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20 business ideas for making money online

Updated 03 December 2020

7min read

Nick Green
Financial Journalist

Internet business

You don’t need a shop anymore – you just need a great idea (and hard work). The web is rapidly replacing the high street as the preferred place to shop, and the advantage of this is that anyone can set up in business with minimal upfront outlay – sometimes all you really need is a computer. From retail stores to subscription-based concepts, there are limitless options. Here are 20 of the best online business ideas to kickstart some inspiration.

  1. Sell handmade items

If you’ve got the skills to create your own line of products, consider selling them in an online store. You can use ecommerce sites like Etsy to build your own marketplace and take, track and fulfil orders. By opting to make products in advance and list the stock quantities of each item, you can dedicate as much or as little time to your business as you like. Instead of trying to keep up with orders, you can work at your own pace and take things up a notch when you want to boost your income.

  1. Run a subscription service

More and more consumers are buying subscription products with weekly, monthly or customisable delivery options. The convenience and excitement of receiving a ready-made package on a regular basis without having to repeatedly submit orders is a big draw for many people. You could specialise in almost any type of product, from food to flowers and make-up – or partner with brands across a number of different industries. The best bit is that you can also support other local businesses and raise awareness of their products.

  1. Start a blog or a podcast

If you’re something of an expert on a topic, you could start a blog or podcast to spread your knowledge. All you’ll need is a laptop, a microphone and audio recording software. Then, you can generate an income through affiliate marketing partnerships. By hosting adverts or creating sponsored content, you can build up a viable business. You could even sell your own merchandise via an ecommerce store once you’ve developed a loyal following.

  1. Become an influencer

This online business idea didn’t exist several years ago, but now you can earn money by building a community of followers on social media and influencing them to buy products. Once you’ve developed a large audience, businesses approach you to form a partnership so you can boost their customer awareness. Most influencers use YouTube and Instagram to reach their following, and many supplement their main income stream with a blog, which also offers affiliate marketing opportunities. 

  1. Build apps, software and websites

Experienced web designers and developers have the chance to set up a lucrative business creating functional and attractive tools for a wide customer base. You’ll need coding skills and the ability to meet customers’ requirements by following their instructions to the last detail. Alternatively, you could opt to be a website manager, helping businesses maintain a strong online presence and making any necessary software upgrades over time. Many companies are happy to outsource this task in order to focus on growth.

  1. Offer graphic design, illustration or video creation services

Businesses are increasingly incorporating imagery into their online content, from website pages to social media posts. An expertly designed piece of visual marketing can hugely impact a company’s performance, boosting its perceived professionalism and allowing for a closer connection between the brand and customer. Learning content creation and video production skills is easier than it has been in previous years, as there are plenty of online teaching resources to help you expand your skillset. You don’t necessarily need to be an expert to get started.

  1. Provide tech support

If you have a background in IT, but you don’t want to work in web design or content creation, there’s the option of helping businesses troubleshoot problems in products they already own. With the right set-up, it’s likely you would be able to complete most tasks from the comfort of your own home, calling customers to talk through their issues. Your day would involve reviewing online systems and running tests, as well as solving issues and advising clients on the best products. As a tech support professional, you could cover a range of services or specialise in a particular area, like cybersecurity.

  1. Work as a marketing consultant or manager

Help companies develop and perfect an effective digital marketing strategy by offering advice or actively taking responsibility for their promotional activity. For this online business idea, you’ll need an in-depth knowledge of SEO, social media algorithms and cost-per-click advertising, as well as tools such as Google Analytics and Google Ads. As a marketing manager, you would take on businesses’ email and social media accounts, posting regular content updates and using keywords and linking strategies to reach a wider audience.

  1. Be a financial consultant

If you’ve worked as an accountant or bookkeeper before, you could start a financial consultancy business. You’ll need to gain industry-recognised qualifications before you can start attracting clients, but if you operate online, you can attract business by offering competitive rates. Once you’re up and running, you could provide industry insights and advise on best practices, or help clients with everyday tasks like submitting tax returns and reviewing cash flow.

  1. Become a virtual assistant

Personal assistants have always been needed, and now the internet has created the opportunity to offer the same services online, as a ‘virtual assistant’. You would work with entrepreneurs and executives from across the globe to help them manage their businesses efficiently. You might take on any number of personal and professional tasks, from answering phone calls and making restaurant reservations to paying bills and carrying out research. The more services you offer, the higher your income potential.

  1. Start a resume-writing business

With the employment market becoming more and more competitive, CV-writing companies offer a valuable service. There is a wide range of ways you can support job hunters, from producing video tutorials on how to create cover letters to providing consultations with people looking for career guidance. LinkedIn is a great resource for those offering job application support, as it hosts a large community of people on the search for their next professional opportunity. Use the site to promote your online business and build up a network of connections.

  1. Launch a recruitment company

If you’re researching various online business ideas, you could consider moving into recruitment. This sector is perfectly suited to remote work, as it mostly involves researching and communicating with people online. Plus, you don’t need any specific qualifications or certificates to help put businesses with job vacancies in touch with talented workers. Over time, online recruitment companies develop their network of contacts among businesses with ongoing growth plans, and many build up a specialism in a particular industry.

  1. Be a PR or HR consultant

If you have experience working with public relations or human resources, why not go solo and offer your services through your own online business? The best entrepreneurs in these sectors review businesses’ strategies and find ways to improve the way they communicate within their internal teams and with the public. To remain competitive, make sure you stay up to date with the latest developments in your clients’ industries, as well as any technology to help manage relationships efficiently.

  1. Offer tutoring or coaching services

Running online courses is a great way to use your existing knowledge to help others. Develop a learning framework around your career specialism or study to gain extra knowledge before you put this online business idea into action. You could become a business coach or a private children’s tutor, to name just a couple of options, and build up a customer base through positive testimonials and recommendations. Once you’ve proven you offer a high-value service, you can charge more per hour or per session.

  1. Provide writing services

This sub-sector covers a wide variety of different specialisms, including copywriting, editing and proofreading. Many online businesses choose to cover a particular industry to provide insight and efficiency where other agencies can’t. Alternatively, you could position yourself as a research business, scouring technical documents, compiling market analysis findings and analysing trends. Translation and transcription services are also in high demand across businesses in every sector, from media and performing arts to academia and manufacturing, so there’s plenty of scope for growth.

  1. Launch an interior design business

Lots of people aspire to be an interior designer, but many don’t realise they could provide home improvement guidance over the internet. Technology has created the opportunity to not only create three-dimensional imagery of property interiors, but also develop interactive plans of renovation and design proposals. Now, business owners can operate entirely online without ever having to see a space in person. You could introduce multiple income streams by offering decorating tips, filming video tutorials, writing blog posts with affiliate marketing partnerships and even choosing to sell home décor products.

  1. Start a dropshipping business

Dropshipping is where an online store receives an order, then arranges shipment of that order directly from a third-party supplier, so never physically handles the product themselves. Essentially, a dropshipper is like a standalone retail department sourcing items from multiple sources. If you’re particularly good at picking out items that people might want, e.g. those of particularly high quality or quirky taste, you can set up your own catalogue and build a reputation as a source of great products – rather like being a personal shopper for your users.

If you’d like to launch a retail business but don’t have the ability to create or store your own products, dropshipping is a good option. To see success, you’ll need to create your own website, advertise items sold by other companies and then let them know whenever an order comes in. You’ll receive a commission on each sale, without having to organise the logistics of manufacturing or shipping the products. The biggest advantage of this model is avoiding the risk of losing money if certain items don’t sell. Plus, you won’t have to store huge quantities of stock.

  1. Curate ‘thrifted’ finds

Those with a passion for repurposing old items will enjoy starting an online ‘thrift’ store. Scour charity shops and antiques fairs to find unique pieces and sell them through your ecommerce site. Having a good eye for a bargain and the ability to present products in an appealing way is important for this online business idea. You’ll need to be able to find the value in discarded items and hone your copywriting skills to encourage shoppers to buy from your retail business.

  1. Create a clothing line

Develop a glossy website and collaborate with clothing manufacturers to sell your creations. One possible avenue is t-shirt design, which you can take by partnering with apparel printers. The possibilities are vast here, and you should always be able to take inspiration from passing trends, whether you’re working with illustrations or slogans.

  1. Become an online travel agent

High street travel agencies are struggling, as holidaymakers increasingly turn to the internet for advice. You can put your business ahead of the competition by following travel trends, developing a good network of industry contacts and offering affordable packages through partnerships with high-profile holiday providers. This online business idea involves lots of research, as the most successful online travel agencies have an in-depth understanding of industry developments and offer the best deals on the market.

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About the author
Nick Green is a financial journalist writing for Unbiased.co.uk, the site that has helped over 10 million people find financial, business and legal advice. Nick has been writing professionally on money and business topics for over 15 years, and has previously written for leading accountancy firms PKF and BDO.