How to start a business online? Guide & best business ideas

Adam Rozsa
06.03.21
6 minute read

There are many great reasons to start an online business, especially in an increasingly digitalized age as today. An online store might be more cost-effective than the brick-and-mortar store, plus it can be up and running 24/7 - and it’s easy to manage wherever you are.

Also, an online business is ideal if you’re looking to generate passive income to sustain yourself or want a side hustle to supplement your earnings. Learning how to start a business online could be the best thing you do this year.

In any case, Wise Business is here to help you manage your finances at every stage of your online company’s growth. With low fees and easy international payments, Wise Business saves you money which you can re-invest in your budding business.

Open a Wise Business account

📝 Table of contents

How to start an online business: Step-by-step

The hardest part of setting up any business is knowing where to begin. If you’re wondering how to start an online business, here’s a step-by-step guide outlining the process:

1. Find a profitable need and fill it

You can take two approaches if you want to start a business: monetizing a passion or finding a profitable niche.

The first can be tricky, requires that you have a passion, to begin with, and assumes there’s an audience for it. The second is a more practical approach for most, so here’s how to go about it:

Do market research

The first step should be to see how viable your product or service is.

Does something like it already exist?

Does it target a specific demographic?

What obstacles might you face along the way?

Scope out the competition

If you bring your product or service to market without checking the competition, you might be trying to fulfill a niche that’s already being served.

Identify your target audience

Use services like keyword tools to find out the type of people who most often search for the product or service you’re thinking of bringing to market. Find out exactly who it is you will be serving so that your marketing campaign can hit home.

Decide on a product or service

Now that you’ve done all the preliminary research, it’s time to solidify your idea. Is it a product you’ll be selling, or a service like a consult or an online course?

2. Develop your product or service

Now that you’ve finished brainstorming online business ideas, it’s time to lay the groundwork for your online business.

You’ll need to come up with a business model, and then carry out product research to make sure your launch is a success.

Your business model will depend on what you’re selling. If it’s a handcrafted item that costs a lot to manufacture and ship, then your prices will need to reflect that. If you set up a dropshipping business then you can cut costs and offer affordable prices.

As for product research, you’ll likely be looking into one of three things: physical goods, digital downloads, or services.

Physical goods

To sell physical goods, ask yourself how much inventory space you’ll need. Also consider how you’re going to classify items on your website, and what payment methods you’ll accept.

Digital downloads

With digital downloads, an essential factor to consider is pricing. How much value are you offering with the course or e-book, and how many will you need to sell for a healthy profit?

Services

Services can be tricky to price, but consider the experience level and qualifications of those offering the service and check the competition too.

3. Get a business account

Growing a business is challenging, especially once you start to make money and need to manage the company’s burgeoning finances.

A business account such as Wise Business can help streamline the process for you. The account makes it easy to withdraw funds from online merchants using basic information.

When the time comes to expand the business and sell on an international scale, Wise Business has you covered. With account details for other countries, you can sell to anyone around the world with ease.

Plus, with a Wise Business account, you can have bank details in several currencies and get paid like a local. Plus, you also can receive payments in multiple currencies without high recipient or conversion fees at the real exchange rate.

Get a Wise Business account

4. Build your website that’s easy-to-use

The interface of your website could make or break your online business.

Everyone has visited a website before only to find that the buttons don’t work as they should, the page layout is hard to follow, or there’s far too much text.

As an online business, your website is more or less all you have. As such, you need to make sure it’s professional and comfortable for the customer to interact with.

It should be intuitive for the customer, which means navigating through the various landing pages should be simple. There should be visible call-to-action buttons that make purchasing a breeze.

Alternatively, you could try a web hosting solution such as an ecommerce platform. Shopify and BigCommerce offer a streamlined way to set up an online business and start selling from day one.

5. Market your new online business

You could have the best products and services on the market, but you will struggle to reach your desired target audience if your marketing is lackluster.

Landing upon the perfect marketing strategy for your online business can be tricky, but there are plenty of resources - free and paid - that can help you find it.

Use pay-per-click ads

Pay-per-click (PPC) ads can effectively drive traffic to your website if you have the funds.

With PPC ads, every time someone clicks on your ads in the search engine, you will pay a small sum of money. The benefit is there’s a strong chance people will come across your business naturally through something as simple as an online search.

Perfect your email marketing

Email marketing is a great strategy for drumming up interest in your online business, and it can help you create a valuable customer base.

By sending out emails full of value to subscribers, you can easily secure long-term loyalty and sell to your target audience.

Lean on best SEO practices

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the best way to increase the visibility of your online business and the content you produce.

By scaling the SEO rankings, you can pop up at the top of people’s searches, which should inevitably convert to an increase in sales.

Reach out to influencers

Influencer marketing is huge in today’s society since more and more people are becoming internet famous and are using their positions of power to influence purchase decisions.

Establish a social media presence

Social media is a highly effective tool for any business’s growth, and it’s especially important for an online business.

By building an audience on social media platforms, you can tap into the latest trends and capitalize on where people’s attention is at in order to reach as many potential customers as possible.

6. Increase your sales with follow-up marketing

With an online business, you have an excellent opportunity to upsell and offer the customer complementary products and incentivize future purchases.

For example, if you are selling kitchenware and a customer purchases a kettle, why not offer the customer a mug at a discounted price?

Coupons and loyalty programs are excellent ways to encourage customers to part with their cash too, so they’re worth looking into.

5 best ideas for starting an online business

When starting an online business, you need an idea of what model you’ll follow. Here are some of the best ideas for inspiration:

1. Start a dropshipping business

One of the best ideas for an online business you might not have heard of is dropshipping.

Essentially, dropshipping is when you sell products directly to the consumer without ever needing the inventory.

How is this possible?

Well, once a customer makes a purchase from your website, you buy the product from a third-party company - typically a wholesaler - and then forward the order to their address.

eBay and AliExpress are two popular sites to use for a dropshipping business.

2. Launch a blog

If you know how to write or have a lot to say, blogging can be an excellent way to generate income.

While you shouldn’t expect to start earning immediately with a blog, there are several ways to make money, including affiliate ads, selling e-books and courses, and more.

3. Become an affiliate marketer

An affiliate marketer is someone who sells products without an inventory. It sounds a lot like dropshipping, right?

The key difference is that with affiliate marketing, you find a partner such as a large online retailer like Amazon with the products you wish to sell. You can sell both digital and physical products, and if people use your link to make the purchase, you earn a commission.

4. Build apps or design websites

If you’re a software designer, or you know a thing or two about coding, you can make a business of building apps and designing websites for clients.

There’s a lot of money in web design, so if you have the skills or are willing to learn, it can be a lucrative area to base your online business on.

5. Create information products

Information products include everything from online courses and webinars, to audio and video clips.

If you have something interesting to say or insider knowledge in a certain niche, you could sell interviews, instructional webinars, or e-books to your target audience.

Bottom line

There are dozens of excellent online business models out there, so providing you have a skill, a passion, or an entrepreneurial mindset, you should be able to create your own successful online business.

Establish what niche you’re looking to fill and who your target audience will be, then settle upon the right business model for you based on what you wish to sell and what skills you have.

Learn more about Wise Business


This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from TransferWise Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

Wise is the smart, new way to send money abroad.

Find out more

Tips, news and updates for your location