Coming up with a great online business idea that is quick and easy to start from home, is the first step to making money - but you have to think outside the box.
The Internet is well suited to home (or garage) based startups, and, fortunately, it no longer takes much money or time to start a website. But, if your spidey-senses are tingling because you don't know much about online business, don't panic. Reliable, super cheap (or completely free) software and services exist to help you get started quickly and cheaply.
We'll talk about everything from ideas to the best software and services you'll need to get set up. Click on a link below to jump to a section and get started.
- Online Business Ideas
- Get Started
- Common Mistakes to Avoid
1. Online Business Ideas
Most ideas lists are fairly generic by nature. It's important to note that while browsing a list of ideas can be useful as a source of inspiration, any idea you decide upon should take advantage of what you know, who you know, and what resources you can invest (i.e. time, money, skills, etc).
Apart from the 12 or so ideas listed in this article there are hundreds more for you to explore in our small business ideas page.
1. Current Affairs Satirist
One of the hardest things about making money blogging is consistently coming up with great ideas for blog posts that are on-topic, relevant, and engaging.
Why not start a blog that comments on current affairs? This way you could browse the daily news each morning, find things that irk or enrage you, and tell people what you think in a funny/sarcastic way.
If friends and family think you're funny, then it's a good bet other people will too. Plus, you have a never ending pool of inspiration from the political or celeb buffoonery that fills the news.
2. Online Talk-show Host
Talk shows don't have to be big budget network affairs. Film yourself talking about issues that matter to you and post the clips to YouTube. Combine the YouTube clips with a blog to create a multi-channel marketing strategy that will quickly bring plenty of Web traffic, and make good money from advertising (YouTube clips can easily be monetized).
Youtube star PewDiePie earned $15 million in 2016.
All you need is a great niche. What drives you mad about life? What do you love? What do you think is stupid, funny, great, awful? Find what you are passionate about, and tell the world.
3. Super Affiliate Marketer
Is there something you are really good at? How about skills? Got skills?
Use the knowledge and expertise available to you to build a fantastic website that revolves around one or two quality affiliate products. Make sure your content is really useful, with plenty of great opinions/ideas, how-to articles, freebies, tutorials, and anything else people in that niche would value.
Build your website/blog to funnel Web traffic to affiliate links and start raking in commissions.
Remember to be careful about which affiliates to partner with - well established, trusted brands are generally better at converting traffic because people are already familiar with them.
4. Drop-shipping Retailer
Got a flair for sales? Why waste time developing a new product and warehousing and delivering it the traditional way, when you can sell it and let a drop-shipper handle everything else?
Find a handful of great products and build a site around those. Create content that isn't available on other eCommerce sites - stuff that is useful to potential buyers, like how-to articles centered around those products.
You can find out more about drop-shipping eCommerce at How to start a drop-shipping site.
5. Professional Webinar Host
Are you trained or qualified at something, anything? Personal trainers and fitness experts, doctors, lawyers, yoga instructors, plumbers, electricians, etc, can take their skills online.
Offer free webinars that focus on teaching people how to do stuff. Build up a loyal following, and then offer paid webinars or memberships for more advanced training, workshops, or online courses. The trick here is to build up trust and authority before attempting to charge. Perhaps even present online workshops in conjunction with a local college or chamber of commerce.
Provided you have the requisite qualifications that show you are an expert in a given field, there is no reason you can't become the "go to person" - and make plenty of cash in the process.
6. Freelance Consultant
I love working as a freelance consultant. I get to work on interesting new projects all the time - I'm currently developing an OO PHP ACO (Ant Colony Optimization) solution to the mTSP (multiple Traveling Salesman Problem) with constraints, using the Google DM (Distance Matrix) API, for a leading real-time fleet tracking and management company.
Being a freelance consultant requires you to have experience, expertise or skills in one or more fields - preferably something you are good at and enjoy doing.
Unfortunately, great skills and experience alone are not enough to get work online - you have to go out and market yourself. I strongly recommend setting up a professional blog or website that you can use to both drive traffic via great content, and direct potential clients to get more information about you and your services. Make sure that your LinkedIn profile is properly filled out as this arguably the best social network to find jobs, career and business opportunities.
Once you are established as a freelancer it becomes a lot easier to turn regular gigs into a proper business. Check out how to turn a freelance writing job into a home business.
7. Sell Stuff (eCommerce)
A friend of mine began a very successful career (he now owns his own business that employs around 40 people) by selling electronic goods online via eBay. At first he imported cheap gadgets from overseas and sold them at low prices through his eBay shop. He found that while he was able to sell the stock he brought in, the market was only able to absorb a certain volume... that wasn't enough.
Using what he learned from selling cheap items, and how online sales and the market worked, he went and found higher quality goods and began marketing them better. The higher quality goods had better margins and helped establish him as a reliable seller. Once he had the resources, he expanded into providing his own, custom, branded products.
The point of this is that the Internet has vast untapped money making potential for anyone smart enough to research and analyze a niche market, find a product that "fits", and sell like mad.
It's also useful to become a multi-channel online retailer and sell across many different platforms, including your own one. Here's a few reasons why you should be selling on Amazon.
8. Information Expert
We live in the information age. Information is vital to our entire civilization. Fortunately, information is also uniquely suited to the online medium. This opens up a whole swathe of potential work from home jobs that deal with information in one way or another.
If you have any type of industry, niche or work skill and experience then there are probably several possible work from home jobs that are perfect for you at any given moment. So long as the job predominantly revolves around information, it is likely a suitable candidate as a home based job. Here are just some of the information related work at home jobs you might consider:
- Web designer
- Data entry
- Forum moderator
- Proof reader
Not only that, but there are plenty of social networks, blogs, forums, websites and communities that cater for people looking for telecommute or work from home jobs. A quick search on Google will turn up plenty of results.
9. News Columnist
There are many media blogs and websites out there that pay for great content. Since Google's Panda and Penguin updates, high quality, original content is at a premium. There are opportunities to write in almost any topic (for some very prestigious publications), so you are sure to find someone who needs content on subjects you know something about.
Start by looking at popular sites that cover topics on which you have some experience.
10. Forum Moderator
Many large web based businesses require forum moderation services. Often their requirements can be quite particular, and this means that they are prepared to pay well for the right people.
Forum moderation is a great candidate for home based work because Web companies often need to be online 24x7. This means they need remote workers in most time-zones. It's also a great way to get to know a community and get known by a community. This brings great opportunity to grow your own blog by offering advice and information based on what you learn from work.
11. Baby Boomer Tech Consultant
Baby boomers are coming online and starting to adopt new technologies at a faster and faster rate. Many of them would value an online coach, consultant, or trainer to help save them time and effort learning how to make use of new technology and tools.
Set up online training for baby boomers using free communication and social media tools, like Google+ hangouts.
Offer paid courses and classes to help them make the most out of new technology for their own startups (many boomers are starting home based ventures to earn extra income).
12. Pay Per Performance Internet Marketer
If you already have online marketing skills and knowledge (SEO, social media marketing, email marketing, etc), then put that to good use by helping other companies to grow their Web traffic and increase sales online. It's important to work with companies that are already established as you will be able to make decent profits by increasing conversion rates, and leveraging existing traffic to meet new revenue targets, and get paid.
Pay-per-performance marketing is pretty high risk when dealing with startups or very small companies. Your ideal client is someone who is already driving traffic but not reaching their profit targets - and there are plenty of those to go around.
2. Get Started
Setting up a small business is much cheaper and much faster than it was a few years ago, thanks to the surge in high quality technologies and services aimed at online startups. Now more than ever, the power to start a new business is in your own hands. Yes, there are still risks. Yes, it still takes plenty of hard work. But that shouldn't stop you.
Here's how you can start your own small/home business in just a single day (assuming you already have an idea of what you're going to do).
1. Draft a Business Plan (4 hrs)
I need to emphasise the importance of drawing up a full business plan that takes into account all aspects of your proposed business, from a company description to market research, and expenses & capitalization.
The more research and effort spent on building a proper business plan, the more likely you are to learn important things about your new business and, hopefully, avoid many mistakes going forward. But, there's no rule that says you can't put together a draft business plan on your first day, and flesh it out as you go along.
The easiest way to put something together is to start with a freely available business plan template. Using a template will help organize your research and pick out the most important areas on which to focus during the startup phase.
Don't forget to take a good look at what competition already exists in your proposed niche. This might save a lot of wasted time and effort doing something that no-one really needs.
2. Create a Website (1 hr)
Finding a domain name for your business is not going to be easy. For a start, the Internet is infested with domain parking - a type of parasitic/extortionist business practice whose net effect is to make things harder and more expensive.
You can learn more about finding a domain name, or you can simply do everything in one go using a hosted website builder.
Hosted website builders are by far the most popular choice for small business websites precisely because they package everything into one convenient bundle - from registering a domain, to design and development (using drag-n-drop themes - no programming required), to hosting and resources.
You can create any type of website too; from blogs all the way through to top-of-the-line eCommerce sites. Check out our complete step-by-step guide to creating a website that explains how to choose and use the right site builder for your business.
3. Integrate Accounts & Management (1 hr)
If your business relies on sales then the chances are you will need to implement some type of online payment (in which case you should be using a hosted eCommerce site builder solution), and possibly mobile payments too.
Fortunately, there are a few great online accounting solutions that can help out with everything from mobile payments to sales reporting, tax and payroll. Most good site builders come with built in integration for online accounting software, so all you need to do is integrate it with a click of a button.
You can take a look at the 3 top small business accounting systems that offer cloud based accounting that helps streamline and simplify tax, accounts, payroll and just about any other time consuming chore you'd otherwise have to devote too much time to.
4. Start Marketing (1 hr)
There's no way around it. If you're going to succeed online it is vital to build a proper marketing strategy based on high quality content that is informative and valuable to the target market. This content can then form the basis of social media marketing campaigns, and perhaps more importantly, growing a mailing list.
Integrating social sharing into a hosted website builder takes no time at all because they all come with those features built-in.
Email marketing is different because it requires specialized list management and email design features - not to mention legally compliant email management systems that ensure high levels of deliverability. Fortunately it's pretty easy to add list sign-up forms to your website, and you can follow our step-by-step guide email marketing guide to get set up in minutes.
5. Find Customers (2 hrs)
Ok, so actually finding real customers on your first day is pretty much impossible. But, it is a great idea to get your family and friends to check out the site, play with it, make purchases, and provide feedback.
More often than not you'll find that they are easily confused and unsure about:
- how to make purchases
- what you are selling/offering
- where to go to get support
- how to find information
and all sorts of other things that you might have overlooked.
Any feedback you can squeeze out of them is extremely valuable because this will show you exactly the types of problems real customers will have when visiting the site for real. Take all complaints and criticisms on board and draw up a list of improvements and refinements to make things better.
You've had a busy day and running a successful business is not a sprint. It's a distance run, so no point in burning out in the first 24 hours. There's always going to be plenty to work on (starting with your feedback), so take a nice break, spend time with the family, and come back tomorrow ready to work.
3. Common Mistakes to Avoid
If you're in the process of starting a small online business, then make sure you take a look at these three most common, and damaging, mistakes entrepreneurs make. Unfortunately, most people tend to make the biggest mistakes early on while their fledgling startup is still very fragile. That's just the nature of business.
The hardest part is earning the first dollar - after that it usually gets easier.
The fact is, the vast majority of all online startups fail - or fail to even earn a cent. But, by avoiding these common pitfalls it is possible to radically increase your chances of success and turn a decent profit. The following list of potentially terminal startup mistakes should help you avoid wasting time, effort, and money from the outset, and hopefully buy you the time needed to start earning a stable income.
1. Not Using the Right Tech
It doesn't matter whether you are a complete techno geek or completely allergic to technology (especially software and Web development). If you're spending a lot of time and money building a website, you're doing it wrong.
For all but the most specialized of businesses, there already exists state of the art hosted website builders that can do a much better job of creating a website than expensive custom Web design (or a home-made effort). The real, long term benefits of using website builders are perhaps not immediately obvious at the start, but they will:
- integrate easily with other important online technologies - like accounting, sales, CRM, communications, and marketing software
- undergo constant development (behind the scenes) to stay on the cutting edge of Internet development and trends
- remain low-cost and affordable, offering great value for money due to high competition in this industry
Remember, the cornerstone of any online enterprise is a quality Web platform that is responsive (to support the majority of browsers using mobile devices, like smartphones), flexible, fast, functional and optimized for search.
Talking of search, that's another huge mistake startups tend to make...
2. Relying on Google Search Traffic
Arguably one of the most common scenarios in the modern era of business goes as follows:
Joe public starts a new online business. After working hard to set up a site and market it, he starts generating Web traffic from Google. As more and more traffic starts flowing in, Joe's company grows.
a year goes by...
Suddenly, all Joe's traffic disappears, and overnight his business stops generating income. After trying unsuccessfully to regain traffic from Google for 6 months, Joe closes his business down and lays off his employees.
How or why Joe's site lost traffic is irrelevant - it could have been a penalty or it could have simply been that Google changed its mind about what pages it wants to show (there are sometimes over 500 algorithm tweaks a year). The point here is that Google doesn't care about your business and there is no way to ensure that a site will always generate a healthy amount of traffic.
Don't build your business on the quicksand that is Google search traffic.
Treat Google as the 'icing on the cake'. If you are creating great content for a wide range of marketing activities (such as email marketing), hopefully, quality search traffic will follow anyway.
3. Not Making Money Fast
One thing that really struck me the last time I attended a function (highlighting promising startups), was how many entrepreneurs were focused on what they were building and not how to turn their innovations into a business.
Almost without exception, startups came in two flavours:
- innovation focused
- money focused
The guys and girls in group one tended to spend all their time working on their precious innovation. Those in group two believed they had a way to make money. But neither had a clear idea of how their idea was to be put into action - no solid business plan. Not a single startup out of the fifteen finalists had a clear, fast, and attainable path to sustained revenue.
Having a great idea is not enough. You need to know who the target market is, how to reach them, and how to convince them to:
- trust you
- use your product/service/etc
One of my earliest startups succeeded despite me doing everything wrong. I took too long building the technology, I thought I could rely on building organic traffic, I had no plan to market it, and no clear idea about who and how people might use it (I guess I thought doing a good job creating something new meant that people would automatically use it).
So how did it succeed? The answer is simply that it cost me nothing to keep running it. It took five years before one of the few clients using it mentioned it in a forum. That lead to a few more clients, and a few more. The trickle became a stream, and it continues to grow... 5 years down the line.
Unless your business costs nothing to operate, and you have plenty of time on your hands, you will need to have a plan to be sustainable within months - not years. Remember that sustainable doesn't necessarily mean profitable. It may take a long time to generate real profits, but you won't get there unless the business is sustainable very early on.
4. No Requirements Analysis
Almost every online business "disaster" I have encountered has originated as a result of a failure to properly analyze the company's targets and goals. This is because people tend to operate like this:
- The CEO (or CTO, or whoever) gets it in their head that a website or Internet marketing campaign is important
- Instructions are passed on to employees to "make a website" or "start a social marketing campaign"
- Employees act on those instructions - either implementing in-house, or outsourcing
The problem is that, right from the start, no-one has actually analyzed what the company needs from their website or online marketing campaign. Instead, everyone works towards providing the CEO with what (s)he wants - because that's how the organization operates traditionally.
While the CEO is often very competent at running their business, they are often ill-equipped to know or understand what is required to successfully translate that into the online medium.
5. Lack of Expertise
Web development. eCommerce. Blogging. SEO. Internet marketing. None of these things are generally the core focus of a traditional company. This leaves them vulnerable to poor decision making.
Businesses don't take time to acknowledge the fact they do not have the knowledge, experience and skills to work effectively online. Simply finding the right person to speak to about online business is a skill in itself. Far too little emphasis is placed on finding the right people before going ahead with implementation.
6. Unrealistic Expectations
People seem to have an Internet sized blind spot when it comes to anticipating the ROI (Return on Investment) of websites, online campaigns and content. For some reason, the Internet seems to cause otherwise astute leaders to throw the following maxims out the window:
- There's no such thing as a free lunch
- Assets don't tend to pay for themselves overnight
- You get out what you put in
- There's no point in doing things half way
It's probably a result of my earlier point (2. lack of expertise) that people tend to forget that, as with any aspect of business, attaining grow online takes hard work, skill, dedication, and investment.
The online world may have a different set of challenges, but it still abides by the core principles of business.
7. Chasing 'Free Money'
There is no such thing as free money. Some ways of making money might be easier than others, but free money? Forget it. If your first instinct is to search for ways to make free money, then save yourself some time and give up right now.
Do you really believe that with billions of people all trying to earn a living, there would some way for everyone to magically earn free money?
That's not to say you can't have a good idea that makes money easier than other startups. Obviously, it is important to start with a really good idea for making money - something that other people need or want, and are willing to pay for.
8. Giving Up
The excitement of starting a new online venture soon wears off, leaving a mountain of marketing, content, SEO, and administrative tasks to deal with - often without any real sign of success or income. At this point, the vast majority of people give up.
Instead of giving up on your dreams why not take stock, analyze, and refine your practices? More often than not, insufficient Web traffic and conversions are a result of poor marketing research and strategy - a lack of focus and skills.
These are not insurmountable problems, and can often be fixed relatively easily, provided you have a willingness to learn and the flexibility to change. It is important to continually re-evaluate whether you have a good business plan, streamlined costs, a sound marketing strategy, great SEO, and a clear value offering with a high converting website.
Many entrepreneurs and bloggers start with a great idea but fall at the next (and arguably most important) hurdle - marketing. No matter what industry you are in, the business you are in is marketing. This is where the real work of making money online comes in.
Internet marketing covers a range of disciplines from blogging and content marketing, to SEO, social media marketing and advertising. It's at this point that most people realize they don't feel like creating useful, relevant and engaging content that will ultimately improve page rankings in Google and drive plenty of valuable organic search traffic.
They also don't want to spend time building relationships with other social influencers in their niche by actually reading their blog posts, adding useful comments and opinions, and generally providing a positive contribution to the wider community. Instead, they opt for copied and duplicated content (that Google is now very good at catching - so it brings no value), and spamming.
Creating high quality content persistently and consistently is an integral part of building a profitable enterprise. Check out:
Starting an online business is an exciting, frustrating, maddening but ultimately hugely rewarding challenge. Be prepared to work hard and solve plenty of difficult problems on your way to becoming successful.
If you have had any success starting and operating your own online business, share your tips and experiences in the comments below to help others.