22 best online business ideas to start in 2021

Thinking about starting an online business? We've aggregated 22 of the best online business ideas to help you get started.

Whether you want to dive into ecommerce, become a freelancer, leverage social media for your small business, or create online courses to secure a passive income, we’ve highlighted 22 online business ideas currently thriving in the creator economy below.

Since the dawn of the internet, people have turned to the world wide web to make some extra cash. With a plethora of ways to make money online and the opportunities that the internet opens up, it makes sense why so many people start and launch online businesses.

But it’s not always just about the extra cash. In recent years, more and more people have been transforming side hustles into full-time online businesses.

The sky is truly the limit when creating a successful online business, so we thought we’d provide you with some inspiration if you too want to explore generating an income online.

Whether you want to dive into ecommerce, become a freelancer, leverage social media for your small business, create online courses to secure a passive income, we’ve highlighted 22 online business ideas currently thriving in the creator economy below. Let’s dive in!

1. Online courses

If you’ve spent time developing a particular skill, why not record an online class about it and share it with others? Platforms such as Teachable, Skillshare, and Udemy let you post your course to their platform.

Find your topic, chart out your curriculum, set up your studio space, and hit record. After filming each of your lesson plans, edit your videos into a cohesive lecture. From there you can choose which platform is best to reach your target audience. Apply to the platform to be a teacher or creator and you’re set.

Of course, hosting online classes through these online platforms means you’ll pay the platform a fee. However, it’s often worth the cost, as you only have to focus on creating your online course and marketing it — you don’t have to set up your own website.

Tip: Tag your social media profiles on each of the videos for your online course to gain a following off-platform. This will allow you to build an audience that you can later market other business offerings to.

2. Masterclasses or webinars

Masterclasses are similar to online courses. However, rather than uploading them to a platform, you host these lessons in real time via videoconferencing. Although the delivery method is different, you’d prepare for masterclasses as you would online courses by laying out your curriculum and lesson plans in advance.

So how would you find your target audience? Create a website that promotes your masterclass and explains the value that attendees will get from it. Use an email list to send out a newsletter about the masterclass, and post on social media about the offering. Be sure to collect attendees’ emails and add them to your email list so you can tell them about future classes, too.

Tip: Before you begin offering a masterclass, it is best to have an existing online following. Often, the people who invest in a masterclass already have some form of connection with the person hosting the masterclass. People are more likely to purchase a masterclass or webinar from you if they trust you and know that what you have to say is valuable.

3. Online schools

Creating and launching an online school on your own platform is not as daunting as it may seem. An online school is hosted on your own website so you can offer online courses and masterclasses on your own platform. It’s a little more work on your end, but it can pay off.

For example, think about websites such as Memorisely or Reforge. These two online platforms are prime examples of online schools done right. Memorisely found its niche as an affordable online UX boot camp, whereas Reforge found its niche by offering programs centered around business management and strategy.

Memorisely is a particularly fascinating example, as this UX/UI online boot camp platform was conceptualized and created by a solo founder, Zander Whitehurst. With an impressive background as a product designer, Zander leveraged his industry knowledge by creating an affordable and immersive online course for aspiring UX/UI designers.

And it paid off — Memorisely has quickly established a reputation of being the new UX/UI online boot camp.

Tip: If you have marketable knowledge in a niche subject, as well as the credentials, turn it into an online curriculum. From there, design your website, implement the proper SEO, and begin advertising your online school on social media.

4. Custom online courses for other creators

If you’re not one for teaching, but you want to get in on this thriving market of online schools and courses, this one’s for you.

Rather than creating your own online school or courses, you can do so for others. To do this, you’ll need video and sound editing skills at a minimum. Depending on what services you offer, you may also want to learn other skills as well. For example, you could offer these different packages:

  • Package 1: video/sound editing
  • Package 2: video/sound editing and course management
  • Package 3: video/sound editing, course management, and curriculum creation
  • Package 4: video/sound editing, course management, curriculum creation, and social media marketing

Once you’ve determined what you’re offering, set up your own website where people can learn about your services. Consider getting on freelancer platforms such as Freelancer.com or Upwork to find clients quicker.

Then market yourself! Advertise your services via social media, and set up your SEO if you’ve created a website.

Tip: Use social media (like LinkedIn, Instagram, or TikTok) to connect with influencers, small businesses, or content creators who are interested in creating their own online course. In your pitch, detail the ROI they’ll gain, as well as the value their audience (or consumer base) would find in their online course. Though this is no easy task, once you’ve gained traction, you can showcase your clientele on your website to prove your credentials and boost conversion rates.

5. Personal newsletter

You’d be surprised — there is a lot of money in the newsletter market, but not many people are using them as potential revenue streams. Nevertheless, newsletters are becoming all the more popular as startups, businesses, bloggers, and influencers alike have turned to them for email marketing and to connect with their audience or followers.

Platforms such as Substack are perfect if you want to get into this market. Substack handles it all — except for the writing, of course! — providing you with an email list, website, and monetization, among other features.

Tip: If you don’t want to make a newsletter yourself and would rather help other creators set up their own newsletter, Substack lets you create and manage newsletters for startups, small businesses, bloggers, and influencers.

6. Blogging

Yes, blogging. While it may seem as dated and saturated as the ebook (if not more so), blogging still is a time-tested method of generating extra income.

You can take one of two main approaches with blogging: You can set up your blog using a CMS such as WordPress, Webflow, Squarespace, and so forth with SEO strategies and digital marketing to create traffic and later monetization via Google Ads, sponsorships, or affiliate marketing. Or you can use platforms like Medium, which essentially handles the reach and growth aspects of blogging for you.

Whatever approach you decide to take (or you can do both), blogging can be a viable source of income and open doors to further business opportunities — especially when used in combination with newsletters.

Tip: You can also market yourself online as a ghostwriter and offer blog writing services for influencers, startups, and small businesses. Platforms such as Fiverr, Upwork, and so forth can help you connect with this market — or you can use social media or email to directly contact your potential leads.

7. Affiliate marketing

Good old affiliate marketing. Similar to blogging, affiliate marketing still is a time-tested proven way to make money online.

If you seek out affiliate marketing to make an extra income online, couple it with additional items on this list. If you decide to create a blog, newsletter, online community, YouTube channel, or another way to reach an audience, include affiliate marketing to maximize your potential profit.

Tip: Know your audience and suggest appropriate affiliate links that will bring value to your audience so you can remain on brand. No one likes an overly pushy salesperson so ensure that you are genuine in the affiliate programs you sign up for and later suggest to your following.

8. Online communities

Online communities are a great (and more unique) way to make money online. While it’s a less traditional approach to generating an online income, online communities mean loyal followings and, in turn, can pave the way for future monetization opportunities.

Now, don’t be mistaken, creating a successful online community doesn’t happen overnight. You have to find your niche and target audience, then craft a community around them.

A great example of an online community done right is Designer News. This forum’s niche is design news, and the site has grown a dedicated following of designers. And the creator of this forum has taken it a step further — they’ve sought out monetization opportunities through advertising, paid job board postings, and a podcast.

Designer News shows the potential monetary gains to be made from developing and fostering an online community in the right niche.

Tip: Get started with creating an online community by using popular sites that already have a diverse selection of users and community channels. This will allow you to reach a new audience easily. Use affiliate marketing to your advantage and later branch out by creating your own forum to tap into the income pool of Google Ads.

9. Influencer

Before you roll your eyes, hear us out. Being an influencer is an incredibly lucrative way to make money online.

Whatever comes to mind when you hear the term “influencer,” forget it. We’re not talking about your stereotypical influencer type. Instead, we’re talking about micro-influencers in a niche who have curated a small- or medium-sized following and are able to monetize their influence.

Tip: If you go the route of creating an online store or starting a blog and/or newsletter, regardless of the product or services sold, using social media platforms is a great way to boost your income and further your online reach. Establishing an engaged audience as a social media influencer will give you a platform for other online business ideas on this list, such as starting a YouTube channel or podcast and becoming a freelancer. 

10. YouTube channel

Creating a YouTube channel can bring in that sweet online income.

Monetization opportunities are bountiful when pursuing this side hustle. Google AdSense, merch, sponsorships, and YouTube channel memberships are four revenue streams the average YouTuber can tap into. Depending on your channel’s niche (and your own efforts), you can further expand your revenue streams into the following:

  • Patreon
  • Online courses (if you’re teaching something on your channel)
  • Ecommerce 
  • Depop
  • Blogging
  • Newsletter
  • Online communities (forums, Discord, etc.)
  • Streaming (Twitch)
  • Social media (TikTok, Instagram)

Tip: Couple your YouTube efforts with additional items on this list to boost your profits.

11. YouTube video editor

If you’re not ready to get behind the camera yourself but have video editing skills, another means of using YouTube to make money online is editing videos for YouTubers.

Several YouTubers depend on editors to edit their videos, making a legitimate career path for video editors looking to make a profit from their skill set.

Tip: You can connect with YouTubers by using freelancer platforms such as Fiverr or Upwork. Or you can take the more direct approach by DMing YouTube content creators on their socials or via email — a lot of influencers or content creators have their business emails listed in their channel’s bio. Note: having a portfolio to showcase your skills and value is an absolute must.

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12. Podcasting

Creating a podcast is much easier than it seems. All you need is a high-quality microphone, audio recording software, and call recording software (if you’ll be taking on interviews). Check out free software such as Audacity if you don’t want to make that investment just yet.

Promote your podcast by creating a clear marketing strategy and setting up your socials, website, and SEO. Next, begin recording!

Tip: Reach out to micro-influencers and YouTubers that are in your podcast’s niche. Leave thoughtful comments on their videos and social posts to show that you are engaged in the niche’s trends and conversations. This will allow you to organically pull in their audience and convert them to new subscribers if they tune in and like what they hear!

13. Edit podcasts

If you enjoy video and sound editing, you could outsource your services to edit podcasts for smaller scale podcasters.

Many podcasters turn to professional editors to handle the heavy lifting on their behalf.

If you want to tap into this industry but don’t already have video and audio editing skills, research some of the most popular audio software on the market and learn!

Tip: Connect with podcasters just as you would YouTubers. Put yourself on freelancer platforms like Fiverr or Upwork and set up a website to function as an online portfolio. It’s also smart to DM podcasters on their socials or email them and attach your freelancer profile and website to showcase your skills and experience.

14. Sell digital products

No, we’re not just talking about your run-of-the-mill ebook — the online market is saturated enough with that particular digital product.

The business opportunities that can come with creating and selling digital products are lush. Products such as templates, video LUTs, audio sample packs, website templates, ebooks (of course), and so on are only the tip of the digital product iceberg. Do a quick Google search and you’ll unearth the massive online economy for digital products.

The best part about digital products? They aren’t expensive to produce and provide a great potential return on investment!

Tip: Find your niche product and get connected to your target audience through social media and  setting up a website. Channels such as Etsy and Fiverr can function as virtual storefronts or take on-demand requests. Social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook allow you to connect and sell in-app, making it much easier to sell digital products directly to consumers.

15. Create a SaaS business

If you’re passionate about app development or are an app developer, this one is especially for you. Why not develop a SaaS product to create a profitable online business?

Developing the SaaS product is only a fourth of this undertaking — you also have to create a business model, set up a website, and launch digital marketing. And while this process may seem taxing, the payout can be worth it.

Creating and launching a successful SaaS business will ensure you a monthly recurring revenue stream once the product is launched and your business is steady. Consider your time and effort as your startup costs, or long-term investment, in a successful business.

Tip: Whether you’re selling T-shirts or selling the next innovative software that’ll change the world, approach your marketing strategy with the same energy that influencers or ecommerce businesses bring to marketing. This is your product, and the only way the world will take notice is if they can both find it and understand its value.

16. Ecommerce

Ecommerce is an umbrella term of sorts. Where do you begin? And what do you sell?

Well, just about anything. Homemade products, art, clothing, jewelry — whatever your heart desires! Several online platforms are dedicated to selling goods, such as Etsy, Instagram Marketplace, Amazon, Depop, and so on.

You can choose one of the popular platforms and take advantage of the visitors who shop online there each day. Or you can create an online storefront on your own website so that the profit is all yours and you don’t have to worry about a third-party platform going under.

Tip: If you pursue ecommerce to make money online, once you’ve gathered traction, choose your domain name, create an online store using your preferred web host and web builder (Webflow!), set up your SEO, and launch your own storefront! Connect with and grow your consumer base through your social media channels to continue the success of your online ecommerce store.

17. Resell products

Reselling products online can be quite lucrative as well. And there are plenty of online platforms where you can resell products — like Depop, Poshmark, Etsy, Amazon, and eBay.

Select the platform that best aligns with the types of products you want to sell. Depop and Poshmark are top places to resell clothing, jewelry, and beauty products. Think Etsy for home goods, jewelry, clothing, gifts, and art, and Amazon and eBay for just about anything.

Tip: Consider making your own online storefront to resell products. Use social media to connect with your audience, then leverage this connection by showcasing your vintage/reseller online store to your audience. Eventually, you could even expand your platform for other resellers or curators to partner with your site and double down on profits earned.

18. Subscription boxes

Curating subscription boxes is a genius way to secure a monthly online income. While this income can fluctuate, it can be consistent and persistent if you curate the proper products your audience is seeking.

If you’re thinking about dipping your toes into this potentially lucrative market, research your favorite subscription box brands in the niche you want to specialize in. Figure out how they successfully went about creating, launching, and scaling their online business so that you can replicate this process.

From there, create your ecommerce store for your subscription box and begin to curate items for each box. You can purchase products using secondhand stores, create handmade products, or contact micro ecommerce online businesses for potential collaboration with your new business.

Tip: Just as you would with ecommerce or reselling, use your social media platforms to further your reach to your audience. Make TikToks that show the behind the scenes of putting together a subscription box as a small business owner. Use Instagram Stories to document your process, and fill your Instagram grid with highly aesthetic finished product posts to appeal to your customers.

19. Dropshipping

Dropshipping is when you create an online store and sell other people’s products. To do this successfully, you’ll need to market to small business owners and persuade them to sell their products on your online store.

What’s especially enticing about dropshipping is that there is virtually no risk with this method of moneymaking. Just as you would with an online storefront, choose your domain name, get set up with your web host and builder, configure your SEO, and launch.

Tip: Make sure your dropshipping site is aesthetically pleasing, professional, and free of any potential oversights in development. This will help in onboarding potential merchants to use your site for selling their products. It’s also in your best interest to narrow in on a target audience. A focused target audience will allow you to tailor your SEO to that market and will provide a greater value to small business owners who are looking to partner with you.

20. Freelancer services

Freelancers are in high demand — especially with workplaces transitioning to remote and hybrid work in the last year. If you have a marketable skill for the workplace (or have the willingness to pick up one), try your hand at freelancing.

Freelance writers, designers, and developers alike have found great success freelancing in today’s remote workforce. Many businesses — corporations, startups, small businesses, you name it — outsource to freelancers to perform services that are either not in their budget or wouldn’t require a full-time position.

Platforms such as Upwork, Fiverr, and Freelancer.com make it easier to connect with potential clients worldwide. This in turn will allow you to expand your reach and network as you build up a client base and reputation.

Freelancing can be thrilling in its variety! With new projects and clients, you’ll set out for new and exciting ventures. And as you take on different types of projects, you’ll expand your ever-evolving skill set and learn new things.

If you’re a graphic designer, app developer, or writer, give freelancing a try. Developers often find clients for web or app development. Designers can find work in graphic design, UX/UI design, or web design. Writers find their way of income through ghostwriting, copywriting, content writing, technical writing, UX writing, SEO — the sky’s the limit.

Tip: Skills such as web design, mobile design, web and app development, graphic design, SEO, social media marketing, social media management, social media advertising, copywriting, and ghostwriting are currently incredibly marketable in the online job market. Do some research and figure out which is best suited for you, and build a skill set by learning the trade you would like to specialize in.

21. Consulting business

If freelancing isn’t your forte but you have the credentials and experience to provide value to others, then creating a consulting business could be your next calling.

Decide on your consulting agency’s specialization and niche clientele. Do market research and develop your agency’s business model before you go full throttle into your consulting efforts. The more fine-tuned your new business’s brand, identity, and messaging are, the better.

If you set up a consulting business, you’ll need a website for your business.

Setting up your site using a platform like Webflow makes hosting, building, launching, and scaling a walk in the park. Design your site to appeal to your niche, configure your SEO (this is essential if you want to be found on search engines), and make the most out of social media and digital marketing!

Tip: If your background is in freelancing and you have clients you’ve worked for in the past, contact them and market your consulting services. This is an easy way to get the ball rolling for your consulting business. Don’t be shy! Many clients will be more than happy to use your services as a consultant or to refer you to businesses and brands in their network.

22. Productize services

If you’re already offering freelancing or consulting services, consider adding productized services to your offerings.

A productized service is a standardized service that you sell and market like a product, meaning you have a set price and clear parameters for what the service includes. It’s a great way to streamline your services so that clients know exactly what to expect with each of your offerings. Plus, you don’t have to spend time creating customized quotes for each client.

Tip: Understand the type of productized services your clientele needs and offer versatility in your offerings. For instance, you can offer repeatable projects at a set price, recurring services to secure a monthly income (make sure to use a contractual agreement), post-project consultation services, as well as post-project management services.

Get started making money online today

So there you have it! Our lineup of 22 online business ideas that are currently thriving within the online creator economy. If you found any ideas interesting, get started today in your money making ventures by setting up a new website with Webflow.

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