Making It Know

Find Your Ecommerce Opportunity

Starting a business is one of the most exciting and rewarding things a person can do. It's also becoming an increasingly popular endeavor. According to the U.S. Census Bureau's Business Formation Statistics, there were more than 450,000 new business applications alone in July 2021.

No matter when you get started, launching an ecommerce business comes with many benefits, like lower overhead and the ability to reach a wider audience online. The first step in launching an online business is finding the right opportunity that aligns your skills and passions. 

Pick your business niche

Here's how to decide on a winning online business idea.

Think about your passions. Ask yourself what you enjoy doing for fun outside of work, and then examine any niche markets or opportunities within that passion. For example, if you have a knack for finding thrift-store deals, perhaps an online vintage clothing shop is right for you. 

Know your own strengths. Everybody has a unique skill or talent that only they can provide. Perhaps you went to school and learned a trade or a craft, or you're great at giving informal career advice to friends and a life coaching business is more your speed. Zeroing in on your specialty—what separates you from everyone else—can help you identify the kind of business you’d like to start. 

Research other online businesses. One of the best ways to determine your own business direction is to research what other online businesses are doing—or not doing. When you understand the market and your competitors, you can spot an opportunity and make your business idea stand out from the pack.

Talk to trusted colleagues. Sharing a business idea with other people can be intimidating, especially if it's something in which you feel personally invested. However, using other people as a sounding board can be a valuable way to crystallize your vision. Outside perspective can also help you consider business angles or niches you might have overlooked.

What kinds of online businesses are there?

Ecommerce business. A business focused on ecommerce involves you selling products directly to customers online. This could be something you make yourself—for example, artists and bakers often set up online businesses to take orders—or existing merchandise, such as things you find in thrift stores.

Some common ecommerce business ideas include:

  • Vintage or handcrafted apparel

  • Home goods, like candles or ceramics

  • Accessories, like jewelry or handbags

  • Specialty foods, like baked goods or beverages

  • Health and beauty products

  • Fine art prints or crafts

Professional services. Instead of selling goods, you're providing services to other people for a fee. This includes basically anything that requires scheduling a time to meet (virtually or in-person) with a client or group of clients. Appointments for massage therapy, yoga classes, or design consultation meetings are all examples of services you could sell. 

Here are some of the most common types of online service businesses:

  • Copywriting

  • Coaching

  • Fitness classes

  • Photography

  • Wellness consulting

  • Graphic design

  • Web design

  • SEO services

  • Social media consulting

Digital content and classes. Selling digital content is a type of ecommerce that’s been gaining popularity over the past few years. Digital content includes things like pre-recorded classes, podcasts, written content, downloadable templates, or really anything sellable that’s not a physical product or time-based service. You could choose to sell digital content or classes without restrictions, or choose to give exclusive access to your digital content through a membership fee. For example, if you run a weekly newsletter, you could offer a subscription tier where readers who pay a membership fee get exclusive access to additional newsletter content.

Dropshipping. For people selling physical products with limited time to work on an online business (or minimal space in their homes), dropshipping is an excellent option. With this type of business, you set up a website to sell goods or merchandise, but don't keep inventory on hand. Instead, dropshippers procure inventory from an off-site business—usually a wholesaler or manufacturer—and hire third-party companies to handle shipping and fulfillment. This method is more cost-effective and involves less risk, since you're only paying for what customers buy.

Affiliate marketing. This is another popular online business that's relatively easy to set up and implement. Via a personal blog or commerce-based site, you set up links to existing goods being sold on other websites and take a percentage of the purchase price for yourself.

Multiple revenue streams. When running an online business, it’s also common to develop offerings across more than one of the types of business models outlined in this article. For example, you could be a photographer who books photoshoots with clients, sells prints to ship out, and offers a library of streaming tutorial videos behind your membership paywall. Creating a variety of offerings encourages your audience to stay engaged and broadens your revenue opportunities.

The advantages of online businesses

Starting an online business offers multiple benefits over other enterprises.

  • Flexibility. For those who are juggling other responsibilities, such as school or family, online businesses offer flexibility. You can work from home when it's convenient, even if it's outside of normal work hours, such as nights and weekends.

  • Less financial risk. Starting a brick-and-mortar business requires more expenses up front, as you're paying for things such as rent, utilities, and office supplies. A home-based online business requires less overhead—usually just costs related to maintaining a website, online marketing and advertising, and products and merchandise.

  • It's easier to pivot and respond to opportunities. Your first business idea might not always work out—or, as your business evolves, you might discover more opportunities for growth and profit. An internet business idea is easier to pivot, as these don't involve as much physical infrastructure investment.

Ready for the next step? Learn how to create your business plan.

No matter your business idea, build a digital storefront that will set you up for long-term success.

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