Starting an online business has never been easier, especially since pandemic conditions opened up more people to the idea of doing pretty much anything and everything online. With a computer, internet access, and some tech and marketing savvy – whether it’s yours or you pay experts for it – almost anyone can start an online storefront. The trick, of course, is to ensure that people want what you’re selling and that you’re qualified to provide it.
Here are 11 ideas for starting an online small business, all of which can be done right from your home.
1. Start an Online Tutoring Business
There has always been demand for tutors outside of school, but that demand shot up as the COVID-19 pandemic closed classrooms and students fell behind. According to a January 2022 Brookings Institution study, which used a sample of approximately 5.4 million students in grades 3-8 in approximately 12,000 public schools, the cumulative effect of the pandemic on students’ academic achievement has been “devastating,” with school districts and states unable to close the gap. Families with struggling students often seek outside tutoring services, which are easier than ever to provide via online web conferencing platforms. Tutors offer services ranging from homework help to test prep to math and reading intervention. You don’t necessarily have to have teaching experience to start your own online tutoring business, but you should be able to demonstrate your ability to provide academic support in a certain content area or to a particular age group. This could take the form of a college degree in a particular area or related work experience.
2. Video Can Make Personal Training an Online Business
Another online small business opportunity that video conferencing paved the way for is personal fitness instruction. Even though gyms and yoga studios are open again, many people have come to appreciate the convenience and focus of one-on-one personal training via video. You may have to get certified as a personal trainer or yoga instructor, but the cost and time involved could pay off quickly if you effectively market your business. The supplies you need will depend on what you’re offering, but the good thing about training people in this format is that you need to have only what they would have in their own home gyms. For strength training, that may only mean dumbbells of a few different weights, resistance bands, and a jump rope. For yoga, you just need a mat, a couple of blocks, and maybe a bolster or blanket. Targeted marketing and word-of-mouth referrals are typically key to building this type of business.
3. Enjoy Awesome Vacations? Do Travel Planning Online
Every summer, I live vicariously through a friend who takes the most amazing vacations with her husband and three children – all themed-learning and interest-based treks. This summer they traveled across the U.S. – with three kids! I had a lot of questions. How did they pack for such a long journey? How did they find safe places to stay along the way? How did they budget for meals? Her answer to me: a lot of planning. I told her she should write a book, but, really, she should start an online small business providing customized travel planning. This kind of business would involve detailed discussions to learn what customers really want, then a lot of research to create exactly that experience. It’s a process that takes a lot of time, energy, and know-how, which is why many people would be happy to have someone do it for them.
4. Personalized Closet Fashion Consulting
Many sites offer subscription boxes for new clothing, but many people wear only a fraction of the clothes in their closet. What if your online small business website helps people decide what to keep and what to get rid of in their own closets, makes outfits out of what’s left, and suggests key clothing and accessory purchases that would stretch clients’ wardrobes further? Before helping people shop their own closets to put together social media–ready OOTDs (outfits of the day – where have you been?), you’ll need a way for people to efficiently upload photos of their clothes and a way to interview clients to determine their needs, wants, and style sensibilities. Start marketing to people who have complimented your fashion sense IRL, then – if you haven’t already – post your own outfits and the outfits you create for others on social media to expand your clientele.
5. T-Shirt Design Online
Speaking of style, one piece of clothing that will never go out of it is a T-shirt. Graphic tees make political statements, fashion statements – and everything in between. T-shirts are also a canvas for original artwork. You must be careful not to infringe on copyrighted material, but if you have your ear to the ground as to what’s popular, you can create T-shirt designs and find a market via social media channels. And, no, you don’t need to have any equipment. There are already companies that will print T-shirts sporting your custom designs, with prices varying, depending on factors including the complexity of the design, the number of shirts being printed, and the quality of the garment. All you have to do is bring your creativity and build a web presence.
6. Content Marketing Needs a Few Good Writers and Editors
Content marketing is big business these days, but only if the content is of good quality. Content marketing involves the creation of blog posts, videos, social media posts, and longer thought-leadership content that may or may not mention a brand but attracts an audience interested in solving the challenges that the brand is all about. Developing high-quality content requires excellent research, writing, and article-structuring skills, as well as text and/or video editing skills. Writing for different brands requires an ear for differences in tone and voice. And the ability to network and get your name out there through professional platforms such as LinkedIn and your own homegrown database of references is a requisite.
There is almost no end to the types of products and services that you can effectively offer customers online. The key is to match market needs to what you do well.
7. Copy Editing and Proofreading
Spelling matters. Grammar matters. Punctuation matters. There are many companies that are using in-house subject-matter experts to develop content marketing and other collateral. However, someone who is an expert in, say, exercise physiology may not be an expert in grammar, punctuation, and spelling – or in the voice, tone, and style that the company wishes to convey in published material. That’s where copy editors and proofreaders come in. To start this type of business you need rock-solid knowledge of grammar, punctuation, and spelling, as well as the ability to reference and apply style rules.
8. The World Needs a Lot More Software Developers
9. Software Testing and QA, Too
After all those applications are developed, they have to be tested. But it’s not enough just to offer an app that is free of bugs; companies need to provide apps that are free of friction. They want to ensure that at no point should an app user have to wonder what’s next or how to do something. This requires testing for bugs and quality assurance. To start your own software testing and QA business, you need to have an understanding of how software works and also know what the target audience is likely to expect. An eye for detail is extremely important, as everything from font size to background colors to button placement and beyond determines the kind of experience a user will have.
10. Industry-Specific Transcription Services
There are many apps and services that will convert speech to text, but their speed and accuracy decrease as factors such as complexity, speaker accents, and industry-specific vocabulary and jargon increase. This creates the need for another layer of review to determine, for example, if the person speaking was saying “does the cops” or, more likely in the area of software application security, “DevSecOps” – a jargon word combining development, security, and operations, which are three different subgroups within most large-company information technology departments. The ability to transcribe a highly technical or jargon-filled conversation is challenging even for humans, unless the job is being done by a human who is familiar with the specific context and industry in which the conversation took place. To start this kind of business, you will need to demonstrate your discipline-specific knowledge and have some way to receive audio files, which tend to be large. Also be prepared to sign – and honor – nondisclosure and other confidentiality agreements.
Dropshipping has become a popular – and competitive – online business. In this model, you sell, but don’t handle, merchandise. Rather, customers order products promoted on your web and social media pages, then you buy the merchandise from a third-party seller. The seller ships items to customers, and you – hopefully – pocket the profit. Dropshipping requires very little in startup costs, but it’s important to be selective when choosing which products to sell and which sellers to buy them from. Of course, you should select a product category that is in demand – or whose demand you can ratchet up with your marketing efforts – but it’s also important to think in terms of shipping costs. Margins are relatively thin, so you may want to focus on products that are inexpensive to ship. Also, do plenty of research to ensure that the suppliers you work with will deliver – literally and figuratively – what you promise your customers.
The barriers to entry for starting an online small business have never been lower. It takes some equipment, access to the internet, and a certain level of tech and marketing savvy. With that in place, there is almost no end to the types of products and services that you can effectively offer customers online. The key is to match market needs to what you do well.
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