What's the Right Online Business for You?
It’s not difficult to find extensive lists of online business ideas out there. The last few years have seen a significant shift towards more virtual interactions and commerce — whether it’s through webinars, online consulting sessions, freelance work, or the purchasing of goods and services.
For many reasons, there’s never been a better time to launch a home-based business. But idea lists can be completely overwhelming because the possibilities can feel… well, endless.
And what’s more, they don’t really tell you which types of virtual businesses might be a good fit for you.
If you’ve got your own online business ideas but you’re not sure which ones to pursue — or you’re ready to leave a current job and launch on your own but you’re not sure which direction to go — here is some concrete guidance that can reduce that sense of being overwhelmed and help you get on the right track.
Read on to learn:
- Which questions you should be asking yourself before you dive in.
- The main categories of virtual businesses — and what they offer.
- Specific online business ideas and examples inside each category, so you can get a sense of which one(s) might be right for you.
- PLUS … a special bonus list of the Top 30 Online Business Ideas for 2023.
Set the Stage for Success with the Right Questions
Regardless of what you’re selling — products or services or some combination — it’s important to ask the right questions before you jump in.
Finding and creating a profitable niche isn’t just about checking off lists of online business ideas. It’s also about knowing how, where, and why you want to build a certain business.
Here are five starter questions you can ask yourself to get going in the right direction:
- How “hands on” do I want to be? Do you want to be checking in every day and overseeing all aspects of your business — or are you more into the idea of automated systems or allowing other team members to independently own aspects of the business?
- How much flexibility do I want in my workday/week? Are you cool with sticking with a strict 9-5, or do you like to be able to work as early (or as late) as you like? Do you enjoy working full days, or are you looking to build a digital business that allows for plenty of time away?
- What balance of passive vs. active income do I want to have? Do you love the energy of live events and the excitement of live launches? Or do you prefer to have evergreen products and systems that work in the background to do scheduled launches and take customers through a nurture-to-purchase journey?
- How much direct interaction do I want to have with my clients/customers? Do you feel pulled to do 1:1 work or group work? Do you love leading, teaching, and facilitating? Or are you looking for a less high-touch interaction with customers?
- Who do I want to help . . . and why? Besides making a great income, what impact do you hope to have with your business? What problem(s) are you trying to solve?
How You Can Sell Your Offering
You can sell products or services — or both — through your remote business. Obviously, there are thousands and thousands of things you can sell … and with the right marketing plan, you can find the right people and harness the demand for even the narrowest of niches. This is part of the exhilaration of coming up with great online business ideas!
But regardless of what you’re providing to your target market, there are several key ways that you can offer what you’re selling.
As you’re dreaming up possibilities for your own offerings, consider how you might want to get your product or service to your potential customer, and how you want to be paid.
For Physical Products
For anything you can wrap up and mail — T-shirts, face cream, exercise equipment, cool gadgets, art — you can set up an online retail store.
If you’re producing things on a limited basis or making them out of your home (like custom jewelry, for example), you might be able to accept orders and ship from home. If you have large quantities of inventory, you might have a warehouse space and ship from there. Or you can use a drop shipping model for an ecommerce site.
In each case, you’ll want to consider things like demand for certain products, ease of access to manufacturing and inventory, and how much overhead cost you’re willing to take on.
For Digital Products
A digital product is something you create — like eBooks, software, music, or courses — that can be downloaded or accessed virtually.
Probably the most straightforward approach is simply to send the digital product after purchase.
But digital products are also one of those online business ideas that can be offered in many different ways.
A digital course, for example, might be 100% self-paced — so someone buys it, you send it, they access the materials and go through readings or video modules as they have time. Or it can be offered with a combination of live and virtual elements — for example, an exclusive launch event followed by video instruction, Zoom gatherings, Q&As, and active customer service. Or it can be offered entirely live, where people pay for access to regular instruction.
Any digital product you create can be offered on a continuous basis . . . this is called an evergreen model. Anyone can come to your site anytime, find your book or course or whatever, and purchase it right there. Or, you can offer it on a more limited basis — for example, a program that you offer just once or twice a year, with a live launch preceding registration.
Digital products can also be offered through membership or subscription programs, as well — a customer pays for ongoing access to things like new releases, updates, weekly newsletters, or other content they find valuable.
Service-based online businesses provide instruction, guidance, aid, or work that helps their customers meet specific needs or solve specific problems. These businesses are not actually offering a pre-made tangible product. Instead, they are doing a service (that may or may not end in the delivery of a tangible product) for a client that the client cannot or doesn’t want to do on their own.
Some common examples of services include:
- Professional services (attorneys, engineers, marketers, business consultants)
- Wellness/healthcare services (chiropractors, counselors, personal trainers, doulas)
- Creative services (writers, graphic designers, web designers)
- Personal development (life coaches, motivational speakers, business coaches)
There are some overlaps in the ways that services and digital products can be sold through a remote business . . . though many services can be quite flexible in the way they are delivered.
For example, a certified coach or graphic designer might offer services that can be purchased on an hourly freelance basis, as part of a package of predetermined services, on a monthly retainer, or inside a membership program.
VIP Days are an offering to a limited number of clients, where they pay for exclusive access to services (often inside the business coaching and personal development world) that promise 1-to-1 attention and accelerated results.
Some services can only be offered 1-to-1 … there’s no such thing as a mass divorce case! Others can be offered on a 1-to-many basis.
One benefit of offering services in an online business is that they generally have lower overhead costs because there is no inventory to maintain. But they also often require a considerable amount of personal and emotional investment: interacting directly with customers, helping people through crises, giving feedback, walking on a developmental journey with clients, negotiating contracts, etc.
Again, it’s important to go back to the foundational questions to consider what you want, what you enjoy, and in which area(s) you’re talented.
Bonus List: The Top 30 Online Business Ideas for 2023
While the possibilities for creating your own virtual business are almost limitless, there are a few that consistently rank high. Often these are businesses that are easy to set up, don’t involve a ton of overhead costs, or are in such high demand that it’s not difficult to find paying clients.
Here’s a place to start thinking about your own offering: Is there something you like to do and are good at that other people are either completely mystified by or really dislike doing?
Often we don’t realize that just because something is easy for us doesn’t mean it’s easy for everyone. You might be a whiz at coding . . . something that is literally a foreign language to most people. Or you might absolutely love proofreading . . . which some people can do, but most people don’t want to do.
Your best business idea might be super simple, but it meets a need and gives you joy. That’s a wonderful place to start!
Let’s have a look at some of the top performers — and you can use these as a springboard for your own ideas.
- Online Personal Assistant
You can start a business helping those who have started businesses. Entrepreneurs and small businesses often need help keeping track of daily details: meetings, client calls, scheduling, sending invoices, emailing, and more.
If you’re detail-oriented, efficient, personable, and organized, and you like helping others keep things on track, this can be a great way to earn a living.
In an age of global commerce, your fluency in another language can be a key to your success. You can help businesses expand their reach, serve new markets, avoid embarrassing PR mistakes, or nurture existing clients.
This is one of those niche skills that many business owners really need but few want to deal with. If you’ve got an eye for detail and have a way with written language, editing can be extremely lucrative.
- Freelance Coding and Web Design
Freelance coding is one of the best online business ideas out there; there’s a high demand, and there are diverse ways to exercise your skills. Whether you’re building websites or helping clients troubleshoot frustrating back-end issues, there’s no shortage of places to plug in.
- Software and App Development
While this virtual business idea involves a little more risk — you have to determine if there’s a demand for what you might want to create — if you’ve got the know-how, you can build and sell your own applications, programs, extensions, and add-ons.
In addition to being able to sell your products in app stores, there’s also the possibility of creating something that gets purchased by a larger company. While the risk is greater than with some other businesses, so is the potential reward.
There are a few ways to go here. You can offer your services to clients on a per-project basis. You can sell your work (and art of many kinds) on places like Society6 for a commission. Additionally, you can sell your work to stock photo sites and earn a commission every time someone purchases your photos, or just sell them directly from your own site and keep 100% of profits.
- Business Coaching
This is a thriving industry, so if you’ve got the passion to help entrepreneurs be more successful, this is a niche that can be both rewarding and lucrative.
The last few years have shown us how much can be accomplished online and how much help is needed when it comes to nurturing students to grow, learn, and succeed.
If you’ve got a specialty subject — a foreign language, calculus, English writing — there are students out there who need a caring, competent tutor.
- Online Fitness Trainer or Consultant
Especially if you’ve got a creative, innovative approach, there are tons of ways you can help people online with their physical and mental fitness.
In addition to teaching techniques or leading classes, you can also offer specific niche services: improving competitive performance, mastering the inner game, avoiding or recovering from injury, or mastering a specific skill.
- Virtual Thrift Shop
Love the hunt for unusual treasures that will bring joy to just the right customer? This can be a super fun and profitable online gig! You can either go through an existing platform like eBay, Etsy, or ThredUP, or you can set up your own ecommerce store through platforms like Shopify.
The bonus of these is that it’s not uncommon to find unique or brand-name items that are deeply undervalued in a second-hand store — that you can turn around and sell to an enthusiast or collector for a nice profit.
- Affiliate Marketing
Affiliate marketing is a good option for those looking to boost their passive income. Essentially, companies pay you to promote products on your blog, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, or other social channels. Then, anytime one of your followers or customers clicks your affiliate link and makes a purchase, you get a cut.
There is work involved in setting up and promoting products or services to your email list or social media followers. But depending on how well-known, high-dollar, or in-demand a certain product is, you can make anywhere from a few dollars to thousands of dollars per sale. When you get the process down, affiliate marketing can be a wonderful passive income stream, allowing you to earn money even when you’re not at your desk.
- Online Counseling or Therapy
The last few years highlighted the critical need for mental health care — and highlighted an access gap. Even if you love meeting clients in person and still want to keep an office space, offering your services online is a great option. It’s often easier for your clients, can be done from anywhere there’s an internet connection, and offers welcome flexibility in your schedule.
In addition to licensed therapists, this is also an option for certified coaches, consultants, spiritual directors, and recovery specialists.
Even with relatively simple equipment, it’s now easier than ever to get your story out there, to start interesting conversations, and to generate an enthusiastic following. You upload your content to various podcast apps or websites, and with the right marketing, you can make sure your target audience knows you’re out there.
Podcasts most often make their money by promoting or selling other content — affiliate marketing, sponsorship, ads, and either providing directly or promoting other courses or programs with relevant content.
- Life, Career, or Relationship Coaching
This is an option that comes with plenty of flexibility and room to grow. With the appropriate training and experience, you can help people with all kinds of growth opportunities. For example: navigating change, choosing a career, overcoming loss and challenge, getting their life in order, or finding a quality partner.
This is also an online business that can be set up in many different ways. You can charge by the hour, offer package deals, set up a retainer, offer membership or subscription services, or create VIP days for your most valued clients to get more personal access to you.
- Online Fundraising or Grant Writing
Nonprofit organizations rely heavily on grant funding, and grant writing is also a job that many visionaries within organizations dread doing. So, if you’ve got a knack for researching and finding available grants, writing proposals, and filling out grant applications in a way that gets your organization noticed — there’s a chance you can earn real money helping others and boosting worthwhile causes.
- Online Course Teaching
Whatever the micro-niche — mending clothing, repairing an engine, mastering cryptocurrency, healing from trauma, finding your dream date, growing and preserving your own produce, doing a handstand, meditating — there is a course that can guide, train, and inspire others.
Online course creation expert Amy Porterfield says that everyone has at least one or two courses in them, and with the right marketing, you can find your ideal customer, hone your message, and earn a great living helping others.
As mentioned above, you can approach offering your course in diverse ways and even create hybrid offerings (for example, online videos, events, coaching, Q&A sessions, memberships) to build an online business that works for you.
- SEO Consultant
One thing that any online business needs help with is increasing their visibility online. It’s critical for any virtual business to be able to be found by Google. And many companies don’t even realize that they can exponentially increase their reach and sales with just a few basic tweaks.
If you have inside knowledge about search engine optimization (SEO), Google Ads and Google Analytics, and digital marketing, then becoming an SEO consultant can be a lucrative gig.
- App Developer
Got a great idea that could meet a pressing need or provide a unique brand of entertainment? Mobile applications are everywhere, and they were a $143.6 billion industry in 2021.
And even if you don’t know coding well, you can partner with a software developer to bring your ideas to life.
- YouTube Channel
Second only to Google, YouTube is the most-searched platform in the world. You can use this to your advantage! Similar to teaching online courses, you can create educational or entertainment material on basically any topic you can imagine. Once you build a solid following, you’ll be able to monetize your videos and make a profit from them.
- Start a Blog (and Use It to Make Money)
Most people don’t fully appreciate how a blog can be a serious money-making machine. This could be due to the assumptions that people make when they hear the word “blog” — maybe the early 2000s model of needing thousands of followers. In reality, blog content can include traditional blog posts, as well as videos, audio recordings, and basically any free content on your site that is of value to your ideal client.
What’s more, with savvy SEO skills, a blog can easily become a passive-income-generating tool that can make money even if you don’t have thousands of followers.
- Soaps and Bath Products
Making soaps, body washes, and sugar scrubs is a great business to start, especially if you have a local market that can support you in a hybrid online/real-world setup.
This is a business that can quickly scale as one gets successful, but also allows for “starting slowly and carefully” without too much investment up front. Selling is done from a website, at farmers markets, local events, and retail locations.
- Start a Voiceover Business
When you consider that nearly every ad you’ve heard required a voice actor, you can see why there would be big demand for high-quality voice overs. You can work with independent production companies, ad agencies, and other businesses to generate audio clips for ads, promo videos, or educational material.
Or, if you’ve got the right audio equipment and are familiar with production, you can be the one who provides the audio material for your clients.
- Crowdfunding Consultant
For companies, startups, and organizations that want to make the most of their fundraising efforts, crowdfunding consultants can be an invaluable asset. While crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo are wildly popular, without the right planning, marketing, and execution, it can be easy to get lost in the noise. If you’ve got expertise in this unique niche, your services can make a dramatic difference for the success of a campaign . . . and can generate a decent income for you, too.
- Sell Your Music
Maybe you love to make music but aren’t suited for the late nights and hard schedules of touring and gigging with a band. Or you’re just looking for a way to supplement your music income. Whatever the case, there are online platforms that can help you make money without a record deal.
Sites like Bandcamp, TuneCore, CDbaby, and ReverbNation allow songwriters to publish and distribute music directly to fans or make it available for purchase for TV, movies, or advertisements. Plus, many of these platforms also manage royalties, so you automatically get paid every time someone purchases your music.
- Create Software as a Service (SaaS)
This is somewhat similar to software or app development, meaning it uses a similar set of tech and coding skills — but SaaS is a way of licensing and delivering software via the cloud and on a subscription basis. So instead of downloading a separate app that operates locally on your phone or laptop, you have “on-demand” access to the software via the Internet.
- College Admissions Consultant
As the higher education landscape is changing so rapidly, many families feel confused and overwhelmed by the options and by the complex processes involved in finding, applying for, and navigating the entrance process.
People want help selecting the right school, applying for scholarships and financial aid, working through test prep, choosing the best courses, and writing application essays — and they’ll pay you to guide them!
- Drop Shipping Business
If you want to run an ecommerce site but don’t want the hassle of maintaining a warehouse or inventory, then drop shipping can be a great option.
Drop shipping lowers overhead costs considerably because you don’t need to pay for inventory until it’s actually sold to a customer. Instead, you locate sellers who already have the item you want to sell in stock (mostly via drop shipping apps), and then you contract with them to deliver the item(s) to your customer.
- Video Producer
Consider how ubiquitous video content is these days — from reels to influencer content to tutorials to Facebook ads — and you can see why video production is such a growing industry. If you have video filming or editing knowledge, this is a field that leaves a ton of room for fun and creativity. And if you’ve got a portfolio of examples of your work, it shouldn’t be difficult to find great clients who are willing to pay you for your expertise.
- Social Media Manager
Many businesses feel that they wouldn’t exist without their social media. It’s a critical part of many businesses’ success — but it’s also quite time-consuming and constantly shifting. So this is one of those online business ideas that can meet a real need.
As with other service-based businesses, you can choose a payment model that works for you: by the hour, package deals or kits, consulting/training, or a monthly retainer.
- Online Researcher
If you’re someone who has wondered why people seem to struggle so much to locate good and accurate information online, the Universe might be sending you a signal! If you’ve got a knack for being able to hunt down reliable information on history, data, stats, studies, market research, and more — this job might be right up your alley.
Identifying Which Online Business Ideas are Right for You
The most amazing thing about setting up an online business, even for beginners, is the huge amount of flexibility and creativity you can use to build a business that really works for you.
Unlike a brick-and-mortar business, you can offer products or services to people all over the world.
And based on your lifestyle needs, your preferences, and your natural gifts, you can create hybrid offerings that give you the income, freedom, and satisfaction you’re desiring.
So, if I can use myself as a quick example . . . not because my way is the only “right” way, but because I’ve built an online business that’s right for me and that maximizes the impact I want to have in the world:
I love writing books. Those are both physical and digital products. I host a podcast and write blog posts — digital products. I lead programs and put on live events, which are both service-based offerings that often come with digital and physical products.
And I’m just one of thousands of virtual entrepreneurs who have found the combination of offerings that feels great to them, allows them to really help people, and provides an income that supports them and their families.
I encourage you to go over these ideas, do your own digging, and keep an open mind. Which online business idea (or combination of ideas!) feels right for you?
If you want to dive deeper into finding yourself and your calling as it relates to starting your own business, here are other helpful videos and articles that you'll want to read.
- 15 Years Of Internet Success (And The First Law)
- What If You're Not An “Expert”?
- Your Independence Day
- The ONE WORD SECRET To My Success
- Do You Need To Be An Expert?
- How To Make Your Own Good Luck
- Is It Too Late To Start My Business?
- The Vision For Starting a Business
- Coaching at 115 Miles Per Hour
- Innovation vs. Marketing Suicide