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Online business ideas to dominate the digital world

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One of the hardest parts of starting your own business is finding the right idea to run with. Get inspiration with over 30 tried and tested online business ideas.

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Online business ideas
You don’t need to think big to start an online business – 4.1 million UK businesses are operated on a self-employed basis with no additional employees.

There are around 5.6 million private businesses in the UK, 99% of which are SMEs (small-to-medium-sized enterprises). But while there are plenty of other small businesses out there, it doesn’t make the thought of joining them any less daunting. 

In many ways, the biggest hurdle to overcome is coming up with an idea for a business that can either exist solely to support you financially or provide you with a foundation that you can build on over time. If you’re stumped for ideas on how to turn your skills into a business, read on. We have no fewer than 31 ideas for your new online start up.

What is an online business?

An online business operates over the Internet and uses various digital platforms and tools to offer a range of products or services. You can run an online business as a sole trader or establish a limited company. You can also choose to work alone or employ other people to help fulfil your orders. 

While online businesses can have a global reach, they can also focus on a specific region or location. Online businesses can operate exclusively over the internet or be an extension of a physical business like a local store.

What are the benefits of an online business?

There are many good reasons to consider starting your business online. They include:

  • Reduced startup and running costs

  • Greater flexibility over working hours

  • Easier to track and analyse customer behaviour

  • Easy to scale up and down as required

  • Access to a potential global audience

  • Reduced waste and environmental footprint

What do I need to consider before starting an online business?

Start by determining if there’s a market for your business idea. Do you have the abilities, skills and experience to make it a success? Cost is another factor – even with reduced startup costs, you may still need to explore ways of financing your new venture.

For more on what you need to consider, from legal considerations to marketing strategies, check out our guide on starting a business from scratch.

What online business can I start?

Online business opportunities cover virtually all bases. If you’re still struggling for inspiration, we’ve got over 31 ideas for you, split into the following categories:

  • E-commerce sites, which sell a range of physical or digital products

  • Service providers, who offer a range of services to a mixture of personal and business clients

  • Digital marketers, who help to promote other businesses through online channels such as the web, email and social media

  • Creative freelancers, who sell a range of services, such as writing, design and website development, to both commercial organisations and individuals

Best online business ideas for selling products

You can sell just about anything over the internet, either through your own e-commerce store or via other platforms, such as eBay, Etsy or Amazon. Sell your own products and designs or resell others. Ideas include:

  • Launch a dropshipping business. Dropshipping is based on the order fulfilment model. You don’t produce or even stock your own products; instead, you set up an online shop that receives orders, which are then sent to another company that ships the product directly to the customer. You can focus on a single product, like selling your own bespoke t-shirts (Printful), or produce a shopfront selling a range of products from different suppliers (DSers from Shopify)

  • Curate subscription boxes. Instead of selling a single product, customers sign up to receive regular boxes of items curated by you based on a specific theme. Beauty and personal care, food and beverage, and health and wellness are the three most popular areas for subscription boxes

  • Flip store finds. If you have an eye for a bargain, second-hand outlets, including eBay auctions and charity shops, contain a wealth of items at bargain prices that you can turn a profit on

  • Upcycle old items. On a related note, how about taking pre-loved items and giving them a touch of TLC before reselling them for a profit?

  • Try 3D printing. Investing in a 3D printer allows you to set up a print-on-demand business. Market your own designs or explore gaps in the market that need filling – visit sites like Thingiverse for inspiration

  • Start a handmade business. You can sell your own products through platforms like Etsy or save time and money by sourcing handmade goods from elsewhere. Affordable shipping options, like ePacket delivery from China can help make this option more profitable

Digital business ideas for selling services

If your greatest assets are your personal skills and experience, there are numerous ways you can utilise these on a freelance basis. Consider one or more of the following:

  • Virtual assistant. Provide administrative support to clients from your own home or office

  • Translator. Monetise your foreign language skills by offering translation services for magazines, websites, product documents and company materials

  • Accounting. Many smaller companies look to outsource their bookkeeping duties. If you have the relevant qualifications and experience, you could set yourself up as a remote bookkeeper

  • Online fitness or wellness coach. Broaden your customer reach by offering a digital online platform where you can set up workouts, plus offer personalised programmes using digital tools to track clients’ progress

  • Remote tech support or customer service. Provide online support through chatbots, remote control software and other technologies that allow you to work from home. Find out more in our starter’s guide to working in IT support

  • Voiceover work. If you’ve got a good speaking voice, you can offer your services for all kinds of audio-based work, from podcasts and video ads to full-length audiobooks and animated movies

  • Virtual event planning. Involves organising online events such as conferences and webinars

  • Teaching online courses. You can work solo or in tandem with an online training company to deliver in-person classes over the internet to small audiences using an online platform like Zoom or Google Meet. Any subject goes, from online cooking and baking to social media management for marketers

Successful internet business ideas for marketers 

You can turn your marketing skills into an online business in many ways. They include:

  • Copywriter and online researcher. If you’re a writer by trade, one way to boost your income is by becoming a freelance copywriter for online businesses. Make yourself more attractive by adding online research skills to your CV

  • Influencer. Make use of your social media skills and following to promote other companies’ services and products by creating your own user-generated content

  • Affiliate marketing. Promote other companies’ products in return for receiving a cut of each sale. Dovetails nicely with several creative business ideas like those below

  • Social media manager. Make use of your social media skills to manage and direct social media output for companies. Find out how with our getting started guide

  • Remote Sales team or Lead Generation Service Provider. Both roles require strong phone skills, while lead generation requires research skills to help develop new leads for future business

  • SEO Expert. One of the most effective ways for businesses to get noticed online is by improving their search rankings. SEO experts help deliver this using all the tricks of the trade, from simple keyword optimisation to full-blown content creation

Better still, why not combine all your marketing skills into a single digital marketing agency to offer a range of services?

Best online business ideas working from home for creatives

Wherever your talent lies – whether it’s development, design or writing – you’ll find there are plenty of ways you can make a living from your talent:

  • Writer. As a writer, you can take on all kinds of projects and clients. You can focus on specialist subjects or develop transferable skills to maximise your writing opportunities. Find potential clients using marketplaces such as Fiverr and Upwork

  • Editor or proofreader. You don’t need to be exceptional at writing text from scratch to be able to improve existing copy. Freelance editing allows you to mix and match subbing, design and proofreading skills to lift other people’s work to new levels. Opportunities include editing digital and printed publications and magazines to proof-reading manuscripts

  • Write, market and sell eBooks. Another way to share your experience and expertise is through eBooks sold individually or as part of a subscription. Make them tutorial-led, and attract your audience by packing them full of useful insights and unmissable tips

  • Publish your own book. There is no need to employ the services of an agent or publisher to sell your novels to a wider audience. Self-publishing is easier than ever, and you can publish and sell digitally through the likes of Amazon or make use of services like Blurb to print physical copies on demand

  • Start a blog or newsletter. Use your writing and creative skills to create content that draws a loyal audience. Once established, find ways to monetise your output, perhaps through affiliate marketing or by selling your own products or services

  • Course content creator. While some trainers write their own course materials, others rely on a third party. Look for opportunities to plan and write the course itself or supply supporting materials such as case studies and playbooks

  • Graphic designer. Use your skills to offer services both big (logo and website design) and small (business card or flyer design) through portals like Upwork and Design Crowd

  • Website (including themes) or app developer. Website design and app coders are always in demand. Find out what you need to succeed with our guide to getting started in web development and design

  • Sell music. You’ll find plenty of online opportunities to sell your music if you're a budding musician. One such example is Bandcamp, an online marketplace that pays an average of 82% of all proceeds from CDs, vinyl, digital music and merchandise to the artist

  • Launch a podcast. Podcasts are a growing phenomenon, and you don’t need to be a celebrity to take advantage. Find a suitable niche, then look to incorporate advertisers to help transform a hobby into something more financially rewarding

  • Become a video producer. If you’re experienced with a camcorder, use your skills to create and produce videos, build a sellable library of resources such as video clips and sound effects, or get involved in teaching others through video production workshops

Business insurance is a way to protect your company against financial risk if things go wrong.

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