10 online business ideas that actually can make you money
If you want to turn your passions into actual passive income, dive into these top 10 online business ideas to find your best business opportunity.
Your eyes feel dry and red from combing through a mountain of business books for new business ideas. They all sound super exciting, but you don’t have a clue about which one to choose -- let alone how to choose something that’ll actually work and that you’ll enjoy.
You’re overwhelmed, to put it mildly.
It’s like being at your local ice cream store with an intense sweet tooth, and not knowing what to choose to satisfy your sugar craving.
The same thing goes for choosing and capitalizing on an online business idea.
There are so many ideas, steps, resources, tools, and pieces of advice out there when it comes to starting your own online business, the internet really makes it easy to get lost.
But before you start rummaging through all that complicated info, let’s uncover some of the prominent hurdles to starting your own online business (so you can quickly overcome them).
Then, let’s take a swing by the 10 most profitable ideas for an online business so you can get started today.
First up, let’s look at the root question -- if online businesses are so easy to start, why is it so hard to take the first step?
Why is it so challenging to start an online business?
A lot of people dream of starting their own business, yet it never ends up happening for them.
Here are just a few of the reasons why people don’t end up taking the dive and kick-starting their own business:
Reason #1: Not knowing how
The internet makes it insanely challenging to find the good stuff that’ll actually help you successfully launch your business.
Aspiring entrepreneurs are left dazed, confused, and alone with only their dreams to lean on. They have a lot of questions about launching their business, and the answers are as elusive as they are frustrating.
Just take a look at Quora to see what I mean:
That doesn’t have to be your fate, however. To find out if you’ve got a viable online business idea, all you need to do is hit up your research and focus on the exact right steps.
If you want to find out how realistic your business opportunities are, start here:
Create your landing page - this allows you to get your offer in front of an audience before fleshing out a full-blown business and website. Podia’s digital downloads option enables you to create well-designed landing pages without any of the heavy tech-lifting.
Follow up, tweak, and repeat - with the results and data building up, now it’s time to double down on what works best and ditch what doesn’t. Consider following up with people via email marketing and newsletters to find out more about what they truly want.
As you can see, while a lot of people struggle to start their business because they simply don’t know how, it doesn’t have to stop you.
And neither does the next problem.
Reason #2: Lack of cash flow
When it comes to costs, most of the startup money is dished out by you, the business owner:
82% of startup funds come from the entrepreneur himself or herself, or family and friends
82% of small business failures are due to cash flow problems
This is why it’s important to not fall victim to the commodity sites out there that diminish the value of your offers.
These sites are known for their uber-inexpensive rates for hiring freelancers to carry out those gigs that you personally want to charge much higher for. They condition your potential clients to hunt for the lowest rates and to choose quantity over quality.
Which not-so-helpful-in-life commodity sites am I referring to?
Here are just a few:
Fiverr - explained in its name, the site was created to pay out $5 per freelance gig
99designs - you can hire an inexpensive graphic designer to give you iterations of a design job
Upwork - a site where you can hire affordable freelancers across a multitude of talents. While some people find success with the site, others experience a stiff pay cut to compete for clients.
Beyond their competitive nature, why are these sites inadvisable for starting an online business?
It’s simple: to build up your passive income and offset the cost of running a business in the first place, you’ll need to charge a higher, more accurate value than what normally flies at places like Fiverr and 99designs.
Which isn’t to say that it’s hard.
In a survey of over 260 freelancers, the most important factor when it comes to asking for a higher freelance rate is to “simply inquire whether a higher rate is possible”.
Now, ready to inspire the entrepreneur in you?
Online business idea #1: Monetize your blogging skills
Are you an introvert and not so much into the selling thing?
You’re not alone -- or without options.
Freelancing as a blogger can be a decent way to bring in some passive income without having to hop on sales calls or speaking stages to present your content, especially if it’s a topic that you care about.
Ultimately, if it’s a topic you’re passionate about, you’ll be pumped about writing it, which means you’ll produce more writing than you would if it’s a topic you find dull.
But where’s the proof? It’s in the budgets.
According to Content Marketing Institute’s 2018 B2B content marketing survey, a whopping 84% of B2B marketers plan to either keep the same budget or increase their content marketing spending over the next year.
So what does this mean for bloggers?
After all, the same survey also found that 60% of B2B marketers named blogging as the most successful format when it comes to distributing content for their businesses.
And 56% of B2C content marketers increased their spending in the content creation category.
So it’s definitely profitable, and once you build a larger and larger audience, your blog can serve as a gateway to other money-generating means for you, too.
Bonus tip: Convert your blog subscribers into paying customers in these five steps for email marketing for blogs.
Podia member, Justin Jackson, went from blogging to podcasting to building a membership site to selling an online course (more on these other formats later) using similar steps.
To show you that this can actually work, feast your eyes on this snapshot of Justin’s successes that all stemmed from his original blog:
All of those achievements are impressive (and encouraging), but the three I want you to focus on specifically are these:
He brought in $190,000 in revenue last year.
He accrued over $100,000 of income from his Podia site alone.
He earned $2,000 in monthly recurring revenue from his brand new side-business.
Why do I want you to focus on them? Because they demonstrate that not only can you make money from freelancing as a blogger and content creator, but you can also expand your business opportunities simultaneously, making this an all-around viable idea and great choice.
And if you’re looking for another way to make money from your content, consider testing out the next business idea on top of this one.
Online business idea #2: Monetize your blog or site with affiliate marketing
Affiliate marketing is an easy way to promote other products and services to the audience that you’re building and get a cut of the profits.
And it’s forecasted to grow to over $6.8 billion by 2020.
When it comes to successful affiliate marketing, three golden tips from Karol Krol, blog site builder guru and author of WordPress Complete, are:
Only promote products that you’re passionate about
Only promote products that you’re proud to feature
Only promote products that are relevant to your audience
Want to learn more? I’ve got some top places for you to explore when you’re ready to dig deeper or sign up to be an affiliate marketer.
The top affiliate marketing programs for bloggers in 2019 are:
Shopify Affiliate Program
Rakuten Marketing Affiliates
Leadpages Partner Program
StudioPress Affiliate Website
Melissa Culbertson of Blog Clarity is one happy side-hustler who shares the story of two business owners who used affiliate marketing to make $20,000 (as a mommy blogger) and $32,000 (as a decorative concrete blogger) each year.
As a mom brand marketer, Melissa has not only built a 6-figure blog, but she also helps other business owners grow their own profitable online presences.
She even authored a book about it -- maybe you’ve seen it.
If it can work for her, it can work for you. You can bring in passive income by monetizing your blog and using affiliate marketing.
Plus, as your audience and site traffic increases, you can serve your community with a membership site on top of it, which is the next business idea.
Online business idea #3: Build a membership site to grow and serve your community
Creating a membership site is an impactful way to nurture your audience while growing your income level. It’s a subscription-based one-stop-shop where people can have access to your best stuff for a monthly or annual fee.
If you’ve got like-minded people gathered in an online community all steering toward a singular goal, you can help them out by providing powerful tools, education, and information through a clean and simple membership site.
Take a look at the layout of Krishna Teja Karnam’s “Salesforce Lightning Experience Training” Podia membership site:
It’s super usable.
Wondering who a membership site is ideal for and what can it do for you as a business owner?
Content creators - if you’re a blogger, vlogger, or podcaster, a membership site can help you sell your offer to your audience without the use of middlemen like ads, sponsors, or affiliate programs.
Service providers - if you’re a consultant, freelancer, or coach, you can bring in additional income by offering your best advice for a subscription fee.
Product companies - if you’re a software firm, ecommerce site, or brick-and-mortar store, a membership site allows you to build a stronger relationship with your customers, turn them into raving fans, and share behind-the-scenes exclusives.
Tiffany Williams is a prime example of how it’s possible to scale your business through a membership site.
As a previous e-commerce business owner, she focused on selling physical products. She did this quite successfully, but found there to be a better way to serve her audience -- and one without having to worry about packaging and shipping goods.
Her business changed when she created her Rich Girl Academy membership site using Podia.
Tiffany found that her audience was more interested in her online business savvy and wanted help setting up their own successful online businesses.
Was her audience just as happy with the change?
Just check out what one of her members said:
“This is by far the best business investment that I have made” is high praise indeed, and the perfect demonstration of the power of membership sites for both the customer and creator.
Bonus tip: Want to learn all about membership sites and how to create one? Check out this complete guide on how to create an amazing membership site.
But if you aren’t excited about membership sites, no worries, because our next business idea might be more your speed.
Online business idea #4: Create an ecommerce site to sell your physical products
If you’ve got a product to sell online, building an ecommerce site is an effective way to get your product in front of an online audience who’s ready to buy.
Lots of people are taking this path.
Global retail ecommerce sales will reach a ginormous $4.5 trillion by 2021.
Of course, there are numerous marketing and audience building tactics to make that all happen successfully and profitably. To help you get there quicker, lean on these success secrets from top ecommerce sites:
Secret #1: Test your email follow-up times
Email marketing is particularly important for converting your subscribers and visitors to buyers.
But all of those great gains rely on experimenting.
For instance, Envelopes.com tested two different times for sending emails to their abandoned cart visitors and found that an email sent 48 hours after cart abandonment increased conversions by 40%.
But if they hadn’t run a test, they never would’ve discovered that conversion uplift.
Okay, now that you know to test your email times, consider this next “secret” tip to get even more sales boosts.
Secret #2: Try adding a sense of urgency
Edible Arrangements added a sense of urgency to their ecommerce site by adding a timer alert at the top, which increased their same-day sales by 8%.
That one little change was enough to improve revenue.
So, play around with various tools and widgets that create a sense of urgency for your visitors.
After that, we’ve got one more secret for you to test out.
Secret #3: Test adding and removing your social share buttons
Taloon.com followed the typical social share button trend and included them on nearly every checkout page. But after noticing those pages converted less than others, they tested removing the social share icons.
The result was a 12% boost in sales, which proves that with the ever-changing landscape of online businesses, sometimes popular trends, like adding social buttons, don’t provide you with your optimal conversions and sales.
Main takeaway: Always test the various elements on your ecommerce pages. You never know which tweaks will make the biggest impact on your online sales and conversion rates.
But what if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the idea of managing not only these conversion tactics but also your entire ecommerce site?
No worries. The next idea is a great way to have a marketplace platform handle your ecommerce site logistics for you so you can focus on your selling tactics.
Online business idea #5: Sell your physical products on eBay, Etsy, or ArtFire
If you’re a beginner and you don’t want to go through the trouble of creating and managing your own ecommerce site, this may be a good option for you, especially if you want to unleash your creative streak and sell handmade crafts and the like.
Sell your products on well-established online marketplaces like eBay, Etsy, and ArtFire.
It’ll be plug-and-play.
These online platforms are now well-oiled machines that can successfully manage your transactions, displays, setup, and et cetera for you.
To help you decide which marketplace to use, here are the top three marketplaces to consider:
Amazon - site ranking of 5 with 58.7 million monthly unique visitors
eBay - site ranking of 9 with 26.6 million monthly unique visitors
Etsy - site ranking of 58 with 15.6 million monthly unique visitors
If you prefer a visual approach, check out the graphic below:
It’s worked for a lot of people, too.
One California mom of three opened an Etsy store that grew to bring in over $70,000 per month. Her company, Three Bird Nest, became the second best-selling handmade store on Etsy selling over 3,000 socks, scarves, and headbands - daily.
Marketplace sites are a great way for you to efficiently open your ecommerce store, without having to worry about site maintenance.
Online business idea #6: Self publish a book or digital download
For those wordsmiths out there, this one’s for you: make it official and self-publish your first book.
No longer are the days of getting rejected by an abundant amount of fancy publishers only to kill your self-esteem as a talented writer.
Amazon now makes it possible to self-publish your own book quickly.
In the US alone, the number of self-publishers surpassed one million for the first time in 2017, which is over a 28% growth rate from the previous year.
Accordingly, ISBNs for self-published titles have increased a massive 156% since 2012.
But this option isn’t only for aspiring lengthy book writers. It can be profitable for anyone who has a novel idea (pun intended) to share.
In fact, if you’re looking to publish an epic, useful, creative piece of shorter content that your audience just needs to have in their life, consider publishing and selling a digital download.
So if you’ve got some knowledge to drop and love a certain niche, any one of these popular digital download formats can benefit you:
Note that some people like to call these “lead magnets” when you offer them for free. Regardless of the name, once you have that audience built up, it’ll grow exponentially. And with all those eyeballs on your site, you have numerous other options to sell your paid offers.
And if you’re specifically interested in education, consider the next idea.
Online business idea #7: Sell an online course
Whether it’s social media, search engine optimization, business strategy, dating, painting, or photography, you have an area of expertise that you’ve mastered. And teaching that skill in an online course an impactful way to help other people while making money.
Plus, it’s scalable online.
Global Marketing Insights’ survey claims the size of the e-learning industry was $150 billion in 2016 and is expected to grow at a 5%+ compound annual growth rate (CAGR) from 2017 to 2024…
… which means a holy-moly $325 billion industry by 2025.
Reuven Lerner is a perfect example of someone who turned his offline expertise into money-making online courses using Podia’s platform. Here’s a little more about him so you can see how much knowledge he has to offer:
He trains big global companies like Apple, PayPal, and the like.
He helps developers and programmers and teaches seven or more in-person courses.
He’s a veteran at creating websites and was involved in making one of the first ever.
He’s CTO for an online business that helps sports fans find weekend crashpads.
You can see his skills in action on his site:
Want to know Reuven’s advice for creating a successful online course? Three simple things:
Be more than a subject matter expert and master the art of explaining
Do pilot tests before recording your lessons
Narrow your subject area so you’re offering something more pinpointed and focused
But can you really make some serious dough selling your online course?
One entrepreneur made $25,000 in one afternoon, selling his course on how to better with Scrivener, a writing software.
Sound good? To get your wheels turning, check out these examples of successful online courses:
First up is Erika Tebbens’ “Conversations that Convert” course.
Not all online courses have to be entrenched in technology, however, as is demonstrated by Paul Knight’s “The Ultimate Lifestyle Weight Loss & Fitness” online course.
Lastly, check out Dave Hickman’s “Plan & Write A Novel in 90 Days (Or Less...)” online course.
If you’re interested in exploring what it takes to create, sell, and profit from an online course, this epic guide on how to create an online course will teach you everything you need to know. And if you prefer a more bite-sized product than online courses but still want to sell informational products, this guide on selling digital downloads from your own website may be of interest.
But if you’re not yet ready to build out a full online course, the next idea is a great alternative for monetizing your expertise online.
Online business idea #8: Start a consulting or coaching business
You know your superpower that we talked about in idea #6? You can also use that area of expertise of yours to earn money through a consulting or coaching business as a freelancer.
The personal coaching industry is about to blow past the $1 billion mark. President of Marketdata, John LaRosa, said:
“The U.S. estimated market value for personal coaching was $955 million in 2015 and $1.02 billion in 2016, compared to $707 million in 2011. I expect this market’s value to reach $1.34 billion by 2022 — or a 6.7% average yearly growth rate from 2016 to 2022.”
And the consulting market for the majority of the globe is already well beyond the $1 billion mark.
With all that market space and business opportunity available, you may want to consider starting your own.
These days, it can be as simple as 1:1 coaching sessions via virtual video meetings, or it can be as hands-on as expansive as offering corporate level clients group or team consulting.
Business coaches have a lot of opportunity, too.
For instance, Sabrina Philipp is a successful online business coach who figured out how to make six figures a year at age 23.
After college Sabrina headed to Bali with a one-way ticket, determined to earn a full-time income with only her passion, a business idea, and the internet.
By digging deep into what her audience truly wanted and tweaking her offers accordingly, she was able to build up her coaching business within a year - from a small audience with low-paying gigs to a very refined audience who purchased her high-ticket items.
She definitely didn’t learn that from college.
So, if you’ve got some expertise to share, you can certainly earn an income by selling your coaching or consulting services online.
Online business idea #9: Become a YouTuber or start a vlog
So we covered a business idea for you introverts in the first idea. What about you stage seekers who crave being in the spotlight?
Starting your own YouTube channel or vlog is an engaging way to make some passive income on the side. Rather than writing out your knowledge, or teaching it in an online course or digital format, this format is all you on camera.
It’s a format with serious steam, too.
YouTube viewers are quickly catching up to the number of Facebook users, logging in at over 1.8 billion users every month vs. Facebook’s two billion.
And 63% of users used YouTube more in 2018 vs. the year prior.
So if you’ve got a personality that’s begging to come out into the wide-open public for all to enjoy, this is a channel for you.
Looking for inspiration? Here’s what sells via vid - check out the people on this list of the highest paid YouTubers as of 2018:
Dan Middleton - $16.5 million
Evan Fong - $15.5 million
Dude Perfect - $14 million
If you want the full picture (pun again intended), take a look at this --
But how about some more proof?
NextTimeTech grew a 75,000+ subscriber channel and made over $30,000 in ad revenue in two years:
These are numbers that are totally doable for YouTube and vlogging starters looking for passive income.
But if video isn’t your thing, yet you’re still comfortable in the spotlight, consider the next audio-based business idea.
Online business idea #10: Start a weekly podcast
Just like your blog or membership site can explode with a targeted viewership unique to your topic of expertise, so can a podcast.
Even though this format started back in the 80s (as a rad way to “audioblog”), and lulled over the next couple of decades, podcasting started to pick up in 2004.
Nowadays, the stats come in at 44% of people having listened to a podcast in 2018 with 49% of that listening done at home, and 22% while in the car.
Not only are podcasts popular, but the audience is loyal.
Because you can “multi-task” and listen while driving, cooking, and cleaning, your listeners are more likely to listen to your full shows. After all, 80% of listeners listen to all or most of their podcasts and average about seven shows per week.
And a captive audience that eats up more of your content means a loyal audience who’ll crave more of your offers (can we say, primed for buying your online offer?).
But even if you’re not priming your audience to sell another offer, you can still make money through your podcast.
According to Lewis Howes, author of School of Greatness, his fellow CreativeLive instructor John Lee Dumas makes a ton from his podcast:
“John Lee Dumas generates over $50K monthly selling sponsorships on his podcast… He also generates over $300K a month with his online courses. Create a podcast around your passion and find sponsors that will be attracted to your target audience.”
Hmmm, now there’s an idea… combining some of these ideas.
Podia user Adam Clark has built an entire online course to monetize his business of teaching people how to create Irresistible Podcasting.
(That’s right, an online course that teaches podcasting - idea #7 inside of idea #10 - feel like you’ve been inceptioned?)
As you can see, there are multiple ways to grow your audience and deliver the goods for some passive income.
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Where will you take your online business idea?
Now that you have these 10 top ideas for starting an online business, do some digging and self-reflection… what makes you tick?
What piques your interest and fits your personality the most? And what are you most excited to present to the world?
To recap the top 10 online business ideas for you to explore:
Monetize your blogging skills
Monetize your own blog with affiliate marketing
Build a membership site to grow and serve your community
Create an ecommerce site to sell your products
Sell your products on eBay, Etsy, or ArtFire
Self publish a book or digital download
Sell a digital product or online course
Start a consulting or coaching business
Become a YouTuber or start a vlog
Start a weekly podcast
Even if your first idea doesn’t explode into the massive ideal audience you anticipate, you can try your second idea. The most important thing is to just start.
After all, lots of ice cream flavors are delightfully delicious, and there’s no reason to limit yourself to just one.
Happy testing… and tasting.
P.S.: Looking for some side-hustles that don't require a laptop? Check out our new article on unconventional side-business ideas anyone can start, or this article on unique side-hustles for creatives.)