If you’re looking for ways to make money online, there is a seemingly endless list of possibilities.  A single Google search will yield hundreds of online courses on how to make six figures overnight.  Of course, this isn’t likely, but some legitimate online business models will earn you money. 

You can earn a full-time income, and some can become million-dollar businesses, but you will have to invest time and energy into building your business.

This article will give you the 12 best online business models that you can use to make money online. However, this article won’t give you illegitimate or questionable online money-making strategies like filling out surveys.

The 12 Best Online Business Models to Earn a Full-Time Income

1. Professional Blogger

You can make a full-time income online through writing and publishing a blog. Yes, it’s actually possible!  Successful professional bloggers write and publish content within a specific niche like travel, pets, cooking, parenting, or technology.

Your income as a professional blogger will come from several sources like promoting the products or services offered by other companies, selling advertising space, running display ads, or sometimes creating and selling digital products of your own.

Pros of Professional Blogging

Flexibility

You have the flexibility to choose your income stream and the direction you would like your blog to grow.  Usually, you’ll start within a small niche and expand from there. However, if your chosen sub-niche is within a large general niche, your options for expansion are endless.

With regards to income streams, the journey from beginner to pro might look something like this:

  • Offer freelance services through your blog
  • Earn advertising revenue
  • Run guest posts for your readers
  • Earn affiliate income
  • Create a course about something you’re an expert in

It’s Fun

Whether blogging is fun or not will depend on whether you’re a writer.  But if you are, this is a great way to write and make money doing it.

You Meet a Lot of People Online

To be successful as a professional blogger, you will need to establish authority in your niche.  Doing this involves interacting with your readers, responding to comments, and answering questions. 

You Can Scale Blogging Into a Large Business

Depending on how much effort you want to put in, blogging can earn you a ton of money.  Some people choose to put a lot of effort in for a year or two until they make a full-time income and only work enough to maintain it.  Other blogs, like The Penny Hoarder, for example, earn millions of dollars every month.

The internet offers you opportunities to scale your business in a way you can’t with a brick-and-mortar business.

You Get to Bring Meaning to People’s Lives

If you like helping people, sharing your expertise is very rewarding.

Cons of Professional Blogging

The Road to Riches Is Slow

Blogging is not a get-rich-quick scheme.  It takes a long time to be successful at it and start seeing steady income streams. So, if you’re not willing to put in significant efforts with low returns for a while, this isn’t the business model for you.

It Can Be Discouraging

Your first year as a blogger can be incredibly discouraging.  Sometimes you have to adjust your style to see what works.

It’s Lonely

Professional blogging requires that you spend a lot of time working alone.  If you’re used to being a very social person, this can be difficult.

You Don’t Get Much Time Off

This probably applies to all business models on this list, but the only thing you need to blog is a reliable internet connection.  This means you are always at work and can work from anywhere.  Depending on your ability to balance your work and home life, this could be a blessing or a curse.

2. Digital Products

Selling your own digital products can make you a lot of money.  It has the highest profit margin of any online business model because you can earn money from your products for years without expenses.

There is a learning curve to setting up a platform with digital products, but your site is basically automated once you do it. As a result, you receive income from your products while enjoying your free time.

Pros of Selling Digital Products

Passive Income Stream

This is by far the most significant advantage of digital product creation. Once your product is developed and available, you can sit back and collect your profits.

High Earning Potential

Your income potential is limitless, especially if you develop multiple products.

Cons of Selling Digital Products

Learning Curve

If you’ve never done it before, there is a bit of a learning curve to developing and marketing digital products.

Lots of Competition

There’s a lot of competition in the digital product market, so you’ll need to ensure yours is unique and meets your customer’s needs to gain sales.

3. YouTube Creator

If you want to share your opinions with the world and earn money simultaneously, consider creating YouTube content.  The YouTube partner program lets you record and upload videos to YouTube and get paid when people watch them.

The best part about this business model is you can start earning almost immediately.  There’s no webpage, no customer list, and virtually no expenses. As a result, top video creators on YouTube make millions of dollars each year.

Pros of Being a YouTube Creator

  • You can express your ideas
  • You can engage with the rest of the world
  • If you want to share your thoughts and ideas with the world, a YouTube channel is a cheap, convenient way to do it.
  • It’s a challenge
  • It will help you grow in character
  • It’s sometimes strange to put yourself in front of the world, but you can learn to grow and deal with adversity.
  • It can make you more confident. However, when you start a YouTube channel, you will inevitably have to deal with some people commenting who don’t like your videos.
  • You can make good money at it
  • YouTube channels that become popular can easily provide you with a full-time income.
  • The topics for YouTube channels are endless
  • As long as you obey your local laws and the terms and regulations set out by YouTube itself, your options for video topics are endless.
  • Flexibility with when and how often you publish
  • You can create a whole bunch of videos and publish them on a routine schedule.  This can be daily or weekly, but you can be flexible about when you want to work.
  • It’s free to start a YouTube channel

Cons of Being a YouTube Creator

  • It’s time-consuming
  • It can take months or years to gain a following large enough to have consistent income.
  • You become a public figure
  • Like it or not, once you post yourself on YouTube, you become a public figure.  This can open you up to significant amounts of attention, and not all of it will be positive.
  • Many channels fail
  • For every successful YouTube channel you see, there are several that fail.  It’s a difficult path to success.
  • Competitive
  • Certain niches have a lot of competition, so you’ll have to produce amazing content to rank.
  • Editing work. There is a significant amount of editing work that is required for YouTube videos.  This can be time-consuming and difficult.
  • The internet never forgets. Although you can delete videos from your channel, you have little control over their distribution once they’ve been on the internet. Therefore, it’s essential to make sure you don’t post anything you might regret later.

4. Membership Site

Membership sites will provide you with a set of loyal customers who pay you monthly for access to your content or site.  Sounds great, right?  There’s a lot of information you can get online for free, but free doesn’t equal value.  You can offer valuable content or products and provide exclusive access your customers can’t get anywhere else.

Pros of Membership Sites

  • Recurring income
  • Because membership sites require subscription-type payments, you will have a consistent income stream.
  • You’re kept accountable
  • People don’t pay for VIP access to content that doesn’t provide them with value.  If you don’t provide value, you will lose subscriptions.  This reality will keep you motivated.
  • You can cross-promote to increase your revenue
  • By recommending other products and services to your customers, you can earn extra money on top of your memberships.

Cons of Membership Sites

  • Requires continuous promotion to keep memberships full
  • To create that steady income stream we talked about earlier, you must keep your membership numbers high at all times.  This can be difficult and time-consuming.
  • Commitment
  • You must update and provide high-quality content all the time to keep memberships.
  • Technical issues
  • Anytime your site isn’t running at total capacity, you are likely to lose members.

5. Fulfillment By Amazon

The Fulfillment by Amazon business model allows you to have a business featuring your own product line without selling the physical product or setting up your own e-commerce store.  Shipping returns, stock, this stuff is a pain to deal with.  The Fulfillment by Amazon program allows Amazon to take care of all this for you.

You can start a business with as little as $100 and build it into millions if you do it right. In addition, you gain the visibility provided by Amazon, which gives you a huge customer base to build on.

Pros of Fulfillment by Amazon

No-Hassle Returns and Shipping

Amazon takes care of the hard work for you.  They package the product, ship it, and deal with customer returns. So, no matter how many orders you get, you simply ship your product to Amazon, and they take care of the rest.

Low-Cost Shipping

Shipping your product through Amazon will cost you significantly less than it will through other platforms.

Amazon Prime

Free, two-day shipping is a massive motivator for sales and one you would be unlikely to offer if you sold your product through another e-commerce site.  Fulfillment by Amazon automatically qualifies your products to be shipped through Amazon Prime.

Buy Box Priority

Using Fulfillment by Amazon automatically ranks you higher in the list of search results for a product on Amazon.

Multi-Channel Order Fulfillment

You’re not limited to selling your product on Amazon’s marketplace.  You can sell through any channel you want and still use Amazon to fulfill your orders.

Cons of Fulfillment by Amazon

Old Inventory

Because you ship your inventory to Amazon, it’s tough to keep track of your sales because the process is highly automated.

Pooled Inventory

Amazon warehouses don’t allow merchants to keep different bins due to the sheer volume of products in the warehouse.  If another seller sells the same item, their inventory may get pooled with yours.  If a customer receives another seller’s product, it may not be as high-quality as yours.

Difficulty Shipping to Amazon

Amazon has a rigorous labeling system for products they sell.  This can lead to a few extra expenses in getting your product to the warehouse on time.

6. Authority Site

If you’re a ‘bigger is better’ kind of person, you probably would rather build an authority website than a niche website.  An authority site provides a complete online resource for visitors.  In essence, the site is an ‘expert’ in whatever niche it covers. 

Income from authority sites will grow as the site grows, and this doesn’t happen overnight.  It takes a while for a new site to become established as an ‘authority.’

Pros of Authority Sites

Ability to Scale Your Income

If you put in the time and effort, there’s no ceiling on how big you can grow your site, and subsequently, your income.

Personalized

If you are passionate about running your website, it’s not going to feel like a ‘job.’

Cons of Authority Sites

Time and Effort

The time and effort required to establish a successful authority site are extensive. So make sure you’re in it for the long haul and don’t expect to earn a full-time income right away.

Best Online Business Models

7. Amazon Affiliate

Affiliate marketing is one of the easiest ways to earn passive income.  If you have a website, affiliate ads help you grow your income base by featuring other company’s products. For example, the Amazon affiliate program gives you access to the world’s largest online marketplace while you pocket a commission for customer referrals.

Pros of Amazon Affiliates

Easy to Get Started

All you have to do is fill out a registration form and wait for approval, which in most cases takes just a few days.  If you have a website or mobile app, most applications are accepted automatically.

Endless Product Promotion Options

Amazon sells everything literally, so you shouldn’t have difficulty finding products to promote within your niche.

Marketing Tools

Amazon supplies you with a ton of options for designing links.

On-Time Payment

With Amazon, your commission payments are processed and delivered on a strict schedule, so you never have to guess when your money is coming.

Quality Reporting Tools

The stats section provides you with all the information you could ever want about the success of your marketing campaign, from clicks to sale numbers.

Amazon Is Trustworthy

You don’t have to worry that you’re marketing a brand your customers don’t trust.

Long-Lasting Ads

Amazon gives you the option to extend the life of a click on their affiliate link to 90 days if you’re willing to run ‘add to cart’ links.

Cons of Amazon Affiliates

Limited Payment Options

If you’re located outside the US or UK, Amazon doesn’t send direct bank deposits. Instead, you are forced to receive your commissions in the form of a gift card or check.

Inconsistent Commission Levels

Different products give you different levels of commission, depending on the niche you’re in.  Fashion products, for example, gain a commission of 10%, whereas video games earn a measly 1%.

Strict Terms of Service

Amazon has a stringent set of rules for its affiliate program. For example, if you don’t make a sale for them within 90 days of setup, your account will be blocked.

8. Advertising/Display Ads

Display advertising is used to deliver general ads or brand messages to website visitors. For example, a company’s promotional ad will be displayed on your website to drive consumer purchases.  You can use display advertising on third-party sites for your own business, or you can use Google AdSense to run other company’s display ads on your site.

Pros of Display Advertising

Brand Awareness

Display ads are seen by many people, so they’re ideal for building consumer awareness surrounding your product or service.

Track Your Results

You can track the results of every ad campaign you run to determine which ones are converting into sales.

Targeted Advertising

Cons Of Display Advertising

Low Conversions Rates

Display ads create brand awareness, but they often don’t convert into sales.

Social Media Integration

Ads that receive the most attention are usually generated on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.

Reputation Management

You can’t control where your ads might appear, so there is a risk that it appears on a site that isn’t trusted by consumers.

Spam Association

Display ads have gained a bad reputation for being ‘spammy’ and offering low value.  Ads that autoplay or require manual closing for users to visit a site are highly frowned upon.

9. Kindle Publishing

The Kindle Publishing business model allows you to write a book and have it selling on Amazon within a week. So, if you’ve always wanted to write a book but were worried you’d never get a publishing deal, this is the business model for you.

Pros of Kindle Publishing

  • You can start earning money as soon as your books written
  • You don’t need a website, hosting, or any technical skills
  • Your book can be submitted through any basic word processing software

Cons of Kindle Publishing

  • No guarantees that your book will sell
  • Lots of competition
  • Most e-books sell for under $5.00, so you either need to make many sales or continue publishing multiple books to continue earning.

10. Drop Shipping

The concept of dropshipping is simple.  You have a website where you list products for sale, but the product inventory is held by a third-party company that ships directly to the customer. So, you sell products while someone else holds and ships inventory.  Some wildly successful companies, like Wayfair, were built on the concept of drop shipping.

Pros of Drop Shipping

It Has a Low Barrier to Entry

Starting an online or bricks-and-mortar store often requires a significant monetary investment to stock inventory.  Dropshipping has a lower barrier to entry because you don’t have to concern yourself with product development or inventory storage.

No Inventory

Inventory management is complicated and time-consuming.  By outsourcing this job, you can save yourself time and money.

No Warehouse or Storefront

Dropshipping removes the need for a physical store or storage warehouse.

More Cash Flow

A typical retailer has to purchase products, wait for their arrival, and then sell to customers.  With drop shipping, there is no delay in getting a cash return on your investment.

Minimal Risk for Selling New Products

Selling new products can be risky.  There are no guarantee customers will buy it after you’ve made the investment.  Dropshipping allows you to experiment with product sales.  Anything that doesn’t sell can simply be removed from your store.

Passive Income Generation

It’s possible to work on your business and earn money without active involvement.

Cons of Drop Shipping

High Competition Level

Because there’s a low barrier to entry with drop shipping, there is also lots of competition.  It’s challenging to stand out because other dropshipping stores are selling the same products as you.

No Control

You lack quality control when product inventory is handled by a third party. As a result, you can end up selling poor-quality products to customers, and your business’s reputation can suffer because of it.

Bulk Discounting

You can’t provide bulk discounts for products because you’re basically purchasing them one at a time. You’re stuck paying suppliers their requested prices until you can sell enough to have negotiation power.

Disjointed Orders

With multiple suppliers, customer’s orders can come from different places.  This leads to them receiving multiple packages for a single order, higher shipping costs, and package wastage.

Best Online Business Models

11. Lead Generation

Lead generation is the promotion of products or services. You get paid each time someone fills out a form, signs up for something, or orders a trial service. Sometimes you even get paid for a customer showing interest.  The most profitable niches for lead generation are health and fitness, finances, and dating.

Successful lead generation marketers make a ton of money, but getting there will involve some hard work and very creative marketing.

Pros of Lead Generation

Getting Information

Owning a lead generation business allows you to gain insight into customer bases.

Speed of Online Sales

The feedback received through lead generation can help you improve sales and user experiences.

Detect a Target Audience

If you’re not sure who your target audience is, lead generation is a great way to find out.  Then you can tailor sales to the right audience.

Cons of Lead Generation

Termination

Generating a lead is easy enough, but there’s a good chance your leads won’t convert into sales.

Low or No Return on Investment

Your return on investment is dependent upon your lead being appreciated by customers.  Often there is no return.

12. Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing is a popular online business model because it enables anyone with an internet connection to earn a profit.  80% of affiliate marketers earn at least $40,000 a year, making it appealing to online entrepreneurs.  But there are some downsides as well.

Pros of Affiliate Marketing

Make it a Passive Income Source

You can use affiliate marketing as a passive income source until you gain enough authority in the market to fully commit to it. For example, you can be a writer or editor or advertiser and have a secondary source of passive income.

The Market Is Huge

Market spending on affiliate marketing is massive!  Which means there’s more than enough money to go around.

Low-Cost to Entry

To become an affiliate marketer, all you need is a personal website where you publish content.  That’s it.  It requires no up-front investment to get started.

No Marketing Expertise Is Necessary

It’s called affiliate marketing, but you don’t really need to know anything about marketing to get started.  Most platforms are user-friendly, and all you have to do is keep publishing valuable content.

You Can Work With More Than One Network

Most professional affiliate marketers use at least two different affiliate programs. As a result, you can diversify your marketing and ensure one channel is always active.

Flexibility

As an affiliate marketer, you can work from anywhere in the world.

Independence

You get to choose the clients you market for, so you can choose to only work with those who match your expertise.

Cons of Affiliate Marketing

No Fixed Income

You have to earn every dollar, and there’s no guaranteed income level.

Your Business Runs 24/7

This type of business runs 24/7, so while there’s a lot of flexibility in your working hours, you can’t just sit back and do nothing.

Steep Competition

It’s hard to stand out and differentiate yourself.

It Takes Time

A common misconception is that you will start earning income as soon as you sign up as an affiliate marketer.  It’s a process that requires building a reputation, earning traffic, and profit generation will follow.  If you want to make a full-time income, it will take some serious effort.

Risk to Your Reputation

If you don’t carefully select the products and companies you represent, you can risk damaging your reputation. For example, your audience will become suspicious if you participate in spammy activities or promote products from sketchy companies.

Scam Risk

This can be avoided with proper security measures, but you always need to be aware of scammers and fraudulent activity.  Hackers can steal clicks and customer’s personal information, so security is paramount.

Final Thoughts

There are a variety of online business models to choose from when starting an online business.  Hopefully, this article has given you a good feel for the advantages and disadvantages of each. 

By now, you should have a good idea of which business model might be suitable for you and how to get started.  One important thing to keep in mind is that online businesses are successful because entrepreneurs invest time and effort to make them that way. 

It’s not a get-rich-quick scheme.  The level of effort you put into growing your business will be directly reflected in your level of success.

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