and low-risk business to start because you can rely on online platforms like eBay and Amazon to connect you with interested customers.
To excel in the online resale business, it’s important to know a specific type of product well, such as toys or furniture. You need to have a general understanding of how much an item is selling for online, whether there’s a demand for it, and if it’s currently priced at a good deal. You may be able to lookup an item online, however, while you’re waiting to look up the item, someone who knows intuitively that it’s a good deal may purchase it before you can.
How much you can earn from reselling items online varies depending on the types of items you’re selling, and the markup from the purchase price to the sale price. The cost to sell on eBay varies depending on the type of item, however, typically the first 50 items you list each month are free. After the 50 free items, each listing costs 35 cents. Once an item sells, the fee is 10% of the sales price, with a maximum fee of $750.
With advancements in software and technology, it’s becoming more affordable and easier to create an online business. To start a low-cost online business, utilize current tools such as a smartphone, laptop camera, and free video editing software on your computer. Additionally, you can use affordable online platforms such as Teespring and Cratejoy to get your first paying customers.