5 Types of Online Businesses to start in 2024 (with examples)

Whether you’re looking for a side hustle to supplement your income or dreaming of a full-fledged online empire, the Internet has opened doors to an almost unlimited choice of online businesses you can start right now. 

In this post, I’ll break down the various types of online businesses and present you with profitable examples of business ideas for each. Why should you trust my insights, you ask? 

I went from being a college student writing blog posts in my dorm to having my own Netflix show. This journey, with all its ups and downs, has given me a wealth of experience to help you build your own online business. 

So, let’s explore five different types of online businesses you can start right now (plus, my top pick), complete with real-world examples and actionable business ideas for each category. Let’s begin!

Table of Contents

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  • Watch Ramit Sethi host Netflix’s “How to Get Rich” 
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1. Selling Services

In a nutshell, selling services is about offering your professional or expertise-based services to clients through the Internet. Think of it as a digital marketplace for skills, spanning a broad spectrum from copywriting and design to consultancy and marketing. 

Unlike physical products, the key to success here is not just setting up an online store but also establishing a credible and visible presence within your field.

Now, why should you consider this path? For starters, you’re free from concerns about inventory; your inventory is your skillset, always available at your fingertips. This means you can provide personalized solutions tailored to each client’s needs, fostering trust and loyalty. 

Furthermore, the startup costs for an online service business are significantly lower compared to businesses dealing in physical products. You can launch your venture with minimal overhead, making it accessible to more aspiring entrepreneurs.

Here are examples of lucrative online services:

Copywriting 

From small startups to corporate giants, businesses are always on the hunt for skilled copywriters who can create engaging blogs, punchy social media content, and persuasive website copy to connect with their audience and stand out in the digital space.

If you have a way with words and a passion for storytelling, copywriting could be your golden ticket to a successful online business. If you’re curious about how to break into this lucrative field, check out my existing post on how to become a highly paid-copywriter in no time.

Graphic Design

Graphic designers, simply put, are the visual storytellers of the online world. They create captivating visual content for websites, social media, branding, marketing materials, and more. 

A skilled graphic designer uses a combination of artistry, psychology, and technology to communicate ideas and messages through visuals. From crafting eye-catching logos to designing user-friendly websites, their work is integral to building a strong online presence.

Virtual Assisting

Virtual assistants provide remote administrative support, taking care of various tasks that keep an online business running smoothly. From managing emails to scheduling appointments, they handle the nitty-gritty so business owners can focus on growth.

Consulting

Consulting services for online businesses involve providing expert advice and guidance on various aspects of running and growing an enterprise. 

This can include a wide range of fields (such as digital marketing, eCommerce strategy, SEO optimization, financial planning, and business growth) and industries (including strategy, management, operations, financial, HR, and more).

SEO Services

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) services involve the process of improving a website’s visibility on search engines like Google and Bing. 

This includes optimizing website content, structure, and other elements to rank higher in search results. Skills needed for success in this field often include keyword research, content creation, and staying updated with search engine algorithms.

2. Selling Physical Products

Selling physical products online is a category of eCommerce that offers tangible items for purchase through digital platforms. Unlike digital products or services, it involves considerations like shipping, packaging, inventory, and delivery methods. 

To embark on this venture, choosing the right eCommerce platform is crucial. Ideal options include Shopify, BigCommerce, WooCommerce, and even platforms like Etsy for personalized gifts.

One of the key advantages of selling physical products is the simplicity of transactions. Unlike some services or digital products, people often find it easier to trust physical items. 

Additionally, you don’t need to be an expert in what you’re selling. The diversity of products you can offer is virtually limitless, from merchandise to apparel, as long as you can efficiently ship them to your clients.

Below, I’ve highlighted some popular and trending products to consider selling online. They are:

 

Skincare

Skincare products can include serums, face masks, creams, body lotions, and soaps. What makes them incredibly attractive for online businesses is its sustained high demand through the years.

People are always investing in their skin and beauty, making skincare an evergreen market. However, it’s important to note that this niche comes with stiff competition, so understanding your target audience, staying updated on trends, and delivering quality products are key.

Fashion Accessories

Fashion accessories comprise a variety of items that add style and personality to outfits, including jewelry, handbags, scarves, belts, hats, and sunglasses, among others. 

Starting an online business selling fashion accessories requires a good eye for style, an understanding of fashion trends, and the ability to curate or design pieces that resonate with your target audience. 

Additionally, effective branding, marketing, and the use of platforms like social media and eCommerce websites are crucial for success in this competitive market.

Pet Products

Pet products include items catering to our furry, feathered, or scaly companions, such as pet food, grooming supplies, toys, apparel, and even specialized healthcare products.

Starting an online business selling pet products requires a genuine affection for animals and an understanding of their needs. Curating or creating high-quality, pet-friendly products, along with effective branding and marketing, is essential. 

Also, a deep understanding of the unique online landscape in the pet industry, including eCommerce platforms, social media presence, and customer engagement, can set you on a path to success.

Athleisure Clothing

Athleisure clothing represents a fashion trend that seamlessly blends comfort with style, making it perfect for the modern lifestyle. These are not just workout clothes; athleisure includes yoga pants, joggers, sports bras, and hoodies designed to provide maximum comfort while looking stylish enough to wear outside the gym.

To succeed in this niche, you need a keen sense of fashion trends, a knack for curating or designing athleisure pieces that stand out, and savvy marketing to reach your target audience.

3. Selling Software

Selling software online offers a wide array of digital products, from productivity tools to mobile apps. Software can solve problems, enhance efficiency, and provide entertainment, making it a thriving online business avenue.

The allure of this online business model lies in its scalability and versatility. You’re not limited by physical inventory or shipping logistics. Instead, you’re creating and distributing digital solutions, which can be a one-time purchase or a subscription-based service. 

The demand for software continues to grow, as businesses and individuals rely on digital tools for work, organization, and entertainment. To thrive in this space, you’ll need a knack for identifying market gaps and developing software that truly addresses user pains and needs.

Now, let’s delve into some trending software niches:

Productivity Software

Productivity software encompasses a suite of digital tools designed to enhance workflow, organization, and time management. Think of software like project management platforms, presentation creators, and time-tracking applications — the driving force behind efficient business operations and personal task management.

To succeed in this field, you’ll need a knack for problem-solving, as you’ll be creating software to address real-world challenges. Whether it’s simplifying project collaboration or helping individuals manage their time more effectively, productivity software is your gateway to a lucrative online business venture.

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Business Software

Business software, a broad category that includes accounting software and inventory management systems, plays a pivotal role in the success of any modern enterprise. These digital solutions simplify complex tasks, streamline operations, and boost overall efficiency.

For instance, accounting software such as QuickBooks or Xero allows businesses to manage their finances with ease, track expenses, generate financial reports, and even simplify tax preparations. Every business, from startups to established corporations, requires software solutions to manage their operations effectively. 

To excel in this domain, a sound understanding of business processes and a knack for software development or integration are essential. By providing businesses with the tools they need to succeed, you can establish a lucrative and impactful online venture.

Mobile Apps

Mobile apps have become an integral part of our daily lives. These small, powerful pieces of software, designed for use on smartphones and tablets, serve as productivity boosters, entertainment hubs, and more.

Mobile apps can be simple tools like to-do lists or complex platforms for gaming or social networking. Developing an online business around mobile apps is appealing for several reasons. 

Firstly, the demand for mobile apps is ever-expanding, with millions of users constantly seeking new solutions to enhance their lives. Secondly, you don’t need to be a coding genius to succeed. Collaboration with skilled developers can turn your app idea into reality.

Web Development Software

Web development software forms the backbone of the internet. It’s the digital toolkit that web developers and designers use to create websites, web applications, and online platforms. This category includes various tools, from simple text editors to complex integrated development environments (IDEs).

Web development software grants you control over your digital presence. You can shape your website or eCommerce platform’s look, functionality, and user experience from scratch or fine-tune existing sites to align perfectly with your business goals. 

In an increasingly digital world, having a strong online presence is crucial, and web development software is your trusty companion on this journey.

Gaming Software

Gaming software, often associated with entertainment, offers a unique avenue for savvy entrepreneurs to start profitable online businesses. These software solutions cover a wide range of applications, from game development engines to virtual reality and augmented reality platforms.

Why should you consider gaming software for your online business venture? The answer lies in the tremendous growth of the gaming industry. With billions of gamers worldwide, this sector presents a vast, eager audience. Moreover, gaming software isn’t limited to entertainment; it extends to providing gamified experiences for various purposes, such as education and employee training.

4. Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing is all about promoting products or services and earning a commission for each sale, click, or lead generated through your marketing efforts. It’s like being a middle-person in the digital marketplace, connecting consumers with products they genuinely need or want.

With affiliate marketing, you don’t need to create your products or worry about inventory, customer service, or shipping. Instead, you leverage your marketing skills to endorse products that align with your audience’s interests. This makes it an excellent choice for beginners looking to monetize their online presence.

Here are some ways that you can leverage affiliate marketing:

Niche Blogs

Niche blogs have emerged as a powerhouse in the world of affiliate marketing. Whether it’s fitness equipment, sustainable fashion, gourmet coffee, or anything specific under the sun, your blog becomes the go-to resource for enthusiasts seeking advice, insights, and recommendations.

When you skillfully integrate affiliate products or services into your content, exciting things happen. Let’s say you’re passionate about fitness, and you run a niche blog dedicated to home workouts. You can review and recommend fitness equipment, supplements, or online training programs that align with your audience’s fitness goals.

This strategy thrives on trust and authority. As your audience sees you as an expert in your niche, they’re more likely to trust your recommendations. It’s about delivering value through informative and engaging content while subtly guiding your readers towards the products or services that can genuinely enhance their lives. 

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Product Review Sites

Whether it’s gadgets, skincare, or kitchen appliances, creating a website solely dedicated to reviewing products or services offers your audience honest, unbiased opinions that will be helpful during their “research phase”, a.k.a. that stage in their purchasing journey where they’re actively looking for guidance before buying something.

This strategy thrives on transparency and credibility. Your readers appreciate your dedication to providing them with accurate information and helping them make informed decisions. Plus, by strategically placing affiliate links within your reviews, you earn a commission for every purchase made through your site.

Producing YouTube Video Content

The affiliate marketing game on YouTube is strong. All you have to do is start a YouTube channel in your niche and start sharing informative, engaging, and often entertaining videos… without forgetting to subtly integrate affiliate products into your video content. 

It could be a tutorial featuring a particular software, a review of a tech gadget, or a how-to guide for skincare products. The key is to seamlessly weave these products into your narrative.

Social Media Influencing 

Imagine getting paid to post on your favorite social media platforms. That’s the essence of social media influencing in affiliate marketing. It’s the perfect strategy for those who love curating content and engaging with their followers.

Here’s the thing with being a social media influencer: your followers are not just followers; they’re your community. They trust your taste and judgment. When you endorse a product, it’s like a friend giving a valuable tip, not a pushy sales pitch.

To get started, build a robust social media presence around your niche, whether it’s fashion, fitness, or finance. Then share compelling posts, stories, and updates that resonate with your audience. Within each of your content, you strategically insert affiliate product recommendations and earn a healthy commission for every purchase.

Email Marketing

Email marketing is like having a direct line to your audience’s inbox, making it a potent affiliate marketing strategy. It involves sending tailored emails to your subscribers, sharing valuable content, and, yes, subtly slipping in affiliate product recommendations.

With engaging email content, you not only nurture trust but also introduce your audience to affiliate products that align with their interests. Since your recommendations come from a trusted source, they’re more likely to convert into sales.

The genius of email marketing is its automation potential. You can set up email sequences to deliver the right content and product suggestions at the right time, boosting your chances of earning commissions even while you sleep.

5. Selling Digital Products 

When it comes to online businesses, there’s one category that truly stands out for me: selling digital products. Why? Because it’s not just a business; it’s a lifestyle. It gives you the freedom to share your expertise and passion while making a handsome income from anywhere in the world.

Personally, I took all the lessons I’ve learned from my journey and applied them to my now thriving company. Even better, I’ve made all those insights accessible to others through courses that transform lives, eBooks that inspire, and more. That’s how I know digital products trump everything else when it comes to earning potential.

The beauty lies in their versatility — there’s a digital product for every passion! You can tailor products to individual preferences and provide instant updates, ensuring customers keep coming back for more.

Selling digital products online also means low overhead costs and the potential to reach a global audience. Plus, it’s incredibly flexible since you create your schedule. Now, I know what you’re thinking: where do I start? 

Below, I highlight some of the most popular digital products to sell online:

Courses

Let’s talk about one of the hottest commodities in the digital realm right now: online courses. The e-learning market is absolutely booming and for a good reason. 

Online courses are essentially high-quality knowledge packaged and delivered in digital form. From assignments and quizzes to engaging videos and thought-provoking presentations, these courses cater to various learning styles, making them incredibly popular among all kinds of students.

Online courses are extremely versatile. Whether you’re passionate about cooking, coding, or playing the guitar, there’s a niche for you to tap into. Plus, the demand for learning from the comfort of one’s home is on the rise, and you can be the one meeting that demand.

To help you get started, check out my blog for a deep dive into how to craft and sell online courses that resonate with your audience.

Memberships and Communities

Memberships and communities are online spaces where like-minded individuals come together, often paying a fee for access. What you’ll see inside are exclusive content, discussions, and a sense of belonging that’s hard to replicate elsewhere.

What makes these digital offerings so popular is the sense of connection they cultivate. Whether it’s a fitness group, a writers’ club, or a business hub, these places offer not just information but a sense of camaraderie that empowers members to share, learn, and grow together. 

eBooks 

eBooks are just like physical books, packed with knowledge and insights on a specific topic, in digital form. What’s great about them? They’re convenient, accessible anywhere, and often come with valuable bonuses like checklists, templates, or case studies.

They allow you to package your expertise and passion into a format that’s easily digestible for your audience. Readers love the in-depth knowledge, and you’ll love the low production costs once your EBook is ready to roll. 

Get Selling!

Whether you’re drawn to selling services, diving into affiliate marketing, or creating digital products like eBooks or courses, the digital landscape offers endless opportunities. Remember, you don’t need to stick to just one path. Many successful entrepreneurs blend these strategies for maximum impact.

The key to success? Just get started and get your great idea out into the world. Plain and simple.

The online business world is open to those who believe in themselves, their unique skills, and the value they can bring to the table. So, find your strengths and just start making good money online!

FAQ

What are the benefits of starting an online business?

Imagine starting a business with just your laptop and an idea—no need for a fancy office or a big team. That’s the beauty of online businesses. You get to slash those hefty startup costs and work from your couch (or a beach in Bali, if that’s your thing). Plus, you’re not just selling to Joe from down the street; you’ve got the whole world as your potential market. And the best part? You can scale this baby up. As demand grows, you can expand without necessarily doubling your workload or costs. It’s like setting up a money-making machine that works while you sleep.

What are some things to consider before starting an online business?

Before diving in, is there actually a demand for what you’re selling, or is it just your mom being supportive? Pick a niche where you can be the big fish in a small pond. Understand the rules of the game—what legal hoops do you need to jump through? Get real about costs; this isn’t just a hobby. And for the love of all that is profitable, please have a strategy to get those views on your site. Without traffic, you’re just shouting into the void.

What are some common mistakes people make when starting an online business?

Oh, where to start? Skipping market research is like going on a road trip without a map. Sure, you’ll end up somewhere, but will it be where you wanted? A clunky website is a customer repellent. And if you think “build it and they will come” applies to your online business, think again. Ignoring SEO and online marketing is basically business sabotage. Lastly, treating customer service as an afterthought is a one-way ticket to Cricketsville—population: your sales.

What are the most important things to do when starting an online business?

Get familiar with market research; it’s your new best friend. What makes you different from the gazillion other businesses out there? Hammer that out. Your website is your online storefront; make it inviting. And don’t just whisper your marketing message into the void—shout it from the digital rooftops with a killer marketing strategy. Get people excited to visit your site, then keep them coming back for more.

How profitable online business can be?

Here’s the deal—online businesses can range from side hustle pocket money to “I just bought an island” levels of wealth. It all depends on how well you identify a need, execute your idea, and scale. Some niches are gold mines, while others are more like coal mines. Dig into the right spot, and you might just strike it rich.

What are some common challenges faced by online businesses?

The online world is a crowded place, and standing out is tougher than getting a compliment from your in-laws. Trust is hard to earn when you’re just another URL in the sea. For product-based ventures, the logistics can give you a headache bigger than a wine hangover. Oh, and the internet moves fast—if you’re not keeping up, you’re falling behind.

How can online businesses be successful?

Know your audience better than they know themselves. Offer them value they can’t find anywhere else, and back it up with top-notch customer service. Use data like a fortune teller uses a crystal ball—let it guide your decisions. Stay on top of trends, listen to your customers, and always be ready to pivot. Your online business is a living thing; nurture it.

Are there online businesses that pay daily?

Want cash in your pocket every day? Dive into the gig economy. Freelance writing, design, and virtual assistance gigs can pay out quickly. Play your cards right with affiliate marketing, and you could be earning daily, though it’s not as instant. Survey sites and micro-tasking platforms are the digital equivalent of finding change in the couch—small amounts, but it adds up.

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Written by

Host of Netflix's "How to Get Rich", NYT Bestselling Author & host of the hit I Will Teach You To Be Rich Podcast. For over 20 years, Ramit has been sharing proven strategies to help people like you take control of their money and live a Rich Life.