It is easier to start an online business than an offline brick and mortar business. The startup is far less capital intensive, the barrier to entry far lower, and the return on investment can be insane for the time you put in. But what are the models out there that exist that people can leverage to create what they personally want in their lives?
Adsense is probably the simplest business model that exists online right now. Basically, you create a content site and drive traffic (typically organic search engine traffic, but there are those who have successfully ran paid traffic) to the site. The traffic clicks on the Adsense ads and Google cuts you a check for the ad exposure.
Amazon is among the oldest online affiliate program in existence. It is also one of the most trusted online brands around, which means it can convert highly. People will often create portfolios of these styled sites, usually where they are reviewing various products. Similar to Adsense, this is a very easy place for a newbie to start out, and an expert can make it into quite a lucrative endeavor.
Similar to the Amazon affiliate business model, you simply sign up to sell different products, and build sites around those products or services. Almost every product or service you can imagine under the sun has an affiliate program somewhere. There are entire businesses that have cropped up around helping other businesses create affiliate offers and attracting affiliates to those offers – called Affiliate Networks. There are even businesses that have cropped up that organize all the different Affiliate Networks in an easy to find place, such as OfferVault.
Dropshipping is a good place for people just starting out to experiment with the ecommerce business model. Instead of spending large upfront costs on a product, and storing that product, you instead create an entire sales funnel that the actual factory ships direct to the buyer. The margins are thinner than traditional ecommerce, but it is a great place for someone just starting out, or those who have become marketing experts, to grow significant businesses.
Amazon FBA (Fulfillment by Amazon) is closer to an ecommerce store, but it is completely hosted on Amazon.com. Your store is actually an Amazon listing, and with that comes all the benefits that the online behemoth has to offer: built in traffic, Amazon affiliates that could end up promoting your products on their niche sites, and even Amazon promoting your products for free if they are proven to convert. This can be a lucrative business to be in, and those who are in it for the long haul will often build a brand around their products, so they can eventually leverage multichannel selling with their own ecommerce store.
Ecommerce is like having a digital retail store. You buy a product, find a place to store and fulfill orders for that product, and promote the store through a plethora of internet marketing strategies. Many people use paid traffic that they send to their store as the #1 way to get buyers and test new items. Ecommerce works well with dropshipping too, since dropshipping will allow a store owner to test out new kinds of products without an upfront cost. The products that convert best could then be sourced, so that all the products on the store are eventually branded specifically to that online business. I recently wrote a case study on an ecommerce store we sold on the Shopify platform for over $80,000 that you can read here.
SaaS products are exploding right now, which makes sense, as they can be quite lucrative. Since almost every SaaS product has a rebilling feature, each customer can have a significant lifetime value that allows these companies to lose money on the initial acquisition of a customer, but still make a profit down the road due to that customer’s continuous usage of the software. SaaS products are allowing small businesses more than ever to have high level infrastructure without the high level IT costs that would be associated with them building their own software. SaaS products are everywhere, from accounting and sales CRMs to even writing solutions for fiction authors.
Most people that are just starting out in online business were probably a customer a time or two for someone selling an ebook or video course about making money online. This market exists in many more niches than just the make money online space. People selling training, dating advice, fitness consultation, or even products about how you can appear taller are all part of this space. The great thing about infoproducts is that all the work for the most part is front loaded — once the product is created and converting, you can scale it to the moon. It costs nothing extra to sell 1,000 units instead of 1 unit, outside of the obvious marketing costs, making this business incredibly lucrative in the hands of the right person.
Apps are a big business. At the time of this writing, Pokémon GO has become such a huge phenomenon that there are more active users playing Pokémon GO than there are on Twitter. That is some crazy numbers, and shows that apps can still be huge money makers, despite increased competition. The biggest thing with apps is making the app as addictive as possible, so people keep using it once they have downloaded it, rather than being pushed to some folder the mobile phone users never open again. For someone who loves to learn about user engagement, combining that skill set with useful and entertaining apps can mean big business.
Productized services are a relatively new kid on the block for proven online business models, and they have been a godsend for many a freelancer turned full-fledged entrepreneur. It is a way to take what normally would be a one-to-one client service, such as web design and SEO, and packaging them into a more packaged service. Because of this, it can limit one of the biggest frustrations that freelancers know as a “scope creep”. Where one job slowly grows into a monstrous job that begins to eat into the freelancer’s profits. Instead, people buy packages and are sometimes upsold on more customized solutions that are still “productized”. It is an exciting opportunity, and businesses like WPCurve and Design Pickle have shown that it can work wonders, even despite early-doubters (who are now huge fans of the model).
Lead Gen is an amazing opportunity right now for both local markets, and on the (inter)national stage. These kinds of opportunities could consist of affiliate programs where you are sending leads to offers such as college or higher level education, or it could be on a per client basis like the local plumber who is willing to pay $20-30 bucks per a qualified lead. The nice thing about lead gen over a one-on-one client agency model is that you are usually not exclusive and you can use a full range of internet marketing strategies to generate those leads versus having to wait for approval from a client before moving forward with one.
Greg Elfrink (2016), The 11 Most Popular Online Business Models, Empire Flippers, July 27, 2016.