Whether your talent is business acumen or handcrafted art, you can leverage almost any skill into an online business these days. You might decide to launch your online venture on the side or go all in from the start, tapping into the skills you already use in the workplace or those you’ve polished through hobbies. Depending on the nature of your business, all you might need is a computer, internet connection, and phone.
Success can mean freedom from working on someone else’s schedule, earnings that outpace an office job, and time spent doing something you enjoy. If you’re interested but unsure about a concept and how to start a successful online business, here are some possibilities and tips to get you started.
1. Social media management.
Many business owners lack the knack for creating a buzz about their products and services through Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook and don't have the time to interact with customers on these platforms. If social media is your forte, you can put it to work as a social media manager for companies.
Social media managers need to understand branding, as well as the nuances of each platform, including audience demographics and how best to convey a client’s message on it. Important skills include the ability to:
- Write succinct copy.
- Create engaging images.
- Analyze the effectiveness of posts.
- Stay abreast of evolving trends.
- Keep cool while responding to upset customers.
When interacting with customers online, social media managers should project a client’s desired voice and adhere to any customer service standards, such as response times. This could mean working odd hours because social media users post at all times during the day and night. Social media managers should also be well versed in their clients’ services and products so they can respond to customers with correct information.
2. Virtual assistance.
Are you good at making phone calls, drafting emails, and running errands? You could start an online business as a virtual assistant for busy individuals or small business owners, completing these tasks from your home office. Beyond administrative functions, virtual assistants can also manage real estate listings, research speaking opportunities, create invoices, and plan corporate events. The options are limitless, so consider your strengths and build your business around them.
Good communication skills are essential. Virtual assistants need to understand client expectations to avoid delivering less than expected or wasting time on extraneous details. Clients will expect to delegate tasks to a virtual assistant and then spend minimal time thinking about them, so the ability to learn quickly and add value to a business is also important.
3. Business coaching or consulting.
If you have spent years leading digital transformations, mergers and acquisitions, or crisis management, you no doubt have business acumen that can help others in the workplace. Market your insights and expertise through an online coaching or consulting practice.
Business consultants can offer one-on-one coaching sessions or help clients with specific projects. Much of this work can be done from a home office, relying on phone calls, email, and video conferencing. In some cases, travel to the client’s workplace might be necessary.
Beyond custom advice, consultants can broaden their offerings by developing training resources like e-books, white papers, and webinars. Depending on the business model, these resources might generate revenue themselves, or they might function as marketing tools for the consulting practice.
If your expertise centers on an industry or skill – like technology startups or corporate restructuring – consider making that your niche. A niche can help you establish a clear marketing message and find prospective clients.
4. Handmade art.
If you have a talent for art – whether it’s painting, quilting, stationery design, or woodwork – you could launch an online business selling your handiwork. Before jumping in, run the numbers, and make sure you can create, market, sell, and ship your products for a profit. A common place to begin is Etsy, the online marketplace for handmade and vintage items.
On Etsy, setting up a shop is straightforward, and you can gain fast exposure by joining an established site that consumers regularly visit to find unique products. You can also utilize Etsy’s features, including their payment system and shipment tracking. You do have to pay a small fee for each listing, and Etsy receives a small percentage of each sale.
Another route is to set up your own e-commerce site, which requires a greater upfront investment in the design and systems. It also comes with more ongoing maintenance responsibilities. On the plus side, a custom site will allow you to build your brand through the overall design, features, and content.
Either way, you will need to learn about search engine optimization (SEO) to boost the chances that consumers find your products. You will also want to invest in high-quality photographs to entice buyers who cannot see, touch, or experience your products in person.
5. Web design.
Professional websites are table stakes for businesses of any size these days. Many small business owners readily outsource this work, meaning there is a steady demand for designers skilled at creating polished, easy-to-navigate, and mobile-friendly websites.
To get started, designers will need at least a few websites that demonstrate their abilities. This could be professional work you have already completed or side projects you have taken on for friends or organizations. Make sure that your business website stands out from the competition and does a good job of displaying your talent.
Next, decide what kind of work and clients you want to focus on. For example, will you design entire websites from scratch or focus on redesigns? Will you provide ongoing maintenance and SEO services? You'll also want to decide whether you will target certain types of businesses, like e-commerce, blogs, or nonprofit groups.
Getting started with your online business
Once you choose an online business idea that best suits your skills and interests, create a business plan. It doesn’t need to be extensive, but the process of outlining your target market, competitors, necessary equipment, growth strategy, pricing structure, and financial projections provides excellent groundwork for getting started. Define what distinguishes you from others in your market and communicate that to prospects — your skill set might be exactly what they're looking for.