Online Business Ideas: The 2016 Definitive List

online business ideas

Thinking of venturing into the online space and building your own empire? This list of online business ideas covers everything from consulting, to freelancing and affiliate marketing.

The internet economy in 2017:

The digital economy is changing everything. More people are shopping and working over the internet than ever before.

The number of people freelancing online is exploding. A large-scale survey of the freelance economy revealed that the number of freelance workers in the US hit 55 million in 2016. Thats over 35% of the American workforce!

Now couldn’t be a more perfect time to start an online business and discover the freedoms that come with this type of work.

The tools and technology we now have access to has lowered the barrier of entry and made it easier than it has ever been to get your start online in relatively a short space of time.

Contrary to popular opinion, you don’t need huge startup capital to get started online, there are plenty of business ideas with low investment requirements out there today.

So without further ado lets crack straight into this juicy list of online business ideas: 

We’ll start off with one of my favourites.

A business model that I believe is perfect for anyone starting out, as you don’t need to create your own products or invest an insane amount of money to get yourself started.

This business model is called affiliate marketing.

Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing is a business model that works by referring prospects to a product. Affiliates promote products and services in a variety of ways.

This could be on a blog, Facebook, Youtube, PPC, Native ads and pretty much any other advertising platform out there.

The official definition of affiliate marketing, according to Wikipedia is:

"Affiliate marketing is a type of performance-based marketing in which a business rewards one or more affiliates for each visitor or customer brought by the affiliate's own marketing efforts."

Affiliate marketers endorse all types of products and services online from Amazon items to dating memberships and online business training.

The world of affiliate marketing is huge and there are many fantastic opportunities out there to generate a significant income with this business model.

The key to success in affiliate marketing is to find a great affiliate program. One that assigns you a mentor and provides step-by-step training on marketing as well as mindset.

Affiliate marketing training that provides both the business mindset training as well as product promotion opportunities will maximise your chances of success and cut down on your learning curve.

It isn’t just about the marketing process, your mindset is instrumental to your success, especially when it comes to starting a business.

This is the reason 90% of businesses fail within their first two years. 

Key points to consider with affiliate marketing:

  • One of the fastest ways to start generating an income online.
  • No requirement for technical computer skills. There are platforms that offer fantastic training and walk you through all the technical parts of setting yourself up online.
  • You only need a laptop and internet connection to get started.
  • No requirement for shipping out products. Your only job is to refer people to a product and you get paid if they purchase something.

Things to watch out for:

  • Affiliate programs that promise the earth and offer a magic bullet solution. (Avoid these like the plague)
  • Affiliate programs that have a terrible commission setup. Some companies don't pay very well for your referrals so you need to find an affiliate program that offers good commission rates.

If you’re completely new to affiliate marketing, you can learn more about it here.


online business ideas

The consulting industry is one has seen rapid growth over the past few years.

Consulting is one of the most lucrative online business ideas.

More and more people are quitting their jobs to start their own consulting businesses.

This online business idea is also one of the most versatile as you can start a consulting business in ANY industry.

Even if you have an existing business where you provide services to a client, consulting can help you grow your business in ways you didn’t even think were possible for you.

what is a consultant exactly? And what does a consultant do?

We’ve all got slightly different ideas and definitions for what a consultant actually is.

Some of the most common misconceptions about consulting include:

  • Consultants are people who have Harvard MBA’s and advise on corporate strategies. They’re borderline super genius and they work for Boston consulting group or some other giant firm.
  • You need lots of qualifications and certificates.
  • You need a fancy office full of staff.

Most people have these misconceptions because consultants are portrayed like this in movies and on television.

The above consultant definition does exist but it is only a small part of consulting.

The real definition of a consultant is someone who helps a person or business go from their current situation to their desired situation.

A consultant is an expert at solving a particular problem and helping someone make a transformation in their life or business.

It really is that simple.

Why do people pay consultants to help them get to their desired situation? Why can’t they just do it on their own?

  1. They have an inability to get to their desired situation on their own.
  2. They want to get to their desired situation faster. People pay for speed. People may be able to do it on their own but it will take them a long time to learn everything they need to know.
  3. They want to follow a proven system that works.

What type of services can you offer as a consultant? 

One of the most popular types of services that consultants offer is Digital Marketing.

Almost every business out there is looking for ways they can grow their monthly revenue and many small businesses haven’t even scratched the surface when it comes to marketing online.

An example of a consultant could be someone who specialises in helping Cosmetic Surgeons get more clients through PPC advertising. This type of consultant would setup systems that drive traffic and generate leads for a cosmetic practice. The practice would typically pay the consultant a monthly retainer fee for creating and managing their digital marketing campaigns.

Types of services consultants can offer: 

  • Done for you – Actually delivering the service yourself
  • Done with you – Doing some of the work and giving the client some of the work
  • 1on1 coaching – Advising the client on what to do in a 1 to 1 setting
  • Group coaching – Advising a group of clients on what to do at the same time
  • Online training programs – Creating a program and letting the clients learn themselves.

Most people will start of with done for you marketing and then work their way up the service offerings as they build and scale their business. It is easiest to sell a done for you service and you can build a business well into the six figures on just this offering alone.

Key points to consider:

  • Finding the right consulting training platform is essential to your success. If you try to do this on your own, it'll take you forever to get started and you'll probably cry.
  • Low startup investment. With consulting you typically only need to pay for training. Once you've found your niche and crafted your offering, there are a variety of organic methods you can use to get your first few clients.
  • You can run a consulting business from your laptop, so you're not tied down to any particular location.
  • Low time investment. If you're offering Digital Marketing, the bulk of the work is done in the first month, after that it's just maintaining and optimising campaigns.

Things to watch out for:

  • Its tough at the start. Client wants social proof and evidence of successful campaigns. You may need to work for testimonials for your first couple of clients.
  • You need to conduct consultations with clients. This will be your main way of acquiring new clients so you need to be good on the phone with people.
  • Be prepared for rejection. Many businesses and people will turn you down. This is something consultants have to get used to.


online business opportunities

As mentioned at the start of this post. Freelancing is a very popular online business idea and now makes up over 35% of the US workforce. People all over the world are enjoying the freedom and flexibility that comes with freelancing.

Many people are quitting their desk jobs and earning more doing the same thing, except for themselves.

Isn’t freelancing for photographers and writers?

Here is a list of popular freelancing industries:

  • Designers & Creatives
  • Bloggers & Writers
  • Sales & Marketing experts
  • Finance professionals
  • Administrative support specialists

Pretty much any job that is done in an office setting is now being performed through freelancing.

One of the most popular freelance platforms is called Upwork. Here you can find a freelancer for pretty much any type of job you want done. You can also sign up as a freelancer and start offering your professional services to businesses all over the world in a matter of days.

Key points to consider:

  • Freedom. You get to choose what to work on, when and from where. Once you build up a good reputation you can turn down jobs that you don't like.
  • Work-life balance. You can work from anywhere and pick the amount of work you want to do, allowing you to lead a healthier, more flexible lifestyle.
  • Higher salary and less expenses. Freelancers typically earn more money for the same job that they previously performed for a big company in an office. Plus you won't be spending money travelling to and from the office, saving you money.
  • Be your own boss. You don't have to answer to anyone but yourself.

Things to watch out for:

  • If you're transitioning from an office job to freelancing, you need to bear in mind that you'll no longer receive work benefits. No sick pay or holiday pay.
  • Variable income. Your workload and income may vary from month to month, particularly in the early stages of your freelancing business.
  • Accountability. You're 100% accountable for the work you complete for your clients. You need to be highly motivated and disciplined to avoid slacking off and taking shortcuts.
  • Be prepared to work long hours when you start off to build your client base and reputation.
  • Learning how to sell yourself and your services is essential to acquiring new clients on a regular basis. This is something you need to master.


online business ideas

Strictly speaking, blogging isn’t an online business idea. However, a blog can be a fantastic way to generate an income. Bloggers typically implement a monetising strategy on their website. This could be in the form of consulting service offerings, selling ad space or through affiliate marketing.

Blogging and content marketing is used by companies all over the world to generate sales, increase brand awareness and provide value to prospects.

Monetising a blog is really about helping people. It allows you to deliver your best content and services to the people who are interested in what you have to offer.

Some bloggers out there almost feel bad about monetising their blog but what they don’t realise is that they’re actually helping to improve the lives of their readers by offering awesome products and services.

Here are five of the most popular ways people monetise their blogs:

  • 1

    Product recommendations and reviews

    Companies will pay you to review their products. People also use affiliate marketing as a way to make money from products they like by recommending and reviewing them on their site.

  • 2

    Create your own course

    There are many online training platforms such as Udemy that offer thousands of training courses on all sorts of topics. People create their own training course and then promote it on their blog. Alternatively if you're someone who doesn't want to go through the effort of creating something from scratch. You can promote someone else's course and get a commission every time someone purchases through your website.

  • 3

    Renting ad space

    If you have a steady flow of traffic on your blog you can rent out space for people to place banner ads on your website. Typically you will charge a certain monthly fee for this privilege.

  • 4

    Google Adsense

    Adsense is a program that runs relevant ads on your website and pays the website owner every time an ad is shown to someone. This is one of the most popular ways that people use to monetise their blogs. The more traffic you have coming to your site, the more money you can make.

  • 5

    Charging for premium content

    Many bloggers out there still offer fantastic free content for people to consume but have started charging people for their best content. This is a win win for bloggers and readers because the bloggers get paid for their time invested in the best content they produce and the readers get access to exclusive content.

Flipping websites

website flipping with flippa

Buying and selling websites can be quite a lucrative endeavour. This requires a fair amount of industry knowledge as you need to know that your investment in these websites will be worthwhile.

You don’t want to be spending money on a website, only to realise that you can’t sell it for more than you bought it for.

Flippa is the number one marketplace for buying and selling websites.

Website flipping is akin to investing in real estate to renovate and then sell on for profit. People in the website flipping space typically buy websites that are underperforming and optimise the site in various ways to increase traffic and sales. The site is then sold for a tidy profit in the website marketplace.

This article on Sitepoint covers all the bases on flipping websites.


online business ideas dropshipping

I’m sure you don’t need me to remind you how big E-commerce is in 2016. Traditional brick and mortar businesses are struggling to compete with the E-commerce titans such as the likes of Amazon, Ebay and Alibaba.

What is dropshipping? 

Dropshipping is simply a product fulfillment method where the seller doesn’t keep stock of the products he/she sells. The product is shipped directly to the customer from the wholesaler or manufacturer.

It is very easy to get started with dropshipping because you don’t need to manage or pay for a warehouse, pack or ship orders, track inventory or handle returns.

Setting up an eCommerce store is one of the most popular ways to build an additional income stream. It’s definitely not easy but with the correct approach you can build something that will give you financial freedom.

The Five Steps To Starting Your Own eCommerce Business:

  1. Generate product ideas – research and come up with ideas for products.
  2. Evaluate product ideas – filter out product ideas that aren’t worth testing.
  3. Launching your eCommerce store – learn how to build an eCommerce website.
  4. Find your suppliers and add products to your store – learn how to find the best suppliers and import products.
  5. Launch your first ad campaigns – learn how to create your first marketing campaigns on your chosen advertising platform.

Key points to consider:

  • Flexibility - A dropshipping business can be run from anywhere as long as you have an internet connection.
  • Easy to scale - Compared to a traditional brick and mortar business, eCommerce is much easier to scale as you can leverage your dropshipping suppliers to fulfil additional orders.
  • Low overheads - Because you don't need to deal with purchasing inventory or managing a warehouse, your overhead costs are typically very low.

Things to watch out for:

  • Low margins - This is one of the biggest disadvantages to running an eCommerce business. Due to low overheads, merchants will setup up their store and sell items at rock-bottom prices, operating on miniscule margins.
  • Shipping problems - Most dropshippers work with a number of suppliers, so the products on your site are coming from different places. This complicates your shipping costs.
  • Supplier issues - Your suppliers will make mistakes on order fulfillments from time to time. Something that you'll have to take the blame for. Low quality suppliers can cause a lot of problems from missing items to damaged packaging. This is why it is essential to good suppliers for your products.

If you want to learn more about dropshipping and eCommerce, I came across this fantastic resource on Shopify.

Sell Unique Items On Etsy

starting an etsy shop

Etsy is a marketplace where people around the world are able to create, buy and sell unique goods. It’s runs on the eCommerce business model, with a few unique twists.

Etsy was founded in 2005 and is a place where you can find handmade items, vintage goods and craft supplies. Stuff that you wouldn’t really find anywhere else.

You can open an your very own Etsy shop for literally a couple of dollars and start selling your own products immediately.

Etsy makes money by charging you a small listing fee for items as well as 3.5% of the final sale amount of your product.

A third of Etsy shop owners run their creative business as their sole occupation.

There is definitely money to be here if you’re the creative type who likes to make things and share your creations with the world.

Many creative entrepreneurs start on Etsy them move on to creating their own eCommerce site to reduce costs and build up their brand.

Key points to consider:

  • It's really easy to get setup your own shop and start selling products. Product listing setup is very simply and user-friendly.
  • Reasonable listing fees & good payment options for the customer.
  • A great place to experiment with and test products in the marketplace.
  • A good way to start selling your unique goods if you have no social media following or website.

Things to watch out for:

  • Stiff competition from other merchants selling similar goods.
  • Getting noticed can be quite hard at the start. Some people struggle to get their listing on the top pages.
  • Minimal customisation - All the Etsy shops are displayed in the same way, with the exception of a couple of settings, it can be quite hard to increase brand awareness and stand out from the rest of the sellers in the marketplace.

 App Development

app development

Interested in developing your very own app?

App development is big business. Approximately 30 million apps are downloaded every single day, worldwide. The net worth of an app can quickly explode into something worth millions of dollars if it’s popular.

  • Draw Something sold for around $200 million to Zynga just SEVEN WEEKS after launch.
  • Instagram sold to Facebook for $1 Billion.

These are exceptional examples but they still illustrate what is possible in the field of app development.

Having a successful app can be a fantastic way to build a passive income stream.

You don’t need to be a coding expert or a software developer to create an app either. Most app creators turn to outside developers who are usually freelancers.

This article by Tim Ferriss extensively covers the steps to launching your app empire and creating your first app from scratch.

Remote Property Flipping

online business opportunities

Remote property flipping is one of the newer online business ideas. This is a business model that allows you to buy and sell properties without using any of your own money or being credit checked.

You’re able to flip properties without having to meet the buyers or sellers. You close deals over the phone and outsource various tasks that allow you to focus on flipping more properties.

Credit checks and money down are things that are no longer required to build a property portfolio.

Flipping properties is no get rich quick scheme, it requires hard work and dedication like any other business does.

Online Franchises

Franchise opportunities have been around in traditional business for a long time. Some of the biggest and most recognisable franchises are companies like Mcdonalds, Subway and UPS. It is an extremely common way of expanding a business.

What is a franchise? 

"A franchise business is a business in which the owners, or "franchisors", sell the rights to their business logo, name, and model to third party retail outlets, owned by independent, third party operators, called "franchisees"."

What many people don’t realise is that there are franchises that are purely internet-based. Some of these franchises don’t require huge investments either.

Investing in a franchise is seen as a safer bet when it comes to starting a business because it is based on a tried and tested business model that has produced tangible results. Results that can be easily replicated. You also have the advantage of buying into a brand that has already built up a reputation for itself.

Key points to consider:

  • Low initial investment - Online franchises have low initial investments because you don't need to pay for purchase or rental of physical space and everything else that comes with that.
  • Independence - As a franchise owner you enjoy the independence of small business ownership while still having the benefits of a big business network.
  • Franchises enjoy a higher rate of success compared to start-up businesses

Things to watch out for:

  • Low creativity - Franchise agreements often dictate how you run the business, leaving little room for creativity.
  • Profit sharing - Every year you must share a significant portion of your profits with your franchisor. The percentage is variable depending on the company.
  • Inexpensive franchises - In some cases franchisors will just be trying to sell as many franchises as they can, with a business that doesn't have the usual upsides than franchising offers.

Franchise Direct is a well known directory of franchises. You can find out more about online franchises on their website.


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