The trend to doing business online, from shopping to client meetings to medical consults, has hugely accelerated due to the 2020 pandemic. So has starting online businesses as a Plan B for generating future retirement income.
If there ever was the right moment to start building your own online business, it’s now!
Sounds great, you may think, but what if I have no idea what kind of business to start? Fear not. In my 10 plus years with Solo Build It!, I’ve come across dozens of great online business ideas. One of them will be just right for you.
One core element of every online business is that you’re going to sell “something,” and you’re going to sell it online as opposed to in a brick-and-mortar store.
That “something” can be products, services, “real estate” on your website or blog, or even your “influence” in a certain niche.
So, let’s jump right in. Which of these 37 best online business ideas will lay the foundation for your side hustle or retirement business?
Service-Based Online Business Ideas
Pick up pen and paper and jot down all the skills you’ve learned at your job, through formal education or from a hobby. Can you sell that skill as a service to either a local or a global audience? Would it appeal to consumers or to other small businesses?
Or perhaps you’re a talented artist, musician or craftsperson. I bet there’s a service inside you that you can sell. You just need to uncover it!
1. Business Coach
Do you have experience as a leadership or business coach? With the modern technology of video calls, you can do the coaching from the comfort of your home.
In addition, leverage your knowledge beyond the traditional one-to-one coaching. Offer group coaching or package your coaching into digital products.
When Mandy Bass, a career coach since 1996, took her business online, she created a perfect and very profitable synergy. Her offline teachings provide the material for her audio products to sell online, and her website, mindtosucceed.com, brings in new clients.
2. Relationship Coach
As a relationship coach or counselor, you’d be helping people from all walks of life improve their personal or professional relationships. Of course you can only offer your services as a counselor when you have relevant formal training and experience.
If you feel strongly drawn to helping people, you could consider studying to become a relationship coach and specializing in a specific targeted market (i.e., parents and adult children).
3. SEO Consultant
Are you an expert when it comes to Search Engine Optimization (SEO)? Do you pride yourself on staying on top of the constant changes at Google and the other search engines?
Use your expertise to help small business owners and bloggers improve their search engine rankings. Focus on a certain industry or niche rather than trying to offer your services to everyone. You can market yourself much better to a clearly defined audience.
4. Graphic Designer
You’re creative, love to come up with original concepts, and have a good eye for aesthetics. Then a career as a graphic designer may be the way to go. Of course, you need to become proficient in today’s design programs like Adobe InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator.
When you offer your design services, ask yourself how you can stand out from your competition. Can you specialize in certain products or certain niches? Can you deliver something “extra,” for example three free revisions instead of two?
However you promote yourself, make sure to feature your best work in your portfolio.
5. Web Designer
As a web designer, your job is to create fully functional, easy to use websites that are also pleasing to the eye. You need to work closely with your client, so that the site accurately reflects their brand and message.
6. Landscape Designer
Can you not just sell, but also deliver landscape design online? Indeed you can. Susan Schlenger offers her landscape design services in the traditional way, i.e., as an offline service to local clients. And she sells landscape design packages to customers outside of her area.
With this simple twist, she has expanded her business from a local to a regional — if not global — scope. And the best part? She doesn’t have to chase her clients. They find her, thanks to her information-rich website, landscape-design-advice.com, where she gives free landscape design advice.
Are you bilingual, or fluent in more than one language? Have you considered offering translation services — reading, comprehending and translating written documents from one language to another?
This isn’t a pure “technical” job. A good translator captures the essence of the original text and adheres closely to the author’s style. Before you take on a new project, you’ll have to do the necessary research to have a good grasp of the message’s context and to use the correct lingo, jargon, and technical terms.
8. Medical Transcriptionist
As a medical transcriptionist, you would listen to voice recordings from physicians and other healthcare professionals and convert them into written reports. You’ll need in-depth knowledge of medical terminology, anatomy, medical procedures and treatments, and pharmacology. Attention to detail and fast typing are important skills, too.
Contrary to general transcription services, you’ll have to go through some formal training when you want to offer medical transcription.
9. English Teacher
Are you a native English speaker and enjoy teaching? There’s a huge demand for teaching English to children and adults in Asia and other countries. As minimum requirements, you need to demonstrate some teaching experience or have passed a relevant exam (TESOL/TEFL or equivalent).
Companies like iTutorGroup and VipKid are constantly looking for part-time English teachers to join their team.
Alternatively, you could create your own website where you offer both free and paid like Catherine Simonton from englishhints.com does.
10. Online Tutor
Are you good at math, science, history or other school subjects? Become an online tutor! You help students improve their grades, prepare for exams or get ready for formal standardized examinations, like the SAT.
There are various companies and organizations where you can apply as a tutor, for example Preply (US) and Tutorful (UK).
11. Social Media Manager
Nowadays every business, large or small, needs to have a social media presence. However, many business owners don’t have the knowledge or the time to do their own social media marketing.
There are many places where you can learn how to become a social media manager. But nothing beats the credentials of own experience. So, before you reach out to potential clients, build up your own thriving social media presence.
Solo Build It! member Crystal Maleski used social media aggressively to drive traffic to her website, makedinnereasy.com. Her social media presence caught the attention of several businesses in her local area who then hired her as their social media manager.
12. Advertising Specialist
Most ecommerce businesses depend to some extent on ads for driving traffic to their stores. You can specialize on one or several advertising platforms. The most popular ad systems are Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
To position yourself as a specialist, consider getting certified, for example with the Google Ads Certification.
13. Virtual Assistant
Another popular online business idea is to become a virtual assistant.
Virtual assistants carry out a variety of mostly administrative tasks, like organizing calendars, scheduling meetings, booking travel arrangements or performing market research.
You don’t need any formal training to work as a virtual assistant. If you are super organized, know how to prioritize and how to stay on top of a hectic schedule, you fulfill the basic requirements for this role.
14. Résumé Writer
Oh, the dreadful job of composing a résumé that stands out from the pile of applications! Many job seekers don’t have the experience to write a really good résumé for themselves. Rather than spending days trying to learn it, they’d rather spend a few hundred dollars to have it done by an expert.
You don’t need a formal training to offer your services as a résumé writer. To kickstart your career though, you may want to join the Professional Association of Résumé Writers & Career Coaches and get their certification.
15. Speech Writer
Fancy writing a James Bond themed opening speech for a CEO of an international company? Or perhaps you pride yourself in finding the right words for any type of occasion, be it a birthday, a wedding or for a colleague’s retirement?
Consider offering your talents as a wordsmith with a speech writing service like Susan Dugdale from write-out-loud.com does.
16. Thank You Notes Writer
You may think that crafting meaningful thank you notes is a lost art. Think again. Work-at-home mom Kathy Milano learned the skill of writing thank you notes from her mother. She explains how she turned her hobby into a successful online business in the video below.
17. Article Writer
Do you enjoy doing research and packing the results into a well written article that pleases both human readers and search engines?
Once you have a few example articles under your belt, create a profile at places like UpWork or People Per Hour. The demand for quality writers in all kinds of niches is high. Of course, the competition is fierce, too, so make sure that your portfolio and your reputation are spotless.
According to Wikipedia, “copywriting is the act or occupation of writing text for the purpose of advertising or other forms of marketing.” In other words, you write copy to persuade people to buy something.
Because of its high impact on a company’s bottom line, you can usually charge more for copywriting than for any other forms of writing. The toughest part is to get your first paid job as a freelance copywriter.
To hone your skills, why not write for your own website, as copywriting coach Nick Usborne does on coffeedetective.com?
19. Travel Consultant
Do you live in an area that’s attractive to tourists and travelers? Consider helping them get the most out of their visit with your insider knowledge.
One of the best ways to do this is to start a blog about the destination. You can monetize passively, with ads and affiliate marketing. You can create and sell travel guides. Or you can put together customized tours. The possibilities to earn with a travel website like Tony Peel’s victoriafalls-guide.net are many fold.
20. Online Piano Teacher
The rise of free video call and conferencing platforms makes it possible to teach piano or any other musical instrument without being in the same room as your student.
If the lack of local students has held you back so far, familiarize yourself with platforms like Zoom or FaceTime and go after long-distance students. There are even places where you can apply as an online piano teacher.
21. Voiceover Artist
You’ve always volunteered at school when the teacher asked to read a story out loud. You enjoy adapting your voice to the various characters in a fairy tale. Then perhaps you have what it takes to start a career as a voiceover artist.
Potential projects range from producing the audio versions of books to providing the narrations for educational or promotional videos to voice-acting for cartoons or TV shows.
22. Video Editor
As a video editor you’ll turn raw video, photos and audio footage into a video that tells a compelling story. Though you’ll use a script to guide you, the overall tone of each finished video is in the editor’s hands.
Apart from storytelling skills, you should also be proficient in one or several video editing programs, e.g., Avid Media Composer, Final Cut Pro, Adobe After Effects, and Adobe Premiere Pro.
What type of videos could you edit? Many small to medium sized companies need help with the production of commercial, motivational, how-to or explainer videos.
23. Ebook Creator for Bloggers or Small Business Owners
Bloggers and small business owners often have a ton of content on their blogs or websites that could be repurposed as ebooks. Ebooks can be used as lead magnets to grow email lists, offered as free bonuses with a paid course, or published and sold as Kindle books on Amazon.
Using a program like Designrr, you can even convert YouTube videos into ebooks or create show notes and transcriptions for podcasters.
24. Cartoon Artist
Do you have a knack for drawing? Rather than doodle just for your own pleasure, why not offer your cartoon drawing services to the world?
Get some inspiration from Steve Gadlin. His promise is simple: “I have drawn cats for people all over the world. I want to draw a cat for you.”
Perhaps your forte is drawing dogs, horses or people. If your drawing can get the desired message across in a memorable way, you’ll be in high demand by businesses and individuals alike.
Product-Based Online Business Ideas
When it comes to selling products, you have a whole range of options. Start by selling other people’s products in exchange for a commission. This is what’s often called affiliate marketing.
To take it a step further, set up your own online store and start drop-shipping. Drop-shipping means that a customer places her order with you, but you don’t store and ship the product yourself. Instead, you pass the order to the manufacturer or wholesaler, who then ships the product directly to the customer.
Or you may want to create and sell digital products or even your own hard goods. This is typically the business model with the highest profit margin, and the highest time investment on your side.
25. App Developer
Speech therapist Luke Barber had a lightbulb moment when he realized that people visited his “word list” pages on his site home-speech-home.com, mostly from their mobile devices. He could make those word lists much more useful for his visitors when he offered them as an app.
So he worked with an app developer to create several speech therapy apps, which he’s now selling via his website. Listen to Luke’s fascinating story in our interview. Then think about what content you could turn into an app.
26. Online Course Creator
The demand for online courses is booming. Marketplaces like Udemy and Lynda (now owned by LinkedIn) offer thousands of courses for any conceivable topic.
What skills, talents or experience do you have that you can package into a course? Whether you have a fun way of helping people improve their English grammar skills like Elizabeth O’Brien does at english-grammar-revolution.com, or you can teach people wilderness survival skills like Jason Knight from wildernesscollege.com, the possibilities are only limited by your imagination.
27. Clothing Pattern Designer
Are you a seamstress? Perhaps you already sew dresses and clothing for other people. But have you considered adding a more passive income stream based on your skill?
Judith Christensen develops tutorials and workbooks on her site clothingpatterns101.com, where she teaches hobby seamstresses to design their own clothing patterns. To get people interested in her paid tutorials, she uploads teaser videos with quick lessons to her YouTube channel.
28. Online Travel Magazine Publisher
Wouldn’t it be awesome to talk (and write) about Walt Disney World all day long? That’s how Carl Trent, the “Disney Dad” at dadsguidetowdw.com, describes his job as an online entrepreneur.
What started as the wish to help people make the most of their visit to Walt Disney World (and earn some retirement income at the same time), developed into a popular travel online magazine with a huge subscriber base.
29. Craft Printables Creator
Tap into the huge market of crafts and homemade gifts by creating your own printables and step-by-step tutorials.
From printable greeting cards to money origami to Christmas ornaments, there’s a craft idea for every occasion.
Helping people with their craft projects is not just a lucrative business idea. It can also be a way of giving back to your community. Adele Sweeney, for example, turned her passion for crafting into a social enterprise at crafting4good.org.
30. Online Dance Teacher
As a passionate dancer myself, I honestly thought that dancing is one of the few things that you simply cannot teach virtually. But then I met Suzanne Vennard.
Suzanne knew that lots of people would love to learn how to dance, but were too embarrassed to join a dance studio. Having a media background, she decided to film the very best teachers, teaching dance classes to adult beginners.
If she could enable people to take their first class at home, in private via a DVD, it’d give them a boost of confidence — just enough to get them over the threshold of their local dance studio and learning for real.
This idea turned out to work so well that she now runs a thriving business with her online dance classes website, danceclass.com, offering everything from Hip-Hop to ballet.
31. Lesson and Activity Plan Creator
Do you have teaching experience? Have you considered helping fellow teachers by providing them with lesson and activity plans?
Cheryl Hatch has been working as a preschool teacher since the mid1990s. Over the years she had accumulated a ton of material that she wanted to make available to people working in the preschool field.
On her SBI! website, preschool-plan-it.com, Cheryl now offers both free and paid lesson plans as well as a membership for preschool teachers.
32. Cookbook Publisher (Digital and Printed)
With the abundance of freely available recipes, is selling cookbooks still a viable business idea? It is — if you brand yourself as a memorable authority in a cooking sub-niche and build up a loyal following.
Take some inspiration from “Oma Gerhild” of quick-german-recipes.com. She branded herself as the go-to person for traditional German recipes, just like “Oma” (= grandmother) used to make them. She sells a series of digital cookbooks in her online store. Due to her online success, she was approached by a publisher to produce a printed cookbook, which is now available at Amazon and many other bookstores.
33. Vintage Comic Books Reseller
What’s one of the best ways to start a business? Identify a problem and solve it.
Ashley Cotter-Cairns knew that many hobby collectors were trying to sell their old comic books, but didn’t know where and how much their collections were worth. So he created a website, sellmycomicbooks.com, where he offers pricing advice, how-to articles and a free value appraisal service.
Many of the people who find his website are ready to sell their collections. Ashley buys their comic book collections, and breaks them up for resale on eBay and in offline auctions. In addition, he makes a commission when people buy comic books from eBay after reading his articles.
34. Online Cooking Classes Provider
Do you love to cook, and perhaps specialize in a certain type of food, like vegan or low cholesterol diet? If you also have some training as a nutritionist, you’re all set to share your expertise via online classes.
Nutrition coach Patty “Sassy” Knutson leveraged her knowledge about vegan cooking to create and sell various online cooking classes on her website, vegancoach.com. What started as a side hustle now supports both her and her husband.
35. Dog Breeder
This isn’t an online business idea to jump into lightly. You need a solid background in animal care or as a veterinary technician before taking this route. But if you have the necessary experience and love for a certain dog breed, it can be a lucrative and enjoyable side income.
You can even develop it into a full-time income if you combine breeding and selling pups with creating an information-rich blog for dog lovers. That’s exactly what Janice Jones has done on miracleshihtzu.com (and her other small dog websites). She supplements her income from breeding Shih Tzu puppies with revenue from Google AdSense, affiliate marketing and selling her own ebooks.
How you can groom your passion for dogs into a profitable business?
36. DIY Building Plans Designer
Are you good at building stuff? For example, garden sheds, dog houses or porches? If you can not just build those structures, but also have a knack for explaining the “how-to,” consider designing blueprints with instructions.
John Shank sells detailed plans on his website shedking.net, for garden sheds, firewood sheds and chicken coops, complete with materials lists, step-by-step guides and email support.
37. Gourmet Foods Guru
The specialty coffee market is expected to grow from $36 billion USD in 2018 to almost $84 billion in 2025. Coffee lovers want to learn all about how to brew the best coffee, from selecting the right beans to choosing the best coffee maker. “Coffee detective” Nick Usborne offers his readers top notch information about making better coffee at home on his site coffeedetective.com.
Wouldn’t it be great to capitalize on a gourmet food trend with your own online business?
Do what Nick does, with fine chocolate, wines or liqueurs, or any other gourmet food or beverage. Use text, images and videos to give your readers honest recommendations. They’ll reward you by purchasing products via your links, which in turn earns you an affiliate income.
Best Online Business Ideas for Beginners
After browsing through these 37 online business ideas, you may be wondering which of them is best for beginners and how do you begin.
The answer: start a niche blog or website. When you create high quality content around a tightly focused topic, you attract a targeted audience. You can then monetize that traffic in various ways and are not dependent on a single income stream.
Don’t rely on someone else’s platform for your business, like Facebook, YouTube or Instagram. These are valuable marketing tools, but your main base has to be your own website or blog.
Before you go, don’t forget to download your ultimate list of online business ideas.