Brick and mortar is no longer a necessity for entrepreneurs. If you want to start a business, you just need a good idea, a computer, and internet access. You want to run a business from the comfort of your home or a beach or a chalet in the Alps? You can do it.
Of course, before you start an online business, you need to have an idea or two. People aren’t going to pay you to surf the internet.
Consider this article your guide to finding the online business that’s right for you.
We’ll cover the different business models, help brainstorm business ideas, and give you the step-by-step guide to getting off the ground.
The Different Types Of Business Models
Before we jump into how to start your business, it’s a good idea to know the common business models out there. Once you know the various models, you can pick the one that’s the right fit for your personality and goals.
Merchant & Brokerage Models
When selling a product to consumers or to other businesses, you have two different types of models: merchant and brokerage.
Merchant — A business that opens up an online store where consumers can buy products directly from the company. Target’s online store is a prime example of this. If you want to buy Target products online, you go to their eCommerce website. If you have a product you want to sell, the merchant model could be perfect for you.
Brokerage — A business that brings sellers and buyers together into one marketplace (example: Amazon and eBay). The buyers purchase from the sellers and the brokerage takes a small fee. Thousands of people have created full-time jobs and businesses from selling products on eBay, Amazon, and other brokerage sites.
The community business model is when consumer reviews of products and services drive the success of the model.
This could be businesses like Angie’s List or Yelp. Basically, the model relies on consumers sharing info and experiences about the business. The consumers benefit from the honest reviews and the business can monetize their customer base. For example, Angie’s List charges to let customers see the reviews and Yelp lets businesses advertise on their platform.
If you can create a platform where consumers can share reviews with each other, you could have a big money-maker on your hands.
An infomediary gathers information about products and presents it in an unbiased way to their customers. For example, Consumer Reports objectively reviews products and then presents that information to their customers. Some sites like Wirecutter review products, present an unbiased opinion, and then receive a commission if someone purchases through them. If you love reviewing various products and giving unbiased reviews, this could be a great option.
Websites that are a part of an affiliate program make a commission from the products that consumers buy through said website (example: Amazon’s Affiliate Marketing program). Websites that get a significant amount of traffic or have dedicated followings can get significant revenue through affiliates.
You see online ads everywhere you go, from Facebook to Google to Forbes. If a company has a significant amount of exposure (think web traffic), they can charge other companies a premium to advertise on their site. In terms of a business, if you can create a website or app or platform that attracts a large following, you then become very appealing for businesses who want to promote their services or products.
Manufacturer’s Direct Model
The Manufacturer’s Direct model is simply buying directly from the manufacturer. If your business manufactured a product, consumers would go right to your website to purchase and customize, rather than outsourcing to a seller (example: Dell, which allows customers to customize the computer to their needs).
More and more online publications, like The New York Times and Wall Street Journal, are moving to subscription based business models. Basically, readers pay a monthly amount to get full access to the business’s content.
Subscription services, such as Dollar Shave Club, are also becoming hugely popular. These services allow customers to get a product delivered to them on a regular basis so they don’t have to remember to buy it.
A sweepstakes business helps other businesses grow through by creating sweepstakes for them. For example, if you run a sweepstakes business, you could help a local catering company run a sweepstakes in which customers exchange their email address for a chance to win a catered dinner.
Most companies don’t have the knowledge, manpower, or technology to create a sweepstakes, which is where your business comes in. Franchises like Sweep Surge make it incredibly easy to build a sweepstakes business.
Web 3.0 Model
Most people are less familiar with the Web 3.0 model. A step up from Web 2.0 (or the Social Web), this model relies on collecting as much info about consumers as possible (like online activity and purchasing history) and aggregating it to create a personalized buying experience.
Although it’s new, places like Amazon and their suggested products feature and Facebook’s ads setup are taking a stab at it. The challenge of creating this type of business is that you need to have a huge number of users in order to gather any meaningful amount of data.
Internet Business Ideas
Now that you know the different types of online business models, let’s dive into some potential internet business ideas. This is by no means all of the possibilities, but these are some ideas to get you started.
If a business has no website (or a terribly designed website), it can really hurt business. Essentially, every business needs a website.
So why not start a business to provide websites?
If you want to build deep, technical websites, you’ll probably want to learn coding an the variety of website building platforms available, such as WordPress or Joomla.
However, it’s increasingly possible to design outstanding websites for businesses using services like Squarespace or Weebly, which make it possible to create sites with no knowledge of coding.
And if you’re good at web design, your own website is the best place to showcase your talents.
Forget what you think you know about affiliate marketing. You might have heard people say you will work 10 hours a week while making $30,000 a month.
Maybe some experts do that, but they’re outliers.
However, you can make a living from affiliate marketing, but it will take work. As mentioned above, affiliate marketing is basically a referral program. So, knowing that only a fraction of your referrals will lead to sales, you’ll need lots of referrals.
Lots of people do this through blogging. They drive traffic to their website by writing content people want to read, then link to products within their affiliate program.
Social Media Management
Many businesses aren’t sure how to market themselves on social media, which means there’s a huge need for social media managers.
Marketing is moving away from simple ads to social interaction and engagement. So if you can learn the tricks of social media management that lead to more sales, then you’ll be in a great place to create business for yourself.
And it’s not all about pulling traffic to your clients’ websites. It’s about helping a business converse with their customers to create a long-lasting bond that will, in time, lead to more sales.
If you have a smartphone and some time, you can easily get into the social media management business.
Being a virtual assistant (i.e. work-from-home assistants) is another business opportunity that’s in high demand. As more and more businesses move toward remote workforces, the need for virtual assistants is skyrocketing.
If you start your own VA business, you can offer services like bookkeeping, marketing, scheduling, website management, and anything else your traditional assistant would do.
Or you could simply focus in on one of those skills and become an expert at it, meaning you could charge more for your services.
If you can write, you might have a future in freelance writing.
It involves everything from writing advertising pieces to writing technical articles to simply creating high-quality blog posts. Businesses are increasingly relying on content to demonstrate their authority, and if you’re a great copywriter, you may be able to take advantage of this growing demand.
If you can learn about a topic quickly and write about it clearly in a easy-to-read way, this might be a good business idea for you.
How To Start An Internet Business
Alright, now to the fun stuff. Here are the general first steps to starting an internet business.
No Demand, No Business
One big mistake many entrepreneurs make is starting a business without seeing if anyone even wants what their selling.
If there’s no demand for a product or service, why start a business centered around it?
Start with finding a potential market. Find the need first. Here are a couple ways you can do that:
- Browse specific forums and ask people about their problems (which you can then solve by creating the right business). For example, if you were in a small business forum, you could ask business owners if they have trouble getting new leads. This would indicate that a franchise like Sweep Surge could be a big service to these people.
- Figure out what people are searching for on the internet and see if a lot of other businesses exist in that problem-solving area. A simple way to do this is to go to Google Trends, which will show you the various things people are searching for on the web.
Create A Website
Now that you’ve picked your business model, your market, and your problem-solving product, it’s time to bring that all together on your website. If you’re going to get new customers, you need to be able to point them to your website.
The best thing to do is to keep it simple. Navigating your website should be easy. If it’s overwhelming or confusing, people will close out of your website and never return.
Make sure that it’s really clear what your business does. Create a services page which spells out everything you can do to help customers. Also, make it very easy to have people contact you. Make your phone number, email address, and social media presence easily findable.
Wrapping It Up
Like we said at the beginning of this article, to be a successful entrepreneur, you don’t need to go anywhere but to your computer.
Heck, stay in your pajamas all day. Your customers don’t know, and honestly, they don’t care. As long as you keep selling them what they need.
The opportunities are everywhere. You don’t even need a lot of capital to get started with many online businesses.
But you do need to get started.
So what are you waiting for?