13 PROVEN ONLINE BUSINESSES

13 Proven Online Businesses You Can Start Today

Every day I see posts on Quora asking “How do I start a business from scratch with no money?” or “What is the fastest way to make a million dollars?

So I figured I’d put together a list that covers just about one of those scenarios.

The thing is, there isn’t a “quick hack” or “simple trick” to become an internet millionaire. You can do it with just about any type of business…the key is finding a way to create value, then creating a system to deliver that value to as many people as possible.

It works this way whether you want to make money selling physical products, manufacturing stuff, writing software, creating courses, or just about anything else.

So pick an online business idea and get to work finding out how you can provide more value than the next guy (at the bottom I share some important principles that will help you be successful with any of these businesses).

SELL PHYSICAL PRODUCTS

1. Start a drop-shipping e-commerce business.

Do some keyword research to find a niche with lots of search volume and not too much competition. Make a list of companies that manufacture products in that niche and contact them until you find one that is willing to drop-ship for you.

Set up a simple Shopify website and send targeted traffic to the site using Adwords or Facebook ads. If you can’t sell anything in the first couple of weeks, shut down your site and try again with a new product idea. Use Shopify’s free 2-week trial to do this without spending any money until you find a product that sells.

Once you have a validated product, write super-informative, well-researched blog posts and info pages about the products you’re selling. With each post, highlight one problem or question that your customer might have and clearly explain how to solve the problem or answer the questions. The more complex your products, the better.

For example, if you’re selling ham radios write a post about choosing the correct radio for a beginner. Write one about the advantages of the AGPtek UV-5RE versus the Ranger RCI-2950DX, one about power sources for ham radios, and one about the advantages of a handheld receiver versus a VHF+. Write 2-3 of these articles per week, and over months your SEO traffic will grow and you will build your reputation as an authority on the subject.

In the beginning you can pay for traffic to your posts but over time you’ll get free traffic as well. People will come back to your site many times to find answers to their questions, and once in a while they will buy something. That is the essence of content marketing for e-commerce.

traffic screenshot

Don’t expect your traffic to grow quickly at first, but over time you will see it begin to grow.

Then you can set up re-targeting campaigns to show your ads to people who have visited your product pages. Did someone browse your page for the ICOM  ID-51A PLUS? When they go on Facebook they’ll see your ad for the same product. Sometimes they will click on your ad and buy from you. Do this for every product and category.

2. Create a white-label brand.

Do keyword research just like in the previous example to find a good product with lots of search traffic in your target price range. The ideal product will have a sales price of $50-300 with plenty of margin to spend on marketing.

Search Alibaba to find a manufacturer that will make the product with your logo and packaging. Order some samples and use these to take product photos, set up a test site and take pre-orders. Use the cash from your pre-orders to buy your first batch of product

Create a seller account on Amazon, Ebay, Etsy, and set up your own Shopify website. Set up ad campaigns to send traffic to your site, build your email list, and make sales. List your products on Salehoo and recruit re-sellers to promote your product for you as a drop-shipper.

Want to watch me start this type of business from scratch? Sign up for my free Starter Course and watch me validate and launch a white-label product business in 3 short videos.

3. Use Kickstarter to launch your own product.

Come up with a novel product idea, ideally something related to another Kickstarter project that did really well, but with some type of improvement. Spend lots of time creating a nice video and a killer Kickstarter page. If possible, make a prototype or demo of your product so you can take high-quality photos and video so people can see what they’re buying. Tell a compelling story about you, your idea, your team, or your journey…people relate to stories.

The day before your campaign launches, send emails to everyone you know and let them know that you need their support. Try to line up an article in 3-4 popular blogs for the day your campaign goes live. You can do this by sending a short email to some influential blogs in your niche. If you’re product idea is cool, you should get links from at least a couple of blogs. It’s important that you send a lot of traffic in the beginning. Kickstarter will then boost your campaign to the front page and the snowball will grow from there.

Take the money from your campaign and purchase your first batch of products. Email your buyers asking for referrals and giving them discounts for future sales. Send out a press release about your successful campaign to related blogs. If something is popular or trending they will write about it, and use that to further grow your sales and email list. Repeat indefinitely.

4. Design and sell your own product.

Come up with a new variation of a popular product. Create a mock-up or design drawing if possible, hire an engineer on Upwork to create engineering drawings and 3D models if necessary, and send the drawings out to manufacturers until you find one that can make your product at a reasonable price. Pay to have a sample (also known as a “first article”) made and use it for product photos and pre-orders.

Take pre-orders through your Shopify test site to build up some cash to buy your first batch of product. If you don’t make any orders, try again with a different product idea until you find one that sells. After your first order of inventory, get to work selling in person, on social media, through your website, and everywhere else you can think of.

Here’s an example of a couple guys that did this and became quite successful selling on Amazon.

MANUFACTURING

I know manufacturing isn’t exactly a strictly “online” activity, but if you have the resources, you can tap into new markets online in a way that many traditional manufacturers still aren’t doing by leveraging the best practices of true internet businesses.

5. Make personalized gift items.

Buy a laser cutter (or join a shared workshop like Maker Place that has one you can use). Create templates for laser engraved items (like commemorative plaques, skateboard decks, or pint glasses). Make a list of local businesses that might like your item, make them a sample and send it to them (for free) with a price list.

LASER ENGRAVED BARREL

You can do this with a CO2 laser (credit to Soul Ryde Inc)

Create an Etsy shop and create a listing with high-quality photos for each of your items, offering customization and personalization options (very popular on Etsy). See number 7.

6. Make signs for local businesses.

Buy a CNC router for less than $1000 and make some sample pub signs. Take high quality photos of your samples.

Make a list of all the local pubs, restaurants,  and shops in your area, download the logos from their websites, and create digital mock-ups of a custom wood sign for each of them. Create a custom flyer for each of them showing the mock-up of their sign as well as the photos from your samples and hand deliver it to the owner. Ask them to place an order for a custom sign.

After your first few orders, take good pictures of all your work, create a website and run adwords campaigns targeted at your city for sign-making services. Set up an Etsy store (see number 7).

Ask your customers what other custom-carved wood products they want. Make these and add them to your product list.

7. Sell things on Etsy.

Browse around Etsy and look at the best selling items in your category. Look at the sellers with thousands of five-star reviews and see how they present their products, what items are popular, and come up with a similar product.

Start off by selling at a low price to build up your reviews, making sure everyone leaves a positive review. Add new items regularly in your niche. Promote your best-selling products heavily using discount codes and Etsy’s pay-per-click advertising, slowly increasing your prices as your reputation and ratings grow.

Build an email list of customers and email them every 2-4 weeks with discounts, new products, and updates. Sales will start off slow but after a year you should have a nice side income. Here’s an example of an Etsy store that sold almost $10k within a few months using this strategy. Build your own site and use your customer email list to jump start your orders.

SELL DIGITAL PRODUCTS

8. Sell an e-book.

Write a 35-page ebook about a niche topic that you know a lot about (pick something really niche like “jazz guitar chord patterns” or “the shy girl’s guide to socializing”…the more narrow the better). You can write it in Google Docs or Powerpoint and turn it into a PDF file. Pay someone on Elance a few dollars to edit it for you so it looks really nice.

Create a landing page describing all the benefits of your ebook using good sales copy (spend lots of time on this) and set up a Paypal buy button so people can buy your ebook for a few dollars. Put it on Clickbank so other people can send you traffic and split the profits with you.

Repeat the process with related products and ebooks, using your customer email list to promote your new products.

9. Sell a video course.

Decide on a topic that you know better than most people (again, the more niche the better). You don’t have to be an expert, you just have to be able to explain it well. Break the subject up into 3-4 modules with 3-5 subjects in each module and create a 5-10 minute video for each subject.

You can film yourself using your iPhone or do a simple screencast and use software like Camtasia to edit and publish your videos. Buy a decent microphone, as sound quality is important.

Upload your course to Udemy. Upload several of your videos to Youtube and promote them with paid ads, including a call-to-action link to your Udemy paid course. Send people to your course and your free videos with Facebook ads and blog posts.

SELL YOUR SERVICES

10. Sell websites to local businesses.

There are still many local businesses that don’t have websites. Purchase a flexible Wordpress theme from Themeforest and create a handful of attractive business website templates, creating a demo site with each template to show potential customers.

Make a list of businesses in your neighborhood that don’t have websites (start with restaurants). Then make a flyer, listing all the benefits of having a website (more new and returning customers, customer referrals and testimonials, control your own online presence rather than rely on Yelp reviews, etc) and state exactly how you will deliver all those benefits within a week for a one-time price of $400 (or $300, $500, or whatever), plus $10/month hosting.

You should be able to build an attractive custom site using your template within a few hours. If you approace 50 businesses per week and sell a website to 5% of them for $400 each, you should be making  $1000 in sales each week with very little costs.

11. Sell writing services to online businesses.

Find a really specific writing task that you can perfect. For example, you could perfect the the “About” page.

Create a process and a series of requirements that a really great “About Us” page needs to have. Write an extensive blog post about how to make a killer “About Us” page and send it targeted traffic using Adwords or Facebook ads. Set up a pop-up email collector that says “Want a perfect About Us page? Hire me to create one for you”.

When people sign up, email them  and request to set up a call. Charge $300-400 per job and make sure that it’s the best About page they’ve ever seen. Ask them to refer you to someone else who needs an “About Page” makeover (entrepreneurs normally know lots of other entrepreneurs).

12. Be a personal coach.

Identify a problem you have overcome that other people have. It could be finding a romantic partner, writing a resume, or any subject that you know well.

Create a free ebook or video that clearly explains how to solve a piece of the problem. Make sure it’s something valuable and contains information that people would normally pay for. For example, if you want to coach people in landing their dream job, the e-book could be something like “10 Cover Letter Templates For Any Job”. Or you can offer a free trial of your coaching, like a free resume review. Set up a landing page so that people can get the free ebook, video, or trial by giving you their email. These people are now your leads.

Send your potential customers to your landing page using targeted Facebook ads, then send those who sign up a series of informative, detailed emails. Each email should provide a TON of value (if it doesn’t, they’ll just unsubscribe) and demonstrate to them that you’re an expert in the subject, and each email should help them solve a part of their problem.

From time to time in these emails, ask them to sign up for your coaching or set up a free trial or consultation, where you will personally help them overcome their problem. Charge $100-200 per hour for personal coaching (and more for group and company coaching sessions) but make sure they leave feeling like they got more than their money’s worth.

PROMOTE OTHER PEOPLES' PRODUCTS

13. Become an affiliate

Find a good product that you feel good about promoting. For physical products, try ShareASale. For digital products, try browsing Clickbank.

Make a customer avatar of your ideal customer…this is a complete persona that has an age, location, education, likes, dislikes, favorite sites, political views, etc. Use Similarweb and Alexa to help you identify visitor demographic info from competing sites to complete your customer avatar.

Identify a problem that your customer avatar has that the product could solve. For example, if you’re promoting a wine club and the customer is a 50-year old wealthy wine lover, his problem might be deciding what wines to serve at his/her next dinner party. Write a well-researched blog post on the subject, explaining the typical rules of wine pairing and the important considerations so he looks like a pro wine connoisseur in front of his guests. Make sure the point out the benefits, not just the features of the product. This will build your credibility and trust with the reader.

At the bottom of the blog post (and perhaps in the middle and side of the post as well) include a call-to-action button for the product.

Keep track of your click-through rates and cost per click to your website. Make sure that your CPA (cost per acquisition) is less than your affiliate commission. If it’s not, experiment with different traffic sources, or hunt around for more profitable products to promote until you can achieve a steady return, then scale your campaign up as far as it will go.

Notice some patterns?

If you haven’t picked up on it yet, here are a few things that all of these online business models have in common:

  1. You have to start by giving value for free. This can be in the form of free information, a trial, e-book, or some other tangible item. Build good will and trust before asking for the sale.
  2. Every business needs a sales funnel. You can’t run around asking people to buy your thing, any more than you can walk into a bar and ask someone to marry you. It’s too much, too fast. The point of a sales funnel is to get one small commitment at a time until you have built up enough trust to ask for the sale. First ask them to visit your site, then ask them to sign up for your free thing, then ask them to demo your product, then ask for the sale…like building a relationship, you have to move one step at a time.
  3. Most successful businesses aren’t reinventing the wheel. Start with a proven concept and use it. Improve it if you can. Don’t try to create a brand new market from scratch. Instead, find a hungry market and feed it what it wants.
  4. Validate. Validate your product ideas with pre-orders and test stores, making sure you can actually make sales before you bet your savings on a business idea. Validate your customers with free offers and opt-ins, making sure you get the right people into your funnel.

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About The Author

Matt Coughlin

Matt started out as an engineer. After quitting his job to travel the world while building two successful online businesses (Custom Game Source and North South Promo Products) and an engineering consulting firm (Mfg Business Overhaul), he founded My Product Launch as a way to teach other beginning online entrepreneurs how to launch online businesses the right way.

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