Thinking of venturing into the online space and building your own empire?

This list of online business ideas covers a range of little-known, highly profitable ways you can build your digital empire.

Startling Facts About The Internet Economy

Before we jump into our list of the best business ideas, I wanted to show you some eye-opening stats that illustrate how the internet is changing the world around us.

  • In 2016, retail e-commerce sales in the US hit 396.7 billion dollars and is forecasted to reach over 684 billion dollars by 2020.
  • In July 2016, Amazon registered over 183 million unique visitors in the US alone!
  • 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. That’s over 35% of the American workforce!

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

Many of the online tools that have only been made available to us for the past two or three years have drastically lowered the barrier of entry to get yourself started online.

You can create a website, set up an email autoresponder and build a marketing funnel from scratch in just a few days.

Contrary to popular opinion, you don’t need massive startup capital to start a profitable online business in today’s hyper-connected economy.

There are also tons of passive income ideas available to us that we can use to create wealth in our lives.

Online Business Ideas: The Definitive List

We’ll start off with one of my personal favourites and one that I think is one of the best online business ideas to date!

It’s perfect for anyone who’s just starting out online as you don’t need to create your own products or invest your life savings into to get yourself started.

This business model is called affiliate marketing.

Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing is a business model that works by referring people to a product. The affiliate is the person who refers people to a product or service. If people then decide to buy or sign up, the affiliate makes a commission from this sale.

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.”

A beautifully simple business model at its core, it’s proven to be hugely popular.

In fact, a study completed by Rakuten Marketing revealed that over 80% of brands use affiliate marketing to drive additional sales for their businesses.

There’s a huge market for affiliate marketers to promote products for companies and generate a sizeable income while doing so.

Promoting products as an affiliate works through affiliate programs. These programs are setup by businesses to entice and reward affiliates for successful product promotion.

Most marketers either join directly through affiliate programs like eBay or use popular affiliate networks (like CJ) to find the best products to sell.

The best affiliate programs focus on high-ticket products. These are higher-priced products that provide larger returns per sale.

Key points to consider with affiliate marketing:

  • One of the fastest ways to start generating an income online.
  • You only need a laptop and internet connection to get started.
  • No requirement for shipping 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 (like Amazon Associates). Some companies don’t pay very well for your referrals so you need to find an affiliate program that offers good commission rates.


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

Consulting is one of the most lucrative online business ideas with more and more people are quitting their jobs to start their own consulting businesses.

This online business idea also happens to be 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? What does a consultant do?

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

Let’s look at some of the most common misconceptions about consulting:

  • Consultants are people who have Harvard MBA’s and advise on corporate strategies. They’re borderline super genius and they work for some giant consulting 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 TV.

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

The true definition?

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? Can’t they just do it on their own?

  • They have an inability to get to their desired situation on their own.
  • They want to get to their desired situation faster.
  • 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 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 set up 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 off 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 training – The right 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.
  • Location independence – You can run a consulting business from your laptop, so you’re not tied down to any particular location.

Things to watch out for:

  • It’s 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 – This will be your main way of acquiring new clients so you need to either be good on the phone or get good by practising lots.
  • Be prepared for rejection – Many businesses and people will turn you down. This is something consultants have to get used to.

If interested, you can read this review on Sam Ovens’ consulting accelerator course.


As mentioned at the start of this post. Freelancing now makes up over 35% of the entire US workforce.

People all over the world are enjoying the freedom and flexibility that comes with this form of work.

As an example, many freelance writers are having huge success finding remote writing jobs and working from anywhere in the world. You can also try TrustMyPaper, a writing service that’s always looking for new authors.

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
  • IT 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 almost any type of job.

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.
  • Be your own boss – You don’t have to answer to anyone but yourself.

Things to watch out for:

  • No work benefits – If you’re transitioning from an office job to freelancing, you need to bear in mind that you’ll no longer receive work benefits. That includes no sick pay or holiday pay (for most countries).
  • 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.

Flipping websites

Buying and selling websites can be lucrative. This requires solid industry knowledge as you need to know your investment in your chosen site 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.

You can purchase websites that are already making money as an investment that will provide passive income for you. 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 for flipping websites.


E-commerce as an industry has never been better than it is today. Traditional brick and mortar businesses are struggling to compete with the titans of the e-commerce world (basically Amazon).

You can leverage the power of Amazon by selling your products through them with a private label product business or through drop shipping.

What is Dropshipping? 

Drop shipping is a product fulfilment method where the seller doesn’t keep stock of the products he/she sells. The product is shipped directly to the customer from the manufacturer.

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

There are five steps to starting your own e-commerce business:

  1. Research and come up with ideas for products.
  2. Evaluate your ideas by filtering out products that aren’t worth testing.
  3. Create and set up your own e-commerce store.
  4. Find suppliers and start importing your products.
  5. Create your first marketing campaigns on your chosen advertising platform.

Key points to consider:

  • Flexibility – A drop shipping 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, e-commerce is much easier to scale as you can leverage your drop shipping 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 a drop shipping business. Due to low overheads, merchants will set up up their store and sell items at rock-bottom prices, operating on tiny margins.
  • Shipping problems – Most drop shipper’s work with a number of suppliers, so the products on your site are coming from different places. This can complicate your shipping costs.
  • Supplier issues – Your suppliers will make mistakes on order fulfilment 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 find good suppliers for your products.

Related: If you’re interested in starting your own private-label product business (not drop shipping), check out this review of one of the most popular e-commerce training courses (Amazing Selling Machine).

Sell Unique Items On Etsy

Etsy is a marketplace where people around the world are able to buy and sell unique goods. Etsy was founded in 2005 and is a place where you can find handmade items, vintage goods and craft supplies.

You can open your very own Etsy shop for next to nothing and start selling your 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 made 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 then move on to settings up their own e-commerce site to reduce costs and build their brand.

Key points to consider:

  • Listing fees aren’t too bad – Reasonable listing fees & good payment options for the customer.
  • Good for testing new products out – A great place to experiment with and test products in the marketplace.
  • Great for finding customers – A good way to start selling your unique goods if you have no social media following or website.

Things to watch out for:

  • High competition – Stiff competition from other merchants selling similar goods.
  • Gaining a presence can be difficult – 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

Interested in developing your very own app? I know plenty of people who would love to do this.

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 money making apps.

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.

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’s 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’s based on a tried and tested business model that has produced tangible results.

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.
  • Partial Independence – As a franchise owner you enjoy the independence of small business ownership while still having the benefits of a big business network. This depends on the company though, some franchises can be very limiting in what you can do yourself.

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.
  • Rip-off 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 (basically trying to con you. Avoid by doing thorough research into a company before you consider making an investment with them).

I hope you’ve taken some value from this list of online business ideas. Feel free to drop us a comment to let us know your thoughts! :-)