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From print-on-demand services and fashion reselling to tutoring and legal consulting, starting an online business is often inexpensive to start and flexible to run. — Eva-Katalin/Getty Images

If you’re thinking about starting an online business, current statistics are quite encouraging. B2C e-commerce sales are expected to exceed $4.5 trillion in 2021 worldwide, a nearly 250% increase versus $1.3 trillion in 2014. Poised for growth, the online platform is ripe for entrepreneurs ready to lean into one of the many interesting categories currently gaining momentum.

Looking for something that aligns well with your interests, skill set and resources? Check out these 10 trending ideas and this step-by-step guide as a starting point.

Dropshipping

Dropshipping is hugely popular in the world of online selling. Some sources estimate that it accounts for nearly one-third of e-commerce business models. Dropshipping means you create the business, website and marketing/promotional initiatives and a third-party handles the fulfillment and shipping. There is no paying suppliers until your customers pay you.

The key, many experts will tell you, is to choose a niche category and selection of goods that establishes you as the destination for something unique and desirable. Identifying popular and growth categories that are profitable such as health and beauty and jewelry is key and Pagefly and Oberlohave some good advice on where to start. The allure of drop shipping is that it doesn’t require the seller to assume the burden of inventory, minimizes investment and often maximizes profitability.

Print on demand

Print on demand is a process where you work with a supplier to customize white-label products (like blank, unbranded baseball hats, t-shirts or tote bags) with your own graphics or designs and sell them on a per-order basis under your own brandname. It’s become a hugely popular e-commerce business and growing.

Print on demand allows you to capitalize on your own creativity or what’s happening in pop culture — from cute, funny and buzz-worthy phrases and memes to world events — and print them on clothing, wall art, mugs, drawstring bags, etc. There is typically little to no upfront investment and inventory necessary, which means no warehousing. Once you have the custom artwork, Printify makes it easy to get up and running with the largest network of print providers and a catalog of over 200 ready-for-print items, from reusable water bottles to eco-friendly hoodies.

Virtual assistant

A virtual assistant helps entrepreneurs, businesses and executives organize their personal and professional lives. They are currently touted as one of the best investments a business owner can make so that they can keep their eye on building their business while someone else takes care of the small stuff.

If you're organized, resourceful and enjoy finding the structure within the chaos, this could be a rewarding gig for you. Responsibilities may vary from appointment scheduling to social media management and everything in between. You can even start a service with multiple assistants, each with their own area of specialization or group of clients. Everything you need to consider to get up and running as a virtual assistant can be found here.

Subscription box curator

The subscription-based eCommerce market is worth about $10 billion, according to Fuel by McKinsey. On top of that, more than half of online shoppers (54%) say they subscribe to a subscription box service, making this category a very compelling one for those who are contemplating venturing into the subscription box space.

According to a report by Conjointly, shoppers are attracted to the novelty, convenience, personalization and value of subscription boxes — all things to consider when identifying the right product assortment for yours. Keep in mind that you don’t need to create your own products. You can source unique items from other vendors that fit your niche or themes and organize them together in a great package. The Subscription Trade Association can provide some great resources for getting started.

Virtual tutor

The demand for students needing tutoring services across elementary, middle and high school has skyrocketed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Business Research Company, online tutoring is expected to reach $2.38 billion in 2023, representing a growth rate of 15.7%.

Another key market driver is the growing importance of STEM education. Video platforms like Zoom and Skype make it easy to reach students all over the world.

Get started as an online tutor by filming a video introducing your expertise and services and sharing it with your personal network of friends, family and neighbors. If you have a limited network, consider signing up with online tutoring service like TutorMe, Skooli or Varsity Tutors that can connect you with students seeking help. The higher your education level and expertise in a subject, the better. Attaining accredited tutoring certification can also enhance your marketable qualifications and success.

If you’re social media savvy with solid shot-form writing skills and a finger on the pulse of pop culture, you can do very well marketing yourself to mid-sized and local businesses.

Photography/video content

If you have a knack for photography or video - whether professionally or as a hobbyist, consider setting up a website to market and sell your visual content. Companies of all types and sizes, bloggers and graphic designers all need images to enhance their digital content. Especially popular: photos of people of all cultures, food, travel and nature.

Alternatively, or in tandem, you can sell your images to stock photo companies like Getty, Shutterstock, Adobe Stock or Foap, which are always looking for content to sell on their highly trafficked online platforms. It’s similar for moving images, and video sites like Dareful, Pexels and Pixabay are among leaders in that domain. You don’t have as much control and you only get a percentage of the sales, but the built-in traffic and marketing could be well worth it. In either scenario, investing in growing your portfolio could open doors to other lucrative projects.

Corporate counsel consultant

Nearly every business, regardless of size, scope or industry, requires the expert advice of an attorney from time to time. There are documents to review, contracts to draft and products to patent, however there isn’t always the volume or budget to justify in-house counsel.

Operating as a virtual corporate counsel consultant can be a lucrative business, with modern technology helping to facilitate the ability to seamlessly draft, share, review and file documents, as well as communicate with clients in an online environment — all while ensuring that data remains secure and confidential.

There are geographical jurisdiction considerations as well as the challenge of prospecting clients. Becoming part of the network of leading online legal providers such as Legal Zoom or Rocket Lawyer can help to connect you to clients in your area.

SEO consultant

The demand for search engine optimization specialists has never been greater. The competition to stand out and capture business in the online landscape is intense. Ninety-three percent of online experiences begin with a search and most searches turn out hundreds of results. Yet 75% of people never scroll past the first page and the brands and businesses that rank highest usually get the clicks, traffic and conversion.

For those who know how to write creatively with a user-centric focus and an aptitude for keywords, site optimization and how search engines work, SEO consulting is a highly in-demand and high-paying field to strongly consider. The more experience, certifications and understanding, the better. Mashable has a comprehensive guide of the best online courses for all levels of SEO.

Fashion reseller

If thrift stores, garage sales and flea markets are your playgrounds, you could make some serious cash selling secondhand treasures. Online thrift flipping is the practice of purchasing used items and selling them online for a profit.

Thrift shopping has gone mainstream, with resale growth estimated at 21 times faster than the retail apparel market over the past three years, fueled by millennials and the digitally native Generation Z who have an eye toward sustainability and want to buy unique styles without the hefty price tag.

Take advantage of the recession-proof recommence movement by positioning yourself as a trustworthy online curator with quality vintage pieces or by leveraging established recommerce destinations like ThredUp, Poshmark and The RealReal.

Social media marketing

Effective social media marketing can be very time-consuming for a business without a dedicated social media manager, yet it has become perhaps the most important facet of the marketing mix for large and small businesses alike.

As a result, more and more brands are outsourcing their social media management to agencies or freelancers. If you’re social media savvy with solid shot-form writing skills and a finger on the pulse of pop culture, you can do very well marketing yourself to mid-sized and local businesses.

As a social media manager, you’ll be responsible for audience growth and engagement, running campaigns, researching how best to gain followers and engage audiences across various platforms, generating content (often daily), providing timely responses to comments, monitoring analytics and optimizing respectively. Online Course Report provides information on some of the best online courses for all ranges of experience.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published December 21, 2020