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Best Online Business Ideas: 16 Low-Cost Ideas and How to Start in 2021

Online business ideas

Running an online business definitely has its appeal, but it also comes with its own set of challenges. The truth is, starting a business of any kind is hard work. While some may think of the internet as a get-rich-quick scheme, basic business principles still apply. 

In reality, “online” is just a channel that connects businesses to people. It’s a powerful tool that lets you reach anyone from anywhere in the world. But creating a business with it is still about connecting the right customers with the right offering.

Countless people have already made the leap into entrepreneurship. And with the right online business ideas and plenty of sweat equity, you can too.

This isn’t about one simple life-changing trick. Starting an online business doesn’t work that way. Instead, to help you find the best small online business ideas that drive profits, we’ve put together a collection of simple ways to start a business without quitting your day job.

Free: The Big List of Business Ideas

To help you find the inspiration to start, we compiled a list of 100+ in-demand business ideas, broken down into categories like fitness, apparel, and gaming.

16 best online business ideas

Wondering what some of the best online business startup ideas are? Browse the following list to find the best business idea for you. 

  1. Start your own clothing line
  2. Launch a dropshipping store
  3. Sell your art online
  4. Become a freelance writer, designer, or developer
  5. Teach an online course
  6. Flip your thrift store finds
  7. Publish your own book
  8. Start a blog
  9. Become a virtual assistant
  10. Try your hand at being an influencer
  11. Build apps and websites
  12. Launch a podcast
  13. Become an affiliate marketer
  14. Curate subscription boxes
  15. Develop a niche product
  16. Create handmade goods

1. Start your own clothing line

If you have some designs in mind and a little bit of time on your hands, you can get your clothing company off the ground.

If you already own a Shopify store, you can set up your own clothing line using Oberlo, Printify, Printful, or a similar product-sourcing app. Each automatically links your store to apparel printers and clothing manufacturers. They also handle every step of the retail fulfillment process for you, giving you the freedom to design and ship a wide range of pieces right out of the gate.

Why start a clothing line?

  • There’s nothing more satisfying than creating products that people will use every day.
  • As soon as you build your Shopify store, you’ll be able to start selling instantly. Thanks to print-on-demand apps, the process of designing and delivering your own custom-made clothing has been streamlined and simplified.
  • You’ll love the feeling of seeing your designs come to life by transforming your creativity into something real and profitable.

THINKPUP

We used Printful to create THINK PUP, an apparel store for dog owners, and ended up making over $1,200 in just three weeks. With some time and research, you could be well on your way to building a successful t-shirt company, too.

We’ve curated some handy resources that will help grow your apparel business at every stage, from crafting your brand’s story to promoting your products with influencer marketing :

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Free Course: Build a Print-on-Demand Business

Learn how to easily create and sell your own custom-branded products. Ecommerce expert Adrian Morrison shares his framework for launching a successful print-on-demand shop in our free video course.

Enroll for free

2. Launch a dropshipping store

Think you need a warehouse full of inventory to run your own business? Think again! Dropshipping is one of the best online startup ideas for entrepreneurs on a budget. You can hit the ground running by sourcing a pre-existing product from a supplier and having them take care of things like packaging and fulfillment.

This process lets you skip over a lot of obstacles that might be standing in the way of you starting your own business. More importantly, it eliminates the risk of finding out there’s no market for your product after placing a huge order with a manufacturer or supplier.

Why choose dropshipping?

  • You don’t need to stock products in a physical location, meaning that your cash flow won’t get tied up in inventory. There’s less of an upfront cash risk.
  • Whenever a purchase is made, you place an order with a third party and they handle the rest of the process for you. Since you don’t have to deal with things like tracking inventory or mailing packages, dropshipping eliminates a lot of potential headaches for budding entrepreneurs.
  • No warehouse means you can run your business from anywhere. Whether it’s your living room or the café down the street, you decide where you want to work from.

If you’re interested in dropshipping, read our Ultimate Guide to Dropshipping to help you get started.

If you don’t have any online store ideas, here are some strategies for narrowing down the perfect product:

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Free Webinar: The Right Way to Start a Profitable Dropshipping Store

Learn how to find high-margin products, import them into your store, and start selling—fast.

Reserve your seat now

3. Sell your art online

Selling online is a great website business idea whether you’re a painter, photographer, or musician. With these skills, there are plenty of ways to turn your latest masterpiece into a source of revenue with a beautifully designed ecommerce website.

If painting or photography is your forte, you can sell your work as prints, canvases, and framed posters using Printify or Printful. This is a fantastic way to turn your art into something tangible that people can take home and integrate into their space. Is music your thing? You can sell your beats, songs, samples, and more as digital products.

Just take a look at The Drum Broker, the largest online drum sample business in the world. It created a successful and sustainable business model with the help of apps like FetchApp and ShipStation.

Why sell your art?

  • You’ll be part of people’s lives by getting your work into customers’ homes.
  • You’ll create a platform for showcasing your work by setting up shop online.
  • As an artist, creating art isn’t just a hobby—it’s a way of life. This is your chance to turn your passion into an income stream and potentially do what you love for a living.

Ready to bring your online store idea to life? Get started with the following resource:

Free Guide: How to Find a Profitable Product to Sell Online

Excited about starting a business, but not sure where to start? This free, comprehensive guide will teach you how to find great, newly trending products with high sales potential.

4. Become a freelance writer, designer, or developer

Maybe not the most innovative online business idea, freelancing is still a great option with a low barrier to entry. Writers, developers, and graphic designers can start a business based on their talents. As a freelancer, you’ll be able to put your skills to good use by helping people across the world with their projects (while making some money yourself, of course).

Freelancing doesn’t mean committing to months-long projects that eat away at your free time. You can easily pick up bite-sized tasks that fit your schedule.

To find people that need your help, try freelancing marketplaces, like Upwork and Fiverr.

Fiverr freelance online business

It’s worth noting that Fiverr is a little different from a traditional job board. As the name suggests, a lot of the posted jobs pay $5. The key to making big money on Fiverr is carefully setting up your offers so you can easily upsell the client for more money.

For instance, you could offer to write a 150-word introduction for a blog post as your initial $5 service. As an upsell, you could charge another $10 for every additional 150 words. You can tweak your services until you’ve found a combo that makes it worth your while.

If you want total control over how much you charge, create a Shopify store. You can list your services as products and disable shipping, since you won’t actually be physically delivering anything to your customers. You can even use apps like BookThatApp and Events Calendar to give your customers the option to schedule appointments.

Why freelance?

  • When you freelance, you choose which projects you want to work on and set your own schedule and workplace.
  • Getting paid to do something you’re good at is a rewarding feeling, whether you’re looking to strike out on your own or just want to make some extra cash on the weekend.
  • If this is a new idea of online business to you and you don’t have much experience writing, designing, or developing, freelancing is an excellent way to build your portfolio and get some real experience in a wide range of industries. You might discover that you have a knack or passion for something you never expected.

If freelancing sounds like it might be a good money-making website idea for your lifestyle, we’ve put together some great articles that can help you make the most of your time:

5. Teach an online course

One of the new online business concepts when it comes to education, you can create virtual courses to sell online. Teaching an online course is a low-investment business idea for generating passive income. All you need to do is put together a video walkthrough explaining a subject you’re familiar with and then host it on your own personal website.

Although it requires effort up front, if you manage to design a popular, high-value video tutorial series, you would make money on an ongoing basis as people continue to enroll in your course.

To start creating your first online course, brainstorm a topic that you know well enough to teach someone how to do from scratch. This can be literally anything—music production, social media marketing, web development, you name it.

Next, you’ll want to grab a screencasting app, like ScreenFlow, to record your screen and voice while you walk your students through your tutorial. ScreenFlow also comes with a built-in video-editing suite, letting you shoot and cut your videos all on the same platform.

Why teach an online course?

  • With an online course, you can literally set it and forget it. Take a few days or weeks, depending on the complexity you’re aiming for, to build an online course, and you could be reaping the benefits for weeks.
  • You already have the knowledge, you just need to share it. Focus on teaching something that you’re already an expert at and the rest will come naturally, whether it’s building iOS apps, creating monthly budgets, or running Facebook ad campaigns.
  • Teaching someone a new skill is its own reward. While there’s definitely money to be made teaching online courses, helping other people is always a satisfying experience in itself.

6. Flip your thrift store finds

If you love hitting up thrift stores and hunting down great deals, then one great ecommerce business idea is to sell your second-hand treasures online. And that’s exactly what’s next on our list of online biz ideas.

Your potential customers want to buy cool stuff, but they don’t want to dig through old soccer jerseys and braided belts to get their hands on that one amazing find. Take advantage of this by positioning yourself as a trustworthy curator who can go out and uncover those great vintage pieces for others.

Why sell your thrift store finds?

  • Let’s face it, you’d be combing through thrift store racks anyway, so you might as well make some money while you do it by putting your shopping addiction to work.
  • The margins are huge. That two-dollar RadioShack ball cap you found over the weekend? You can turn it into a $40 vintage hat.
  • You’re selling something unique. Nowhere else on the web will people be able to find the vintage collections that you put together.

Want to turn your cool stuff into pizza money? Take a look at these guides to making your products look great in photos:

7. Publish your own book

It’s OK to admit it: you’ve thought about publishing your own book someday. While seeing your name on a list of bestsellers might seem like a pipe dream, it’s actually not that far out of reach.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a science-fiction novel, a marketing guide, or a children’s picture book, there are now plenty of options for successfully self-publishing your work—and it’s one of the best online business ideas. These include releasing your writing as an ebook with the Digital Downloads app to on-demand printing services like Blurb and CreateSpace.

Digital Downloads

To sell ebooks through your online store, install the Digital Downloads app and you’ll instantly be able to stock digital files as products. Once purchased, your ebooks will be sent to your customers via email or as a direct download link.

If you choose to sell physical copies of your book, you’ll just need to place an order with Blurb or CreateSpace whenever your work is purchased. They’ll custom print your book and handle the entire storage and fulfillment process.

Why publish a book?

  • What’s the point of writing something if there’s no one around to read it? Self-publishing is the quickest way to get your book into the hands of potential readers.
  • Printing, storage, and delivery is taken care of thanks to services like Blurb and CreateSpace.
  • Creative writing is your passion and you deserve to be able to make money while doing something you enjoy.

Ready to live out your dreams of being a published author? These resources will help you on your way to the top:

8. Start a blog

Blogging has come a long way since its inception. What was once a virtual journal has now turned into a marketing and even a monetization tool—earning its spot on this list of best online business startup ideas.

Whether you make money from publishing sponsored posts, hosting third-party ads, or selling your products, a blog is a great online business idea you can start at home. 

The key to starting a successful blog is to focus on building an engaged, loyal audience. When you start with an audience-centric approach, you’ll cultivate a community that trusts you. And when you can earn trust, you can start to drive revenue.

That’s how Mr. Money Mustache started his popular personal finance blog. What began as a movement has turned into a successful business that’s earned national media coverage. 

Mr. Money Mustache

Why start a blog?

  • Blogs have unlimited growth potential. You can expand into affiliate marketing, ecommerce, courses, and essentially any other online business venture. Some blogs even use a paid subscription model to drive revenue. 
  • A blog is a long-term play. While you won’t see overnight results, they are likely to be more sustainable. A blog lives on the internet forever—or at least until you delete it.
  • It lets you practice your writing—an essential skill to have in business and communication. Use tools like Writer or Hemmingway to improve your writing. 

For more information on getting started, check out these articles: 

9. Become a virtual assistant

Are you super organized and love working behind the scenes? If so, you might be the perfect candidate to become a virtual assistant (VA) as one of the ​​best online startup ideas.

A VA helps entrepreneurs, businesses, and executives organize their personal and professional lives. There’s a broad spectrum of duties, ranging from appointment scheduling to basic marketing management and everything in between. And everything is done online. 

Why become a VA?

  • Work with your ideal client. Even if you don’t know at the start, over time you’ll find out who you love working with and what you love to do for them. You can evolve your business to cater to those preferences. 
  • Interact with people from all over the world. All you need is an internet connection to do your work, and you can have the chance to work with international clients and professionals. 
  • Grow your business into a network of VAs. If you become too busy or have growth goals, you can hire and train VAs to work under you and increase profits. 

10. Try your hand at being an influencer

Influencer marketing has exploded on the marketing scene, and though consumers are becoming more savvy, there are still plenty of business opportunities to be had. Becoming an influencer has actually become one of the best small online business ideas, especially if you already have an audience.

Because influencers have gotten in hot water for dishonest practices, there’s been a movement toward micro-influencers—profiles with smaller but more engaged followings. Good news: you don’t need millions of followers to earn money on Instagram

Why be an influencer?

  • It’s an opportunity to get an introduction to marketing—particularly valuable if you’re interested in pursuing that as a career or additional business venture.
  • You’ll learn about new and interesting brands. You might discover products and companies you love that you never would have found had they not solicited your services.
  • It’s so easy a monkey can do it. Well, not literally—but you can make your pet the star if you’re camera shy. 

Here are our inspiring tips and stories to get you started as an influencer:

11. Build apps and websites

If you’re tech savvy, one of the ​​great website business ideas for you would be somewhere you can leverage those interests. Acquire some coding skills and start building! Whether it’s mobile apps, Shopify apps, or websites, you can create digital products for purchase or as a service provider. 

For example, you can create a custom Shopify theme template and sell it to merchants looking for an affordable DIY approach to designing their website. Or work with clients directly to build websites and apps tailored to their specific needs. 

Why build apps and websites? 

  • Technology isn’t going anywhere, and the demand for the technical skills necessary to build apps and websites will only continue to grow. 
  • There’s an endless number of platforms and systems out there. If you get bored of one, learn and transition to another.

For more information on building apps, check out these articles from Shopify Partners:

12. Launch a podcast

If you like the sound of your own voice, consider recording it for a podcast. Podcasts are a great home business idea with multiple monetization options, similar to starting a blog. Though it’s no longer the most innovative online business idea, there’s still opportunity to carve out your own space in the niche. 

Here’s what you need to start your podcast

  • A high-quality microphone 
  • Audio recording software 
  • Call recording software

To promote your podcast, consider collaborating with prominent figures as guests on your show. Encourage listeners to leave reviews and share your podcast with their friends and family. 

Why start a podcast?

  • Podcasts continue to grow in popularity. According to Podcast Insights, 51% of Americans have listened to a podcast.
  • A successful podcast can lead to endless possibilities: turn your episodes into a blog, solicit sponsors and advertisers, and make connections you never would have been able to before. 

13. Become an affiliate marketer

Affiliate marketing is when you recommend a product or service by sharing it on a blog or social media to your email list, on your website, or on other channels. You earn a commission each time someone converts through your unique referral link or code.

Find an affiliate program that suits your interests, personal brand, and target audience. Affiliate Future, ShareASale, and FlexOffers are a few examples. Amazon has its own affiliate program, and you can also check out the Shopify Affiliate Program

Once you’ve signed up, start sharing. Create social media posts, blog articles, emails, and other content about how great the product or service you’re promoting is. Don’t oversaturate your audience with ads, otherwise you risk coming across as spammy or inauthentic. 

Why do affiliate marketing? 

  • It’s easy: you likely already promote the products and services you use. Now you can get paid for it! 
  • Affiliate marketing is a great source of passive income. With the Shopify Affiliate Program, affiliates earn an average of $58 for each user who signs up for a paid plan and $2,000 for each Plus referral.

14. Curate subscription boxes

Subscription boxes are themed packages of various products that emerged on the ecommerce scene as new online business concepts with the rise of brands like Birchbox and Blue Apron. There are subscription boxes in pretty much every industry, from meal-prep kits and craft snacks to fitness products and makeup. You can curate subscription boxes around virtually any theme of your choice.

Bokksu, for example, curates Japanese snacks and sends them to customers each month. 

Bokksu online business example

When you curate subscription boxes, you work with brands and artisans to purchase and resell their products in a bundled offering. Typically, consumers expect to be surprised by what’s in the box, though there are some (like meal prep kits) where the customer chooses what they receive. 

Why curate subscription boxes?

  • It’s a viable seasonal business. Ironically, “subscription” boxes are purchased as gifts more often than for the buyer themselves. So if you’re only interested in running your online business for part of the year, this could be a model worth checking out. 
  • It’s a growing industry. Subscription commerce sales grew from $57 million in 2011 to more than $2.6 billion in 2016.
  • You don’t need to create your own products. Instead, you can use proven, successful products and simply put them together in a nice package. 

Interested in finding out how to start your subscription box business? Learn from these resources: 

15. Develop a niche product

If you recognize an opportunity in a certain niche, you might be onto the next of your online biz ideas. Niche products cater to a unique audience. When done well, they serve a specific community. 

Niches could be based on industry, demographic, price point, geography, values, product attributes, and more. Really, a niche could be anything specific enough to target a small group of potential customers. For example: 

  • Conscious consumers: think vegan, sustainable, and eco-friendly products and brands. 
  • Pet owners: you could even drill down by pet type.
  • Remote workers: these professionals have specific attributes different from the traditional office worker.

Why develop a niche product?

  • Niche products are unique and thus buzzworthy. Early success can be all you need to drive press coverage with zero budget
  • Though niching down might be scary to some, choosing a specific target customer makes it easier to create marketing and messaging that resonates. Rather than trying to speak to a broad, diverse group, you’re talking to a group of individuals with lots of shared characteristics. 

16. Create handmade goods

If you’re particularly crafty, selling handmade products could be the easiest of the best online business ideas for you to start. Whether you start a jewelry business, make and sell picture frames, or offer handmade furniture, one business idea is to monetize your craft skills and sell products online. 

While you can use platforms like Craigslist or Etsy, your own online store will give you more control and make it easier to track and fulfill orders. 

Why sell handmade goods?

  • Devote as much or as little time as you want. It’s your choice on how big you want to grow. 
  • Create on your schedule. Make your handmade goods on a set schedule, when you have spare time, or whenever you want. 
  • Turn your passion into income. Like many of the online business ideas on this list, an entrepreneurial endeavor backed by passion leads to a more fulfilling experience. 

Ready to find new homes for your handcrafts? Get started here:

How to start an online business

Once you’ve chosen from the best online business startup ideas, you’ll want to do your due diligence and, eventually, give it life. Here’s how to start a business online, step-by-step:

  1. Validate your idea with market research
  2. Develop your product or service
  3. Set up your business finances
  4. Find vendors and suppliers
  5. Build your website
  6. Market your new online business

1. Validate your idea with market research

It might sound harsh, but it’s true: just because you think you have the best online startup ideas, that doesn’t mean there’s a market for all of them. Before investing your time and energy into starting your business, research how feasible it is and whether there’s any potential buyer interest. You can hire an agency to conduct market research for you, but if you’re on a shoestring budget, you can also take the DIY approach:

2. Develop your product or service

You’ve validated your idea, now it’s time to turn it into a reality. Whether you’re selling a product or service, you need to create it. Find a manufacturer to bring your product to life, create packages of your service offerings, or write your book and identify a self-publishing option to bring it to fruition.

If you go the dropshipping route of the best small online business ideas, the product has already been developed for you. It’s up to you to choose the products you’re passionate about or that you’ve identified a hot market for. To help you, we’ve put together a guide to finding the best products to dropship.

Exchange Marketplace

Exchange Marketplace: Buy a Business

Exchange is the marketplace to kickstart your entrepreneurial dreams and buy a business. Browse thousands of stores for sale.

Browse websites for sale

3. Set up your business finances

“How do I open a business bank account?” is a common question for many new entrepreneurs with great website business ideas. After you’ve officially registered your business with your local government, you should have the tax identification numbers and other information required to open a business bank account.

As you grow, you might need funding for future endeavors, be it a new product launch or marketing and advertising spend. Having business bank accounts makes it easier for you to manage that capital, as well as track your revenue and expenses.

Having a bank account is also helpful when it comes to tax preparation, since your business-related transactions will be in a single place. As your business finances get more complicated, hiring a professional accountant or tax professional could be a viable option.

Further reading:

4. Find vendors and suppliers

Product-based online businesses in particular may require lots of business relationships—especially if you’re looking to launch one of the most innovative online business ideas. For example: a manufacturer, a dropshipper, or a third-party logistics coordinator. When identifying which partnerships you want to move forward with, it’s best to shop around and compare your options to make sure you’re getting the best solution for your needs.

Other online business ideas may require different relationships or contractors. If you’re writing a book, for example, you may want to hire a professional editor and book designer.

5. Build your website

If you want to pursue one of these new online business concepts, you need to have a website. And to make money online, you’ll need to incorporate payment processing functionality. 

First, find a business name. You can use a Business name generator to help come up with one if you’re stuck. You’ll need one to start building your website.

Then choose a domain name and verify that it’s available. You can purchase a domain name for less than $20 a year in some cases. From there, you can build your own store on a platform like Shopify and start accepting payments from customers right away.

Here are a few other resources to help you get started with your ecommerce site:

6. Market your new online business

Getting your first paying customer is a huge milestone for a new small business owner. Now that you’ve got your store set up, you’ll want to start getting your business out there. But finding new customers and creating convincing promotions takes time and energy. 

There are so many channels to choose from—email marketing, Messenger marketing, mobile marketing, etc.—it’s hard to know the best way to grow your online business. It’s easy to get caught up in the wrong tactics and invest your time and money in the wrong places. 

If you want to make marketing your new store easier, we recommend reading How to Get Your First Sale in 30 Days: A Marketing Checklist for New Entrepreneurs.

Bring your online business idea to life

If you've been thinking about pursuing your online biz ideas, it's time to get out there and create your new startup in your spare time. You don’t have to go all in. Start small with a side hustle and scale from there. Or, keep things small. The beauty of learning how to start a business online is that it’s completely up to you. 

Have questions about how to start an online business? Let us know in the comments below.

Illustration by Eugenia Mello


Online business ideas FAQ

How do you brainstorm online business ideas?

If you’re stuck on finding business ideas, there are a few ways to brainstorm through it:
  1. Create a brainstorming board and put all your ideas on it.
  2. Revisit with fresh ideas and refine your list.
  3. Get help from friends and family.
  4. Survey existing customers to find new business ideas.
  5. Check search trends on Google Trends.

What is the best online business to start?

  1. Dropshipping 
  2. A clothing line
  3. Selling art
  4. Curating subscription boxes
  5. Selling handmade goods
  6. Being an affiliate marketer
  7. A blog
  8. A consulting business

What is the best online business to start from home?

  1. An ecommerce store
  2. Buying products in bulk to sell online
  3. Teaching online courses
  4. A writing business
  5. Online services 
  6. Selling homemade products
  7. Starting a YouTube channel
  8. Becoming a blogger

What are some online service business ideas?

  1. Graphic design
  2. Freelance writing
  3. Wordpress development
  4. Shopify theme building
  5. App development
  6. Web design
  7. Copywriting
  8. Search engine optimization consulting

How do I start a small online business?

  1. Find a gap in a niche market and fill it.
  2. Learn how to write copy that sells.
  3. Build and design your own website.
  4. Get on social media sites like Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
  5. Optimize your website for SEO.
  6. Become an expert in your industry.
  7. Provide excellent customer service.
  8. Create multiple sources of income.

Do I need an LLC to sell online?

You don’t need an LLC to sell online, but it’s recommended that you file for one. As a business owner, this helps mitigate risk and protects your personal assets in case you end up in a lawsuit or need to file bankruptcy.
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