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16 Best Online Business Ideas for Entrepreneurs

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Entrepreneurship is a great American tradition — all across the country, people are constantly putting their creative energy to work to design new ventures and redefine their livelihoods. In 2016, about 540,000 people started a business each month in the U.S. And the vast majority of those — 86.3 percent — did so to create new opportunities for themselves instead of out of economic necessity.

The ease of creating a new business has increased due to the internet, where tools for business startup, growth and management are plentiful. Today, you can launch a new venture with a minor financial investment. All you need is drive, creativity and the ability to research essential business practices and online resources for your field. Add a dash of marketing panache to the mix and you’re on your way to entrepreneurial success.

Build on your existing strengths and interests

The number of different online businesses you could start might be overwhelming. What to choose? You’ll be most energetic and successful in your new venture if you start with your strengths and interests.

Are you a great writer? Try a sideline as a freelance blogger. Good with numbers? A little training and you can be in business as an online accountant. Have an interest in photography? The opportunities to turn your photos into income are growing by the day.

It is far better to pursue a business idea that’s grounded in something you’re interested in than it is to chase the highest-income option. Say you’re considering becoming a business coach because you’ve heard that can make you a lot of money, but your passions really lie in social media, which you’re not convinced will be as lucrative. Choose passion over potential income. The energy and excitement you’ll bring to a social media management business will ensure your success — including an ever-increasing income — whereas a lackluster business coach only in it for a paycheck will struggle to attract good clients. Plus, building a business based on doing what you love is the ticket to career fulfillment and satisfaction.   

Seek additional education or training

Just because you have passion, interest or strength in an are, however, doesn’t mean you have the skills to start a business in that field. You might need to invest in some education or training, especially if you plan to work in more technical areas, such as web development or bookkeeping.

Local universities often have affordable, continuing education programs for working adults, either on campus or online. Make sure you work with a reputable institution to get the best education you can and to ensure that whatever credential you receive has value. You might want to pursue specific certifications in your field — some are required for, and they are always a good way to bolster potential clients’ confidence.

Beyond subject-matter knowledge, starting a business also requires an understanding of how to run your affairs. You can get specialized training in starting a business or read reputable sources about business basics.

Running your business doesn’t have to be complex, especially if you’re starting small as a freelancer. You should, however, at least know what registrations you need from federal, state and local authorities to operate legally; how to maintain your records of invoices, income and expenditures; when and how to pay quarterly taxes; and how to operate in a professional manner. Ensure that you have a separate bank account for your business income and expenses, and know how to properly account for self-employment or other business income on your annual tax returns — it’s always best to hire a professional accountant.

Once you take care of all that, you’ll be ready to begin. Here are some popular ideas to get you started.

Some of the best online business ideas

1. Freelance writing

Freelancing is an increasingly popular way to build an online career, particularly one that allows you to be your own boss and work from wherever you’d like. There are two main aspects to freelance writing: journalism and corporate work, such as copywriting and content marketing.

A groundswell of interest in freelance writing has translated to downward pressure on wages — many are writing for extremely low pay, especially if they depend on online gig sites like Upwork and Fiverr. Those who are strategic and learn about how to approach networking and marketing, however,  can make this into a lucrative career.

Freelance writers earn more than $100,000 a year working at home — or in a hammock by the beach. Some freelancers travel the world with their laptops in their suitcases, living the dream of a modern-day nomad while writing for companies, blogs and magazines.

2. Blogging

Blogging is the prototypical “work online” role — set up your own corner of the internet and connect to an audience that can support your efforts, with no bosses or clients looking over your shoulder. Although it is increasingly difficult to translate blogging into solid earnings, some make excellent livings simply by curating their own online domains.

Bloggers must plan strategically regarding how to monetize their blogs. A popular option is including ads, such as Google AdWords, in your blog. But online advertising has many downsides, however, including making your blog look salesy.

Selling something to your audience is often a better bet — common options are e-courses, books, e-books and coaching. Anything that relates to the topic of the blog and allows you to leverage your expertise or persona is worth considering. The trick is not to let your blog become a content marketing vehicle for online training or coaching instead of an engaging narrative that satisfies its readers. Those who can grab their audience without being pushy can still stand out and take advantage of a lucrative opportunity.

3. Social media marketing

Everyone is on social media these days, including companies and other organizations too. Companies are pumping up their social media advertising budgets, which are set to grow by 32 percent in 2018 and nearly double by 2023. In fact, almost 20 percent of marketing budgets will be dedicated to social media in the next five years. A burgeoning field is taking shape as more businesses see the need to get assertive on social.

Digital marketing jobs are skyrocketing. CNN Money/Payscale put social media manager at  No. 42 on its list of the best 100 jobs in the United States (indicating solid growth, high pay and satisfying work). But managing social media full-time will likely involve a trip to the office; those who want to work online are doing it freelance. One good route to becoming a freelance social media maven is to get some on-the-ground training with a full-time role, then leverage that background to hang your own shingle.

Businesses in need of in-the-know help will pay good money not only to have someone write tweets and posts, but also for social media strategy and management. People who take on these roles as freelancers can build very lucrative — and fun — careers that they can do from anywhere.

4. Web design

Web design is an intuitive option for an online business because the work is entirely web-based. Creating websites as a freelancer — or through an agency — allows you to work remotely with clients all over the world who value creative workers with good technical skills.

Professional web design requires some specialized skills that are difficult to develop on your own. You might have to take some training courses and spend some time learning new things, but even if that makes your startup period more difficult, it will put you in the “expert” category — you’ll be able to do things the average business owner can’t.

This superpower makes your skills valuable — and you can charge a bundle for them. Top-tier web designers often charge thousands per project. Along with earning well, they get to use their creativity, help others pursue their projects and business dreams and take charge of their own time.  

5. E-commerce retail

E-commerce is a well-established way of working for yourself from home. There’s great flexibility regarding how you set up your business — if you use drop-shippers to handle fulfillment, you never actually have to lift a crate of merchandise, mail a package or handle a return. You can run a business in the U.S. while you’re sitting in a seaside hut anywhere in the world.

E-commerce, however, is not without it complications, especially as sales tax law undergoes historic changes. The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that e-commerce sellers can be required to collect and remit sales tax on sales they make in states with which they have absolutely no connection. Each state has different laws, and those laws will likely be changing rapidly and unpredictably in comings months and years.

Keeping up with taxes can be a job in itself. So can other regulations you might not have considered, such as unclaimed property rules, payroll requirement, and environmental regulations. All that doesn’t mean e-commerce isn’t a great option for those looking to work online — just understand that your business might be a bit more complicated than other online workers’, such as freelancers.

6. Accounting and bookkeeping

If you have numbers skill, running an accounting or bookkeeping business online can keep you happily employed without ever having to go into an office. Everyone needs these types of services, but few people want to — or can — handle them on their own. This means tons of opportunities for entrepreneurial number-crunchers.

An online accounting business will work best if you target clients who are comfortable working on their books and taxes remotely. Those in forward-leaning industries like tech and finance are likely to be more sanguine about this than others, and younger people in any sector might be more open to remote accounting.

Online accounting and bookkeeping have their own special challenges; you’ll be dealing with sensitive and private information, such as business records and social security numbers. You’ll need to work with cloud-based bookkeeping software and a hosted virtual desktop with secure log-ins. And, of course, deadline-sensitivity is essential when submitting others’ taxes.   

7. Virtual assistance

Virtual assistants provide remote services for everything from email and calendar management to app development and transcription. These jack-of-all-trades help their clients with anything that can be done without being in the same physical location — which turns out to be an incredibly diverse range of tasks. Virtual assistants benefit from a varied work life; no day — or hour, for that matter — is the same as the last.

You can work through an agency that will match you with clients or strike out on your own as a freelance VA. Either way, the job will require hustling, focusing on execution and deadlines and learning quickly to tackle new-to-you tasks. Considering you’ll be working in close partnership with your clients and potentially involved in many parts of their lives and businesses, it’s essential to be not only competent and organized, but also authentic, approachable, easy-to-work-with and discreet.

8. Web development

Web developers use a variety of programming languages to create programs and applications for the web. This technical job involves creating complex, web-based solutions for clients’ needs. Web developers are different from web designers, who focus more on visual elements and branding and less on digital architecture and mechanics.

Web development is a good online career choice for technically minded workers who have advanced training in coding, computing languages, UX design and other related topics. Finding a niche can be a strategic way to develop a freelance career as a developer; clients looking for particular expertise will be more likely to hire an “expert Ruby on Rails developer for SaaS businesses” than a “great developer.”

Develop a specialty and leverage that knowledge to develop a lucrative career. Web developers are in strong demand; you’ll have no trouble finding work once you’ve got the right training under your belt. The number of web developers in the U.S. is expected to increase by 15 percent by 2026 — far faster than the average growth across all job types.

9. App development

It seems everyone these days needs an app. If you have a technology background, you already have what it takes to start your own app development firm. Bonus points if you can do the developing yourself. The career outlook for software developers is strong, with 24 percent job growth expected by the year 2026.

To get started as an app development business owner, you’ll need nothing more than a computer, a solid idea and a plan to market your business. It can also help to join the Apple and Android developer programs. One of the best ways to drum up business for your new venture is to network with other startups on websites such as LinkedIn, which will naturally lead you to people interested in making money by launching an app.

10. Photography

If you’re great with a camera, your services are in demand. In your own local area, you’ll easily find people interested in hiring photographers for weddings, professional headshots, family photos and much more. But your market isn’t limited to in-person opportunities. Photography is a large part of online marketing today, with 70 percent of marketers reporting better results when they incorporate visual content.

Before you set up your website and start marketing your business, take some time to browse online, stock-photo sites. Pay close attention to the types of photos customers find when searching the site. You can start your business as a freelancer — sell photos on online marketplaces like Shutterstock and iStock Photo — or accept on-demand work on sites like Fiverr and Upwork. From there, you can begin to build a portfolio that will help you gain customers outside of low-paying, gig-work platforms.

11. Business coaching

There were more than 30.2 million small businesses in the U.S. at last count, making up 99.9 percent of all U.S. businesses. With new entrepreneurs bringing their ideas to market every year, there’s always a demand for guidance. A new business owner might have a great idea, but what are the odds that same person knows exactly where to get funding or how to reach new customers?

The payout for a business coach can be very lucrative, but you’ll need the credentials to back it up. It will help if you have a history of starting successful businesses of your own or being part of a well-known startup. This is another field in which online networking can lead you to your client base.

12. Life coaching

Athletes and business owners aren’t the only ones who need a good coach. Life coaching is a growing profession, attracting motivated professionals who enjoy the flexibility of the position. Many life coaches don’t work exclusively as coaches, which means you’ll have a great opportunity to kick off your business as a side gig.

It’s helpful to have a background in counseling or psychology, but not essential — your personality alone can propel you to success if you market yourself strongly. Training in coaching will probably be helpful since the profession can lead to some sensitive situations in which vulnerable people are looking to you for guidance help. Respect your future clients enough to make sure you know what you’re doing.

Life coaches typically work with a base of a dozen or so clients, spending an average of 30 to 90 minutes with each one. The internet quickly resolves the issue of finding office space for your coaching sessions — you can set up meetings through video-conferencing platforms like Skype, and even be available to clients through chat and text if they need you between sessions.

13. Translation

The demand for translators is projected to grow by 18 percent by 2026 as businesses seek to appeal to an increasingly global customer base. Translation is an ideal, online business service because you can easily translate website and print marketing content from the comfort of your own home.

Best of all, you likely won’t even have to spend much time marketing your services. You can start as a freelancer, responding to calls for translators on crowdsourcing sites like Upwork and LinkedIn. Also consider reaching out to publishers to advertise your services; chances are some are in need of a good translator. Your opportunities increase with each language that you know.  

14. Affiliate marketing

Affiliate marketing involves a company or other client paying you to attract people to their website, usually through links you put on your own blog or site. For example, say you discuss a certain dog shampoo on your pet-care website and include a link to an online store where readers can buy it. If you are an affiliate for that store, you’ll get a small commission every time a reader clicks through to view the shampoo for sale. The more affiliate links you include — and the more your readers click on them — the better your earnings will be.  

If you’re good at writing and have a knack for sales, affiliate marketing could be lucrative for you. To get started, you’ll need a professional-looking website where you can promote products, as well as a steady stream of interested readers. You can use a website builder like SquareSpace, Wix or WordPress, but for a truly professional site you’ll want to pay a web designer. Marketing the site to get a reliable fan base takes a lot of work, but if you have interesting and informative content you’ll be able to find your audience.

Once you are up and running, find companies that offer affiliate programs, sign up and start linking. If your interest is in the beauty industry, for instance, sites like Sephora and Nordstrom will pay commissions on clicks from your site. Once you’re really rolling, you may be able to set up individualized affiliate arrangements with companies — especially if your site reaches a very specific niche — which can be more lucrative than affiliate programs.

15. Online course design

Each year, online learning growth far outpaces that of traditional higher education. All of that learning creates a demand for well-designed courses that can provide students with the information they need. This is another field in which a background in academia can serve you well, especially if you’ve worked as a teacher.

You can create your own courses to sell to students or market your course-design services to others. To get started, become familiar with services like Teachable, which is designed to help you design and monetize online courses. Study online course design best practices and maybe even take an online course about building online courses. This is such a new and burgeoning field that it isn’t difficult to get to a place where you know more than the vast majority of those looking to create online courses. This will enable you to market yourself as an “expert” and find a solid base of clients. If you plan to sell your own courses, aim to make them demonstrably better than your competitors.

16. Social media influencing

A social media influencing business takes time to get started, so you’ll do best if you take the long view on this particular business. The goal is to create an active social media presence that attracts a large number of followers, then companies will then pay you good money to recommend their products to your fans. Keep in mind that brands will work with you because of your large number of followers as well a the demographics and engagement level of your audience. Put concerted effort into building a social media profile that inspires passion in your follower base. The best method for this is to develop a provocative, flamboyant or outspoken persona.

Once you have your social media profile set up, begin tagging brands in your posts. Reach out to brands that might be a good match for your persona. Focus on newer businesses that are interested in growing their brands. If you stay within a certain niche, you’ll have less competition for their advertising dollars and be more likely to get results. As other brands see you gaining traction, you’ll likely start fielding offers on a regular basis.

The bottom line

These are some of the most promising options for online business ideas, but there are scores more that you can pursue — the only limit is your creativity. Because the online entrepreneurship field is so wide open, follow your strengths and interests when it comes to designing your own venture. This will set you on the right path for business success, which will make all the difference in your satisfaction as a newly minted, small business owner.


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