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Online Business Examples: How to Unlock Your Potential

Written by Erika Ellacott

Most people are familiar with the mega corporations winning online (you probably have a package from them on your porch right now). And you’ve likely heard the stories of fancy Silicon Valley startups with nap pods and gourmet chefs in their office. 

But you don’t need to be on an episode of Shark Tank, win the lottery, or convince an angel investor to fund your dream and start your own business.

In this post, we’ll discuss how the democratization of commerce through platforms like WooCommerce makes it possible for everyday people to make money online. Anyone with an entrepreneurial spirit and a dedication to consistent hard work can succeed in creating their own side hustle or even full-time business online. 

We’ll also look at some of the best online business ideas to inspire your journey to come. Let’s get started.

The future is here. Will you take advantage of it? 

Today, you can market and sell products and services online without the need to learn code or go to school for logistics management. You can monetize your passions, skills, and talents without quitting your job or risking your house. 

That dream in the back of your mind? You just need to grab it. 

Perhaps you’ll make millions. Perhaps you’ll make a difference in your community. Or, perhaps you’ll simply gain the freedom to live out your passion while providing a comfortable living for your family. 

WooCommerce homepage with the text, "the ecommerce platform that grows with you"

Leverage WooCommerce and WordPress

WooCommerce and WordPress act as a gateway for individuals from all walks of life to embark on entrepreneurial journeys. 

Both tools are free to use, and there are so many resources and community events (online and in-person) that, if you dedicate time and effort, you can build a powerful, profitable ecommerce site with little upfront investment. 

So if financial resources are your barrier, but you have the time and passion, using WooCommerce empowers you to do almost anything. 

WooCommerce is also so popular that you’ll never struggle to find highly-specialized developers, extensions, and tools to turn your dreams into reality. And as your idea grows, your WooCommerce store can scale right along with you. 

All types of stores — from enterprise businesses to B2B organizations — use WooCommerce and WordPress. Learn more about how to sell online and how to build your first WooCommerce store. 

The best online business ideas can turn hobbies into income

You might not need to scour the internet for business ideas. Look at what you’re currently doing or investigate your interests and hobbies. Maybe you sketch designs, create your own jewelry, or edit videos for fun. Or maybe you’ve got a book of pasta recipes your friends are always begging for. 

With the right adjustments, you can turn your hobby into an online business and even a full-time salary. It just requires some planning and execution.

Why start online?

An online business isn’t all that different from a brick-and-mortar one. Except, rather than leasing space in a strip mall, your business can create its own prime real estate on the internet.

If you’re short on capital or simply want to mitigate your risk, the internet provides inexpensive ways to test new online business ideas and connect with your potential audience.

You can cross geographic locations with ease and tap into even more niche markets and interests that may not be large enough to support a physical business in one location. And you don’t need expensive television ads or pricey billboards to reach the right people.

Put your ideas out there, get feedback, and refine them over and over again — and do all of this without spending a fortune. 

Real-life online business examples — who can succeed?

Let’s take a moment to explore a few success stories that demonstrate the diverse range of individuals and organizations who have found entrepreneurial opportunities online using WordPress and WooCommerce. 

Spoiler alert — anyone can follow their dream of starting their own online business. Whether you have a few dollars or a few million, it’s absolutely possible. So, keep in mind, these online business ideas are just a slice of what’s possible. These stories demonstrate the array of small business owners who have found entrepreneurial success online. 

Here are a few examples of the types of people winning WooCommerce: 

People experiencing major life changes

Sometimes the best business ideas come from your own life experience. What’s your current stage in life and what problems do you wish would just go away? Are you a college student? Prospective first-time homebuyer? Expectant parent? 

Take a look at Ubuntu Baba, a business for moms, built by a mother-to-be named Shannon. 

Ubuntu Baba website, featuring a woman wearing a baby carrier

She struggled to find a suitable baby carrier online, so decided to start an online business herself. She used WooCommerce to expand the operations of her home-based business to serve customers worldwide, creating a seamless and user-friendly experience for shoppers. It took off, and she’s not only found a lucrative business, but one that gives her purpose while reflecting her values. 

The point is that she saw an opportunity, and she took it. Sometimes, finding the best online business ideas for yourself is just that straightforward.

People in unique situations or with specific needs 

There are millions of people around the world who face unique challenges. If you consider yourself to be in that situation, or you have a heart to serve a population that could use more attention, there’s an opportunity to be found by selling online. 

the colorful homepage of Thomas's Trendy socks

Look at the inspiring story of Thomas’s Trendy Socks. Thomas, a young man with Down Syndrome, and his family utilized WooCommerce to create an online store for his sock business. He had a passion for fun socks and an idea to bring them to others. They then used WooCommerce to manage inventory, process orders, and provide excellent customer service. 

His successful business helped inspire thousands of others and promote inclusivity throughout the world. If you have online store ideas, you too can make them a reality!

Celebrities and influencers

Celebrities tapping into business is a tale as old as time. It seems almost everyone in Hollywood is labeling their own tequila. But others have used their celebrity to embrace personal passions that existed before the flashing lights and help others in the process.

Nick Offerman is a great example. You probably know him as the hyper-sensationalized American smart aleck on Parks and Rec, but he’s also a world class woodworker who runs the Offerman Woodshop — a collective of professionals with a focus on perfecting their craft and putting quality over quantity. 

the Offerman Woodshop hompage with photos of the team

Offerman had a personal connection to the design firm Aveling/Ray, who built a WooCommerce store to represent the woodshop. 

The result is an authentic representation of Offerman’s unique personality, his passion for quality craft, and the group of people who have embraced their passion as a full time career. 

Traditional business people 

The variety of opportunity in online business ideas isn’t limited to things that might be deemed quirky or off-the-beaten path. You don’t have to come up with a brilliant invention or find an untapped market in order to find success. Sometimes, the best or most lucrative idea already exists, and the efficiency allowed by a platform like WooCommerce helps entrepreneurs jump ahead of the competition.

Everyday products like soaps, juices, makeup, and air filters have all been creatively marketed and served through WooCommerce. And incremental changes can make a big difference to customers. For example, using a subscription model, shoppers can routinely receive replacements and forever check items off of their shopping list. 

Pair the convenience with added benefits like contributions to nonprofits, more wholesome ingredients, or a niche affinity, and you can turn something relatively boring into an exciting new venture.

Acoustical Solutions homepage with a photo of their wood wall panels

Joe Niemann, of Acoustical Solutions, spent 25 years in corporate jobs. When he was ready to capitalize on that experience, he joined some fellow colleagues to acquire and scale an existing small business. They’ve found incredible success online with WooCommerce. From our article interviewing successful entrepreneurs

“Our goal was to purchase an industrial manufacturing company. Fortunately, instead, we found this company, which is primarily a national B2B distribution business.”

He purchased the company in 2014 and, at the time, it was doing around $10,000 in online sales each month. Now, it’s closer to $450,000.

Anyone with a desire to change the world

Eat Grub is a successful online business built by two people who believe in changing western perceptions about insects. The founders recognized a rising demand for sustainable and alternative food sources, and created a business selling edible insect-based products. They used WooCommerce to build their online store, enabling them to easily manage inventory while creating a seamless shopping experience. 

Eat Grub homepage with photos of their products

In many ways, Eat Grub’s online store is no different than one you’d find in a brick-and-mortar location, except there’s less overhead and more flexibility. Setting up their shop online was an effective way to increase profits by bypassing the inefficiencies of many traditional businesses.

Spark your imagination: 17 online business ideas

Now you know about all this potential and you’ve seen some examples. But you still might be wondering, “How could I possibly generate income online?”

Like anything, the right best kind of online business ideas start with examining your current situation and skillset. Your skate passion might be worth a pretty penny and you don’t even realize it. Or maybe there’s something adjacent to your current career — such as content strategy consulting, web design, or copywriting — that you can explore as a side hustle. 

Below are a variety of online business examples meant to get your entrepreneurial juices flowing. 

1. Enter the world of dropshipping

If you’re not familiar with dropshipping, it’s a form of ecommerce business that doesn’t require you to manage inventory or worry about shipping logistics. The business model allows you to sell online without physically stocking your own products. 

You simply source products and market them to the right audiences. When someone places an order, a third-party supplier fulfills the entire thing. 

warehouse full of boxes

This is a smart practice and great online business idea because you’re not reliant on the challenges and risks that come with developing product ideas, producing or purchasing items, and managing inventory. You’re able to put all of your energy towards developing the right kind of dropshipping store, along with marketing to your audience.

If you’re not sure where to start, we’ve written extensive guides on how to set up a dropshipping store

2. Sell art online

Don’t let your insecurities hold you back from tapping into your full potential as an artist! In its best form, the internet can be a blank page for creatives. Artists can showcase their talents and sell their artwork to a global audience by establishing their own online businesses. 

While you can sell standard items like prints, you can also use print on demand to put your ideas on hundreds of possible products, all without stocking a single piece of inventory. 

shelves full of custom artwork

You could sell stock photography, design custom logos, or even create an online course teaching others how to improve their own art skills. The sky’s the limit!

3. Become a freelance copywriter, web designer, or developer

Behind the millions of WooCommerce stores, there are thousands of professionals helping people turn their creative visions into a reality. 

There’s an entire WordPress and WooCommerce industry of professional copywriters, web designers, and developers. 

If you write copy for your day job, you may be able to use your skill set to create freelance work on the side. After all, someone has to write those compelling product descriptions and fascinating blog posts!

Developers can create WordPress plugins or WooCommerce extensions that provide a functionality that store owners are always asking for. This requires up-front work and an ongoing investment to maintain and support the product, but it’s a great way to generate recurring revenue that isn’t dependent on you showing up to an office every day at 9am. 

Web designers can create the beautiful aesthetic that sets a store apart and keeps customers browsing. Using design expertise, tools like WooCommerce extensions and WordPress plugins, and often a fair amount of development skills, they create the framework for successful websites. 

Perhaps your online commerce future exists not in creating your own store, but helping others build and grow theirs. The community is strong, welcoming, and always growing. Learn how to get involved

WooExperts database with a search bar at the top

Already a professional? Apply to become a WooExpert. You’ll benefit from more leads and resources, alongside exclusive training and support.

Looking for an expert to help build the business website of your dreams? Start here. You can filter based on your exact requirements and trust that the agency you choose is vetted by WooCommerce.

4. Start a DIY blog or publication

Did you know that the Rolling Stone runs on WordPress? Actually, many famous brands and publications run on the world’s most popular content management system (CMS). 

RollingStone homepage showing recent articles

If you have an unquenchable passion for a subject and a knack for writing, you can start an online business with a simple blog and turn it into a part or full-time income. 

You’ll need a specific niche to target, a need for what you can offer, relentless persistence, and a bit of good fortune. Over time, you can build an audience that could support your work in a sort of Patreon-like way. Or you could even sell advertisements, monetizing your blog with a tool like Jetpack

5. Self-publish a book or two (or three)

WordPress removes the roadblocks that keep you from reaching the world with your written work. After all, one of the goals of WordPress is to democratize publishing.

Your own website could represent you as an author and help promote your book that’s sold in physical locations. But you could also use WooCommerce to sell copies (physical or digital versions, if you want to lower your startup costs even further) directly to readers and go the self publishing route.

woman working on a computer and notebook

As always, you’ll need to identify your audience and work hard to promote your book. But if you have a story to tell, you don’t need to wait on “permission” from a publisher. You can do it yourself and, with hard work, a great product, and a bit of luck, you could become a viral author.

6. Sell custom jewelry

There’s never been a better time to design unique jewelry or create stylish clothing to get started as a small business owner. The online market is ripe with opportunity, and a great online business idea may be to set up your own custom shop. 

custom rings on someone's fingers

Think of it as the ultimate booth at your local flea market. Whether you’re making handmade jewelry, custom clothing, or other accessories, the internet allows you to connect with a global audience and build a brand around your creations.

Even better? With tools like WooPayments, you can connect your own website with in-person event sales so inventory is always in-sync, anywhere becomes a sales opportunity, and customers can continue to shop days after they discover you at a local event! You can utilize Tap to Pay on your iPhone or purchase a card reader to take advantage of this functionality.

7. Sell sports team or club merch

Maybe you already have an established brand and want to sell your products more efficiently, like New Zealand’s national rugby team, The All Blacks. They wanted to create an online shop for their products that matched their aesthetic and brand philosophy. 

the All Blacks Shop website

They also needed streamlined order and inventory management as well as payment solutions unique to their audience. They found their ideal solution in WooCommerce and built the site in just four weeks

But you don’t have to work for a professional sports team to launch a flashy, effective online presence. 

From youth sports teams to social clubs for adults, you can run membership programs, sell merch, and post club publications and calendar updates all through WooCommerce and WordPress. Create a unique, proprietary presence that serves as a central hub for everyone. You can even include forums and other social aspects that are open to the public or closed for members only. 

Creating your presence on WordPress and WooCommerce is a better alternative to Etsy and Patreon as you’ll own your work and it can’t be taken down for arbitrary policy violations. 

8. Become a virtual assistant

There are countless busy professionals and entrepreneurs who work exclusively online and need help with administrative tasks, scheduling, and other organizational responsibilities. If you’re good at these types of things, you could be a lifesaver for someone.

woman working on her laptop and a notebook

You may even start as a one-person operation and grow into a fledgling firm with dozens of assistants serving clients all over the world!

You can find online job platforms to help you connect with people who are looking for assistants, but you can also work on your own business presence through a website on WordPress. You can connect to WooCommerce for billing, scheduling, and more. Doing this will allow you to bypass fees charged by freelance sites, keep more money in your pocket, and take full charge of your future! 

9. Tap the potential of affiliate marketing

If you’re not familiar with the term, affiliate marketing is a popular model that allows you to earn commissions by promoting other people’s products or services. This is typically done through digital marketing techniques like blog posts, social media, or email marketing. An affiliate marketer provides a convincing argument why something is worth purchasing, and then reaps the rewards if someone purchases it. Think of it like a digital version of earning a commission on sales.

WooCommerce offers various affiliate marketing plugins and integrations to help you track sales, manage affiliate links, and earn money. 

affiliate dashboard in WooCommerce

To become successful with affiliate marketing, you’ll need to become successful at creating content that ranks highly for popular search terms. You’ll also need to learn how to run lean marketing programs and gain (and keep) the trust of an audience that will follow your recommendations. 

It takes work and time, but once you achieve success, you can generate revenue 24/7, whether you’re in the office or not. 

10. Offer professional consulting 

Whether you offer legal, financial, marketing, or design services, you can run a consulting business entirely online. You can also use tools like WordPress and WooCommerce to represent your firm, attract and cultivate client relationships, and streamline operations with automated scheduling, billing, accounting and more.

man discussing something with a colleague in front of a laptop

Bypass staffing shortfalls and find qualified remote employees from around the world. Skip the expensive office space and wasteful office supplies. Remain nimble and scale or contract as needed. 

From single operators to major corporations, there’s a lot of potential remaining online. 

11. Become an influencer

These days, the desire to become an influencer is reminiscent of trying to become a famous actor or baseball player. It seems like everyone wants their chance. The difference is that the doors remain a lot more open for becoming an influencer. 

The trick is to find a niche audience where you can stand out and demonstrate expertise, but that’s still large enough to be valuable to advertisers. 

Influencer marketing has become a powerful tool for brands to reach their target audience. And the people who are able to do so are genuine with their passion and perspective. That’s why they’re able to captivate audiences and drum up significant followings.

woman recording a baking video in front of a camera

Whether it’s through blogging, vlogging, podcasting, or social media content creation, you can build an online following and collaborate with brands to promote products or services. 

WooCommerce can help you monetize your influence by integrating ecommerce functionality into your online presence, similar to affiliate marketing or generating ad revenue from a blog. 

12. Film and edit videos 

Similar to copywriting or design, there’s high demand for skills in the video production and editing world. After all, on the device you’re reading this — whether it’s a phone, tablet, or laptop — there’s a strong chance you watched a video within the last few minutes. 

If you have a talent for storytelling, cinematography, or editing, consider offering video production or editing services online. And if you’re starting from scratch, it’s also something you can pick up through online courses or tutorials. 

person filming with a video camera

Then, with WooCommerce, you can showcase your portfolio and offer video packages, or even sell digital downloads of your work. 

13. Teach an online course

Why not turn your expertise into an online business? The demand for online courses has been steadily growing throughout the years, and people are increasingly turning to the internet to learn new skills or improve existing ones. 

woman writing in a notebook in front of a video course

The convenience and flexibility of online learning have made it a popular choice for individuals seeking education outside of traditional institutions. 

These online courses offer convenience for people to develop skills at their own pace and on their own time. Plus, you’re sharing your skills with the world and making money while doing so. What could be better?

14. Sell T-shirts

Everyone needs a shirt to wear — and though you may see retail stores, tourist attractions, restaurants, and even hot sauce brands selling shirts, there’s always room for more fun business ideas. 

The T-Shirt Zone, an ecommerce website built on WooCommerce offers a wide range of trendy and custom-designed T-shirts. They allow customers to pick from pre-designed shirts or customize their own, and then print orders on demand. 

the T-Shirt Zone homepage with product photos

If you’re thinking about taking this route, we’ve created a guide on how to start a T-shirt business. Figuring out how to sell online is a lot easier than you might think.

If you have creative ideas, determination, and a willingness to learn, you can still make plenty of money selling T-shirts online. 

15. Create online fitness programs

Over the last few years, the fitness industry has seen a significant shift towards online offerings. Digital fitness programs are great online business ideas because they’re so convenient and people can tap into what the gym offers — but in their living room.

working out on a yoga mat in front of a computer

It’s a competitive market, but there are gaps — and if you can identify one, it can be quite lucrative. It’s also another industry where you can promote yourself through your social media accounts, partner with complementary brands, and find customers through affordable, grassroots efforts. 

WooCommerce offers the perfect opportunity to create offerings from one-time digital download purchases to ongoing subscriptions. Plus, you could add physical merch to your store as your following grows. By pursuing a flexible business model and offering people a variety of product types and payment options, you can generate more — and more reliable — income. 

16. Sell voiceover work

Here’s a curveball, but an interesting one. If you have a pleasant voice and enjoy narration, consider monetizing it through a voiceover business. You’d be surprised by how many brick-and-mortar and online businesses, content creators, and individuals require voiceovers for their videos, commercials, audiobooks, and more. 

man recording voiceover in a studio

Similar to video editing, marketing consulting, or other portfolio services, WooCommerce offers a simple platform to showcase your voiceover samples, offer different packages for purchase, and manage client bookings. You can also host samples so people can get a feeling of what your voice sounds like. 

17. Sell music

Are you a talented musician or producer? One way to get your music out there is to sell it online using a tool like WooCommerce.

man recording music on a keyboard

On a single storefront, you could allow digital downloads of your tracks, sell physical CDs, offer merchandise, or even teach private lessons online. The options are endless!

Understand your niche interests and go for it

The main thing to remember about online business ideas is that there’s such a wide range of opportunities — and you can take advantage of them no matter how unique your skill or product is. Lean into your interests and where you have talent and passion. 

Don’t be afraid of very niche online business ideas — they often make it easier to stand out and get your first customers. The key is simply to identify a gap in the market and offer a solution that appeals to a specific audience.

Output website, with information about their Arcade product

For example, look at OUTPUT, a startup by composer and music producer, Gregg Lehrman. While finding success in the music world, Lehrman recognized the tools he lacked and needed, then designed his own. He wanted a reverse-sound engine he could use in his own musical compositions. Turns out, he wasn’t the only one who wanted it. His very specific niche really liked what he had to offer, and the business has been quite successful.

If you’re looking for permission or validation from someone else to go after your online business idea, you run the risk of getting stuck in a holding pattern.

The online businesses we discussed today barely scratch the surface. There are thousands of other online business ideas to be explored. Have one? Go forth and try it out. You never know what’s gonna happen. 

Mastering marketing: Amplify your online business idea

WooCommerce has a rich library of tools, educational materials, and an entire industry of agencies and freelancers able to help with the creation of your perfect, unique online store.  

But it doesn’t stop there. WooCommerce also has a number of resources to help you learn how to find customers, grow your store, and improve your operations and profitability. 

From social media marketing to search engine optimization, WooCommerce has extensions available for each of the primary marketing methods to simplify, automate, and improve your efforts. 

Paid search advertising can help people find you, but it comes at a cost. Search engine optimization can help your site show up in free search results for relevant searches. This is a strategy that takes a lot more time and work, but is nearly cost-free. 

Email marketing is useful once you build a list of interested subscribers or customers who want to hear from you again. 

Social media marketing and influencer partnerships are just two more of the many ways to reach your target audience and none of these are exclusive. You’ll likely find success through a consistent effort using a variety of tools. 

Monetizing your creativity, passion, skills, talents, or time

Monetizing your favorite hobby or personal passion for a successful online business venture may feel strange, especially if it’s a reflection of your creative spirit. 

But you hear stories of people making their own schedule and loving their jobs, people who get up each day excited to go to work because it’s their dream. You wonder if that could ever be you.

Finding a way to get paid for your passion — for what makes your heart tick faster — is not just a fantasy. If you have something unique, if you have expert knowledge of a subject, it’s possible to find a way to turn it into a part or full-time income. 

It may not happen overnight, and it doesn’t need to. Join the community of millions of online entrepreneurs at WooCommerce who are pursuing their own online business ideas.

With little more than an internet connection, you can start building your online store for free. Find partners. Find tools. Start experimenting. Enjoy the journey… you’re about to find out just how fulfilling life can be.

Written by Erika Ellacott