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10 Low-Startup-Cost Businesses That Are Completely Online

10 Low-Startup-Cost Businesses That Are Completely Online
Steve Gillman Jul 20, 2017
Want to Earn Some Extra Money?


Want a business with low startup costs? Start something online. Want something that also gives you maximum flexibility? Start a business that’s completely online.

Sure, with a few hundred dollars you can start selling handmade items on Etsy or fancy lamps on eBay. But if all goes well you’ll spend every day at home in a pile of boxes, tape, and inventory, working to get those orders shipped on time.

Maybe that’s great for you. On the other hand, maybe you prefer a “location independent” business, one that lets you work when and where you like.

For example, I’m writing this in bed, and over the last dozen years I’ve done my various business activities from hotels, coffee shops, twelve homes (we moved a lot), and several countries.

With businesses that are completely online you can start with very little capital and work from just about anyplace with an internet connection. Here are some examples…

1. Freelance Writing

As a freelance writer you can live anywhere, write day or night, and your clients won’t care if you’re at a desk or sitting next to a swimming pool with your laptop. You can cover a variety of subjects or just those that interest you. Here are several types of clients you might have…

Content Mills 

These companies provide cheap material to websites, and their writers report making as little as $3 per article. Even the more common $15 rate probably puts you below minimum wage unless you’re very fast. But writer Heather Seggel argues that writing for content mills isn’t that bad if you approach it properly, and it’s a way to get started in freelance work.

Websites and Blogs That Take Unsolicited Submissions

Hundreds of online businesses pay for unsolicited articles. These include blogs and websites that pay $100 or more per article. If you’re a fast researcher and writer you can do well at $50 per article. Just be sure to read and follow any submission guidelines, and target your queries/proposals appropriately. You can waste a lot of time on work that’s rejected.

Write for Magazines

There are magazines that pay $500 or more per article, and many of these take submissions online. Some pay by the word. For example, I’ve written 500 to 800-word articles for a small newsletter/magazine at the rate of $0.10 per word. Again, follow the submission guidelines carefully.

Write for Regular Clients

My favorite arrangement is to have good clients I can write for regularly. This saves a lot of time versus chasing after a sale here and there.

Now the bad news. Although freelancing is a business, just like a job you only get paid when you’re working. With experience you can find higher-rate gigs, but your profits are ultimately limited by the number of hours you can spend punching away at that keyboard.

Startup cost: It costs you $0 to start as a freelance writer if you already have a computer and internet connection.

2. Informational Websites

Niche websites and blogs provide information tailored to a specific audience. If you create the content yourself you can start with little cost and write about something that interests you. If people like what you offer this can be very lucrative.

For example, I started a website about ultralight backpacking for less than $50 and for years it made $1,000 to $2,000 per month. I had other websites that made even more.

You can monetize a website in various ways. These include promoting affiliate products to earn commissions, and selling advertising. Google AdSense was my primary income. Put the code on your pages and you get a percentage of what they make on every click.

How much can you make? One blogger claims to make $1 million per month from his blog. And you do not have to produce the content yourself.

In fact, the best way to grow really big is to hire help. I’ve written for one blog that started small but grew to $20 million in annual revenue as employees and freelancers were brought onboard.

If you do write for your own websites (at least at first) you can produce residual income — something you don’t get when freelancing for others. I once spent a dozen hours putting together a site on how to remove carpet stains and then mostly ignored it as it produced more than a thousand dollars per month for several years.

On the other hand, it can be difficult to get and keep traffic. Google algorithm changes caused my website traffic and revenue dropped in half one day years ago, and the decline continued. That carpet-stain site, and the backpacking site, now make 50 cents on good days. Clearly it takes more than good writing to succeed at this business.

Startup cost: If you go with BlueHost, you can start off with a hosting plan for as little as $3.95. New members also get a free domain for their first year.

3. Online Course Production

If you like to teach you can make big money providing courses online. There are a number of ways to do this.

For example, you can create and sell courses on Udemy. Current selections include wood carving, dog training, vegan cooking, and hundreds of others. How do you create courses that sell? There’s a course on Udemy that will teach you!

Courses used to have a variety of prices ranging as high as $200. Lately they seem to all be on sale for $20 or even $10. Still, if you enroll over 100,000 students like Rob Percival did for his course on how to be a web developer, you would be doing just fine.

You can also make money giving away courses. I once spent a week creating a course on how to have creative ideas. I loaded the lessons in an email autoresponder at aWeber and put the signup form on my website. When people subscribed they received a lesson each week automatically (I like automating things).

You can monetize these free courses in several ways. I had links in the emailed lessons to affiliate products for which I earned commissions. I also linked to the complete lessons on my website, where I could earn advertising revenue.

Startup cost: For video courses you’ll need a camera, and other software may help, so plan on investing $300 or more. If you do simple email courses you can start for under $100.

4. Website Hosting Company

If you already have a website or two you probably know how to put a site on a server. To do it for others you just need a reseller account. I needed that anyhow (I’ve had as many as 40 websites of my own), so when friends asked me to host their websites I charged them $80 per year. It cost me nothing but a few minutes time to add them to my server.

Of course, to make it a business you’ll need more than the few clients I have. In fact, if you want to do it as a stand-alone business you’ll need hundreds of customers. On the other hand, even with a few good clients this can be a nice addition to the next business on our list.

Startup cost: My reseller account at BlueHost costs less than $30 per month and easily handles 50 websites or more.

5. Website Design

If you’ve ever built a website and were happy with the result, you might have what it takes to start a website design business. Improve your skills with free online courses for web designers.

How much can you make? A recent article profiling freelance business owners who make more than $100,000 per year includes some website designers. Of course, you can also expand by hiring other designers at some point.

Startup cost: You may need to invest a few hundred dollars in software. On the other hand, my wife has created beautiful WordPress sites (for herself now and for clients previously) using nothing but free software found online.

6. E-Book Publisher

Many authors have done well on Amazon’s Kindle platform., and Amanda Hocking made millions with her eBooks. My own Kindle books (since removed) made profits of only $10,000 or so, and some of the books took me only a few days to write.

Success as an author is somewhat speculative, so to make this into a business you might consider publishing books written by others. Anyone can open a publisher account, but few people want to figure out how to properly format, convert, and present their books, so they’ll pay for help.

You can provide basic services (like eBook Enhancers, for example), converting books into Kindle and other eBook formats. You can also offer marketing help if that’s your thing.

Startup cost: You can start with nothing, but to offer cover design and other services you might invest a few hundred dollars in software.

7. Flip Domain Names

I’ve flipped exactly one domain name; Years ago I bought (note the lack of the dot after “www”) for $100 and sold it for $700. A good friend of mine has flipped domain names for 20 years, and has sold many of them for thousands of dollars, and at least one for $50,000.

You can use websites like Flippa to both buy and sell.

In some ways this is more of an investment activity than a business, and it can be speculative. I know people who are sitting on thousands of domain names, paying annual renewal fees while waiting for offers. Many of their names will never sell.

To help cover those holding costs you can use domain parking services like those offered by GoDaddy and many others. With luck your share of the click revenue from your parked domains might cover a portion of your renewal costs.

How do you choose which domain names to flip? Learn from domain flippers, and apply a little common sense. For example, if a place called “Oak Tree Mall” is being built in your community, and the developers haven’t yet registered, jump on that! They’ll be calling you soon, and will probably pay a good price for the name.

Startup cost: To start with very little money just spend a few hundred dollars on names and then, when you sell a few, reinvest your profits.

8. Search Engine Evaluation

As a search engine evaluator I was paid $13.50 per hour. I logged into my account and looked at search engine results, rating them according to various criteria. Sometimes I also listened to audio search results and rated those.

I could work when I wanted, for five minutes or fifteen hours at a time. The most I made in a month was around $700.

It’s more of a job than a business, but you’re not an employee, and you can work from anywhere. Here are a few of the companies that offer this kind of freelance work:

Fair warning; it’s very tedious work. On the other hand, you can do it a little at a time and work it in around other employment or business activities. I never worked more than a few hours daily or 16 hours weekly.

Startup cost: You probably already have the required computer and smartphone. You might have to buy headphones ($20 or so) if you don’t have a decent set..

9. Fiverr Business

If you’ve never been to Fiverr, go there now and check out the incredible variety of things people are willing to do for $4 (Fiverr takes a $1 cut).

Of course you can’t make much money at $4 per gig if you’re offering astrological readings or doing personalized video messages as Adam Sandler (real offerings, by the way). But if you read a Forbes profile of people who make over $100,000 annually on Fiverr, you’ll notice one thing they have in common: They average much more than $5 per order.

You have to start with $5 gigs, but then you can gain higher level status so you can charge more, primarily by offering “Gig Extras.” That’s when you can start making a decent profit.

Startup cost: The capital requirements depend on what kind of product or service you offer, but starting with nothing is possible.

10. Video Production

When we lived in Colorado my wife filmed me in the mountains as I did a series of educational videos on ultralight backpacking. I loaded them up to one of my YouTube accounts and clicked “monetize” to collect my share of Google’s advertising revenue.

Soon I was raking in… well, only about $100 per month, and that dropped off to almost nothing within a few years. But the potential is there. You can find lists of YouTube millionaires all over the internet.

You do need a lot of people to watch your videos to make much money. For example, a YouTube revenue calculator says that if your crazy cat video gets 200,000 views you’ll make between $272 and $680. Your cat better be good for at least a few dozen funny videos.

This is perhaps the least location-independent business here, because you do have to get out and film something somewhere. But there’s no particular place you have to be. You can do videos of the sights as you travel the world, or follow your cat around waiting for those cute moments, or sit on your couch and offer funny video commentary on the day’s events.

Startup cost: If you have a video camera (you can even use your phone), you’re all set.

If you have a low-cost-startup business that’s completely online tell us about it below. Happy Frugaling!

Steve Gillman

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