Starting an online business is a tempting prospect – but that’s the easy part! The real challenge is to find out which opportunities are specific to your area of expertise or knowledge. To make your decision making a bit easier, we have created a list of online business ideas which shows you some specific examples of independent career paths suitable for various skill sets.
Online sales business ideas
1. Affiliate marketing
As an affiliate marketer, you are earning commission from selling someone else’s products. You might need to make an initial investment and buy a basic portfolio and marketing materials that you then resell. However, that does not always have to be the case as there are companies which will provide you with products free of charge, and only take a part of the profit. One of the most popular sites for affiliate marketers nowadays is Clickbank. Other well-known sites include Amway and Amazon Associates.
2. Bazaar sites
The online flea marketplaces are growing in popularity nowadays. They cover a wide range of products, have a user community that you can look to for inspiration and some of them such as Preloved do not charge any “selling fees” which is a significant advantage compared to traditional e-commerce sites.
3. Direct sales
This term means the “channel-free” approach to selling, where you offer products to customers to purchase directly from your website. Some companies will enable you to host your online store on their website for free. In other cases, you will need to build your sales website yourself. One area of the market that has used direct selling to great success is service providers, e.g., low-cost travel companies offering customers an option to purchase tickets directly from the website.
4. Group buying
This concept is similar to the ‘Daily deals’ sites. The difference is that daily-deal sites offer discounts on individual purchases, whereas with group-buying there is a need for several buyers to place an order to the deal. Once the deal goes live, the customers are sent discount vouchers via email. It’s also worth noting that group-buying is usually aimed at a local market. The best-known sites in this sector are Groupon and Wowcher UK.
5. Drop shipping
Drop shipping a supply chain management technique whereby you make money by taking care of product shipments on behalf of a retailer. Also, you need to work with them to make sales which will then lead to earning revenue from the delivery of the products. If you want to get involved in drop shipping, you should do some detailed research beforehand and look for a type of company that will put emphasis on assessment of potential business partners, not just ask for a fee to join their program. You can find a list of UK Drop shippers here. Alternatively, you can also contact small business owners and ask if they’d be interested in this type of cooperation. Examples of drop shipping companies include Sellerbot.
6. Specialised online store
If you are the creative/artistic type, this may be an attractive option for you. With sites such as Etsy or Not on the Highstreet, selling of hand-made products has become considerably easier and more accessible, even for absolute beginners. Other marketplaces worth considering are Artfire, DaWanda or Yokaboo. Another option is to create a page on a social media platform and drive sales using various channels, e.g., a Facebook group;
7. Social shopping marketplace
On this type of platform, consumers are not exposed to individual products but rather to offers each of which consists of multiple items sold by different independent sellers. The offers could be compared to a shop window where items are arranged in a creative, visually attractive way to maximise their appeal to customers. It’s no surprise that this innovative way of selling is popular with sellers of fashion and beauty products. Social shopping marketplaces provide tools to connect buyers with sellers, encourage feedback and at the same time function as an e-commerce facilitator for sellers and a shopping search engine for buyers. Popular sites in this category include Storenvy, Polyvore or Shopcade.
8. Online auctioning
As an auctioneer you are engaged in selling products by offering them up for bids, taking bids, and then selling the item to the highest bidder. The best known online auction website is eBay. As a seller, you will need to create a listing based on the site requirements, which will stay up on the platform for a certain time unless you decide to close it earlier. There can also be fees associated with listing and selling items, which will depend on the type of seller account you opt for.
9. Multi-level marketing
In multi-level marketing programs, the sales force is rewarded not only for the sales they close but also for sales by people they’ve recruited to the program, though always beware pyramid schemes that are discugised as multi-level marketing programs. Generally speaking if recruitment and intiation fees are better paid/rewarded than sales it’s likely a pyriamid scheme.
10. Social/stock market trading
The stock market is the type of market in which shares of companies are issued and traded between buyers and sellers. A new trend in this area is ‘social trading’, which is a way of incorporating a social element into investing. It could also be described an online trading social network for traders. One site offering this type of trading is EToro, which brings together a community of traders who copy each other’s investment decisions to earn money. If you are looking for a more traditional approach, then companies such as Options House may be an option for you. In case you already have some experience in trading, you may be interested in such types of trading as Forex.
Online writing business ideas
A career in writing is interesting, varied… and a tricky one. Important things to do before starting a freelance writing career include building a portfolio, learning how to write appealing proposals and promoting your business effectively. If you are a newbie in this field, you may want to try websites for freelancers, where you can simply create a profile and start submitting your proposals to potential clients. Some of the best-known sites for freelancers are Upwork, Freelancer or Clickworker. Listed below are various types of writing work that you can do as a freelancer.
Copywriters create different types of marketing materials that serve different purposes, eg., promotion of products or services, educating customers, giving expert insight about a certain complex issue. Copywriters’ portfolios typically include sales brochures, web content, sales scripts, sales emails, demonstration scripts, product data sheets and white papers.
As a ghostwriter, you will be provided with the basic outline of a piece which you will then author in someone else’s name. This type of writing service is used to produce a wide range of materials in different fields. For instance, in literature ghostwriters write books, manuscripts, reports, white papers, etc. In journalism, they create articles, blog posts or feature stories. The theatre and film industries use ghostwriters to produce screenplays, scripts or even lyrics for songs.
13. Press release writing
Press releases are used to inform the public about products, services or activities of an organisation in an appealing way. They need to be newsworthy and give enough information to get people curious at the same time. The structure of the content in a press release is usually based on the inverted pyramid metaphor – used widely in media and journalism. At the very least, a press release should answer 5Ws and 1H: Who? Did What? Where? When? Why? How?
14. Legal writing
15. Resumes and cover letters
Writing effective and grammatically correct resumes and cover letters is a struggle for many professionals. These type of writing services includes an analysis where clients are given guidance to determine their objectives, and define the skill set needed to achieve them. After that, the next step is selecting an appropriate format and choosing vocabulary which will appeal to a potential employer, without making the applicant sound arrogant and “too good to be true”. A good resume or cover letter needs to highlight an individual’s skills, be relevant to the position applied for and have a positive tone.
To do audio-to-text transcription, you need decent transcription software, a good headset and a word processing programme (Word, OpenOffice, etc.difficult) The biggest challenge for transcribers is to make out words that are difficult to interpret for various reasons, thick accents, fast speech or background noise. Using software can make that process much easier. Examples of transcription software programmes include Express Scribe and Transcriber Pro.
Many types of clients need translation services. You can be asked to translate marketing materials for businesses, the novel of an author who is looking to sell their work in another country or the personal documents of an individual such as applications for jobs abroad. Translation, therefore, requires some research and close attention to detail. It’s also important that you know how to set the tone correctly in the language that you are translating the text into. Translators also utilise software tools, eg., Babylon or Ginger.
This job involves scanning text for grammar or syntax errors and correcting them. Proofreaders need to be able to identify errors such as misspellings, run-on sentences, comma splice, pronoun errors, mistakes in apostrophe usage, lack of subject/verb agreement, misplaced modifiers, incorrect sentence structure, using a wrong word, etc. There are also software programmes designed for proofreaders such as Grammarly or Ginger Software.
Editing is a process of modifying existing texts. As an editor, you will perform tasks such as correction, condensation and reorganisation of text. At the same time, you need to ensure that the original idea is not lost but instead comes across in a more clear way once the text is edited. Editing, therefore, requires a lot of collaboration with the original author or a document. Editing is mainly used in fields such as literature, film, video but also in creative industries such as public relations, marketing and advertising. Some useful editing tools available online are StyleWriter, Intelligent Editing and Serenity Software.
Blogging is a great path to choose especially if you have a keen interest in a particular area and feel that you can share valuable or entertaining information with others. Building a profitable blog requires high-quality content that is regularly posted to keep audiences interested in coming back to your website. A good way of trying out this particular writing career is guest posting on other people’s blogs. This way you can not only test your skills but also build a good reputation. The most commonly used free content management platforms for blogging are WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr and Hubpages.
Consulting business ideas
In short, consulting usually means providing others with expert advice. Therefore, to succeed as a consultant, you often need to have a degree or some other type of professional certification from a professional body in the field of your choice. To offer your services, you can use some of the freelancer websites mentioned in the ‘Writing’ section or set up your own. Below we list the most common types of consulting services.
21. Internet strategy
In this field, your aim is to help clients identify their goals, assess strengths and weaknesses of their business and create a structured plan where you outline how to achieve the set goals. In practice, that means advising the client on selecting the correct web-based applications to increase their competitiveness in the market or improve communication among employees and with customers.
In this role you need to be a product expert and will probably represent a company, explaining the benefits of their products to potential clients. Also, you will need to find new customers or market segments that a company can sell to and convert those leads into sales. Usually, salaries and rewards for sales consultants depend largely on how many sales they can close.
Here your task is to give recommendations on how a client can get more traffic and leads for their website. SEO consultants need to know various methods of optimising website content, including being able to do keyword research to determine which words would be optimal to use in titles, headlines, descriptions, articles or any other text that appears on your website.
24. Social Media
This role is about advising clients on how to increase the number of users visiting their social media channels and how to get them more engaged with the content. For example, the client might need help in getting more attention for their social media campaigns or increase the number of shares likes and comments on their posts.
25. Email Marketing
In this job, consultants help clients to assess their email communication and marketing and improve it. They may also be engaged in creating and setting up email campaigns. In practical terms, it can mean advising the client on what words should be used to increase the response rate, and words that should be avoided so that an email and email newsletters are not perceived as spam. You can also give advice on how to write an effective subject line and structure the email in the correct way.
This type of consultancy is about pitching new ideas for advertising campaigns to potential or existing clients. It also involves assisting with creating effective advertising campaigns. Other tasks in this area may include providing recommendations for companies on how to deal with various audiences. For example, the best approach to get the attention of innovative and curious buyers may be significantly different than the approach you would use to get the attention of an average user.
The main aim of a business consultant is to advise a client on how to make their business more profitable. They need to evaluate their client’s business, the environment in which they operate the business, their current position in the market and leading competitors, and then find opportunities that could help the client earn more money.
28. Personal finance
This role focuses on helping people manage their finances. In practical terms, personal finance consultants assist their clients with sorting through and choosing the right investments, insurance and other financial options. They also do retirement planning, college funding, estate planning and general investment analysis.
29. Project management
Project management consultants are responsible for advising clients on how to ensure that the goals set for a project are completed on time. They also advise on methods of measuring current progress, planning further actions and help with problem-solving and keeping the project moving in the right direction.
30. Human resources
In this role, consultants help the company ensure they hire the right employees for the job and provide good working conditions which will encourage them to stay. Their responsibilities may also include the implementation of talent management programmes, legal aspects of employment, promotion and giving ideas on how to create a diverse and inclusive work environment.
31. Coaching and mentoring
If you are qualified in education or business psychology studies and want to try an independent path in your profession, these types of careers might be for you. However, additional qualifications from professional coaching or mentoring institutes may also be required in some cases.
People often get confused about coaching and mentoring, therefore it’s also useful to define each term.
Coaching focuses on helping an individual to discover answers to their problems for themselves. A typical coaching session has a form of a conversation between a coach and a coachee where the client is given open questions that will encourage them to reflect on the area they want to work on.
Mentoring is about passing on valuable skills, knowledge and insight to a mentee with the purpose of helping them develop their abilities. While coaching is used in a variety of fields, mentoring is usually employed in organisations as a way of efficiently transferring valuable competencies from one person to another. Therefore the mentor and mentee tend to have different seniority levels.
In general, coaching and mentoring professionals usually focus on the following areas: Advice for small businesses, Career, Executive, Soft Skills, Parenting, Marriage and Relationships, Personal, Life, Spirituality, Fitness & Nutrition.
Online research businesses/ideas
32. Opinion polls
Opinion polls are usually online questionnaires which cover a variety of topics and sometimes include videos or images to comment. There are numerous opinion poll websites which use points-based systems. Each survey is awarded a specific number of points and users can claim financial or material rewards after collecting a certain number of these points. Some survey companies with rewards programs are Toluna, Your Opinion Counts or Opinion Outpost.
33. Focus groups
In this qualitative type of research, the aim is to find out people’s opinions, perceptions, beliefs and attitudes regarding various topics eg., products, services, concepts, trends, advertisements or ideas. To perform this kind of research, focus groups often use software such as Focusgroup, Liveminds or iTracks. The results are reported in this focus group report.
34. Keyword research
Using various analytical tools the aim is to find keywords that have the highest potential to push an article on the top places in a list of search results. As 78% of users never scroll past Page 1 in search results, it is crucial for website owners to have content with keywords that rank well. Some of the tools that are used to perform keyword research are Google Adwords Keyword Planner, Keyword Tool and Keyword Suggestion Tool.
35. Topic research
This type of the investigation provides suggestions about what can be of interest in a particular area. Clients are also provided with references from which the information can be verified. Based on the requirements the information is then provided in the form of datasheets, documents or presentations.
36. Genealogical research
This type of research involves finding out information about someone’s family history. A project in this area can focus on researching an entire family tree or focusing on a particular individual. To do this type of research you may want to try a freelancer website like Genealogy Freelancers as an alternative to setting up your own online platform.
37. Statistical analysis
Almost every professional field requires this kind of research. Common types of data analysis include the following: regression, time series, panel data, experimental designs, factor analysis, principal component analysis, Bayesian analysis, etc. To find work as a statistical researcher, you may try the mentioned freelancer websites or simply set up your own and promote your services. Examples of the tools used to perform statistical analysis are Excel, Stata, MINITAB or Eviews.
38. Web research
In short, this means looking up information that’s hard to find and time-consuming. For instance, it could be contact details, lists of companies (like competitors in a target market), market research data, product lists, statistical data, personal data or data confirming documents legitimacy.
39. User testing
Usability testing is a technique used to evaluate a product by letting users try its features for free and record the process while doing it. This usability exercise gives direct information on how real users use a system and shows if its features are user-friendly or perhaps need some work. This type of testing can be used to assess features of websites, apps or various devices.
40. Targeted market research
In this kind of research, you look up information about a niche market. For example, it could simply be data on a particular aspect of that niche market like the type of customers or geographic location which are of interest for a client.
41. Creating surveys and questionnaires
As well as giving opinions it’s important to guide companies on how to collect them. Research designs are, therefore, a critical component of any research process. It includes the formulation of survey texts and questions (e.g., textual, multiple choice, drop-down, Likert scale, ranking, file/image, questions, etc.). The surveys sometimes also need to be integrated with a website, database or mail marketing service provider (e.g., Mail Chimp).
Customer Service and Administration business ideas
42. Customer support
To work in customer service, it is important that you have a noise-free environment so that you can listen to customers and respond in the appropriate way. One basic requirement for this type of position is a landline phone – not VOIPs (voice over Internet phone service) or cell phones. Some companies listed will hire you as an independent contractor, so you will be responsible for your own taxes. Businesses that provide home-based customer support opportunities include Arise and LiveOps.
43. Collections agent
One of the more challenging jobs in customer service this involves reaching out to clients who have unpaid bills, invoices, loan instalments or any other outstanding payments. Collections agents are responsible for creating lists of debtors and organising them based on how severe the matter is, getting in touch with customers and discussing how the debts may be collected, locate unresponsive customers using credit bureau information, perform background checks, etc.
Software used for debt collection include Collect One, Collect, or Collection Words.
As a bookkeeper, you are responsible for keeping track of the company’s spending to ensure that business’ financial accounts are in good order. In practice this means processing invoices, receipts and payments, completing VAT returns, identifying expenses on bank statements, repairing cash flow statements, helping to prepare financial statements and producing management accounts. Some of the most popular accounting software programmes are Sole Trader, Xero or Quickbooks.
45. Data entry
In this role, you input/manage information into/in various types of documents. Typical tasks include entering data into existing sheets, creating new data in databases, updating existing records and deleting the records that are no longer of use or no longer current, etc. Sometimes you may be required to work with various data entry software such as EpiData or Entrypoint Data Entry.
46. File conversion
Converting files can be done manually or using file conversion software. Usually, you need to convert word, excel or powerpoint files to a PDF format. In the case of books, files are typically converted with a text editor program to an epub or kindle format – used for e-books. Some examples of file conversion software are NCH FIle Conversion Software and Zamzar.
Formatting is used to make documents appear more professional and visually appealing for a reader. This task involves selecting an appropriate font for plain text (headings, subheadings paragraphs, etc.), choosing the colour of the font, dividing texts into paragraphs, bullet points or numbering, headers and footers, writing quotations in the right way and, if need be, adding bibliographic references.
48. Creating listings or ads
Many small businesses need help with creating and updating their listing on e-commerce websites or their own site. They also often promote their products on classified advertisement websites and seek assistance with the creation of entries. Some of the most popular websites that businesses use to advertise are Gumtree, So Sell It or Craigslist.
Usually, this service is used to improve website content. You would assist in cases where website articles include inappropriate or overused words that give them a sensationalistic feel, where the website shows very little research and has been copy-pasted from another website or where the text is too long/short for a particular media channel.
50. Document creation
Companies often require help with creating various documents. These may be contact lists, directories, checklists, inventories, emergency contact forms. To make work easier, you may want to opt for some kind of document creation software such as Hotdocs, Ecrion or Foxit Software.
51. Mailbox management
Companies’ email accounts are often overloaded with a lot of unwanted advertising emails which make it hard to keep track of other relevant enquiries. Therefore helping them to delete the SPAM and creating folders to sort emails from specific people helps their operation run much more smoothly.
Related: How to start a business