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E-commerce has seen impressive growth in recent years, e-commerce statistics show. Global retail sales made up nearly 19% in 2021, and it’s predicted to be nearly 25% in 2026.
Here are innovative online business ideas that tap into this flourishing market, focusing on ventures that require minimal startup costs and experience. With global online retail sales expected to exceed £5.7 trillion by 2025, it’s time to explore an online enterprise that aligns with your ambitions and leverages the digital age.
What is an online business?
A business that operates online, known as an e-business or e-commerce business, uses digital platforms and tools to provide products or services to a worldwide audience. This could range from selling physical goods on an e-commerce website, offering digital products or services, running a blog that generates ad revenue or even providing online consultancy or coaching services. The primary characteristic that sets online businesses apart from traditional businesses is that all transactions, from customer acquisition to sales, are performed online.
While the products or services offered can vary widely, all online businesses share the core element of leveraging internet technologies to reach customers, manage operations and generate revenue. Some online businesses operate exclusively online, while others may have both an online presence and a physical storefront. Learn more about how to build an online store easily with one of the best e-commerce platforms.
Benefits of starting an online business
The appeal of starting an online business is vast and varied. Here are some compelling reasons to consider launching your online business:
Lower cost: Online businesses require less startup capital than traditional brick-and-mortar businesses. Physical store rent, utilities and even inventory costs can be eliminated
Global market access: An online business isn’t limited to a specific geographic location. You can expand your market reach significantly by targeting customers worldwide
Flexibility: Operating an online business allows for a flexible work schedule, as you’re not confined to traditional business hours. It’s perfect for those who don’t like to keep regular work hours
Scalability: Online businesses are inherently scalable. As your business grows, you can adapt and expand your online presence with significantly less effort and resources compared to scaling a physical business location
Data accessibility: The digital nature of an online business allows for easy access to valuable customer data and analytics. This will allow you to optimise your marketing efforts and make better business decisions
Environmentally friendly: Operating online reduces the need for physical materials and commuting, thus having a lower carbon footprint than a traditional business.
15 best online businesses to start in 2023
1. Voice-over services
If you have a good speaking voice and excellent command over language and pronunciation, offering voice-over services could be a profitable venture. This business involves providing voice-overs for video ads, animated films, podcasts, audiobooks and more. Initial costs include a quality microphone and sound editing software. No specific education is required, but voice coaching could be beneficial. Earnings depend on project size and number.
2. Online plant nursery
With people spending more time at home, the demand for indoor plants and home gardening supplies has soared. An online plant nursery could involve selling plants, cuttings, seeds or gardening accessories. Starting this business requires knowledge about plants and their care, a supplier and a website (or you could use Facebook Marketplace or Etsy). The startup cost can be around a few thousand dollars for inventory and site setup. Earning potential can be high with the right marketing and product selection.
3. Digital marketing agency
Many businesses are shifting to digital platforms, increasing the need for digital marketing services. Starting a digital marketing agency involves offering services such as SEO, PPC, social media marketing, content creation, etc. Initial costs are low, but a solid understanding of digital marketing strategies is essential. Earnings are typically based on client retainers and project fees.
4. Virtual event planner
The pandemic has given rise to virtual events, and the trend looks set to continue. Virtual event planning could involve organising online conferences, webinars or social events. You’d need strong organisational skills and familiarity with virtual event platforms. Startup costs are minimal, with the main expense being marketing. Earnings can be per event or on a retainer basis.
5. E-commerce personal shopper
As e-commerce booms, many consumers appreciate the convenience of a personal shopper. This business involves curating items based on clients’ preferences and needs. You’ll need good taste, an understanding of trends and knowledge of e-commerce platforms. Startup costs are low, mainly for a website and marketing. Earnings are usually commission-based or on a retainer.
6. Wellness coaching
With increased focus on health and wellness, online wellness coaching is a thriving field. This involves providing personalised advice on diet, exercise, stress management and more. Certification in a health-related field and good interpersonal skills are important. Startup costs are minimal, largely spent on marketing and certification if needed. Your earnings can be substantial depending on your client base and session rates.
7. Remote tech support
As technology usage increases, so does the need for tech support. Starting a remote tech support business involves assisting clients with their tech issues over the internet. You’ll need a good understanding of common tech problems and solutions. The startup cost, primarily for a good computer setup and software, is moderate. Earnings depend on client numbers and hourly rates.
8. Freelance writer/editor
Offering your writing or editing services as a freelancer can be a fulfilling online business opportunity. This could involve writing articles, blog posts, web content or editing manuscripts. You’ll need strong writing and grammar skills, and possibly a portfolio of work. The startup costs are low, mainly requiring a computer and internet connection. Earnings vary greatly based on the type of writing or editing, the complexity of the work and the client’s budget.
9. Book cover artist
As a book cover artist, you’ll create captivating covers that encapsulate the essence of a book’s story, either as pre-made covers or custom designs, often for self-published authors (a.k.a. indie authors). You’ll need artistic skills, knowledge of genre trends and familiarity with graphic design software. Startup costs are low, mostly for design software, stock images and typography. Earnings are usually per project, with pre-made covers typically selling for £150 to £400 and custom designs often going for much more.
10. Course creator
If you have expertise in a particular area, creating and selling online courses can be a profitable venture. This involves developing a curriculum, recording instructional videos and marketing your course on platforms such as Udemy, Teachable or your own website. Startup costs include a good camera for recording, possibly a microphone and any necessary software. Earnings are per course sold and can be quite high if your course attracts a lot of students.
11. Virtual assistant
As a virtual assistant, you’ll provide administrative services to clients from a remote location. This could involve replying to emails, scheduling meetings or social media management. Good organisation and communication skills are essential, as well as proficiency with common office software or SaaS programs. The startup costs are minimal, largely for a good computer setup. Earnings are usually per hour and can vary widely based on the complexity of tasks and the client’s budget.
12. Beta reader
As a beta reader, your role involves reading manuscripts before they’re published and providing constructive feedback to authors. You’ll need excellent reading comprehension skills and a keen eye for detail, as well as the ability to articulate your feedback clearly and tactfully. The startup costs are virtually zero, you just need a computer and a stable internet connection. Earnings are usually per manuscript, and while they can start low, building a strong reputation can significantly increase your earning potential. Alternatively, you could alpha read, which is doing the same thing, but before it ever goes through a second draft or any editing whatsoever.
13. UGC content creator
User-Generated Content (UGC) creators develop content based on audience input or trends. This could involve creating TikTok or Instagram videos, YouTube vlogs or Twitch streams. The required skills include creativity, an understanding of social media platforms and potentially video editing. The startup costs, which might include a good camera and editing software, can vary but are generally low to moderate. Earnings can be substantial if your content gains popularity, coming from ad revenue, sponsorships and fan donations.
14. Online cooking classes
The trend of cooking at home is on the rise, especially with the rising costs of living. If you’re a culinary enthusiast, offering online cooking classes can be a great way to share your skills. Starting this business requires a good knowledge of cooking, a high-quality camera for live sessions and a platform to host classes. Startup costs are relatively low. Earnings can be on a per-class or subscription basis.
15. Affiliate marketing
Affiliate marketing is when you promote another company’s products and get a commission for each sale made through your special link. This requires establishing a platform, such as a blog or social media account, where you can share these links. It also involves understanding your audience’s needs and interests to promote relevant products. The startup costs, mainly for setting up and promoting your platform, can vary but are generally low. Earnings are typically a percentage of each sale made through your affiliate links, and while they can start low, successful affiliate marketers can earn substantial income.
What to consider when starting an online business
Starting an online business is an exciting endeavour, but it also involves careful planning and decision-making. It’s not just about choosing a profitable idea – you also need to consider several factors that could determine the success of your enterprise. These factors will help ensure that your business is well-suited to your skills, interests and financial capacity, as well as to market demand.
Evaluate if there is a sufficient demand for your product or service. You can do this by conducting market research, examining trends and assessing your potential competition.
Skills and interests
Consider if you have the necessary skills to run the business and if it aligns with your interests. Running a business you’re passionate about will make the hard work more enjoyable and rewarding.
Assess your financial capacity to handle the startup costs of the business. These may include expenses for setting up a website, marketing, inventory or equipment.
Ensure that your business complies with all relevant laws and regulations. This could involve obtaining necessary licences or permits, understanding tax obligations or dealing with data privacy issues.
Decide on a business model that suits your product or service. This could be selling products, offering services, running a subscription model or making money through advertising revenue.
Consider how you will promote your business. This may involve strategies for search engine optimisation (SEO), social media marketing, content marketing or paid advertising.
Consider the potential for business growth. Can your business scale up as demand increases? This might involve expanding your product range, reaching new markets or hiring additional staff.
Evaluate how the business will fit into your life. Running an online business offers flexibility, but it can also require a lot of time and effort, especially during the startup phase. Consider how you will balance business demands with your personal life and other commitments.
Starting an online business in 2023 is an exciting prospect. With the right idea, a clear plan and a strong work ethic, you can establish a thriving enterprise in the booming digital market. There’s an online business opportunity that suits your interests and skills, whether you’re passionate about tech, wellness, art or writing. Success doesn’t come overnight, but with persistence and dedication, your online business idea can become profitable. For next steps, check out our guide on how to start a business.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What are the easiest online businesses to start?
Some of the easiest online businesses to start depend on your individual skills. What are you good at, and can you monetise it? What may be easy to you – such as coding or graphic design – may be really difficult for someone whose skills lie elsewhere (such as a fiction writer).
Can I start a business with no money?
Many online businesses can be started with a minimal budget. For instance, offering services such as writing or coaching often requires little more than a good computer and stable internet connection. However, some ventures, such as starting an e-commerce store, might require more significant upfront investment.
Can one balance a full-time job and an online business at the same time?
Yes, many online businesses can be run part-time or on a flexible schedule. This makes them an excellent option for people looking to earn extra income alongside a full-time job. However, balancing the demands of a job and a business can be challenging and requires good time management.