If you Google “online business ideas,” you’ll find no shortage of articles claiming to have the “100 Best Business Ideas” or the “10 Online Businesses That’ll Make You Rich.”
Don’t be fooled though — just a quick look at these articles show that their ideas are weak, they won’t give you more money and flexibility, and they’re definitely not worth your time.
In fact, I want to show you just a few of the typical ideas you’ll find online — and why they’re actually horrible.
Now you know how to spot a bad business idea — but what does a GOOD idea look like?
I’ve taught over 30,000 students how to start successful online businesses through proven SYSTEMS. And below is the start of the system we use to find those six-figure business ideas.
What you’re about to read:
It is designed to lead you right to a well of fantastic business ideas that people will pay you for TODAY.
Coaching vs online courses: which is best?
Well, there are actually 6 main options for online business ideas to pursue — and I have systematically tried them ALL. I can tell you with no uncertainty that there is only one online business that I think is the best. By the end of this post, you’ll know exactly what’s the best online business to start.
Before I tell you, though, there are two rules to online businesses that you need to remember if you want to find success:
When I asked my readers “What excites you most about starting an online business?” 2000+ of you responded — which was awesome…
…until I realized how ME-focused a lot of your responses were.
“I want ___.”
“I need ___.”
“I’ll have more time for ___.”
Rarely do I hear things like:
Look, I get it — we all want to go into online businesses because it will give us flexibility, time to spend with family, more money, and a bunch of other great reasons…
…but those shouldn’t be the ONLY reasons. That can’t be where you start but it can be where you END.
If you really want all those things, you need learn to dig deep into what your customers really want and put their needs first.
Only by factoring your customers into your system can you turn your dream or passion into a real business that’ll make you money.
Which brings me to…
This is a brutal and hard truth to swallow — but it’ll make you a better entrepreneur once you do.
Others will sell you dreams of a 100% automated “turnkey” business based on your passion that’ll make you millions while you nap on a beach in Hawaii.
That’s a lie.
Don’t get me wrong: your passion is important. You should create a business around something that interests you — but it won’t help you decide what idea to pursue, how much to charge, and how to SELL without coming off like a sleazeball.
The determining factor between successful online businesses and the ones doomed to fail are BUSINESS SYSTEMS.
So, which online business system will be the most profitable? How do you know if people will pay? How do you get traffic and buyers and repeat customers?
Today, I’m going to show you the different ways you can start your first successful online business — with my specific recommendation for the best.
Here are the 6 options for online businesses you can start.
Better yet — here’s an illustration that’ll show you where these businesses stand in terms of startup costs (low costs beats high cost) and profit margins (the higher the better).
A few takeaways:
Before we jump into that though, I want to explain each business model — and how I’ve approached them in the past.
Everyone wants to create the next Snapchat or Instagram — and it can be even more tempting if you’re a programmer.
I mean, we’re always hearing stories of sexy new Silicon Valley startups getting billions after their company goes public — why would you NOT start drooling?
The reality is that this simply isn’t a viable option for a lot of us, though.
For most, we can’t even code. And I think I’d rather go play in traffic than figure out the technical stuff that goes into it.
And even if you CAN code, chances are you don’t want to deal with the challenge of marketing, distributing, and constantly upgrading your app.
Software and apps require you to absolutely nail it right away. Otherwise, you spent all that time creating a product no one will buy.
Don’t believe me? The app store is a graveyard of apps no one ever downloads (check one developer’s story here about how he only made $36 in TWO months).
Later, I’ll describe some better options that allow you to adjust to the needs of your customers — options that’ll take less time and energy and help more people.
You might think your idea to start selling steampunk cosplay outfits on Etsy is amazing — but the truth is, the profit margins are incredibly low.
For example, we have a notepad that our designers created internally for the IWT staff. We debated selling it to our readers — UNTIL we found out that we would have to price the notebook at around $50 just to break even.
And after we shipped it to people, our profit margins would have disappeared completely — all for a tiny notepad.
I know there’s some money to be made with physical products — but the profits are much better with online products.
We’ve all seen (and been horribly annoyed by) this business model before — typically in the form of little advertisements a la Google Adsense on the sidebars of websites.
And they DO make money…kind of.
As you get traffic to your site, some people will click on the ads and when they do, you get a few cents — or maybe even a few dollars.
BUT they don’t really make that much money.
I tried this for IWT before — but quickly realized that I needed a HUGE amount of visitors (somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 million) per month in order to make good income on ads.
That’s a lot of traffic and a good way to fall prey to churning out pointless clickbait. No thanks.
I used to dabble a lot in affiliate marketing back in the early days of IWT. The way it works is a blogger will write a review of something like “My favorite credit cards” and at the bottom they’ll say, “You can sign up for the card here — NOTE: this is an affiliate link.”
So if you click that link and sign up, the credit card company pays the blogger an affiliate commission ranging somewhere from $50 to $75.
There are affiliate programs for anything too — books, weight loss products, what have you.
And it’s great — at first.
When I used affiliates, I only promoted products that I used myself and knew that my readers would value and enjoy.
As soon as I put in an affiliate link on my site, I became ING Direct’s number one affiliate in the world — overnight.
I was making more than $10,000 a month just by putting a link on my site!
However, I soon learned that it wasn’t a great long-term plan. My click-through rates tailed off and I ended up having to spend all this time dealing with advertisers.
At the end, it just wasn’t worth the time so I stopped.
Spoiler: Both business models are great — but the best one becomes clear once you weigh the benefits of each.
I love coaching. I actually believe it’s one of the best ways you can learn business skills. In fact, you’ll pick up skills you’d never learn with any MBA through coaching.
Some other benefits:
Coaching also has its limitations though — you can only take on a limited number of clients, constraints of travel as well as time to meet with clients, etc. — which is why I prefer online courses.
I’ve taught thousands of people how to start new businesses, become freelancers/consultants/coaches, scale their existing business, and adopt psychology mindsets on how to live a Rich Life through my courses.
This is my favorite business model by far. Online courses are low-risk, high-reward, and they scale incredibly well. All it takes is for you to sell an information product like a video or written course.
Some other benefits of online courses:
It’s the cornerstone of IWT — we generate over 95% of our revenue through online courses.
This is revenue we generated just a few years ago — you can BET it’s much more now.
In the end, whichever one you choose will be good. BUT I would highly recommend doing both if you can.
Still not convinced? In this video I tackle getting over the mental hurdles we place on starting a business around coaching or courses.
Now comes the fun part (as if you weren’t having fun already).
It’s also easy to get tripped up when coming up with a course idea.
Just choose the skills you have from the list below, and I’ll show you a list of businesses that have turned those exact skills into a profitable online business.
Still not sure? At IWT we believe in SYSTEMS. And below is the start of the system we use to find six-figure businesses for thousands of students.
They’re designed to lead you right to a well of fantastic business ideas that people will pay you for TODAY.
Four questions to ask yourself:
It’s so obvious, it’s damn near brilliant. We already pay people to do a lot of different things and by asking this question, you open the floodgates to all the possible business ideas around you.
For example, you might pay someone to:
Whatever it is, take just a few seconds right now to jot down a list of things you ALREADY pay people to do.
Now, what do you know — and know well? These are the skills you have that you’re great at — and people want to pay you to teach them.
Some examples include:
Write down a list of 10 of these skills. I don’t want you to hold back. Write down ANYTHING that comes to your mind and you’ll start seeing what people might want to pay you for.
I love this question.
Not only can it be a nice little ego boost — but it can also be incredibly revealing.
Are your friends always telling you that you cook the best meals? Maybe they’ve been asking you more for fitness advice and gym routines? Have they ever complimented you on how great your apartment looks or how well you dress?
All of those things can be turned into successful businesses.
Go ask your friends today what they think you’re great at. I assure you that they’ll give you a big list of things right away.
Add these things to your big list. Aim for around 3 – 5 new items.
This question actually comes courtesy of my friend, Ben Casnocha.
He said, “When you’re trying to find a business idea, think about what you do on a Saturday morning before everyone else is awake.”
How do you spend that morning? Are you browsing fashion websites or fitness subreddits?
Which YouTube channels are you binge watching? Maybe there’s a project you’re devoting yourself to all day.
Alternatively, ask yourself: If you were stuck in a room with a person for 3 hours, what could you talk about with them the entire time?
This is a powerful method of discerning your passion if you’re unsure — things you’ll love to share with the world.
When you’re finished writing your 15-20 ideas down, you’re well on your way to finding a successful business idea. They don’t all have to be good — but try and get them all down so you have a good place to start.
At this point, some of you already jumped 50 questions ahead:
For now, I want you to know that YES — you have passions and experiences in you that people will pay for. Even if you’re not yet the world’s expert on them!
Let’s take a minute and celebrate. You already learned more in this post than in the last 3 months of reading blog after blog.
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