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Free PDF: Proven blueprint for an online coaching business that replaces your 9-5

The 10 Best Online Businesses to Start in 2021

This is the complete guide to finding a profitable business idea so that you can have more freedom and flexibility in your life and finally quit your 9-5.

In this all-new guide, you will learn:

  • The top ten online businesses to start this year
  • Examples of successful online businesses
  • How I built a 6-figure business in 4 months
  • How to start your own online business
  • And so much more

If you want to start your own business, you’ll love today’s guide.

Let’s get started.

Chapters: 

The best online businesses to start in 2021

The pros and cons of different online businesses – What online business should you start and why? 

Why starting a service-based business will help you get started right away (and take a detour to success) – Including the top 10 online businesses to start

Why online courses are the most profitable online business

What is the best online business to start in 2021?

What goes into successful online businesses? 

Over the past five years, I’ve helped thousands of people start their own businesses. Here, I’m sharing with you what I always tell them about starting an online business. 

You see, it’s not random. There are business models that require less of your time and are more profitable than others. 

With this in mind, several of my students have gone on to grow six-figure businesses that have allowed them to quit their jobs.

ETE testimonial
coaching client result
Here’s what a few of my students have been able to achieve with the RIGHT online business models.

I got started in the same way. When I first started my business, I had a great career with a six-figure salary. At the same time, I wanted to build a business to replace my job. 

Just like you’re probably doing right now, I went online to do some research. What was the best business to start? Which type of business would allow me to quit my job without requiring me to downsize?

I eventually found the right business to start. Within four months of getting started, I had achieved that six-figure milestone, which made it possible for me to securely quit my job. 

first year business income graph
My first-year income back when I started my business.

And I couldn’t have done it without the right business model. Want to know what it is? Read on!

Get my proven "Escape Velocity" Plan for building a profitable online coaching business that frees you from the 9-5.

What kind of online business is most profitable?

Look: You don’t need to start the next Google or Facebook to be successful. Startups require you to raise venture capital, sacrifice years of your life and take huge risks that most of the time don’t pay off.

Instead, there are plenty of online businesses you can start that are secure, easy to manage, and profitable. The best part? You can start your business from your living room AND quit your 9-5 in the next few months.

Different online business models

What different online businesses are there? And which business model should you choose? Let’s take a closer look. 

1) Sell someone else’s product 

Affiliate marketing table

The first online business model is to sell someone else’s product. 

You can be an affiliate for a product and earn a commission every time you sell a product. You can be part of a multi-level marketing network (MLM) where you earn a commission on customers and new MLMs that you refer to your MLM business. Or you can be a dropshipper and sell products straight from a manufacturer to consumers. 

While these might sound like easy online businesses to start, they’re not. 

Yes, it’s easy to get started and find an affiliate product, an MLM company or a manufacturer that offers dropshipping.

But the sad truth is that you won’t make much money. 

If you look at things like affiliate programs, you’ll quickly realize that you need a big audience to sell them. And that takes time to grow because you first have to learn all there is to know about sales and marketing. 

Even worse, you’re not in control of your business. If your affiliate company, MLM or manufacturer goes out of business, so does your business. 

2) Sell your own physical products 

Sell physical products

The next online business model is to sell your own physical products. An ecommerce shop sounds easy. You find products, sell them and turn a profit.

But it’s easier said than done. You need to create your product, source it, store inventory, deliver orders… Not to mention get traffic to your site (with average conversion rates of 1-2%). 

Your products most likely won’t have a great profit margin when you add up all these expenses. 

Unless you already have experience running an ecommerce store, this isn’t the best business model to get started. 

3) Sell a service 

Sell a service table

That leads us to the next online business model, selling a service like coaching or consulting.

Coaching means that you take your time and help people get specific results.

I can’t even remember exactly how I first heard about coaching. I must have stumbled on someone online who was a coach and who was selling their services for thousands of dollars. I remember thinking, “What is this? Is this a real business?” 

So, I became obsessed by figuring it out. I googled coaching and studied successful, legitimate coaches who had been around for a while. 

That’s when I realized this was the business model I was looking for. 

I did the math and it all added up. If I would sell coaching at $2,000 and make five sales in a month, I would make $10,000. 

That felt doable. I could find five people every month and offer them my services.

Plus, I wouldn’t have to worry about things like customer support or setting up a complicated business. Instead, this business model allowed me to go out there and start getting clients despite my busy life. 

After all, I didn’t need to get thousands of people to buy from me, only five.  

Not only that, coaching seemed like a great business model because of the impact I could have. I’m an introvert and prefer to form deeper connections with people. Coaching allowed me to build meaningful relationships and help people get results, rather than selling to a faceless crowd of people.

That’s why a service business is one of the best online businesses to start. Your overhead is low, your profit margins are high, you can get started right away, and you have a lot of impact. 

And so I always recommend my students to get started with this business model.

It’s how I made more than six figures in my first four months in business. And it’s how hundreds of my students have created their own businesses and quit their jobs for a business that gives them more impact and flexibility.

Coaching business income
I built a 6-figure business in 4 months. It was possible with the right online business model.

You can (and should) get started with something you already know. If you’re thinking, “I don’t have a skill people would pay me for,” read on. In the next chapter, we’ll look at how to find your skill (because you do have one!). 

4) Sell digital courses

sell digital courses table

The fourth online business model is to sell digital courses or self-study courses. 

This is the most profitable and scalable online business. Once you’ve created your course, you can use it as an asset that makes you money for years to come. You don’t have to pay for inventory or shipping. 

Plus, if you sell a premium-priced course, you can build a highly profitable business. 

But there’s one downside. 

It takes time to create your course when you first set up your business and it takes time to grow your audience. 

If you’re selling a course at $200 and want to make $10,000 a month, you need to make 50 sales every month. With an email list (which you need to sell your courses), you can expect to convert 1%. 

So you would need 5,000 new people in your email list every single month. And building that type of momentum can take a long time.

That’s why a course business isn’t the best place to start.

Instead, I recommend that you start with a service business and then transitioning into a digital course business. 

The best part? By first helping people one-on-one, you get a lot of valuable insights on how to create your course so that it sells. 

How to start an online business from home

Now you know why a service-based business is one of the best online businesses to start. Your services can be sold at a premium price and you can get started now. But how do you start one? 

Here below, we look at how to start a coaching, consulting, or freelancing business. You also get the best business ideas that you can start today.

How to replace your income with coaching and consulting

You now know why coaching and consulting are the best online businesses to start. But how do you start your own coaching or consulting business? 

As a coach or consultant, you sell your experience and expertise by giving advice and supporting your clients. Your clients want the results you already have or have helped others get. That’s why they’re happy to pay premium prices for your time. 

Coaching and consulting are also low-risk strategies for learning all about building a business. You can do it on the side until you’ve built up an income buffer. Within a few months, you could be well on your way to quitting your job.

online coaching benefits

What type of coaching or consulting can you do? 

If you’re thinking, “I’m not sure I’m qualified to be a coach or a consultant”, think again. To be a coach or a consultant, you need one thing:

Results.

You need to have gotten and/or helped others get results. If you want to become a weight loss coach, you need to have lost weight yourself or helped others do it. As a career coach, you need to have built your own successful career or worked in a position where you’ve helped others do it. 

But other than results, you don’t need certifications, years of experience, or other merits. As long as you can show your future clients that you can help THEM get results, you’re qualified to be a coach or consultant. 

Pricing

What can you earn as a coach or consultant? This is one of the main reasons coaching and consulting are great businesses to start when you’re still in your 9-5.

I usually recommend my students to start at $1,500 for a 3-month coaching package. With just three of these packages, you would already make $4,500. As you get more experienced as a coach or consultant, you can start charging more and make more in your business. 

Growing your business fast

Another reason for starting your coaching or consulting business is that you can grow your service-based business fast. 

By being systematic and going to where your clients are already hanging out online, you can quickly grow a profitable business. That could be LinkedIn, Facebook, Reddit, or any other social network. It could be a blog or a podcast.

Read more about getting clients here. 

The important thing is: Start with building relationships instead of trying to sell people.

When I first started out, I wasn’t focused on trying to sell to everyone. That mentality would not have attracted a lot of clients. 

Instead, I was focused on answering questions. Because of that, my business grew much faster than it would have if I had been busy promoting myself. 

Payment first paying client

I went into Facebook groups and I answered questions about advertising, setting up campaigns, and so forth.

Then I offered free coaching sessions, which got me testimonials and people saying, “This girl Luisa really knows what she’s talking about.” 

Eventually, more and more people got interested in how I could help them. 

The thing is: As long as you can help others get a specific result, you can be a coach or a consultant.

In case you don’t think that’s you, there’s a third service-business model you can get started with.

Get my proven "Escape Velocity" Plan for building a profitable online coaching business that frees you from the 9-5.

Don’t think you can coach or consult? Become a freelancer 

If you feel like you’re not quite ready to coach or consult, there’s a third option:

Freelancing or done-for-you work.

The difference between freelancing and coaching and consulting is that as a freelancer, your clients outsource work to you. As a coach or a consultant, you give advice and guidance, but don’t do the actual work yourself. 

The barrier to entry is low because as a freelancer, you can take pretty much any skill you have and turn it into a freelancing business.

Maybe there’s something you’re already doing at your job, like graphic design or data entry. Use that to start freelancing. Other ideas include:

  • Virtual assistant.
  • Writer.
  • Software or app developer.
  • Social media manager.
  • Customer care representative.
  • Editor. 
  • Translator. 
  • Project manager.
  • PR manager.
  • Ads manager.
  • Video editor.
  • Photographer. 

What can you charge?

Freelancing does come with one caveat. Unless you offer a specialized skill, like software development or web design, your income potential will be limited. 

For example, as a virtual assistant, you can expect to earn around $30/hour. That’s unless you can offer other, sought-after skills, like tech skills. 

That said, surveys point to the fact that freelancers outearn employees. A freelance service business is still a great place to start when you want to build a business to leave your 9-5.

The 10 best online businesses to start today

Wondering what type of online business you can start as a coach or consultant? Here are some of the best online business ideas for beginners. 

What idea is right for you?

Before you read the list of ideas, let’s look at the idea you should pursue. 

You see, it depends on your experiences and expertise. 

In my case, my first coaching business was a career coaching business. I looked around at different coaching ideas and thought, “What can I do?” 

I took an inventory of my skills and I realized that people were asking me about my career. At that point, I had transitioned from financial services to a digital advertising tech startup while getting a raise, negotiating a six-figure salary, and being promoted to manage a team of seven people. 

Because I got so many people asking me to help them with their careers, I realized that it was something I could coach them on. 

So I reached out to some of the people who had asked for my advice and said, “I’m doing a one-on-one coaching program on this. You’ve asked me about this and I’d love to coach you more officially. Would you be interested?”

A few of them said yes and I got started as a coach. 

guest post example

I realized that coaching was possible. But at the same time, while I enjoyed building my business, career coaching wasn’t the topic I wanted to be talking about indefinitely. In a few years, my coaching clients would be where I was at that point, looking for something that would give them more freedom. 

I had to go back to the drawing board and figure out what I actually wanted to do. That’s when I happened to see a few posts in Facebook groups.

You see, at the time, Facebook groups were getting big. And some of them were watering holes for entrepreneurs (as they still are today).

I realized that in these groups, people were asking about digital advertising, which was exactly what I did in my day job. I thought, “Wow, I can coach on this.” 

So that’s what I started doing. Within a few months, I had grown my coaching business to six figures in four months… And was able to finally quit my day job. 

How to choose your idea

First, think about your skills. What skills have you acquired in your career? In your spare time? 

If nothing comes up for you, think about what your friends always say you’re great at. Maybe they’re even asking for your advice on that thing. 

Alternatively, what’s something you love doing? Something you love talking about and helping others with?

Once you have a skill figured out, think about the results you have gotten with this skill. Maybe your results aren’t huge, but they have transformed your own or someone else’s life for the better. 

The most important thing is this: Follow the need. To build a business, people must need your service. So go out there, see what people are asking questions about, what they’re willing to pay for and how that overlaps with your own skills. 

The 10 best business ideas

What are some great coaching business ideas? Here are 10 online business ideas that others have started based on their experiences and skills. Look through this list and ask yourself: What type of business can YOU start?

1. Financial coaching

A great coaching business? Financial coaching, so helping clients manage their personal finance. You can help people manage, save, or make more money. For example, my client Lucy used real estate investing to create a $10K/month income stream. She was able to quit her 6-figure job to spend more time with her family. Now she helps others learn how to invest in real estate.

Read my guide here on how to start a financial coaching business.

financial coaching website example

2. Energy coaching

Energy coaches work with their clients to shift their thoughts and feelings to help them improve their lives. 

That’s exactly what my client Estelle does. With a Ph.D., Estelle’s background is in academia. Today, she teaches sensitive people how to align with their soul’s highest nature and bring their magic into the world. 

energy coaching website example

3. Relationship coaching

Plenty of people are looking for help to find and build better relationships. That’s why relationship coaches are in demand. My client Ruby built a career in the industry before she started helping people as a coach. Today, she’s built a six-figure business as a relationship coach.

Coaching client example Ruby

4. Career coaching

Career coaches help their clients find better jobs. As a career coach, Toni uses the experiences and skills she has learned in her successful career as a lawyer to help women advance their careers. 

career coaching website example

5. Coach for immigrants

People need coaching for a lot of different reasons. One of them is advancing faster in a new country. That’s what my client Li does. She uses her experience as an immigrant to help other US immigrants succeed.

coach for immigrants website example

6. Health coaching

When David had a family member with a life-threatening illness, he used all his knowledge of herbs to help his family member get well. He’s also used his methodology to lose weight. Today, he uses that knowledge to help his clients get healthy with the help of herbs.

Coaching client example David

7. Coach for small retailers

My client Nichole is a pro at driving retail sales and her impressive resume includes 30 years of retail experience and having worked for some big retailers, including Forever21. 

She initially wanted to start her own shop, but ended up opting for coaching. Now, Nichole has taken her skills in Visual Merchandising and Business Analysis into her own business to help women-owned clothing boutiques increase their sales. By using her skills and experience, she can help store owners increase sales by 50%+ with store layout.

coach for small retailers website example

8. Speaking coach

Sunny, one of my clients, is a speaking coach. She’s an Emmy award-winning broadcast journalist and uses the skills she has acquired through her work to help others speak more effectively. 

speaking coach website example

9. Real estate coaching

My client Lucy left her six-figure job to spend more time with her family. Her secret? She had built up a real estate portfolio that generates around $10K/month in income. Now, she uses her experience to help others build their own real estate portfolios and income.

10. Mindset coaching

A mindset coach helps people untangle their mindset blocks and reach their goals faster. That’s exactly what my client Jacquelynn helps her clients with. She has herself used the power of mindset to first earn six figures in her day job and then leave it to be able to work full-time on her business, as well as get out of $150K of debt.

Get my proven "Escape Velocity" Plan for building a profitable online coaching business that frees you from the 9-5.

Why online courses are the most profitable online business 

Once I my own coaching business had passed the 6-figure mark, I started looking around. My schedule was packed and I couldn’t take on that many new clients, even if I increased my rates. Still, I wanted to continue growing my business.

That’s when it hit me: A coaching business is a great place to start. But it doesn’t scale that well.

Once you’re at this point, there’s an alternative business model that does scale. You take your expertise, package it up and sell it as a self-study course. 

online course benefits

This way, you open up your services to a completely new market: People who want to learn from you, but who don’t want to take on a coach. 

As a business model, online courses offer great perks: 

  • You create them once and sell them for years to come without having to use more money on the production of your course. Your profitability increases every time you sell a course.
  • They’re easy to scale because they are automatically delivered to your customers. You can sell them where and when you want. 
  • They’re a great way to grow your impact. You can reach thousands of people with your courses and help them improve their lives.

How to build your course 

How do you build an online course? 

That’s the tricky part about online courses (and why I don’t recommend that you start selling them upfront). They take time to build.

But, at this point, you’ve already worked with private clients for weeks and maybe even months. You know their deepest fears, dreams, wants, and needs. You know how to help them get results because you’ve already walked people through this.

And so you know that your online course will do great. 

You create a course based on the processes and systems you’ve set up in your coaching, consulting, or freelancing business. If you build a service-based business first, you essentially get paid to do market research and ensure your audience will want your course and that they’ll get results.

The best part? You don’t even have to do a beta launch or anything like that to get testimonials. 

Why? Because you’ve already helped your private coaching clients get results so you can ask them for testimonials.

Before you’ve even launched your course, you have testimonials lined up. This will help new students see exactly how valuable your course is and why they should buy it to get results.

Digital course ideas

Wondering what your course should be about? Good news: Pretty much anything, as long as people are willing to pay for it. 

There are online courses that teach people languages, to play instruments, do sports, knit, watercolor, and build tiny houses. Not to mention mindset, marketing, personal finance, healthy eating, and finding a job.

Want real-life examples? Here are some of my clients and friends who are crushing it with their courses. 

1. Finding a job

Adunola is a career coach who helps her clients land a new job that they will love. She does this with her 12-week program, careerREDEFINED.

online course example

2. Helping immigrants succeed

Li helps her clients achieve success in their new home countries with her program, The Wealthy Immigrant.

The wealthy immigrant course example

3. Energy work

Estelle’s course, Activate Your Magic, helps turn sensitive people into channels of light. 

activate your magic course example

4. Dating 

Ruby is a dating coach for men. Her course, The Dating Starter Pack, helps men get dates.

dating coach course example

5. Weight loss with spices

My friend Nagina teaches students how to lose weight effectively with the help of spices. Her methodology builds on her own, as well as her clients’ experiences and results.

Masalabody course example

6. College admissions

Julie Kim helps her students get accepted into Ivy League colleges with her college admissions online course, Ivy League/Top-Tier Bootcamp. 

Julie Kim course example

Want to start your own business?

There you have it. These are the best online businesses to start. 

What it comes down to is being strategic about the business model you choose so that it’s as profitable and easy to manage as possible. That’s how you will grow a business fast, be able to quit your job and create more impact and flexibility in your life. 

Now, I’d love to hear from you:

What business are you going to start?

Let me know in the comments below.

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The proven blueprint for building a profitable online coaching business that frees you from the 9-5

ABOUT LUISA

Luisa Zhou is the creator of the Employee to Entrepreneur system, which shows ambitious men and women how to build profitable and meaningful online businesses that replace (and exceed) their 9-5 salaries. Fun fact: She’s also a former International Space Station engineer. LEARN MORE

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The proven blueprint for building a profitable online coaching business that frees you from the 9-5

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