Launching a successful online business has never been easier. There are hundreds of online business ideas that you can develop, equipped with little more than a computer, a broadband connection and time.
Why launch an online business?
Starting an online business has plenty of advantages. Most require very little money to get started and are usually limited to the cost of building a website, along with buying a computer and paying for broadband. Expect to pay less than £100 for a basic website, web hosting, registering a domain name for your business and email. As your business grows, you may need to invest in specialist software, kit out a home office, and upgrade to a faster web-hosting service.
While start-up costs are initially low, there isn’t a ceiling on how much money your business can generate. You can also set your own working hours – though you’ll need to invest plenty of time over a sustained period to grow your business. You can set your own business objectives that fit into your life, allowing you to run it as a part-time or full-time venture.
Developing online business ideas
There are hundreds of online business ideas that you can develop – but not all of them are worth pursuing. The golden rule is to concentrate on realistic, proven ideas and avoid get-rich-quick online schemes. Starting an online business requires patience, commitment and determination over the long term. Don’t expect an online business idea to be an immediate overnight success.
- Avoid get-rich-quick schemes – steer clear of online schemes that promise huge earnings quickly. Many are scams, and often require you to invest money into a scheme. If a business idea seems too good to be true, it probably is.
- Research the market – visit competitor websites to learn about pricing and promotional activity. Visit reviews websites and social media channels to get an idea of what customers are saying about different competitors.
- Choose a business you’re interested in – online businesses can take months or years to become successful. Make sure you’re genuinely interested in your chosen online business idea and you can maintain a high degree of enthusiasm over the long term.
- Set targets – be clear what you want the business to achieve. Set financial or sales targets, with regular milestones and work to ensure your business is hitting each target.
Online business ideas – where to start
There are generally two types of online business: product or service. Products can be sold on your own ecommerce store or using online marketplace platforms. Service businesses are where you offer a service, such as writing and editing, training and coaching or consulting services in an area where you’re an expert.
The good news is you don’t have to stick to a single idea, nor only focus on one. Many successful entrepreneurs have several businesses operating in parallel. With low start-up costs, it’s relatively easy to build a few different websites, each offering a different type of product or service.
10 online business ideas to get you started
1. Start a blog
Creating an online blog is straightforward. Free content management tools such as WordPress, free website templates and cheap WordPress hosting means it’s possible to build and run a blog website cheaply and quickly. Concentrate on blogging about a topic you’re interested in and that has commercial potential, such as the ability to sell advertising. Free advertising platforms such as Google Ads are easy to integrate into a blog. However, it can take years to attract enough traffic to generate substantial revenue from advertising. Other ways to earn revenue from a blog is to sell ebooks, other downloads or get another business to sponsor it.
2. Become an affiliate marketer
There has been a huge surge in affiliate marketing websites, and successful affiliate websites can potentially earn hundreds of thousands in revenue. Affiliate websites earn money by referring customers to other businesses and taking a commission on any sales that result – sometimes as much as 50% of the sale price.
The trick is to create an engaging website that contains plenty of information useful to your target audience, then encouraging visitors to click a link to purchase a product or service. Popular affiliate sites tend to market subscriptions, videos, ebooks, tutorials and products. Most networks are free to sign up to and include Amazon Associates, eBay Partners and Awin. Brands using affiliate networks include the Post Office, M&S, Aviva and Currys PC World.
3. Create an ecommerce website
Similar to starting a blog, it’s cheap and easy to set up an online store. You’ll need to use an online merchant service such as Shopify or Magento, or an online shop builder such as Wix Stores. All allow you to list and display inventory, quickly build and publish an online catalogue as well as take payments such as credit card or PayPal. You’ll need to research the market thoroughly and be prepared to invest in initial marketing to get your store seen.
Encouraging customers to review your business on sites such as Google or Trustpilot can be helpful. Alternatively, online marketplace such as Amazon and eBay allow you to set up a product business and sell through those websites. You’ll have to share your profits, but companies such as Amazon can even handle storage, fulfilment, shipping and customer support.
4. Offer tutoring and coaching
Offering tutoring or coaching services doesn’t need to be limited to people visiting your home or you travelling to theirs. If you have expertise such as with languages, exam preparation or professional skills such as accounting or life coaching, you can offer those services exclusively online.
You can either join an online tutoring platform such as Tutorful or Superprof, or set up your own website incorporating tutoring software for student records, scheduling and billing. Sessions are usually provided using a webcam and microphone, with online tutors typically earning around £25 per hour.
5. Launch a holiday lettings website
Similar to affiliate marketing, it’s possible to build a holiday lettings website that lists property to let. Encourage people with property to let during holidays to list their lettings on your website and agree a commission for any lettings arranged via your website. You’ll need to handle customer service, administration and marketing, as well as initial work to encourage people to list their property.
6. Create photography and stock media
Hundreds of stock image libraries have flourished over the past few years, packed with millions of photos, illustrations, video, slide presentation templates and audio files. Most of these are created by independent businesses. If you have a creative eye and a good quality digital camera, you can capture photos and upload them to the stock library for customers to browse. You’ll receive a payment every time your photo is purchased. Research what type of stock images sell well and focus on creating similar photos.
7. Become a web developer
Good quality websites are in demand by lots of companies. Building a website for local or regional businesses can be handled online, with companies detailing their requirements. You’ll need to have a professional-level understanding of website technologies and coding such as CSS and HTML, though there are plenty of tools such as WordPress that allow you to build feature-rich websites. Website building can be charged on a per project basis rather than an hourly rate.
8. Offer writing and editing
If you’re good with words then consider offering writing and editing services. Writing and editing doesn’t have to be limited to magazine articles or online blogs. Instead, explore the range of writing, editing and proofing opportunities including technical writing for manuals, CV writing and editing services, cover letter writing or proofing written content to check for mistakes and accuracy. Small business writing services usually charge by the word or project.
9. Self-publish ebooks
If you’ve been longing to make a living from writing and have a compelling story to tell, it’s easier than ever to get your book published and earning money. Online ebook stores such as Amazon allow writers to publish their own books – both fiction and non-fiction – with Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing taking a cut of the revenue. Research the bestseller lists for the type of book you want to write to see what is selling. Develop a pricing strategy to generate sales. Many new authors price their books at £0.99 during an initial phase to stimulate demand, then increase the price gradually once sales start to climb.
10. Sell homemade crafts
If crafting is more your passion, it’s possible to set up an online business making and selling crafted items such as jewellery, and home and fashion accessories. While it’s competitive, personalised items are in high demand online, as well as vintage and retro-style crafts. There are lots of platforms to sell your crafts from including Etsy, Asos Marketplace, Folksy and Handmade In Britain.
Thinking of starting a business? Check out our free online courses in partnership with the Open University on being an entrepreneur.
Our free Learn with Start Up Loans courses opens in new window include:
- Entrepreneurship – from ideas to reality
- First steps in innovation and entrepreneurship opens in new window
- Entrepreneurial behaviour opens in new window
Plus free courses on finance and accounting, project management, and leadership.
Reference to any organisation, business and event on this page does not constitute an endorsement or recommendation from the British Business Bank or the UK Government. Whilst we make reasonable efforts to keep the information on this page up to date, we do not guarantee or warrant (implied or otherwise) that it is current, accurate or complete. The information is intended for general information purposes only and does not take into account your personal situation, nor does it constitute legal, financial, tax or other professional advice. You should always consider whether the information is applicable to your particular circumstances and, where appropriate, seek professional or specialist advice or support.