Brian T. Edmondson was the online business expert for The Balance Small Business. He also covered topics on bitcoin and cryptocurrency for The Balance.
The internet is the great equalizer. In business specifically, it has leveled the playing field. Anyone can start a money-making online business—anyone with a computer, that is. But here’s the thing: virtually no technical experience is needed. Today there are plenty of tools you can use to build an online business that makes the technical work a lot easier than it was in the past.
You can also live anywhere you want, set your own schedule, and work as little or as much as you want, depending on how fast or big you want your business to grow. No business or marketing experience is needed either. It’s a truly democratic medium for entrepreneurship.
Best of all, unlike a brick-and-mortar business, you don’t need a lot of startup capital. In fact, you can get many internet businesses up and running with no money at all because so many free services facilitate the possibility. For example, you can set up a website or blog for free using WordPress. Or you can leverage a third-party site like Amazon or eBay to sell goods with no inventory costs. You use their selling platform in exchange for giving them a cut of your sales.
And this is just the start of the many available no-money e-commerce startup solutions. Let’s consider five of the top ways to start an online business and make money online with little or no cost at all.
1. Drop Shipping
The basic idea behind an online drop shipping business is that, as a small business owner, you don’t have to maintain a large inventory (or any inventory whatsoever) of products or handle any delivery to your customers. That eliminates the financial cost and risk of having a warehouse full of stuff you might not sell, and the hassle of arranging to send orders all over the country or the world. In fact, you don’t have to manufacture or store any products at all.
The only thing you have to focus on is marketing and advertising to find the customers and make the sales. Once the sale is made the rest is handled by others. Your only cost is the expense of marketing and advertising to acquire a new customer.
Once that is done, you’ll work with a company that specializes in drop shipping. Here’s how it works:
- You list products for sale on your website or a platform like Amazon, eBay, or Etsy.
- When one of your customers makes a purchase, you purchase the product from a third-party company (the drop shipper, usually a manufacturer or wholesaler) for a lower price. This process is as simple as forwarding the order from your customer, a process that can actually be completely automated. (Remember you don’t have any risk here of buying inventory because the sale has already been made).
- Your drop shipper then sends the product to the customer.1
Easy enough, right? With drop shipping, you can offer a wide range of products, so the operating expenses for your business are super low.
As you can see there is no risk on your part because you don’t even purchase the product (at cost) until the actual sale is made!
What are the downsides to the drop shipping business model? You have to find a reputable drop shipper you can count on to deliver to your customers. If an order is late or doesn’t go out—or a product is of poor quality—you get blamed, as your company is the one representing the product and customer experience.
Also, because this market is so competitive, the margins—that is, the difference between the wholesale price and how much you can sell a product for—are lower, so this will be a high-volume type business to generate a serious income. But still, it is a worthwhile low or no-cost startup option.2
One way to stand out from the competition with a drop shipping business is to private label your products. This simply means you put your own label/brand on the products that the manufacturer is creating. That way you’re not selling the same product brand and just competing on price; rather you can use your own brand and face less competition.3 Think about when you’re looking at medicine at the pharmacy; the brand names sell for higher prices and people think they are different from the generic brands even though the ingredients are exactly the same. Consider these important factors when looking for a good drop shipping product.