There are plenty of advantages to being a business owner. First, owning a small business provides the opportunity to earn more money. Also, being a business owner means you are in control of everything. You decide when to work, where, and what to sell.
Meanwhile, the first step to becoming an entrepreneur is finding a small business idea that works for you. In this article, we go through small business ideas to serve as inspiration for beginners.
What is a small business, and why start it online?
Anyone can start an online business as long as you have a small business idea and a working internet connection in this age and time. Today, you have all the tools to set up your own business online.
Any business that functions on a small scale involves less investment and less human/machine labor to operate is a small business. Most entrepreneurs with huge companies and corporations started by running small businesses.
Meanwhile, social media and online technology make it easier than ever for anyone to start a small business. This includes entrepreneurs who run businesses as their full-time job and those who run them as a side hustle.
With a profitable B2B online business, you can:
- Avoid expensive startup costs,
- Choose your working hours
- Work as little or as much as you want
- Pick a niche that you are knowledgeable or passionate about
More importantly, starting an online business makes it easy to be your boss and earn money from anywhere.
Best small business ideas to start with little money
Before starting any business, it’s essential to decide on what to sell and analyze if it’s profitable or not. The last thing you want is to invest time and effort in a business that isn’t profitable.
Here are 21 low-cost small business ideas that Alibaba.com picks you can consider for your entrepreneurial journey:
1. Start a dropshipping business
Dropshipping is a profitable business to start online, especially if you do not want to buy products in advance. Some entrepreneurs make up to $100,000 a year from drop shipping.1
How does it work?
Dropshipping involves sourcing from suppliers at wholesale prices and then selling them to consumers without stocking inventory. Many B2B e-commerce stores like Alibaba.com make it easy for drop shippers to find suppliers and sell to consumers.
Dropshipping is also a low-risk and profitable small business because you do not need to incur running costs, unlike wholesalers. You can specialize in any product as a drop shipper, but it’s best to focus on products that sell well and are of high quality.
2. Develop and sell a niche product
Carving out a niche product for a specific target audience is another great small business idea. Instead of depending on suppliers and manufacturers for goods, you can develop your product.
Before racking your head for a product idea, it’s best to choose a specific niche first. For instance, if your interested niche is fashion, you can produce apparel, lip gloss, or skincare. If you’re more interested in art and creativity, you can offer notebooks, journals, and so on. Different niches have multiple product ideas, and it’s up to you to decide what you want to produce.
3. Design and sell print-on-demand t-shirts
Another profitable yet inexpensive small business idea is to offer customized t-shirts to customers. In 2020, the printing t-shirt market was valued at $4 billion.2
Print-on-demand t-shirts are an excellent dropshipping idea for entrepreneurs who want to enter the fashion or design industry. Also, you do not have to worry about inventory or stock as you only print on demand.
To start this small business, you will need to create t-shirt mockup designs (there are templates online) to allow customers to preview the design. Once a customer orders a shirt, you can leverage platforms like Printiful to create designs or outsource to a print-on-demand service. Also, the trick to being successful in this industry is to offer unique and cute designs that showcase people’s identities and personalities.
4. Sell print-on-demand posters, greeting cards, and prints
There is something very unique about custom-made and artistic products. Even though the world can now leverage technology to send their messages, most people still prefer sending customized greeting cards. A study showed that nine out of every ten households buy greeting cards each year.3
Also, many people love artistic posters, prints, and wall hangings which you can offer through print-in-demand services. If you are an artist, designer, writer, or have a thing for print-on-demand goods like posters and greeting cards, this is a small business idea to consider.
5. Sell handcrafted and homemade goods
While technology and computers have made production easy, it hasn’t stopped the demand for homemade products. In fact, the handmade and homemade craft market is fast evolving into a large industry.4 This is mainly because many consumers now prefer products made by an actual human. There’s the longing for a human touch, thus making it a good idea to sell unique and personal handcrafted goods.
Handcrafted goods may include crochet, beadwork, metalwork, handmade dresses, scented candles, pet toys, weaves, etc. It’s also a plus if you have the skills to make the goods yourself. However, if you can’t make the products yourself, you can always collaborate with people who do.
6. Sell sustainable products
As people become more aware of global warming and climate change, there has been more demand for sustainable products. The Economist Intelligence Unit also reported that there had been a 71% rise in online searches for sustainable goods since 2016.5
If you are passionate about the environment and want to start a business, selling eco-friendly products is a good small business idea. Different product options include recycled fabric, reusable straws, eco-friendly shopping bags, stainless steel, etc. Investing in this market is also a great way to gain customer trust.
7. Start a pet business
The pet market is a booming industry that offers the possibility of financial success for those who get into it. According to the American Pet Products Association, US pet owners spent $103.6 billion on their pets in 2020.6 This isn’t a surprising statistic because pets have always played important roles in many people’s lives. They are like a part of the family, and it’s natural for pet owners to care for their companions.
Getting into the pet industry is especially a great opportunity if you are a pet person yourself. Whether you offer pet products, grooming materials, or pet food/treats, there’s always room to thrive in the industry.
8. Create an online fashion boutique
Running an online boutique is a great way to capitalize on your passion and skills if you have an eye for fashion. Statistica estimated that the apparel industry will likely generate more than $153 billion by 2024. 7
Meanwhile, the fashion industry is a massive market, so it’s always better to niche down when starting a small business. For instance, instead of focusing on everything fashion, you can niche down to female shoes or jewelry or vintage wear. You can choose a niche based on your passion or use tools like Google trends for market gaps and insights.
9. Start a beauty business
The beauty business has never been out of vogue for decades now. Many people are into beauty and skincare products, and anyone who can hack into the business will find it profitable.
And the best part of this small business?
There are a lot of niche ideas in the beauty industry. You can focus on makeup, skincare, haircare, jewelry, DIY products, and so on. Another great advantage of starting a beauty business is that it’s easy to showcase products online. You can share before and after pictures, beauty tips, and recommendations with your audience.
10. Sell phone accessories
Mobile devices have become an essential need that most people can’t live without. And, as long as people use phones, there will always be a demand for phone accessories. Starting a phone accessory business can be very profitable, and it doesn’t require a lot of starting capital. You can focus on different accessories like:
- Phone cases
- Ring lights
- Memory cards
- Earphones and so on.
11. Sell sports apparel
There are many lucrative sports business ideas, and one of them is selling sports apparel. According to Global Industry Analysts Inc., sports and fitness clothing will be valued at $231.7 billion worldwide by 2024.8 While big companies like Nike and Adidas are key stakeholders in the sports apparel industry, there’s room for small businesses to thrive too.
Selling sports items and clothing is one of the easiest ways to earn money in the sports industry. However, you should ensure that you only deal with trendy, comfortable, and unique products.
12. Sell mother & baby products
You can earn a lot from selling mama and baby products online. Parents need to buy products for their children’s well-being and maintenance, so there will always be customers for this market. There are many products in this industry, including pregnancy braces, pacifiers, baby clothing, maternity clothes, baby food, carriers, etc.
A good small business idea in the children’s products industry is to always look for trending and essential products. Sell what babies and mums always need because those are likely to sell better.
13. Start a wholesale jewelry business
More than 29 million people purchased jewelry online daily in 2021.9 If you think of starting a lucrative business online, you should consider selling wholesale jewelry. There is always a market for it, and the industry keeps growing.
As a jewelry distributor, you’ll have the option of different products to select from. Some trendy jewelry products include fine jewelry, precious stones jewelry, handmade jewelry, costume jewelry, and body jewelry.
Another great thing about the jewelry business is that shipping is always easy compared to heavy products like electronics.
14. Create digital products or online courses
Digital products include things like podcasts, online courses, and ebooks. You can monetize your expertise by selling it as digital content or online courses. For instance, if you have marketing skills, you can create an ebook on marketing 101 for new entrepreneurs or organize an online class.
Digital products are intangible, so you do not need to worry about delivery. Other digital products you can sell asides from online courses include:
- Online tools and templates
- Editing presets
15. Host virtual events
Another great small business idea to make money is hosting events on social media or other platforms. You’ve likely attended a webinar online or connected to an event through video conferencing. Since the pandemic, there has been a rise in virtual events, and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere soon.
Many businesses and companies are pushing out virtual events. Most of the time, they will rather outsource the planning/hosting to a professional. There are different event ideas, but one of the most popular is webinars, which involve inviting one or more speakers to present to a virtual audience.
16. Invest in vending machines
A brilliant way to make extra cash is by investing in vending machines. The vending machine industry generates more than $23 billion in annual revenue.10You can decide to invest in one or many vending machines depending on your capital.
To get into this small business, all you need is to place the vending machine in a strategic location. Also, you have to decide what products you want to sell or even sell multiple products. Some of the most popular vending machine products are snacks, beverages, and confectionery. You can also go for nonedible products like medicines, magazines, cosmetics, first aid, and so on.
17. Become a social media manager
Many companies need to run social media accounts to manage their businesses. This is especially important now that 45% of the world’s population use social media.11
However, many entrepreneurs often need to outsource the job of running multiple accounts to social media managers. As a social media manager, you can help businesses create content and manage their accounts. An excellent social media manager provides strategies to help a business improve its online visibility and engagement. If you are social media savvy, enjoy content creation and have social media marketing skills, this is a good idea to consider.
18. Become an SEO consultant
Many business owners are obsessed with ranking their websites on search engines. For this reason, there is a high demand for SEO consultants who can wrap their heads around SEO optimization, link building, content creation, and so on.12
If you know the ins and outs of SEO, starting a consulting business for website owners could be a profitable opportunity for you. Clients will pay you to offer them SEO strategy, analyze their web performance and boost their online engagement. If you don’t have SEO skills yet, you can master them and offer businesses your help.
19. Provide web content services
Content is an integral part of digital marketing efforts for businesses and e-commerce companies. For this reason, a lot of people require the expertise of those who can develop high-performing content for their websites.
If you have excellent marketing and writing skills, starting a career in web content will work perfectly for you. Some of the commonly sought-after content that may require your writing skills include:
- Blog posts
- Website copy
- Social media posts
- Email newsletters, and so on.
You can hop on a freelancing platform or contact companies directly to get into this small business.
20. Become a translator
If you’re bilingual, creative, and looking for a small business idea to start, you should consider offering translation services. There is an increasing need to translate texts into different languages to serve a global audience.
Movies need to be translated, car manuals need to be translated, and your Korean skincare bottle needs to be translated. This B2B service is essential for businesses that sell to global customers worldwide. Whether you speak French or Italy or Mandarin as a second language, there is always a company looking for translation services.
21. Sell your artwork
Here is a unique small business idea if you are an artist or creative: sell your artworks. Whether you have a passion for taking photographs or painting, you can easily set up a store to sell your prints.
Also, several photography sites will be willing to pay for your artwork. This is a good idea if you are an artist looking for a way to sell your creative works or products.
5 tips for starting a small business online
The small business ideas covered in this article are just a few out of many available. Whether you have found a small business idea or exploring other options, here are 5 tips you should consider when starting an online business:
1: Focus on a niche market
Business is always easier when you have a specific niche and target audience. For example, if your industry is fashion, you can choose jewelry for men as your niche. This makes it easier to reach your target audience and market your products better.
The best way to find a niche market is to conduct market research. You can leverage platforms like Alibaba.com to conduct marketing research for your business.
2: Build an online storefront on Alibaba.com
Alibaba.com is one of the biggest B2B e-commerce platforms in the world. This marketplace brings together millions of B2B buyers and sellers worldwide.
Having Alibaba.com makes it easier to connect with customers online, set up your store, and sell your products.
3: Identify your potential customers
Customers are the most critical part of your business, so it’s best to target the right people. You are in business because there are people who need the solution your products or services offer. To identify your audience, you need to ask questions like:
- Who are your potential customers, and what’s their demography (age, gender, location)?
- What are their main challenges, and how can you help solve them?
- Whom do they buy from, and what’s their buying habit?
Understanding your audience is crucial for building a marketing strategy that works.
4: Leverage multi-channels
The beauty of online business is that you have the option to leverage multiple channels. Instead of sticking to one channel, consider using different channels to sell your products. For instance, if you have an e-commerce site, you can also leverage different social media websites to list your products.
5: Don’t stop marketing
In the past, it was possible to count on people to buy your products without marketing. Not anymore, there are millions of businesses out there, and so it’s a competitive market.
If you do not invest in building your business reputation and marketing your small business, it’ll be hard to reach your customers. Social media now makes it easy to market your small business on the plus side. So, take advantage of social media and digital marketing tools to promote your brand and build a community of loyal audiences.
How to start a small business at home
There are numerous advantages of starting a small business idea right at home. By starting a small business at home, you will save money on many overhead costs. However, before starting a good small business online, it’s essential to plan thoroughly to ensure things run smoothly. Here are some steps to start a small business at home:
1: Decide on a small business idea
This is, of course, an obvious one, but some people often start a small business without knowing what they are getting into. If you want to start a small business at home, you need a small business idea and validate it.
Once you’ve decided on something to sell, you need to analyze the viability of your new small business idea. Is there a market for your small business? Will people be willing to pay for your products/services? Is your small business idea profitable?
There are many small business ideas you can start at home. You can sell homemade products, start affiliate marketing, sell your writing skills, sell digital products, etc.
2: Set up a small business plan
Once you have a small business idea, it’s time to draw up a plan on how you intend to run your business. A good small business plan will serve as a roadmap to understanding and running your new small business. Also, small business plans are essential to identify your industry and create marketing strategies.
To create a solid plan, you’ll need to:
- Identify your business objectives
- Conduct a market research
- Identify your target audience and competitors
- Plan for your budget.
There are also multiple resources and templates online to help small business owners put together a plan.
3: Brand your business
Building a brand is an essential part of starting an online small business. By definition, branding involves building strategic features to distinguish your organization from another. Good branding improves the perception of your small business, increases customers, and boosts sales.
Some branding elements of small business include:
- Business name
3: Set up a marketplace
Now that you have a small business idea and a small business plan, it’s time to get your marketplace running. A marketplace makes it easy for customers to see your business and buy from you. To build a great marketplace, you will need to conduct market research to determine what suits your business.
There are several options to set up a marketplace, including:
- Hosting your own site
- Leveraging third-party platforms like Alibaba.com
- Opening social media accounts
4: Test your new small business ideas
You have put in the hard work to plan your small business, and now it’s time to launch your small business ideas. Announce to the world that you are now open for small business. You can announce through social media, email, online ads, and so on.
5: Create a unique marketing strategy
You should build a marketing strategy to promote your brand now that you’ve launched your business. How do you position your brand in a way that fuels your business growth? You need to figure this out to attract more customers and make more sales.
Some common marketing strategies for online businesses include:
- Social media marketing
- Email marketing
- Content marketing
Sell on Alibaba.com
As a small business owner, it’s important to leverage all the tools you can to reach a wider audience. Ready to sell on a global marketplace and meet millions of customers? Leverage Alibaba.com!
Alibaba.com is a B2B marketplace that offers business owners the platform to list their products and sell to a wide audience. Also, Alibaba.com provides marketing tools and 24/7 customer support to grow your business.
It’s easy to get started on Alibaba.com. Open a seller account, list your products and sell to a global audience.