15 Best Online Business Ideas in 2022

Running an online business was once seen as lifestyle choice to many. Today, it is a significant part of all businesses, with even conventional outfits containing a substantial online component. If you want to know about the best online business ideas, you are totally in the right place! Why? Well, perhaps read the disclosure to understand why:

Disclosure: As a digital marketing agency CEO who helped more than 6000 customers over the past 15 years, we admit having an unfair advantage in knowing which business ideas are the most profitable.

Before jumping straight into the best online business ideas – it might be enlightening to point out that now, it is possible to run your own business that is 100% online, in partnership with companies that have an offline component, for example: retailing or dropshipping physical goods or services. In other words, as much as it is possible to engage in a business that sells only virtually downloadable items such as e-books and video courses, it is also possible to promote things like holidays, fashion, cars and financial services which are delivered by 3rd parties.

The bottom line? It is entirely possible to pursue something you are passionate about and engage in a business that is 100% online, even if it contains an element of physical delivery of goods or services – because you do not have to deliver it, someone else, anywhere in the world, could be doing the delivery partner.

Factors determining your choice of business: Let’s remove any bias and emotion first by thinking clearly about how to choose the best online business for your immediate and longer term needs. First ask yourself: can the business be scaled up? How much do I need to make and how quickly? How quickly can it become profitable and do I have the patience and resources to build the business? Do I need it for my enjoyment, or will I be able to hire other freelancers to deal with less pleasant elements of the business? More importantly, what regulations affect this business type and do Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon and the big tech marketplace platforms have any limitations they impose on my industry?

Bearing in mind that numerous factors are involved in choosing a business type, it might be possible to evaluate your options rationally and consider the pros and cons of each business type. Let’s take a look at business ideas:

15 Best Online Business Ideas

The insurance industry is hyper competitive which means that they pay excessive commissions for qualified leads and website traffic. The idea is to run a website or blog that compares different insurance providers – each of which will provide your website with an affiliate commission and / or a fee per visitor which is sent to their website. 

A business like this will require a website with good quality content and backlinks. One of the main advantages of building a business like this is the website itself will become truly valuable: it can be sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars.  

Think of it as being an insurance broker, but without having to be qualified with a registered office: you’re more of a policy specialist, understanding where consumers can obtain the best value and pointing them in the right direction. 

Requirements:

When you gain in-depth knowledge of various marketplaces, along with specific industries, it is possible to resell services with a healthy profit margin ranging from 20% to 300%. It is known as “arbitrage”. 

For example: Certain marketplaces exploit newcomers who seek to sell their services. They tell the newcomer that they need to work for cheap in order to gather reviews first, and once they have good reviews, they can increase their price. By reselling a service with an experienced consultative approach, you can pay a qualified but inexperienced person on a marketplace to fulfill the service. 

Examples of this can include online translation, architectural designs, graphic design and just about any of 200+ online virtual services. 

Requirements:

Dropshipping means taking an order with payment, and passing on the client address to another seller or factory, for them to fulfill the order directly by sending it to the client address.

It involves good content marketing to describe an item or service well, with the ability to close deals on-site or perhaps even via email or phone, or if you are really smart: using a chatbot to assist with initial screening of an inquiry.

Exploiting the arbitrage between different vendors, or using your in-depth knowledge of demand for luxury items, a healthy markup can be made. For example, knowing how to describe a marble item or valuable piece of art, can make the difference between asking $20K and $26K, leading to a $6K markup on an item you do not even have to physically touch. 

Requirements:

One might regard this as a fairly generic activity in internet marketing, but building and owning an online community is a serious way to earn an income. It essentially makes the owner of the community an influencer. As explained in the influencer marketing guide, celebrity and influencer endorsement is quite costly.

It is possible to build a group on Linkedin and Facebook, however remember this: you will always just be a crop farmer on their sites and will be subject to their rules whenever they want to change it. Thus Mark Zuckerberg or some Silicon Valley personality may put you out of business overnight. 

The more formidable way of having a strong online community – is to solidify your support via a strong email newsletter following. So even when using Facebook and Linkedin, always provide incentive for community members to hop onto your newsletter and website in order to protect your influence and membership of the community.

Requirements:

  • A good affiliate deal in a relevant industry,
  • Serious skills in social media marketing and a few engagements via an influencer marketing campaign,
  • An email marketing software to build a list,
  • An organic Linkedin B2B marketing campaign manager who can influence specific people and reach out to them in order to grow the community faster.
  • Most probably a good website too.

Review websites that are monetized through the affiliate model can be quite profitable and scalable. Brand review are especially powerful. Pete Cashmore, the man who founded Mashable, made a fortune by ranking for brand names like “Facebook” and “Youtube”.  You can make a fortune by creating a website that ranks for 100 different brand names when consumers seek to read reviews. 

The idea is that Trustpilot is no longer a valuable qualitative source, because it only contains negative information from disgruntled people. Hardly ever would a satisfied customer think to leave a positive review on Trustpilot. 

Brand reviewers, on the other hand, spend their time really understanding the value propositions of different brands. They can compare brands with each other and guide the consumer to make the best possible choice.

Requirements:

  • Affiliate deals from reputable brands,
  • A decent looking WordPress website,
  • A basic SEO structure to support your branded pages with backlinks.

Cybersecurity has huge demand. The opportunity here is to run a decent arbitrage service where you buy and sell cybersecurity as a service. This is possible because a lot of tech experts in Israel, India and Pakistan are excellent security providers, but poor in the areas of consulting. In fact, it is possible to buy a penetration testing service for $300 and sell it for $1000 if you use a few clean templates to present the service, results and findings. 

There is this no need to be an expert in cybersecurity. All you need to do is to find about 3 great specialists in the area – people who might not have the best English language and customer skills, but who are reliable and eager to work hard. They should have completed a thorough skill assessment to satisfy you of their ability, otherwise you might be in line for some costly mistakes. 

 

For anyone with a decent qualification and practical experience, teaching online can be a good method to create online passive revenue. The mindset here is important – if you think long term, this is a good business as we’ll explain:

There are claims of some instructors earning $1M per year via Udemy and a lot from Linkedin Learning too, however it is best to be realistic. Our market research suggests that $400 to $1500 per month per course is more typical for a highly competitive marketplace: that is what the AVERAGE instructor earns when they let a marketplace take care of all the marketing and advertising. 

It may take $5000 worth of time to produce a solid online course – and if you only earn $400 in the first month from sales, short term thinkers will find it discouraging. However if an evergreen subject is chosen, or anything with a shelve life of 36 months or more, it would mean earning $14500+ over this period, and possibly up to $30K before the course is retired. 

A scalable online business indeed:

Producing 10 X courses in 6 months is entirely possible. This can lead to compounded earnings, at which point the business model switches to passive income.

Requirements:

  • A decent PC with video production capability,
  • An AI software that can use your own image as an avatar to create AI videos – which is a great option if you are camera shy.
  • Ample time to research,
  • Excellent presentation an use of the English language in most cases,
  • A lot of patience with poor reviews from nasty people on Udemy,
  • A long term mindset and a thick skin.

Affiliate marketing is so big today that the likes of Forbes and Entrepreneur magazines have joined the game. Some solopreneur brands like Neil Patal, Tail Lopez, Adam Enfroy, Pat Flynn and Charles Ngo serve as prime examples. Some of them claim to earn in excess of $800K per month. 

The idea is to spend roughly $100K on building a strong authority website with decent SEO metrics, and then to start ranking for a multitude of services, brands and questions that people search for on the web. Spend around another $50K on content creation – and you could have a business that earns anywhere between $50K and $300K per month. 

Your ability to do excellent research and writing will be put to the test in this hypercompetitive environment. Consider the use of these top SEO tools as well as some important SEO statistics to understand the levels of input that will be required to succeed. 

Requirements:

You can be an online travel consultant without ever picking up the phone – that is if you are willing to build influence as a travel blogger and influencer. 

How much revenue can you earn? If you were to earn a 20% affiliate fee on just 10% of hotel space in ONE hotel in the worlds’ most visited cities – you’d earn more than $290K in passive income each month. Such a business will probably need around $80K worth of content and $25K in relevant linking – but the returns can be phenomenal. 

Besides earning generous commissions, for example $4500 on a $29K packaged holiday that was booked, influencers can also charge $400 to $2000 to share a single blog post or video on their social media channels – provided that they have built a decent level of followers. 

Requirements:

Expert analysis: If you fail at SEO but succeed only in social – you’d be in for $10K to $30K per month in social revenue. But succeeding in both content and SEO, could mean 10X that for a scaled business. One would need to target numerous cities, as opposed to niching in on one town or city.

With millions of readers buying ebooks, and marketplaces like Amazon, Google Play and Apple iTunes, the ebook market is massive. Obtaining a slice of the cake in this market by owning a number of books can be lucrative with a decent passive income. 

So how much does it cost to market an ebook and how profitable can it be for authors? The gaps are quite wide:

Startup cost:

$2K Per book (Writing)

$5K to $100K (Marketing)

Earning potential:

$80 to $8000 per month per book.

Beware: It will not be a as easy as publishing a book and now you’re rich. Look at how hard famous brands work. Tim Ferris, author of “The 4 hour working week” and Robert Kiyosaki with “Rich Dad Poor Dad” are constantly producing podcasts, working hard to be in the media and engage in full time PR to keep their author brands on the mind of consumers globally. Authors like Grant Cardone and Tony Robbins are prime examples of the extent to which authors to go market themselves. 

Various strategies apply, for example owning 100 different books in multiple niches and cross-promoting them, or owning just a few books and focusing all your efforts on these books. 

Some famous authors even hire other writers to write their books. They just do the editing and add their stamp of approval to it. 

Requirements:

You’ll have to be smart here. Although very little resources are needed like websites, there are several methods which we describe in this free ebook marketing guide for self-published authors

Expert view:

Ebooks are great as part of a portfolio of digital revenue streams but perhaps not as a standalone item. This is because Amazon provides insufficient counterfeit protection. For example the author of “Rich Dad Poor Dad”, does not earn money only from his books: he speaks at events and promotes a number of other opportunities in which he most probably have an in interest. 

Research shows that today, decisionmakers rely a lot more on impartial, specialist online ratings and reviews in determining what services to buy. Outdated services like Trustpilot which is full of competitor-driven fraud are no longer viable sources of information for buyers. 

It is also a fact that B2B often exceeds the value of B2C customers by 200% – which means you’re in for a profitable ride. A bespoke analytics attribution service could sell for as much as $500K per annum, whereas a bulk SMS package could sell for $200K per annum. Imagine earning just 10% commission on these deals!

 

Requirements:

  • Affiliate deals from reputable brands,
  • A decent looking WordPress website,
  • A basic SEO structure to support your branded pages with backlinks.

 

Startup costs:

Approximately $20K.

The big brands are all guilty of manufacturing in China and selling with high markups in the U.S. Today, with FBA (Fulfillment by Amazon) it is easy to beat large fashion brands with high costs, as you do not need a physical storefront. By adding your own label to generic clothing, it is one of many ways to get in on the fashion band wagon.

Yet you can also have a locally made patriotic brand with an ESG emotional appeal, much like “ethically sourced coffee”. Whichever way, the fact that online distribution channels and an increased tendency towards online fashion shopping are at the order of the day, means you have a real chance of succeeding with an online fashion brand. 

Influencer marketing – and the fact that many influencers are happy to collaborate on commission-only, means that you can run large advertising campaigns with a zero layout.

Requirements:

By owning a wide variety of stock photos, you can have a profitable business. It will involve multiple market places as there are several contenders in this space: Shutterstock, Depositphotos, Getty Images, Pexels and Pixabay all have great options for people who sell images. 

This is probably the one online business where you genuinely do not need your own website – where it is possible to earn revenue entirely from a marketplace. 

Requirements:

  • At least 100 images in different settings, although 500 is probably better. 
  • A lot of photography and time, along with extensive travel to various locations to produce original images.

NOTE: Some marketplaces might not be entirely honest. It is thus imperative to do your research and weave out the ones that scam their contributors.

Approximately 45 market research companies currently use the Sitetrail unlimited press release access pass each month to promote new reports. 

Some own as many as 4500 reports which they sell. 

There is a great opportunity for niche researchers to produce and sell market research reports. For example, at $250 per report, selling 100 copies, will produce $25K.

Requirements? This can be simple or complex. For example a complete novice in ecommerce who produces great reports might flog them in bulk on Amazon without owning or operating a website. Yet an expert company will have a website and run multiple press releases to promote the reports and boost sales. Read the best press release distribution guide for more information on the use of press releases.

Recurring revenue and all these scalable business ideas that sounds like “passive” income could lead you to a pipe dream and slavery if it is not properly funded and scaled. Yet with the right research and business model in place, there is nothing as profitable as an online membership site. 

Now it is worth explaining that just about any physical good or digital service can also be turned into a membership site. One of my favorite examples, is a learning community where members get access to a core information product, like a course – with a strong INCENTIVE to retain membership, for example crucial updates, advise or a sense of belonging to a community. 

Here are other examples of membership type sites:

a) Image libraries with unlimited access

b) Plugin and other digital downloads with unlimited access – ALSO to “updates”

c) Saas type software access – even something like Canva, which provides a hybrid of the abovementioned business types

d) Stock trading “information” and signal platforms, where traders who want to be “in the know” get their information from gurus. Seeking Alpha is a great example of augmenting an information business with this.

e) It is claimed that Alex Jones from Infowars, apparently, made as much as $850K on a busy day. This is insane revenue. News sites that sell products to members or followers, are essentially a membership type site. They can even thrive on donations too. 

What is needed to get started:

In most cases, a well designed website, with a product or service – along with an ongoing SEO and pay per click budget is needed. 

Budget requirements for this type of startup:

It is not realistic to start a top membership type site for less than $200K – however the returns can be astonishing. 

If you leverage a marketplace, and do not require a website with good organic rankings, it is quite possible to launch such a business for under $100K.

 

How do I really find a unique business idea for me?

The above ideas might be awesome as they are proven, known sources of revenue for many people. Yet you might want to be the Elon Musk or the Bill Gates of the online world – in the sense that you wish to start a business not many people have. Indeed pioneers have the potential to outgun the herd in terms of performance. You may also want to try to apply an existing business idea and model to an untapped market. 

Examples of unique business ideas: 

  1. Disrupt old industries with new methods: The affiliate industry is old and established, but only recently people started to sell services for accountants and lawyers using this model. Today, companies like NOLO are earning millions from the promotion of legal services via the affiliate model;
  2. Create a marketplace effect: Building an online community and a marketplace is hard work. But Udemy, Upwork, Airbnb and Fiverr are prime examples of how the marketplace effect was leveraged to sell existing well-known services in a different way. The idea is that a potential buyer of services can also be a seller of it, and a referrer. Which other industries are ripe for a marketplace? 

 

What is the difference between using a marketplace or your own website?

When you use a marketplace such as Amazon, Etsy, Skillshare, Alibaba to sell products and services, there are advantages and disadvantages. For example, Amazon can abuse sellers or change their rules overnight. At Udemy anyone can clone and rip off your intellectual property and they don’t care about it because the marketplace still earns money regardless of who the seller is. You might even generate traffic for a marketplace and your users might buy from a competitor on the marketplace – completely sidelining your service. 

On the other hand, if you use a number of channels to drive business to your own website – you call the shots. Neither are you a crop farmer at the mercy of policies you do not control.

Ultimately, you can be smart about using marketplaces as a lead generator for your own brand since they spend millions on marketing. But being dependent on marketplaces for more than 40% of small business revenues is a risky position to be in. If on the other hand you have a great service but you’re not good at marketing, marketplaces might be for you. As Jeff Bezos stated in his highly biased suggestion: “Spend less on marketing and more on product development”, which of course benefits him as the owner of a marketplace. 

Should I pursue a good B2B business idea instead?

In B2B, the spend per client and lifetime value, can easily surpass $400K whereas consumers, in B2C, tend to have a shorter lifetime value and spend in many cases. The decisions involved with choosing between B2B and B2C range. In essence, with B2B you require less search volume and traffic to become profitable, whereas with B2C, where we sell at lower prices and smaller volumes per client, we require higher internet traffic to make it worth our while. That said, if you dislike dealing with legal departments and stringent procurement requirements, a better business idea could be found in B2C.

Should I go for the most recommended online business idea?

The top 10 most recommended business ideas should not necessarily sway you – because it is far more important to have a business that you can scale up, enjoy managing, with good long term prospects. Remember the old saying “there is riches in niches” – and the fact is, not many people talk about niches.

Final Take on Best Online Business Ideas:

Many business types can be profitable in the short term. Some, like owning your own website which depends on SEO, can take 6 months to generate traffic and revenue, whereas others the use of pay per click or social media marketing can help generate revenue sooner. Marketplaces can make a lot of money – but they can also be slavery traps where expensive lessons are learned. 

It is generally accepted that the U.S. is a favorable jurisdiction and that forming a new LLC is a great way to own and run an online business. That may change in the future dependent on how well China does at pushing their ecommerce alternatives into the mainstream. But for now, America is the top choice for global online entrepreneurs. 

Once you have a business idea – it is time to use a business name generator to find the perfect name. 

Information sources:

Digital Marketing & Social Selling

Online Purchase Intent

Challenges and opportunities in online search

Adriaan Brits

Adriaan Brits

Adriaan Brits is the CEO of Sitetrail.com. He works with clients around the world on digital marketing strategy and PR. When it comes to scaling a business, he is one of the top 10 consultants with the biggest media list globally.