online business ideas you can start with no money

The great thing about starting an online business is that it’s one of the more affordable business options, and for the most part, can be started from home.

Beyond making sure you’re registered as a business entity, all you really need to get going is a home office (and even that isn’t a strict requirement), a good internet connection, and some great entrepreneurial follow through.

If you’re not sure you’re cut out to be an entrepreneur, take our quiz; otherwise, keep reading. Hopefully, one of the ideas listed below will strike a chord and excite you enough to download our startup checklist—your first point of reference as you begin your entrepreneurial journey.

Freelance writer

It’s hardly a surprise that freelance writer makes the list of online businesses you can start. With the rise of content marketing, online writers have never been more in demand.

To kickstart your career, set up a profile on popular freelance websites like Upwork and Freelancer and start building your portfolio. A website will also be essential as people will want to see your writing collated in one place so they can get a sense of your style, the topics you cover, and of course, your personality.

Beyond being an excellent writer (and a good editor), if you really want to excel as a freelance writer, you will need to be a pretty speedy writer too. To learn more about this career, read this article on becoming a freelance writer by the Freelancer’s Union.

Social media consultant

Do you have a knack for social media? If you’re a strong writer, creative, and love staying on top of the latest social media trends, this might be the perfect opportunity for you.

Many business owners either do not understand the intricacies of using social media to build a brand and cultivate a loyal online following, or don’t even know how to use social media at all. By offering your skills as a social media consultant, you can either help businesses craft a social media game plan, or take control of their social accounts directly and post updates to various platforms.

To learn more about making money as a social media consultant, check out this great list of resources compiled by Alexis Grant, and if you want to become a social media guru (who doesn’t?) read this excellent in-depth guide by Ian Anderson Gray.

Web designer

If you know how to design websites, you have a potentially broad client base, including website developers (many of whom can build websites but not design them) and entrepreneurs themselves.

If you’ve got an eye for design but no formal web design training, you can still break into the industry with a little informal education and a good portfolio. In fact, in this industry, your portfolio is going to be everything—not your degree! That being said, make sure to only showcase your best work.

To learn more about becoming a web designer, check out Roberto Blake’s YouTube channel, which includes a number of great videos about both web design and graphic design. Be sure to watch How to Become a Web Designer, Is Web Design Still a Good Career? and How to Start Your Own Web Design Career.

Graphic designer

In the same vein as a web designer, if you have the skills to design logos, brand packages, social media graphics, brochures, posters, and other materials companies and individuals frequently request, this is a business you may love running. You’ll have to be self-motivated, have an eye for detail, and be clear about setting expectations.

Again, watch Roberto Blake’s videos on becoming a graphic designer; start with this epic playlist. In the early days before you have many clients, you may want to build your portfolio by offering your services on sites like Fiverr and Etsy.

SEO consultant

Search engine optimization, more commonly known as SEO, is the practice of optimizing web pages, advertisements, and other online content so that it is more likely to be picked up (and ideally ranked highly) by Google and related search engines.

If you are data-driven and internet savvy, this is a good potential career opportunity for you. Make sure to have a good handle on Google Analytics, as you will likely be using it time and time again.

Don’t know much about SEO? You can learn more on Moz, Lynda (access available via your local library), and on Search Engine Land.

Business coach

If you have a knack for helping people achieve success via coaching, you may enjoy this line of work.

Rather than being hired as a consultant to help people problem solve issues in their business, you’ll be helping people find success by focusing on personal development. This might include mastering time management, putting an end to procrastination, improving decision making, and ultimately, getting your clients to take action.

You won’t be giving advice (that’s what a consultant does); instead, you’ll help people figure out how to do it themselves. To learn more, check out this Udemy course on becoming a business, marketing or life coach, and then read this article on how to become a successful business coach (hint: it’s all about how you package yourself or your services).

App developer

According to SimilarWeb’s State of Mobile Web U.S. 2015 report, approximately 56 percent of consumer traffic to leading U.S. websites is from mobile devices. And, given that apps are now more popular than the mobile web, it makes sense to consider this online business if you have coding skills.

You can either look to creating your own apps as a way to earn money, or offer to create apps for others. To learn more about becoming an app developer, check out this Udacity course, or sign up for Google’s Android Developer Nanodegree—a cool new program that will set you apart.

Online retailer

Does the idea of setting up an online shop excite you? If so, you’re not alone. This is an increasingly popular profession, made even easier by the host of websites that will walk you through the process.

If there’s something you’d like to sell, be sure to know how to set up a home-based business, make sure you have a space to store all of your wares, and set up an online account with the post office so that mailing is as easy as possible. You may also want to look into cross-selling on sites like eBay—if so, read our eBay guide!

Otherwise, start looking into platforms that will make selling online easy. You might consider Shopify, BigCommerce, Wix, and Weebly, though no doubt there are many others for you to choose from.

Everything said and done, this is also one of the professions that may require you have at least a little startup capital as you will need to purchase inventory. Read the Bplans Funding Guide to learn more about getting access to funding, or consider starting a side business so that you can earn that initial capital yourself.

Virtual assistant

We mentioned this career opportunity in our article on home-based businesses, but it’s a great online business to mention too. There are a number of online platforms that make running a VA business easy, including TaskRabbit, Zirtual, Upwork, PeoplePerHour and so on.

If you’re super organized and can quickly and efficiently carry out tasks, you may want to put your skills to use—becoming a virtual assistant is like becoming a personal assistant or task master. Services you might offer include project management, writing, running errands, performing research, and so on. The list is really endless.

If you’re interested in this topic, be sure to read Amy Lynn Andrews’ Guide to Becoming a Virtual Assistant, and the Virtual Assistant Website Checklist by the VA Handbook.

Artisan

If you’re creative, crafty, and have the ability to make handmade items in bulk, you may just want to turn your hobby into a business.

People love buying handmade goods, and sites like Etsy break down barriers, making it easy for just about anyone to sell their wares for a very modest fee. If you can knit, sew, design graphics, turn wood, make jewelry, paint, make soap, create paper products, and so on, you may be sitting on a perfect business opportunity.

To learn more about starting an Etsy business, read our article How to Start an Etsy Shop, as well as this interview with jewelry artist Stephanie Maslow, owner of Metalicious.

Patron-backed creator

Ever wondered how musicians, aspiring movie-makers, comedians, and comic book artists make money before they make it big? Well, beyond the local gigs, they now have online opportunities to help them fast track their way to fame and glory—sort of.

Sites like Patreon allow interested patrons to donate either a monthly fee (in exchange for content produced by the artist/entrepreneur) or a fee per creation. To learn more about how you can make this model work for you, read our guide on How to Use Patreon to Start a Business, and check out our favorite Patreon profiles, which should give you some good ideas. If you’re looking to start a side business online, this one might be right up your alley!

Can you think of any other great online business ideas? We’d love to know. Reach out to Bplans on Twitter.

Download your free business startup checklist today!
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