Consider starting an online business? Here’s a list of top online business ideas backed by successful examples.
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You’re lounging on the couch in sweatpants as money streams into your bank. What a life.
Having a steady income stream is one of the biggest reasons to start an online business.
But what kind of business should you launch?
In this listicle, I’ll introduce you to money-making online business ideas backed by successful examples.
I even reached out to entrepreneurs that have done it all, so you can learn what’s working right now and apply these ideas in your business.
Let’s turn you into an online entrepreneur!
1. Sell digital products
Best for: Entrepreneurs and developers
Effort required: High, especially for software tools, as they’ll require development skills. Low to moderate for other digital products, like PDFs and templates.
Ever create a digital product for your personal use?
Well, others might benefit from using it, so consider making it a business.
Noticing a market gap, he turned it into a full-fledged SaaS product.
Thanks to his background in web design, Adam did most of the work. He also partnered with a developer to handle the technical side.
In the beginning, Adam cold emailed potential prospects to get the word out about Better Proposals. He then moved on to Facebook Ads, Twitter, and influencer marketing. Now, his SaaS product serves over 10,000 customers.
Pro tip: List your digital products on the AppSumo Marketplace for greater exposure.
You’ll be able to get your product out in front of hundreds of thousands of passionate software users.
In just five months, he attracted 1000+ new users, with 30% becoming paid customers.
Mind you, this isn’t a fluke. Here are even more success stories from the brands we’ve worked with:
- Meet the Makers: AppSumo Marketplace Success Stories
- From 169 customers to 8,266 in 28 days: how Frase built the biggest AppSumo launch ever
- $93,884 & 3,500 customers in 3 weeks: Our AppSumo experience
- The PromoRepublic experience: how a startup can get supersonic acceleration in the American market through partnership with AppSumo
2. Build a one-stop resource hub
Best for: Affiliate marketers
Effort required: Moderate to high, as you’ll spend most of your time on curation and research
A personal blog that shares all the mundane details of your life? Probably not a business.
But a unique one-stop resource hub that solves people’s problems? Now that’s a money-making idea.
Johannes Larsson launched Financer.com to help people make better financial decisions.
The comparison website grew from a one-person show to a team that’s 50 members strong.
Currently, it generates between $1.69M to $2.25M through affiliates. Whenever a user signs up for a financial service or gets their application approved, Financer.com earns a commission.
Pro tip: Avoid putting all your efforts into making your one-stop resource hub 100% perfect.
This applies to all kinds of businesses!
Instead, aim for 80% completion.
This is where the minimum viable product (MVP) comes in.
“What people usually do is make their product perfect before launching it. They spend too many hours on marketing, business plan, funnels, and analysis. After a while, they found out none of the potential customers truly want the product.”
Johannes Larsson, CEO and founder of Financer.com
Launch your MVP and test it in the market. Think of this as conducting micro-experiments.
You can run Facebook ads and even give away your MVP for free in exchange for user feedback.
Once you gather this constructive feedback, you’ll be able to refine your MVP.
3. Start a freelance empire
Best for: Freelancers with specialized skills
Effort required: Moderate. All it takes is a laptop and the right software (e.g. an illustrator will need Adobe, a writer requires Google Docs—you get the idea).
Design beautiful websites?
Write words that woo?
Got a skill that helps businesses hit their goals?
You’ll be perfect as a freelance consultant or strategist.
After hustling at a startup for almost two years, I decided to give freelance writing a second shot. It was the best decision I’d ever made because I took back control of my time and health.
Source: Content Kapow
Pro tip: Pick a niche. The more you write about a subject matter, the more well-versed you’ll become. You’ll be able to raise your rates and justify them with empirical results.
We’ve written a lot about earning more money in freelancing. Check out these six posts if you want to get your feet wet in the freelance arena:
- Avoid these 11 freelancer mistakes
- The AppSumo guide on writing an effective scope of work
- Marketing proposal template: how I won a $10,000+ project
- The freelancer’s guide to surviving an apocalypse
- How to double your freelancing business
- How to write a price increase letter (case study + template
4. Create DIY products
Best for: Service providers who want to offer add-ons, complementary or lower-tier services
Effort required: High for physical goods, as you’ll need to consider logistical challenges like finding vendors and shipping
Is your calendar at full capacity for the year? That’s a great problem to have.
But at this stage, you might be wondering, “How do I offer support for customers I can’t work with right now? I want to work with them in the future!”
Here’s a great idea from The Conversion Kit: offer DIY products.
Founder Eman Zabi created these DIY copywriting and launch planning decks to offer alternate support for clients she could not work with.
Before these decks came to fruition, Eman pre-sold the offer.
She made mock-ups on Canva, a landing page on Wix, and a separate check-out page.
Eman’s goal was to sell ten decks. In the end, she and the team sold over 100. Giddy with excitement, they used the new sales to fund their manufacturing costs.
From then on, she worked with a designer to create the decks and contacted manufacturers on Alibaba. The latter created a negotiation challenge. Due to the language barrier, Eman had to hire a translator.
Pro tip: Do your DIY products involve a learning curve? If so, teach customers how to use them.
When Eman created The Conversion Kit, she thought the instruction cards she included in the decks would make sense to customers.
Alas, many had no idea how to use them.
This realization led Eman and her team to offer free Q&A calls. Every week, they’d provide live demos and feedback on customers’ launch plans.
This incredible support is an example of going above and beyond for your customers. It wouldn’t surprise me if Eman’s users became customers for life!
Best for: Entrepreneurs, freelancers, and agency owners.
Effort required: Low, as it only requires setting up a simple landing page using an email autoresponder (e.g. Mailchimp or SendFox).
Email newsletters are an excellent way to spark action and make money at the same time. Usually, this happens through subscriptions, sponsorships, or a combination of both.
Mushfiq Sarker has flipped 175 websites with multiple six-figure exits. It’s no understatement he’s an expert at growing, buying, and selling websites.
His free newsletter, The Website Flip, shares case studies, data-driven guides, and website listings.
Since launching in April 2020, he’s grown his newsletter to 2,300+ email subscribers with two dedicated advertisement sponsors.
6. Launch a community-based course
Best for: Micro-influencers and thought leaders with large social media following
Effort required: High. Running an online course involves coaching, uploading content on online learning platforms, and answering students’ questions, to name a few.
You’ve got the skills and following, and you’re ready to put them to good use. If this sounds like you, then you can’t go wrong with a community-based online course.
Abhinav Chhikara spent around three months building The 10kdesigners Masterclass, a 12-week online course for UI and UX designers.
Pro tip: Build a community and analyze their needs before launching your online course.
In listening to Abhinav’s interview with The Indian Dream, it’s clear that his audience-first approach is the reason behind his success.
Before launching 10kdesigners, Abhinav started a YouTube channel to share his insights with aspiring UI and UX designers. He spent 1.5 years building this community.
At the end of each video, he’d ask viewers to join his Discord channel, which eventually rose to 1,000 members.
Abhinav then sold design templates as his first product, but they weren’t well-received initially.
This makes sense, as his community was made up of folks new to UI and UX design, while the templates were targeted toward more experienced designers.
After realizing this oversight, he pivoted to 10kdesigners, and the rest is history.
7. Set up a subscription box business
Best for: Entrepreneurs
Effort required: High. You have to source for manufacturers, courier delivery services, and consider a couple of other logistics.
Build your subscription box business in almost any niche!
Take it from Jenny Hanh Nguyen, who co-founded Y’OUR Skincare to help people feel their best and transform their confidence.
The skincare company auto-ships subscription boxes to customers every three months.
Jenny and her co-founder, Hannah Pham, created a unique algorithm driven by AI and human insights to assess skin’s needs, then developed a personalized skin care regimen.
Since 2018, Y’OUR Skin Care has had more than 21,000 customers and one million email subscribers.
8. Self-publish books
Best for: Bloggers and content creators who want to generate additional income
Effort required: Low, as your work will mainly involve repurposing existing content and light editing
Here’s a simple way to get more mileage out of your existing content: turn it into an ebook.
Dave Bowden’s online business consists of two pillars:
- Irreverent Gent: A men’s fashion website monetized through display ads, affiliate ads, and sponsored posts
- Books: A blog-turned-ebook that’s self-published through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing platform
Currently, Dave’s website generates around $4,000 each month, while his books bring in $500 per month.
Dave gathers his blog posts on specific topics and turns them into chapters of a book. Since most of these posts are comprehensive, there rarely comes a time where he needs to expand or rewrite them.
“I edited all of the posts to make sure the language and references were appropriate for books. For instance, I might write “Click here to see…” on the blog, but had to remove it in the book.”
Dave Bowden, founder of Irreverent Gent
Pro Tip: Avoid curating random blog posts. Focus on your most popular posts and repurpose them as chapters in your ebooks. You’re likely to enjoy similar success and get paid for it.
9. Build an interactive tool
Best for: Agency owners and freelancers who want to acquire and convert leads
Effort required: Low to moderate. You can hire a developer or use no-code software platforms to create it (e.g. Outgrow for calculators and quizzes).
Want to convert hesitant leads?
Build an online tool that brings incredible value to your audience. You can invest in content marketing to generate high-quality traffic, and write a case study detailing your process.
Gerald Lombardo built The Word Counter in January 2020 when he realized that most word counting sites on Google were of low quality.
To set his tool apart from the competition, he focused on creating high-quality content. He began researching SEO keywords and using original data to back up his blog posts.
Today, The Word Counter attracts 30,000 unique visitors every month. A quick search for the keyword “word counter” shows the site at the third spot on the SERP—not too shabby considering the site’s only a year old.
But the benefits go much deeper than earning a passive income and ranking high.
Gerald uses The Word Counter as a case study to prove his results as a digital marketer.
Which online business ideas will you try today?
Whichever online business idea you pick, good luck!
Most of the ideas in this list are excellent for beginners. With a bit of capital and a little planning, anyone can get started in a short time.
Talk to your ideal customers before getting your business up and running.
Remember to aim for 80% completion instead of breaking your back trying to get your product perfect. The feedback from early users will take care of the remaining 20%.
And speaking of early user feedback, make sure to check out the AppSumo Marketplace!
You’ll earn 95% of revenue when you bring a new customer to our marketplace, and 70% from returning customers that we bring to you. Plus, you’ll get more exposure to your labor of love.
We’ve worked with partners like Mailchimp, Zapier, and Dropbox, and watched them skyrocket their success.
This is the best opportunity to get your digital product in front of our awesome community and refine it to excellence with dedicated early adopters.