Are you wondering what type of online business to start? You want to make money online, but you don’t have much money to invest upfront. What are your options?
There are tons of online business ideas you can start with little to no money. That’s the beauty of the internet. You don’t need to rent an office space or assemble a team to start an online business. You do need to research your target market and come up with a profitable idea that fills a need.
If you’re contemplating starting an online business, this post will help you better understand how to evaluate online business opportunities. It will weigh the pros and cons of the most popular online business models. Then it will give you a breakdown of 25 online business ideas you can start with little to no money. Let’s get started.
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links as explained in my disclosure policy.
Two routes to starting an online business
Online businesses generally fall into two categories: selling other people’s products or selling your own products. There are advantages and disadvantages to both of these routes. It all comes down to what kind of business best suits your skills, goals, and lifestyle. Let’s weigh the pros and cons of these two routes to starting an online business.
Sell other people’s products
Many digital entrepreneurs build six-figure or even seven-figure without ever creating a single product. They make money by selling other people’s products, typically as affiliate marketers, network marketers, or e-commerce store owners. Selling other people’s products can be a great way to test the waters if you want to start an online business in a risk-free way. You act as a middle man between a company or manufacturer and customers, helping drive sales.
- It’s easy to get started.
- You don’t have to create your own product and hope people buy it.
- You can sell products that already have a proven demand and customer base.
- There’s no need to build landing pages or sales funnels.
- The creator of the product deals with customer service and fulfillment.
- A low barrier to entry means there’s a lot of competition.
- You have no control over important factors like pricing, branding, or marketing.
- If the affiliate company or manufacturer stops offering the product you sell, you’re out of luck.
- As an affiliate or network marketer, you earn a percentage of the sales you drive while the company keeps the majority of the profits.
- You need to build an audience and continuously find new people to whom you can promote the product(s).
Sell your own product
The other route to starting an online business is to sell your own products. This could be a physical product, digital product, or a service. By creating and selling your own product, you’re in full control of your business. From validating your offer to finding your first customers to scaling your business, you’re in charge of every step. Selling your own product takes more work upfront. However, the long-term benefits of selling your own profitable product are well worth it.
- There is a higher barrier to entry so you have less competition.
- You can create a profitable product that meets a specific need in the marketplace.
- You’re in full control of your business – marketing, branding, sales, customer service, and everything in between.
- You can build assets in your business, like an email list or a webinar, that can make you money for years to come.
- You’re selling your own advice and expertise, which makes it easier to make a name for yourself.
- You have to do extensive market research and testing to validate your product idea.
- Your product may flop even after you spend months working on it (even the best entrepreneurs have had failed launches. Learn what went wrong and try again with a better approach.)
- You have to constantly update your product to keep up with new trends and developments in your field.
- Being in charge also means dealing with customer complaints and refunds.
You’ve seen the pros and cons of selling other people’s products and selling your own products. Now, let’s take a look at 25 business ideas you can start with little to no money. These business ideas fall into one of the aforementioned online business routes or may overlap between them.
Here’s a list of the 25 business ideas we’ll be talking about:
- Affiliate marketing
- Virtual assistant
- Amazon FBA
- Etsy shop
- Shopify store
- Youtube personality
- Podcast host
- Online course creator
- Web developer
- Graphic designer
- Facebook ads manager
- Social media manager
- Social media influencer
- App developer
- Self-published author
- Resume writer
- Voiceover artist
- Lead generation business
- Subscription service
A blog is a type of website that publishes regular content about a particular topic, also known as a niche. Blogging has exploded in the last ten years, making it one of the most popular online business models. Some say that blogging is dead. After all, there are over 900 million blogs on the internet today. About 75 million of them are on WordPress alone. How do you compete in such a saturated marketplace?
The reality is that most blogs are either inactive or poorly run. That means that if you start your blog with a plan, a strong brand, and a specific audience that you help, you have a solid chance of success. The great thing about a blog is that it combines the best of both worlds. You can promote other people’s products as well as your own. In addition, starting a blog is relatively inexpensive. The core expenses are domain registration, web hosting, and a professional theme. These can cost as little as $100. Want to learn more about blogging? Check out the blogging resources below:
- How To Start a WordPress Blog in 10 Minutes
- How To Choose a Blog Niche That Makes Money
- How To Choose a Blog Name ( with 50+ Examples)
Copywriting is the art of using words to sell products. Copywriters use their language skills and understanding of consumer psychology to write copy that compels people to buy. This is one of the most in-demand skills for businesses. That’s why talented copywriters are highly paid.
Copywriters can work on landing pages, sales pages, email campaigns, website copy, and other types of promotional content for their clients. They typically build up a portfolio of successful client projects and then use that to attract more clients. I’ve hired a copywriter to help me write my landing pages and email sequences. They are not cheap!
If you think you may be interested in copywriting, take a look at Dan Lok’s guide to writing compelling copy. Dan Lok is a successful copywriter that I’ve been following for years. His guide will give you a sense of what copywriting entails.
Did you ace English throughout grade school and college? Maybe you have a natural command of grammar and punctuation? Then you may want to consider starting an online business as a proofreader.
Proofreading is the process of reviewing the final draft of a piece of writing for grammar, syntax, spelling, and punctuation. It should not be confused with editing, which focuses on improving the content and overall readability of a piece of writing. A draft can go through multiple stages of editing before it’s ready for proofreading.
Businesses, law firms, and courts are constantly creating reports, transcripts, presentations, brochures, or promotional content. They need experienced proofreaders to ensure that their work is error-free and well-written. This has led to the rise of freelance proofreaders, who work with clients online. They proofread everything from court documents to business reports. Some proofreaders, like Caitlyn Pyle of Proofread Anywhere, have turned their skill into a multiple six-figure business. If you want to learn more about proofreading, I would recommend Caitlyn Pyle’s Free Intro Workshop.
4. Affiliate marketing
Affiliate marketing is promoting the products or services of other companies in exchange for a commission on every sale you refer. First, you can join affiliate programs or networks to get a unique link for the brands/products you want to promote. Then you share your link through blog posts, emails, social media, and other promotional channels. Whenever someone makes a purchase through your link, you earn a percentage of the sale. Commission rates vary greatly depending on the niche but tend to fall within the range of 3-40%. Some affiliate programs pay a flat fee, like $50/sale.
Affiliate marketing was one of the first online business models I tried. I learned about it in early 2018, shortly after I started my first blog. Upon making my first affiliate sale, I saw the potential of affiliate marketing. Then I invested in courses like Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing and Pin To Profits: Affiliate Marketing to learn more about the strategies. Within six months, I grew my affiliate income to $1,000/month. The great thing about affiliate marketing is that it’s relatively passive. You can write a product review that earns you money for years to come. On the negative side, creating a full-time income from affiliate marketing can take years. It’s not as easy as slapping links and collecting commissions. You have to deeply understand your audience and build trust with them. Also, you must keep promoting your affiliate links in different ways to generate sales.
5. Virtual assistant
A virtual assistant is someone who supports a business, typically by doing administrative tasks, online. You may never actually meet your clients in person, but you’ll get access to their calendar, their social media accounts, websites, and other tools they use in their business. There are general virtual assistants that help with day to day business tasks. Then there are virtual assistants who help with one specific task. For instance, Pinterest virtual assistants help bloggers manage their Pinterest accounts to grow their traffic. The rise of digital entrepreneurship has greatly increased the demand for virtual assistants.
Some business owners chose to hire virtual assistants from countries like the Philippines or India, where rates are lower. I worked with a virtual assistant from the Philippines for two months. While she helped me reduce my workload by tackling administrative tasks, there were some language barriers. So I switched to a virtual assistant from the United States who charged a much higher rate. If you’re from the US or Canada, you can compete with virtual assistants in other countries with lower rates based on how you position yourself.
6. Amazon FBA
Amazon is the largest marketplace in the world so it’s no surprise that selling on Amazon is a popular business model. Amazon FBA, which stands for Fulfilled by Amazon, is an online store run by Amazon and managed by a seller. Each seller has a seller account – an online store – used to find and promote products. When someone orders the product, Amazon takes care of fulfillment.
Because Amazon FBA has rapidly grown in popularity, many wonder if it is still a viable business model. Can you still make a good money by selling on Amazon? The answer is yes, but it requires a different approach than five years ago. Check out my interview with a six-figure Amazon seller to learn more about what it takes to succeed on Amazon FBA.
7. Etsy shop
Etsy is an online marketplace that caters to creative entrepreneurs. If you make hand-crafted items, jewelry, art, or paper goods, you could potentially have a business idea on your hands. To get started selling on Etsy, you need to first create a free account. From there, you can open an Etsy shop, where you can list the items you want to sell. You’ll want to use keywords that your target audience would be searching for to describe your items.
The other important factor is using high-quality photos to make your product attractive to buyers. Once someone makes a purchase, you ship that person the items and they leave a review of their experience. Customer service is critical for success on Etsy because buyers will definitely look at your reviews when deciding whether to purchase from you.
8. Shopify store
Shopify is another popular ecommerce platform with millions of buyers and sellers. The merchant, you, can set up an online store and sell a variety of different products. Some of the products you can sell on Etsy include physical products, digital products, services, consultations, and even experiences. If you have a wine tour company, you can list your tours of Shopify. That said, the majority of products on Shopify are physical products like bath bombs and t-shirts. The basic plan for a Shopify store starts at $29/month. There are also additional fees for credit fees. You can learn more about Shopify’s pricing for business to get a breakdown of the plans.
Dropshipping is a specific e-commerce business model that has gained popularity in recent years. What makes dropshipping different is that the merchant doesn’t keep any inventory of the items it sells. Rather, the merchant purchases the items from a third party when someone orders it from their website. That third party then ships the item to the customer. By following this model, the merchant doesn’t handle inventory or fulfilment.
People who do dropshipping typically go to Ali Express to source products that they sell on their ecommerce website. Dropshipping is a classic example of an easy entry business that comes with little control. You may have success, but it likely won’t be sustainable. That’s because you’re relying on a third party to have a product in stock and also ship the product. If the customer has a negative experience, there’s nothing you can do about it because you don’t deal with fulfillment.
10. Youtube personality
As search moves towards video, Youtube’s popularity will continue to grow. It is already the second largest search engine after Google. Think about how many times you go on Youtube on a given week to watch a tutorial, an motivational video, or a music video.
How do you build a business on Youtube? The traditional route is to start a Youtube channel centered around one topic. Then you have consistently high-quality, engaging videos about that topic. As you grow your subscribers, you can monetize your account with ads, sponsorships, and affiliate marketing. The top Youtubers have become millionaires so this industry can be lucrative.
To stand out on Youtube, you need a charismatic personality, a unique approach to video production, a compelling message, or some other wow factor. The reality is that there are millions of Youtube channels competing for attention. That’s why you need to think long and hard before starting a Youtube channel. Who are you going to serve? What type of content will you create? How are you going to differentiate yourself?
11. Podcast host
A podcast is an online show in which a host talks about a specific topic and often interviews guests. The great thing about podcasting is that the industry isn’t as saturated as blogging or affiliate marketing. I came across a statistic that there’s one podcast for every 900 blogs. You can start a podcast with a computer and a mic. After you record your podcast episodes, you can upload them on Apple Itunes, Spotify, iHeart Radio, or Youtube.
Success in podcasting comes down to you and your ability to engage people. This is another business model that requires a charismatic or relatable personality and excellent communication skills. If you feel like you have those qualities, then podcasting might be for you. Podcasters typically make money by promoting their own products on their show and/or working with sponsors. Interested? Check out this step-by-step guide about how to start a podcast.
12. Online course creator
Online courses, also known as digital courses, are one of the most profitable and scalable online business models. You can package your expertise into a self-study course that helps people get from point A to point B. Once you create an online course, you have an asset that you can sell for years and generate revenue for your business.
Because students can either download your course or access it on a course-hosting platform, there’s no need to worry about inventory or shipping. That’s what makes this business model a low-cost. If you sell a premium course ($500+), then this business model becomes even more lucrative.
When starting an online course business, you need to ensure that there’s a market that is willing and able to buy your course before you create it. New entrepreneurs make the mistake of building out a fancy course that they think people need, taking it to the market, and then finding out that no one wants it. A better approach to launch an online course is as follows:
- Validate your course idea through market research and beta testing.
- Gather testimonials and social proof.
- Build an email list of people who are interested in your course.
- Create the full course based on feedback from research and testing.
- Announce your course launch to your email list.
I have started three online courses using Teachable, an easy-to-use course hosting platform. I’ve created an ebook about Pinterest, a video-based course about Pinterest, and a text-based travel blogging course. Looking back, I underestimated the amount of promotion required to drive consistent sales. Build it and they’ll come doesn’t work! You have to actively promote your course through channels like an email list, Instagram, guest posts, or Facebook ads.
A coach is someone who works with clients individually or in groups to help them achieve a particular transformation. As a coach, you sell your expertise and experience to help your clients solve a painful problem, like losing weight, getting more sales in their business, or finding the perfect partner.
The benefit of starting a coaching business is that you can help clients on a deeper level and build a personal relationship with them. This allows you to charge a premium price and achieve your income goals faster. If you have a $2,500 coaching program, you only need four clients to make $10,000 a month. One entrepreneur I follow, Luisa Zhou, created a six-figure coaching business in just 4 months.
On the negative side, you need to be good at sales to close clients for your high-ticket offer. If you’re not a natural salesperson, this can take some time and practice. You may have to do hundreds of phone calls before you master the art of high-ticket closing. Some of the most popular coaching out there include:
- Mindset coach
- Business coach
- Relationship coach
- Career coach
- Fitness coach
- College admissions coach
Like a coach, a consultant also works with clients to solve a specific problem. The difference is that a coach guides a client to discover answers while a consultant simply provides the answers. For instance, a business coach may guide a client through the steps to get more sales for their fitness business.
A consultant, on the other hand, would analyze the fitness business and gather data. Then they would deliver a report with recommendations for action steps to fix the problem. The consultant isn’t involved in the implementation of the solution to the problem. Lastly, consultants tend to work with clients on a more short-term basis.
15. Web developer
Entrepreneurs need to build websites, membership portals, sales pages, and other web pages for their businesses. Not everyone has the technical expertise to create a custom website. That’s why web developers are constantly in demand. If you know how to code websites, you can monetize that expertise online through a done-for-you service, a coaching program, a consulting offer, or an online course. As you can see, there are several ways to make money online with just one skillset.
16. Graphic designer
Are you a creative with a talent for designing visual content on tools like Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator? Then you could consider starting a graphic design online business. Entrepreneurs need people like you to design their logos, banners, Facebook ads, and other promotional content.
One popular route to starting a graphic design business is to enlist yourself as a freelancer on sites like Upwork and Fiverr. However, I would caution against that approach. On large marketplaces like those, you compete against thousands of other graphic designers on price. Even if your service is superior, you’ll be competing with people charging $10/hour, which drives prices down. You’re better off positioning yourself as a premium brand so that you can command a higher price and attract better clients.
17. Facebook ads manager
Facebook ads have become a standard for marketing online businesses. You can target the exact audience you want and get your offer in front of them. However, not every business owner has the time to figure out how to create lookalike audiences, write effective ad copy, and monitor ad spend. That’s why Facebook ad managers are in huge demand. You can build an online clientele, managing ads for course creators, coaches, store owners, and other digital entrepreneurs.
You can also specialize in running ads for a specific industry and work with fewer clients at a higher rate. One Facebook ads manager I know, Abu Fofanah, works with black-owned businesses and charges $5k+ per client. He also has an online course called Power Your Launch that helps entrepreneurs learn how to run profitable Facebook ads.
18. Social media manager
Brands are looking for social media savvy individuals to manage their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok accounts. If you can curate a cohesive feed and write captions that generate lots of engagement, then you may want to look into social media management.
To start out, you could build up your own social media account and use that as a case study to attract clients. For instance, if you build an engaged audience of 50,000 followers on Instagram, you can use your own success to get your first clients. Then, as you help your clients get results, you build testimonials that will help you grow your business.
19. Social media influencer
The ‘influencer’ is the new celebrity. That term emerged in around 2012, referring primarily to popular fashion content creators. Nowadays, it refers more generally to non-famous people with a large social media following..
Although ‘influencer’ is a dirty word in some corners, we can’t deny that this new crop of celebrities appeals to many brands. They land lucrative brand deals to promote products to their audiences. There are now influencer marketing managers at major companies, who focus exclusively on working with influencers.
Although being an influencer may seem glamorous on the surface, the reality is that very few people make a full-time income this way. There is an unglamorous side to this business that I learned early on in my blogging career, when I focused on being a travel influencer on Instagram. If you’re not careful, the influencer role can overtake your life because you’re essentially curating your life on social media. You may obsess over getting the perfect photo or coming up with new ideas for Instagram stories. Not only that, but you will likely get more rejections than offers from brands. In the end, I decided that influencer marketing wasn’t for me, but many people find it rewarding.
20. App developer
Every so often, you hear about a new app that got 10 million downloads and made the creator a millionaire. While most apps never become that successful, the app development space still provides tons of opportunities. If you see a need, whether it be a new game or new type of meditation app, you can do some testing, build the app, and take it to market. Nowadays, you don’t even need any coding skills to build an app. There’s an online course called Apps Without Code that teaches people how to create a profitable app without writing code.
21. Self-published author
It used to be that you needed to get a deal with a large publishing house to become a best-selling author. That’s not the case anymore. Nowadays, authors can publish their own work on sites like Amazon and land on the best-seller list. For instance, Crystal Swain-Bates has sold over 100,000 copies of her children’s books on Amazon.
If you have a book idea that would resonate with a specific audience, you may have a business opportunity on your hands. One viable alternative to finding a publishing house to publish it yourself. Write the manuscript. Get a professional proofreader to revise it, hire a graphic designer to make the cover, and then publish it on Amazon. You never know what could happen.
22. Voiceover artist
Did you know you can get paid to record your voice? If you find yourself receiving compliments on your smooth voice, then you may be able to turn that into a career as a voice-over artist. I found out about the voiceover business model from a former client, whose children were making money with voiceover work. In a nutshell, voiceover artists use their voice to narrate audio content like commercials, audiobooks, telephone messages, and podcasts.
To get started as a voiceover artist, you need a mic and headphones. It’s a low-cost business model, but the downside is that breaking into the industry can be difficult. You need to have a portfolio of work to get noticed by agencies and companies that hire voiceover actors. This is a challenge you can overcome by offering your service for free in the beginning to build experience. Of course, this approach isn’t ideal, but it’s one way to get your foot in the door.
23. Resume writer
Are you skilled at writing resumes? There’s a big market for that. People are constantly entering the job market or switching jobs. Many are willing to spend extra to hire a professional resume writer who can give them an edge in the job market. If you can write well-crafted, professional resumes that impress hiring managers, you may have an online business opportunity on your hands. The hurdle is getting your first clients. Once you build a track record and gather testimonials, you can easily get more clients.
24. Lead generation business
Businesses need to attract new leads, or potential customers, on a consistent basis and convert them to paying customers. The challenge is that acquiring leads through paid ads can get expensive. On the flip side, acquiring leads organically can be time-consuming. That’s why some businesses turn to lead generation services to remove the hassle from attracting new leads.
A lead generation business helps other businesses get new leads. They typically focus on driving leads through one source, like LinkedIn, Facebook, or email marketing. If you’ve had success with generating quality leads for your business or other companies, you can package your expertise into a service and offer it to clients.
25. Subscription service
Some types of products, like personal care products, lend themselves to a subscription-style service. People need to use these items throughout the year so ordering once isn’t enough. A subscription-based business model is great because you generate recurring revenue from each customer as long as they are subscribed. It’s a win-win situation: customers enjoy the benefit of auto-renewals while the business enjoys the benefit of consistent, predictable revenue. Some successful subscription services include:
Manscaped – a monthly subscription that provides male-grooming and skincare tools
The Brown Sugar Box – a monthly subscription of clothing, accessories, and personal care products for black girls
Another common subscription model is Software as a Service (SaaS). Software companies like web hosting services, email service providers, and landing page builders use this model. For instance, I use Leadpages to build custom landing pages for my online courses and email opt-ins for my business. This software offers a monthly subscription that renews every year.
I hope this post gave you lots of ideas for only businesses you can start and action steps to take. If you found it helpful, please share it!