Having an online business sounds like a great idea. Yet for so many who go down this path, this business model doesn’t work.
Rather, it just doesn’t work for them.
So, what is the best online business model? In actual fact, there is no perfect or best online business model.
What works for one person could easily spiral into a disaster for another. The success or failure often depends on the time the entrepreneur has available, their budget, their past-experience, the product or service they are offering, the connections they’ve made and any one of a hundred other factors.
The best solution is planning and knowing your options. From there, you can start to work out which one is likely to be the best for YOU, given your unique circumstances.
Here’s a run-down on some of the best online business models, to give you a better understanding of what’s available.
This is a type of marketing where a business offers rewards to those recommending their products and/or services (affiliates). It may be that affiliates receive a payment for each paying visitor or customer that they send to the business, or some companies pay for each lead they’re sent. In the digital business world, this can be very easy. Simply copying and promoting a unique link for a product or service can bring a surprising number of visitors to a business’ website.
One of the best things about this business model is that you, as the affiliate, don’t need to create or manufacture the products, nor are you responsible for processing the product payments or distribution.
For businesses selling a physical product, drop-shipping is where the business selling the product doesn’t necessarily keep stocks of the product on hand.
In some cases, a business may sell a product they’ve never even seen. For example, Business A promotes a product that is manufactured by Business B. When a customer purchases a product from Business A, they send the shipping details to Business B who ships the product.
Another example would be where the business selling the product has the product made on an as-needed basis. Once the product is ordered, it’s created and then sent directly to the customer. There’s no need for it to go via the business selling it for them to ship to the customer.
One of the benefits to this model is that you don’t need to order minimum quantities of stock and arrange storage of it, nor look after the packaging and shipping. You may not even need to pay for the product until you’ve received the money from the customer. So it can be an extremely cost-effective business model.
On the downside, you can run into problems if a third-party product is out of stock and you don’t find out until AFTER you place the order for your customer. Your reputation also depends on the quality of the product and relying on the drop-shipper to send the product promptly and with proper packaging.
This can be a good business model for some … just do your research first and even buy the product for yourself, as a sample, before promoting it.
While ebay is not always seen as the best venue for a large scale company and is sometimes referred to as essentially “the world’s largest garage sale”, many small businesses do have a great business selling on ebay. This could include selling their products or selling unnecessary equipment.
I know several people who make very high, full-time incomes from their ebay businesses, with one couple making $50,000 per month. Of course, they didn’t start out making this income. They began by selling things they no longer needed from around their homes. Then they began buying wholesale products to sell.
While the ebay system does take some getting used to, it is intended to be very user friendly, hence its global popularity. Many small companies who can afford the time to give every customer attention will find it a great marketplace.
Done well, this can be a great home-based business for those who don’t mind packaging products and making sure they’re mailed daily.
However, ebay is only one site that allows nearly anyone to sell a number of different products under the auspices of a larger, more well known site. Etsy is a worldwide site that’s popular for selling things such as handicrafts. Meanwhile, a number of different businesses have signed on as Amazon affiliates, getting their products listed on Amazon in exchange for following certain protocols to maintain Amazon’s reputation.
If you are keen to sell your own products, you may be able to do so via one of these sites (e.g. Amazon.com). However you could also apply to become an Amazon Associate, whereby you can promote Amazon.com products and receive a commission for sales that come from your referrals. This comes under the “Affiliate Marketing” business model, above.
Selling purely digital products, from eBooks to smart phone apps, software to online training courses and the likes, is a means of making money that is growing in popularity. There are a number of storefronts focused on allowing users to sell such products, depending on what type of product you’re creating. (e.g. the Apple Apps store or Amazon’s eBook section).
While it can take some technical know how to get all these products together, they can be an amazing cost saver for companies who’s products are just as good in purely digital form as they are in physical form.
You can also create your own website and sell your products via your own site, rather than going through one of the bigger companies. If you want to sell digital products from your own website, the Kartra system will help make this easy for you. (Kartra will manage your website, emails, products, and so much more, all in the one place. In full disclosure, this link is an affiliate link so if you do end up subscribing to Kartra via my link, I may receive a commission from them as a thank you for referring you.)
Make sure you check out what each of these sites does and doesn’t allow, the commissions or fees payable and what their expectations of you are.
As with selling digital or information products, you can also sell physical products via your own website. For anyone who’s not so tech-savvy, you can pay someone to set up your web site and a good shopping cart system. Although with a little effort it’s not overly difficult to manage.
You could also use the services of a fulfillment house. For a fee, they store your products and ship them out on your behalf. This is particularly worthwhile as your business grows and you have more and more orders to process each day.
There are also many services that can be provided online, such as:
With the amazing technology available today, many services can be provided without needing to visit your customers or meeting them face-to-face.
If you don’t have any particular skills to provide services yourself, that’s okay too. You can employ or contract others who are skilled to provide the services. This allows you to focus on marketing and managing your business. This is the business model I began with, in July 1998.
Managing a successful membership site (or two) is another good online business model. You collate beneficial information on a particular topic and your members pay to access this content. Although this model can be more complex to set up initially, by charging a recurring fee you’re bringing in income over and over again. Meaning that you’re not having to continually market for new customers.
You will most likely still do some marketing to bring in new members, but by looking after your members they are more likely to stay on long-term. Also, the more you look after your members the more they will refer others to you.
Many businesses find that maintaining a blog is a great way to stay in touch with their customers. But many people aren’t aware that a blog itself can be the main part of a business – and its income.
While there are countless blogs around, only a minority of those blogs are profitable from a business perspective. Some people just love to write and share their ideas and thoughts or promote a cause and that’s perfectly fine.
Others integrate monetisation strategies into their blogging so it earns an income. That income could be a few dollars extra here and there to full-time, 6- and 7-figure incomes.
Monetising strategies can include advertising from your site, selling products or services, charging a fee for premium content, “Pay Per Click” advertising (PPC) or recommending affiliate products.
If you’re recommending affiliate products, only do so if you feel they’re worthwhile. Don’t get caught up recommending solely because you’ll earn a commission. In the long-term, your readers will value your honesty and ethics and this will grow into more income over time.
Determining what the best online business model is, of course, is a complex question. Consider your budget for time and money and your existing experiences, along with personal preferences, lifestyle and ability. Learning a little more about each of these business models is also a good idea. This will help you decide which online business model is more likely best for you.
Thousands of business books are sold every year. Books that explain how to start a business, achieve goals, promote your business, budget your finances, how to be the best at what you do, and so much more. How do you decide which books to read?
Based upon a Gallup study of 2 million people this book will help you cultivate your personal and career strengths, capitalize on your talents, and know how to build an organization around your talents and those of your employees.
Many business startups fail. Eric Ries provides a set of tools and methodologies that any entrepreneur can use to achieve a successful business. The Lean Startup helps entrepreneurs build a workplace where employees learn, explore, and experiment.
A well-designed checklist is an extremely powerful tool. This book shows how a checklist can transform tragedy into safety, and can take your business from failure to success.
Jim Collins and Jerry Porras completed a six-year project where they researched exceptional companies to determine what makes them exceptional compared to other companies. They then wrote Built to Last, a master blueprint for turning your business into an exceptional business.
Using personal insight, science, and technology, charisma has been taken apart and turned into a science. In The Charisma Myth, you will discover how you can apply strategies and techniques to increase your charisma. You will be able to put the strategies easily to use, right away.
Brooks explored how moral logic and economic logic conflicted within great thinkers and leaders. In The Road To Character, Brooks explains how they used those internal struggles and limitations to build better character. It combines psychology, politics, spirituality, and confessional into structured path for building better character from within.
This book uses a series of case studies to show how long-held assumptions about how behaviour of cost, in relation to customers, is not true. The book explains how you can refocus your attention to responsiveness to increase costs, customer value, and demand.
One of my favourite business books of all time, this book reviews myths about starting your business, showing how they are not as true as you may think. It explains how common expectation, assumptions, and expertise can get in the way of building a successful business.
Okay, this is two books, but I recommend reading them both. I first read Cashflow Quadrant in my late 20s and had some major “a-ha” moments. But I’m not sure if it would have made as much sense if I hadn’t read Rich Dad Poor Dad previously.
Rich Dad Poor Dad shares how Kiyosaki has used what he learned from his two fathers about investing, employment, and about how to view money to create a successful career. His real dad was highly educated, but financially poor. His second dad (his best friend’s dad) was a self-made millionaire who dropped out of eighth grade.
Cashflow Quadrant expands the information from Rich Dad Poor Dad, giving you a guide to financial freedom. This book is written for those who have made the decision that they are ready to make the changes needed to have financial freedom.
Another all-time classic, this book was written to help you succeed in all areas of life so that you can do anything you desire.
Although its title indicates it’s about how to get rich, the philosophy is about successfully achieving your personal goals. It will help you build a lucrative business and experience success on all levels.
The Alchemist is an inspiring story about a shepherd who goes on search for treasured riches. Along the way he meets a gypsy woman, king, and an alchemist who help him complete his quest though they don’t know the true destination of the treasure. The shepherd uncovers so much more… he discovers the power of dreams and why it’s important to listen to our hearts.
This book was recommended to me by a friend when I was going through a very difficult time over a decade ago. It helped me to see the situation I was in at that time in a completely different light, and its lessons have helped me over and over throughout the years since.
Many of these books are so good I’ve included them on the Resources page on this site, along with links for more information or to buy these books.
I hope you enjoy them and find them as helpful as I did.
We live in a high-speed, digital world. There is no denying that.
Unfortunately, this can make the life of a small business owner extremely complicated with the need for one or more email accounts, social media accounts, texting, websites, blogs, and many other needed software and programs. Not to mention that you may have multiples as you have them for your business and your personal use. Aaargh!
The technology age has definitely laid out a great map for information overload. Especially with its enticing thoughts of accomplishing something. It’s easy to believe you’re being productive – after all, you are learning. Or networking.
Even with all that learning, you will put yourself in a paralysis of sorts because you become inactive. If you are constantly learning new things without taking action and implementing what you have learned, you are not really being productive.
That is just the knowledge information available to you. What about all the email, social media, and YouTube videos?
These can cause you to easily lose time as you are sucked into reading, responding, listening, and repeating. You enter a zone of information paralysis.
There is also such a thing as “too much information.” If you have too much information, you may begin making more errors and bad decisions. Especially when you hear (or read) that lists of things that you should be doing in your business, yet they are not all the same.
The best thing you can do for yourself and your business is learn how to manage information overload.
1. Unless you are in a customer support role or otherwise need to do so more often, only check your email at one or two scheduled times throughout your day. One way to avoid becoming sucked into the email trap is to schedule when you check and send your email.
Also, there are many new software programs that allow you to manipulate your email. You can write it ahead of time and schedule it to be delivered at a certain time, have it leave your inbox and comeback at a better time, and set up automatic responses.
If someone needs an immediate response they will find another way to contact you. The more you practice this habit, the more people will begin to expect your responses only when you send them.
You can also set up an auto-reply to your emails, if necessary, advising that you respond to emails each morning or evening … or whatever time-frame is appropriate for your new routine.
2. Place emails in folders immediately. Many email clients offer the ability to automatically send them to various folders before they even hit your inbox. If they go to your inbox, during your allotted time, place them into folders such as reply, read, take action.
I have my email program set up with many folders and sub-folders and sub-sub-folders to file completed emails in. This also makes it easier to refer back to later. My goal is to have my Inbox at (or close to) “0”.
“One of the best things you can do for yourself and your business is learn how to manage information overload.”
1. How many accounts do you really need? Where are your customers hanging out?
Take a bit of time to do the research for your specific business and determine how many social accounts you need.
Unless you have a social media business, you most likely only need 2-3 to have a successful business.
2. Use a social media dashboard to manage your accounts. Having your accounts all in one place will help save time. Plus, many of them allow you to post to several of your accounts at once and schedule them to go out later.
3. Schedule time to manage social media. Although it may seem as though you need to be connected to social media at all times, you actually don’t.
Using one of the many tools available to you, you can make it appear as though you are always online, even when you are not. This will allow you to dedicate one chunk of time to social media while having a consistent presence.
1. Turn off all electronic devices you don’t need for your current activity. Yes, this includes your phone.
You get used to not having it on with practice.
2. Turn off all notification pop-ups. These can interrupt your workflow, causing you to get distracted and possibly be pulled back into the information paralysis.
1. Use the many online project management tools to help keep you on task and organized. You can avoid much of this information overload when you know what must be done and are organized.
2. Use a calendar. You can use a desk calendar, planner, or online calendar. It will help you stay organized and see next projects and actions steps so that you remain focused.
If you’re addicted to your devices and accounts, and to always being reachable, it may take a little time to implement all of these suggestions.
That’s okay. Just start with one thing at a time. As you see the positive difference it makes, you’ll no doubt be more motivated to make more changes. Before long, you’ll be reaping the rewards of having more time available and getting more results from your productivity, rather than your constant busy-ness.