Looking for Internet business ideas to start your online business?
Look no further, I'll break down the most popular and most successful online business concepts for you in this post.
There are so many Internet business ideas, but which ones actually let you start a profitable (and honest) online business?
So-called gurus claim to have found the one magic trick, that let’s you get rich over night. There’s only one issue: there’s no shortcut to success. In any case, you’ll have to put in the work.
Luckily, there are not only those Internet business ideas that are predestined to leave you broke.
There are also lots of ideas that can lead to highly profitable online businesses.
When I started my online business in March 2013 I was still employed. That’s why I could afford to test countless ideas for Internet businesses. I still had the paycheck coming in.
If you’re in a similar situation, consider yourself lucky. Yes, maybe you couldn’t care less about your job. But you’ll have to sustain it only for the time you’re growing your Internet business on the side.
Once it generates a reasonable income, you can quit without worrying about money coming in. How awesome is that for a perspective?
So, let me tell you about the Internet business ideas that I tried from March 2013 until today. I’ll go through those ideas in detail, that’s why I created a table of contents.
Just navigate to your favorite online business idea and skip the rest if you feel like.
At the end of this post you can download a free guide on validating Internet business ideas in 5 simple steps! Don't miss it, because this is a game-changer.
Table of Contents
Profitable businesses have the same foundation: they serve people.
You can only make money (online and offline) by improving other people’s lives. You can do that by solving their problems, showing them things they’ve been missing, helping them with recurring tasks, helping them become more efficient, … the list goes on.
I promise there’s a business opportunity waiting for you, as long as you want it bad enough. The market potential is there. The reach is there (remember, we’re doing it global right here).
So let me outline 4 business models you can use to build a highly profitable and honest Internet business.
Probably the most common of all Internet business ideas is to start a coaching business. It’s a great idea and it’s integrated into my business model as well.
The foundation of any viable coaching business, regardless of online or offline, is that you know something or have skills that others don’t.
Maybe you have knowledge about a certain field or niche. Say you’re a dietitian and you know a lot about eating and cooking healthy. Or you know a lot about book-keeping and taxes. Or you’ve been playing Golf for decades.
Running a coaching business doesn’t limited you to marketing, building businesses or sales. Basically any skill or expertise you have makes a solid foundation for a profitable coaching business.
Coaching is one of my favorite Internet business ideas because of several reasons:
Starting an online coaching business is actually quite easy. Getting clients is not, but that’s the second step. You’ll want to start with the first step and work a plan.
First you’ll need to analyze what skills you have that you could leverage to run with a coaching business model. By the way, analyzing your skills and knowledge is a good idea for the other Internet business ideas as well.
Once you know what you’re going to coach, you can start identifying your target audience. These are the people that have problems you can solve with your coaching offer. Who would you love to work with?
Think of yourself for a moment. When you face a major problem and you could pay somebody to help you get rid of it, would you pay her? Most people would. I would.
Coaching businesses often have the same foundation: a blog or a podcast. Just like the other 4 Internet business ideas I’m going to outline, you’ll need to have your own website to start this business. We’re talking about online business after all.
That website will be your home-base to serve to your target audience, to promote your services and can be the stepping stone to living a life on your own terms. That’s how it was for me.
In order to get clients, you’ll need to showcase your skills and knowledge. Publishing contents like blog posts, videos or running a podcast is perfect for this purpose.
You need to serve your audience by creating helpful contents for them. Teach them how to solve a certain problem or answer a specific question. Show them something beneficial to their daily routines.
That’s how you get perceived as expert in your field, which is crucial for all of the Internet business ideas I’m about to cover.
It’s a long process to establish an expert position in any market. Yet it’s absolutely mandatory. My good friend Navid has pulled off a whole summit on branding, you might want to check it out.
Back to online coaching businesses.
Now you’ve read a brief overview on the mechanisms behind online coaching businesses.
Their benefits are that they are quite easy to start, without any big upfront investment (other than time).
This kind of Internet business connects you closely to your customers and gives you lots of valuable insights.
It’s also perfect to turn clients into raving fans and ambassadors for your business. And after all, you’re earning independent income!
However, online coaching has a few drawbacks:
I’ve given you a first insight on how online coaching businesses work and how you can establish a relationship with your audience. Of course this process is more complex than I can outline in this post.
If you are really passionate about building your own online business, you might want to consider joining my Restart Academy.
In the Academy I’m teaching the exact process I’ve used to build my own profitable online business. First I’ve done it on the side. Once my business generated enough income to replace my paycheck, I quit. And I never looked back since.
Creating information products is one of the most profitable and promising Internet business ideas.
This is basically the advanced form of running a coaching business. You educate others by creating online courses, checklists, a tutorial series or guides.
Just like any other business, your offer needs to serve others and enrich their lives. You need to deliver information that truly helps your customers.
I wanted my online business to generate income even when I’m not working. And I still do. Not because I don’t like to work, but because I like businesses that scale.
So after doing some research, I figured that creating an information product was exactly the way to achieve my goal.
In order to create a profitable information product, you need to share knowledge that helps others.
This can be a skill you acquired in your latest job. Or a hobby you excel in. Or a personal experience you’ve made in a situation that many people have to face.
Think of a major challenge you had to overcome in the past, regardless of the field. Regardless if you’re passionate about that topic.
It needs to be a challenge that other people (a reasonable number of them) have to face too. The more intense the challenge, the higher the likelihood of creating a profitable information product.
You could create a course that teaches your customers how to do something or answers their questions.
Why do you think there are so many courses on coding and IT? Because society tells young people that programming skills guarantee high income.
Why do people spend so much money on their hobbies? Because they want to outperform their friends.
Life’s a competition! Helping people to outperform others sets your business up for success. Tweet this!
The beauty of selling information products is that you can build passionate communities around them.
Almost every online course comes with a mastermind group, where all customers can engage with and help each other. My friend Cristian even runs a mastermind group for his books.
Building communities and serving those is the best thing you can do. It helps you turn the average customer into a fan, who might tell his friends how your product helped him.
Another beneficial aspect of selling information products that you can automate the sales process. You can sell them without being actively involved.
Don’t get me wrong, you will have to promote the product and create helpful content. Remember that profitable businesses are only profitable, because they serve their audience.
Once you stop publishing contents and serving other people, sales will stop as well.
In my eyes, selling information products has the biggest potential and independency factor - from all Internet business ideas.
It’s hard to sell high-priced products in the beginning. But continuous efforts will pay off and you’ll make your way.
You can start creating low cost offers at first, which then build up to a premium product.
Experts like Ramit Sethi sell their courses at 5-figure prices. Some courses even sell at 6-figure prices.
Can you imagine selling one course could pay more than some people earn in a year? Honestly, I can’t. But I know that want to know how that feels 😉
Just like online coaching businesses, the Internet business model of selling information products hasn’t only upsides. Some downsides are:
However, you will solve any of those drawbacks almost automatically over time. I want you to know that this business model requires lots of dedication, just like the other Internet business ideas I’m covering in this post.
But you can avoid making most mistakes by joining Restart Academy.
My journey of building an online business on the side and growing an income that replaced my paycheck is the core foundation of the Academy.
If that journey inspires you, investing in the Academy will save you time and money.
Advertising and sponsoring is an online business model that I started with in March 2013 and that I’m experimenting with again since January 2015.
Me and a good friend started a quotes website that we want to highly automate. And maybe we'll add advertising to it once we have a reasonable amount of traffic.
It means that you display ads on your website to monetize it. And it’s a heavily diverse field.
First of all this online business model depends on the type of website you own.
There are different types of websites? Yes, depending on their purpose and your goal with it.
It’s a massive difference if run a personal or corporate blog to build an email list compared to building very niched websites with the goal to display ads upon them.
You can add sponsors to your podcast or Youtube channel or publish sponsored posts or product reviews on your website.
Displaying ads or getting sponsors on your website isn’t always a good decision.
Ads or sponsored items need to be the main focus of the website.
Say you’re a carpenter and you sell your services through your website. Displaying ads on your website makes no sense at all. Your goal is to generate leads, not clicks on ads.
Or you run a personal or corporate blog. Most of those won’t want ads on their site either, because ads can destroy the trust of your readers.
Do you build a relationship with websites that run ads? Most likely not.
However, if you create niche sites, ads are a perfect fit.
Niche sites are websites that rank for specific keywords with low competition. They get their traffic from Google and run ads to make money from them.
Most often niche sites use ads from Google Adsense or other advertising networks.
These niche sites are perfect to create residual income, because they usually don’t need a lot of maintenance once they rank.
Tools like Long Tail Pro are perfect to find keywords that make a good target for niche sites (and regular blog posts on your blog).
That link is an affiliate link, which means I get a small commission if you decide to buy via that link. I didn't include Long Tail Pro in this post to make money though (I make money doing web design and Restart Academy). I included LTP because it's good.
Long Tail Pro makes it easy to identify keywords with low competition in Google, so you know you can actually rank a site in a reasonable timeframe.
Then you create highly valuable (!) content on the website and get it indexed by Google.
In fact, this post is targeting a keyword that I found with Long Tail Pro.
You do the basic SEO tactics to build links and increase the authority of the website, and once you see a reasonable amount of visitors, money will start rolling in on autopilot.
Using the online business model of running niche sites usually requires to own several sites. A friend of mine owns around 80 of them.
Even though he doesn’t maintain them (he works in a startup in Silicon Valley while studying at Berkeley), he makes a decent amount from them.
Niche sites are good if you don’t need to make money fast, because it takes some time to rank these websites and drive traffic to them.
Once they rank though, you get income without working for it.
A different opportunity than using Google Adsense on niche sites is to sell ad space on your blog directly.
Say you have 50k unique visitors per month on your site, you can approach companies in your niche and offer them to advertise on the blog.
This allows them to get their content in front of 50k people each month, who ideally come to your blog because they’re interested in what you’re writing about.
Selling ad space works best for online magazines and established blogs.
Basically it’s nothing different than your local newspaper selling ads. You have an audience that companies want to get in front off, and you sell that.
Sponsored posts are posts you’re paid for to publish.
These can be posts written by companies promoting their services. Or you review a product of them and get to keep the product.
Here’s the major difference from sponsored posts and sold ad space compared to niche sites:
While niche sites usually don’t try to build a deep connection to the visitors, your blog or magazine depends on that connection.
That’s why you can’t get any sponsor on and can’t sell ad space to any random company. You need to make sure that you don’t piss off your visitors and instead show ads from companies relevant for your visitors.
It’s easy to frustrate website visitors with ads.
I had a chat with Neil Patel in the early days on how I could monetize my blog. I was blogging about my experiences in building online businesses.
Back then I didn’t really know what I was doing and my approach was to have ads on it.
During our conversation, Neil Patel said having ads on my site is totally fine, because people are used to seeing them. And I should have a newsletter promoting affiliate products.
That would be the standard way to monetize blogs like the one I had in the past.
Obviously I decided not to go that route. To be honest, I’m not sure if it was a good decision.
Yes, I’ve made enough money in 2014 to stay self-employed. Yes, I now drive a BMW 330i instead of a VW Golf.
But did I achieve my ultimate goal of moving in an apartment with my girlfriend? No.
Did I achieve to constantly make 5,000 € per month in net profits? Not yet (but I’m on my way to it and had a few 5,000 € months).
Maybe I would have achieved that goal following Neil’s advice, we’ll never know.
Another online business model that monetizes on advertising and sponsors is to start a podcast, and introduce sponsors to it once you have an audience.
That’s exactly what my friends John Lee Dumas and Kate Erickson from Entrepreneur On Fire did.
John started the podcast because there was no daily podcast that delivered the information he was desperately looking for.
Once John got a reasonable number of people listening to the show, he got his first sponsors on.
Now he’s on track towards building a multi-million dollar business with his podcast, part of that money comes from the sponsors on his podcast.
When I’d run a podcast, I’d be hesitant to have sponsors on. I’d feel like I’m selling out on my listeners, similarly to how I don’t like ads on my blog.
Yet when even Pat Flynn has sponsors on his SmartPassiveIncome podcast, I think it’s an honest way to go.
Pat is known to be very caring about his audience. In 2014 he decided to get sponsors on his podcast, which he sold „ad spaces“ to at the end of each episode.
This allows his listeners to listen to the complete episode first and then decide whether they want to hear the sponsored part or not.
Youtube shows are similar to this podcast business model.
If you run a popular Youtube channel, you should definitely approach companies in your field to get them sponsor you.
To me, it seems that having sponsors on Youtube episodes is even more convenient than sponsored podcasts.
Youtube visitors are used to see advertisings and sponsorings.
Google spams them all over the visitors of Youtube. You see them in the beginning of every video and sometimes you can’t even skip the clips, just like you’re watching TV.
Most videos display ads in the bottom of the video. These come from the Google Adsense network I mentioned in the section about niche websites.
In Germany, people finally understood what the rest of the world got years ago. It’s possible to earn your living on Youtube.
We’ve got a hype about some popular German youtubers like Dner or Unge.
They’re featured in TV shows, interviewed all over the place and finally arrived in the traditional media.
You have no idea how frustrating it can be to see Germans discuss about topics that the rest of the world already figured out.
That’s one reason why I’m doing my work globally and don’t focus on the German market.
I don’t want to convince people that online business models can work. I only speak to those who see the opportunity to live life on their own terms and believe in the results me and other entrepreneurs are showing.
There are clear benefits of using advertising and sponsoring to monetize your online business.
For one, you don’t need to create products or deliver services yourself. You just create content regularly and get it in front of your audience.
You have reliable income as long as your traffic and conversion rates stay consistent. This is a major advantage to other online business models.
Selling information products or delivering services often leads to not knowing how much money you’ll make in the next 3–6 months. You can’t estimate the sales reliably.
With advertising and sponsoring you can estimate the money coming in, as long as you keep your traffic and conversion rates steady. This can be tricky due to Google updates, yet if you use white-hat tactics to get your traffic, you should be safe.
However, there are some major drawbacks related to advertising and sponsoring.
You need traffic, a LOT of traffic, to make a reasonable amount of money with niche sites.
You’ll either need to build several (read ~10 or more) niche sites to make a living off those, because you don’t want to put all eggs in one basket. What if a site tanks for unknown reasons and you can’t get it back up to drive traffic to it?
Most often your niche sites will target keywords that have a search volume between 1,000 - 10,000 monthly searches. This leads to a limit amount of money you can make from each site.
To get sponsors, you’ll need even more traffic.
Regardless whether you want sponsors on your blog, your magazine or your podcast - you need a reasonably sized audience. Without that audience you’re simply not interesting for companies to sponsor you.
This can mean months of work without any money coming in. If you love what you do and got savings or are employed, that could be the way to go.
If you want to make money faster than after 6 months, you probably want to try a different online business model.
The biggest drawback of the advertising / sponsoring online business is, that your income is dependent.
While business models like coaching or selling your own products generate independent income, this business model only creates dependent income.
Advertisers and sponsors can decide not to pay you anymore, which leads to less money coming in. You only have a limited amount of control on that decision.
When your rankings tank, you don't make money either.
If you're doing SEO right, Google updates shouldn't hit you. But if they do and your websites lose traffic, you'll lose money too.
As long as you’re ok with these facts, this online business model can be a really profitable one.
Affiliate marketing is probably one of the most popular Internet business ideas. And it is for a good reason, even though it there’s a smell to it.
Affiliate marketing means you promote services or products of other companies. Once you refer a sale to them, you get paid a commission.
Amongst all Internet business ideas, affiliate marketing is one of the most talked about.
Let me explain why I think it’s great for starters.
If you don’t have any experience in building or running an Internet business, affiliate marketing might be your preferred route.
The biggest benefit is that you don’t need to create your own products or offer your own services.
You can create residual income right from the beginning.
By promoting affiliate products on your blog, in your videos or whatever medium you use, you can make money while you sleep.
But don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying it won’t take hard work to earn that money.
In order to successfully sell affiliate products, you need to have a clear idea of what you’ll be selling and who you’re selling to.
Knowing your audience is key, because it gives you insights in pains you can ease and problems you can solve.
Since it is quite tricky to get these insights, they take up several lessons in my training program on building online businesses.
I won’t sugar coat it. Most aspiring entrepreneurs who try Internet business ideas built on affiliate marketing fail.
They fail because they don’t know what they’re doing, they don’t know their target audience, they’ve selected the wrong affiliate products, or they don’t have enough traffic.
I’ll share my own failures with affiliate marketing in a bit.
Like Attila says, affiliate marketing is a dog eat dog world. It’s tough and you have to learn and adapt fast, if you want to make serious money.
Yet, there is lots of educational material, communities and online training programs you can learn from. However, I won’t link to anyone here, because I’m not enrolled in a training specifically for affiliate marketing. And I don’t want to recommend something I haven’t used myself.
The basic process of making money as affiliate is as follows:
I’ve tried affiliate marketing myself and I still embed affiliate links from time to time.
For example, I’m affiliated with Long Tail Pro, which I recommended in this post, and I used an affiliate link. I was honest about it and mentioned it directly below the link.
Affiliate marketing is great to learn about copywriting and approaching your target audience in the best way.
I didn’t make a lot of money with affiliate marketing back in the days due to some reasons:
The first point might be specific to me, but the other 3 are crucial for all Internet business ideas.
Affiliate marketing is especially good to practice these skills, because you don’t need to create a new product every time you try something new.
You can either choose an affiliate product in the same niche, or you try a totally different niche. It’s totally up to you.
Once you master skills like copywriting and selling, and have a reasonable amount of visitors on your site, affiliate marketing is one of the most profitable Internet business ideas ever.
The successful affiliate marketers usually have highly automated businesses.
They’ve built well-converting funnels, which help people decide whether they buy the affiliate product or not.
They drive traffic to these funnels by using advertising like Google Ads or Facebook Ads, and they aren’t highly involved in the daily business.
Affiliate marketers work ON the business, not IN the business.
Did I get you interested in the world of Internet business?
Then I’ve got a list of 50 Internet business ideas for you.
Each one is based on the 5 online business models outlined above. I’m not explaining each one of those in details, because this would force me to write a book instead of this post.
However, if you want to learn more about building online businesses, you might want to consider enrolling in my Restart Academy.
I created the Academy to inspire and guide people to live life on their own terms.
When I was employed and the mother of my girlfriend died at age 44, I knew life needs to be more than working in a job to pay the bills.
I wanted to take control over my life by earning my own income. And that’s exactly what Restart Academy will teach you.