Last updated: 10th March, 2021
Online-only business ideas
With more startups and entrepreneurs launching their own online businesses, the online business landscape is thriving now more than ever. Online shopping behaviour changed in 2020, with fewer people shopping on the high street. In fact, during the Covid-19 crisis more than 85,000 businesses launched online stores or joined online marketplaces in the UK.
With many businesses making a big profit online, including retailers, streaming providers, and food and beverage services, there’s no time like the present to consider your own online venture.
Find ideas by industry
To help inspire you, here’s our comprehensive list of some of the best online-only business ideas. Select an industry from the list below to get started.
Handmade craft creator
If you’re crafty and creative, you could build your own online business by making handmade products and selling them online. You could have your own site, promote and sell your products via social media such as Instagram or use an online shopping platform like Etsy.
Whether you’ve gained experience in a professional environment or you’re self-taught, your skills in web design could help kick off a new business. Many businesses don’t have the in-house skills required for designing their own website. To build a successful career as a web designer and stand out from the crowd, you’ll need to make sure your own website is flawless. After all, many potential clients will judge your design skills by the aesthetics of your own website.
If you have experience or skills in graphic design you could start your own online business as a freelance graphic designer. You’ll need experience in using software such as Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator to produce visual content that effectively communicates your clients’ brand messages. Potential projects could include asset creation, laying out marketing materials such as posters, or even branding.
For those with skills in writing for the web, editing and proofreading, a career as a freelance writer could be a good option. There are a variety of services that a freelance writer can offer, such as writing e-newsletters, creating blog content and writing informational landing page copy, to name a few. If you have a knack for creating engaging, persuasive and grammatically correct copy, you could earn a good living.
If you have a passion for photography, why not turn your hobby into a business? Becoming a stock photographer essentially means that you sell your photos to stock image platforms for a fee. Every time your photo is purchased or downloaded via the stock image platform, you’ll earn revenue. In this respect, it’s quite difficult to make a substantial amount of money. However, stock photography can be an ideal source of passive income – complementing another trade that generates more income as a hobby you do on the side to earn more money. That said, if you conduct your research and keep an eye out for current consumer interests, you may be able to increase sales by taking and selling photos that relate to subjects that are ‘on trend’.
Every author knows it’s tricky to get published. However, the digital era continues to delight as anyone can now self-publish an ebook online. Online platforms such as Amazon allow you to self-publish and sell your ebook to their customers – you’ll just need to follow up with some marketing to help people find your title.If you want to get great reviews, you must ensure your ebook looks professional – hiring an editor or proofreader is a great idea. You could even hire a graphic designer to create the cover art of your ebook.
There’s no denying that becoming a successful YouTuber is a difficult feat. It’s very time consuming and can take years to build up a good following and make good money. That said, there are other ways you can generate an income via YouTube by securing paid partnerships and introducing ads to your videos. You’ll need to build up a loyal following first, but if you put in the effort there’s potential to reap incredible rewards. Building a strong subscriber base requires consistent and innovative content. With around two billion YouTube users, creating unique content is easier said than done – the best advice is to find your niche and research what content your target audience really loves.
If you’re passionate about writing, you could start a blogging business in which you create your own website and content. With millions of blogs online, there’s a lot of competition in the blogging realm, so you’ll need to choose a niche to make your blog unique and attractive to readers. Not only is choosing a niche essential for attracting a loyal readership, it’s also critical for drawing in advertisers and affiliates – which is precisely how you make money from blogging. Some of the most popular display ad networks to work with include Google Adsense, Mediavine, media.net and PopAds.
With podcasts growing ever more popular, you could consider starting your own podcast. Once you’ve built up a network of listeners, you can start incorporating advertisements and sponsorships to generate money from your podcast. With an incredible variety of podcasts already out there, it’s essential to find a genre or topic of discussion that both yourself and your listeners are interested in. From entertaining content, including gaming, music, or TV, to informational or educational content, there’s plenty of engaging themes to build your podcast business around. You’ll also be able to publish your podcast on platforms such as Spotify, Apple Podcasts, BuzzSprout, Podbean, Simplecast and Captivate, to name a few.
If you’re a musician and you’ve always wanted to make a living from your art, there’s no better time to start than now. Publishing your music via online music streaming/selling is a great way to make money. While stores like iTunes, Amazon and Google Play are popular platforms for selling music, they take a large cut of your sales – up to 30% in some cases. A top tip is to use Spotify, the popular music streaming service. With 271 million monthly active users, Spotify is a great place to secure listeners. While you can’t sell your music on the platform, you can generate an income through streams. Keep in mind that building up a fanbase will take time and dedication, and you’ll need a very high number of streams to make good money.
If you have experience in SEO (search engine optimisation), you could offer your services to small businesses who wish to improve the performance of their websites or digital marketing agencies looking to outsource some of their SEO work. A strong presence in search results is vital for the success of any online business, meaning SEO knowledge is in high demand. A career in SEO consultancy could prove very promising in terms of progression and expansion.
In the digital era, having a website is essential for most businesses – and most customers expect one. Many business owners, however, don’t have the skills required to create a website, meaning web developers are in high demand. You’ll find there’s a lot of competition in the web development industry so it’s worth choosing a niche. For example, focus on a specific industry or particular type of website development, such as blogs/portfolio websites or ecommerce sites.
Similar to web developing, if you have extensive technical knowledge and coding skills you could try your hand at app development. No matter how good your skills are, to become a successful app developer you’ll need to produce innovative ideas and have a thorough understanding of UX (user experience). With around 2.2 million apps on the Apple store, your app idea needs to be of genuine interest to consumers and above all, it needs to be unique. If you do produce a successful app, you could earn big money through in-app purchases or advertising.
3D printing provider
Setting up a 3D printing business is another example of a hobby you can easily transform into a thriving business. Whether you bought a 3D printer or built your own, you can print 3D models for customers for a fee. You’ll just need to get your name out there to get the ball rolling. Some effective ways to do this is via social media platforms like LinkedIn, and of course, good ol’ fashioned word of mouth.
Social media manager
If you’re savvy with using social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, or if you have previous experience as a social media executive, you could start your own social media business. As a social media manager, you can offer your expertise to marketing agencies willing to outsource or to brands that need help managing their accounts. It’s a fast-paced sector, so make sure you keep on top of the latest trends and features.
Whether you already have a website/blog or are planning to create one, you could create an affiliate programme. Becoming an affiliate marketer allows you to earn money by publishing adverts with hyperlinks pointing to relevant third-party business products or services. These adverts are usually display ads, listings or sponsored content. Once one of your site visitors clicks an advert hyperlink, lands on the third-party site and makes a purchase, you are then paid a fee by the third-party business for generating leads.
With teachers across the UK turning to online methods to teach their students in a Covid-friendly way, remote tutoring is more popular and practical now than ever. While you aren’t required to have a qualification or classroom experience you should have the requisite subject knowledge, and of course, a passion for teaching. If you do have previous teaching experience, then you’re off to a great start. If you work through a tutoring agency, some may require teaching certificates and classroom experience. Ultimately, online tutoring is a great way to hone your skills, work flexibly and make some money.
If you’re an expert in a particular field, you could consider starting your own webinar business. Essentially, webinars refer to live-streamed online sessions in which you’ll present educational, inspiring or informational topics in your area of expertise to paying customers. Webinars are particularly popular in the fintech, technology and financial service industries, but there are plenty of options to choose from. To make more money from webinars, you can advertise relevant products from partnerships or affiliates.
Online business coach or consultant
If you’re an experienced business professional, you could become an online business coach or consultant and help clients to grow their businesses. Areas of expertise could include management, HR, finance and accountancy, and marketing. The more experience you have in the business industry and in coaching or consulting, the more you can charge for your services.
The purpose of a life coach is to inspire clients to make the most of their life by setting goals and overcoming obstacles. Online life coaching can be done via online platforms including blogs, social media, YouTube videos, emails and webinars, or you can sell video sessions. While you don’t need any formal or academic qualifications to become a life coach, potential clients might be more tempted to hire you if you have an industry-specific qualification. It can also be beneficial to become a member of an official organisation, such as the British Psychological Society or the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.
With the mass closure of UK gyms and workout facilities due to the Covid-19 pandemic, online personal training has become a thriving business. As many people are still cautious about going to the gym during this time, online personal trainers are in high demand. If you have previous experience in personal training/coaching or you fancy yourself a fitness buff, you might consider using your skills to help others achieve their lifestyle goals. Personal training sessions can be conducted entirely online through video calls, and you can either fly solo if you’re confident that you can build a network of clients, or you can join a personal trainer platform for a fee.
You could also consider creating an online course in this area. For some inspiration, read our case study on how two pilates instructors took their fitness programme The Mamma Method entirely online in 2020.
If you have experience in the finance industry, you could set up your own business as a financial adviser. As a financial adviser, you’ll help clients set and reach their financial targets and goals, whether it’s for business or personal means. For example, you’ll offer expert advice and guidance around savings, investments, retirement planning, university funding, estate planning and more.
Every business with at least one employee needs expertise in human resources. As an online HR consultant, you can provide HR support to businesses to help them get the best out of their employees. Your duties as a HR consultant might include drafting policies and contracts, implementing and structuring employee promotions, offering advice on how to create a diverse and welcoming environment, and providing support for mental health and general wellbeing of staff. You will need experience in HR and while it is not essential to have a degree, you should have a qualification specific to the industry.
Instead of investing heavily in stock and managing the inventory of that product, dropshipping is an online-only business model in which the manufacturer or wholesale ships the product directly to the buyer. This means that you do not need a space to hold stock, allowing you to run your business from any location with low overheads – that’s what makes dropshipping so great.
Whether you already have experience in the tourism industry or you’re an avid traveller with a passion for adventure, starting an online-only business as a travel consultant could be a great option. The travel and tourism industry is one of the largest in the world. With plenty of competition you’ll need to make your travel consultancy service as innovative or niche as possible. For example, you could specialise in one particular area of travelling such as backpacking or business travel.
As an online-only transcriber, you’ll convert recorded speech into a written document. You’ll have the ability to work with a variety of clients, from those in the video production industry to law firms and courts. You will of course, need to have experience in transcribing to build your own business – or else be willing to reskill quickly. You will also need a high-quality headset, Word, and professional transcription software such as OTranscribe, Express Scribe or Inqscribe.
Managing your money
Once you’ve got your business idea and hit the ground running, an important thing to think about is how you’re going to manage payments. The beauty of online-only businesses is that they can easily be operated globally. If you’re paying suppliers, employees or contractors overseas, you’ll need a trusted international money transfer service for your business. PagoFX by Santander is an easy way for UK sole traders and limited companies to send money abroad with low, transparent costs, and a dedicated customer support team should you need it.
This article is provided as general information purposes only and is not intended to cover all aspects of the topic. We recommend that you take professional and specialised advice before taking, or refraining from, any action based on the content of this publication, as this article is not intended to constitute expert advice. We do not guarantee, explicitly or implicitly, that the content of this article is accurate, complete or up-to-date. The information in this article does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from PagoFX or its affiliates.