11 online business ideas for budding entrepreneurs  11 online business ideas...

11 online business ideas for budding entrepreneurs 


7 Dec, 2022
A person sitting on a chair with a laptop on his lap. Emojis next to him depict online business ideas.

Gone are the days when you had to do business face-to-face. When the pandemic forced us all indoors in 2020, it led us online.

Strict lockdowns and social distancing accelerated our online behaviour. Not only were we spending more time on social media, but we adopted new ways of shopping. As a result, the ecommerce industry in South Africa is worth just under R200 billion.

But ecommerce isn’t the only type of business you can earn a living from online. Along with selling products, there are also many types of services you can provide. The pandemic normalised a culture of remote work, which led to the creation of tools and platforms that have optimised the way we work (and do business) online.

It’s now easier than ever to run an online business. Social media platforms and tools like Zoom, Canva and WordPress have made it easier for you to set up shop. Plus, nearly 80% of South Africans have access to the internet, making it easier for you to find customers.

In this article, we’ll briefly look at the benefits of doing business online and what you should consider before diving into the types of businesses you can start. 

Read more: 4 easy-to-use ecommerce platforms you can use to build your online store

Why start an online business?

If you’re still on the fence about starting an online business, here are three reasons why doing business online could be better than opening up a physical space.

1. Lower overheads. Unlike with a brick-and-mortar store, you won’t need to pay for rent, utilities, equipment or furniture. Although there are costs to developing a standout website (you’ll need to pay for a domain name, web hosting, online advertising etc.), these will burn a smaller hole in your wallet. Plus, most web builders have a free or low-cost option that can be useful to those just starting out. 

2. Larger target audience. Whether you want to target people across South Africa or offer your services on a global scale, you can reach them all when you run your business online. Use tools like Google and Facebook ads to advertise your business to the people who are most likely to be interested in your offering, regardless of whether they live in Cape Town or Cairo.

3.  Work when you want and where you want. The internet doesn’t ever close its doors. Unless you’re selling a product that’s dependent on swift delivery, you can choose your own working hours. Find the time when you’re most productive, and let that be your working hours. And since all you need is a laptop and a connection to the internet, you can work wherever you want. With more and more countries offering a digital nomad visa, you can even take your business overseas. 

Two important things to consider

SnapScan Business Payment Solutions

While the tools you’ll need to start your business will depend on the type of business you start, there are two main decisions you’ll need to make that’ll influence how you do business. 

  1. Decide which platform you’ll use to operate your business 

If you’re selling a product, you can turn your website into an ecommerce store or opt to sell your products via Facebook Marketplace, Instagram Shop or even WhatsApp. The same applies if you’re offering a service. You might not need a platform to showcase your products, but you do need an online presence to advertise the services you offer and a way for people to contact you, whether that’s through your business email address or a direct message on social media.

2.  Decide how you want to collect payments online

Most ecommerce platforms come with payment gateways you can use to collect payments online. To ensure you get paid quickly, you’ll want to make the payment process as easy as possible for your customers. SnapScan has integrations with WooCommerceMagento 2ShopstarOpenCart, and PayGate, as well as a partial integration with Shopify. Our WooCommerce and Magento 2 plugins allow your customers to pay using their SnapScan app, their bank cards or via instant EFT.

Don’t have a website? Use our SnapLinks to get paid on any social media platform, via text or even email. A SnapLink is a payment link you can send to clients or customers. When they tap on the link, they can pay using their SnapScan app, their bank cards or even instant EFT. 

Read more: 6 ways SnapLinks can help you process online payments faster

Ready to dip your toes into the world of entrepreneurship but unsure where to start?

Here are 11 ideas to get you started:

1. Sell custom apparel

Bachelorettes, family reunions, clubs – special occasions often call for a commemorative t-shirt, cap or mug. If you like working with your hands, you could develop a custom printing business that supplies these items.

Customers could either send you their designs or, if you have the skill, design them yourself. You would then print their designs and deliver the items to them. The printing process requires a heat press – these come in different shapes and sizes based on the item you want to print on. It’s, therefore, best to decide whether you’ll be selling t-shirts, mugs, caps, or puzzles beforehand. Alternatively, if you have the money, opt for the all-in-one heat press that can print on all these items.

2. Write CVs

Along with the heat press, you’ll also need a sublimation printer to print the designs onto the transfer paper and stock of the items you’ll be selling. 

33.9% of South Africans are currently unemployed, with many more looking to change jobs. If you have an affinity with words but don’t want to go the traditional writing route, use your skills to help people improve their CVs.

Potential clients could either send their current CVs for you to work with or opt to set up interviews to discuss their previous work experience. Once you develop a knack for improving CVs, you could start designing templates that you can sell to clients who are only looking for a template they can work with.

3. Proofread and edit others’ work

An illustration of a computer screen with blocked out text that's being proofread

If you can spot a typo a mile away and love polishing people’s rough drafts until they shine,  consider turning it into a full-time job. While no one minds a typo when they’re talking to their friends, grammatical errors on a business’ website make them seem unprofessional.

Offer your services to small businesses who need someone to proofread their website copy, edit their brochures before they go off to print or even target students who need someone to help them spruce up their thesis. 

4. Become a social media consultant

Know how to grow an audience online? Use that to your advantage. With many small businesses trying to stand out from their competition to reel in more customers, there’s a market for social media consultants.

Small businesses are often understaffed, and while they know the importance of marketing, they don’t have the resources to create and maintain a social media strategy. That’s where you come in. Offer your freelance services to create content for the social media accounts so they can focus on what matters most: creating their product or service.

While this is a low-cost start-up business, you’ll need to be able to find businesses that could use your help and be persuasive enough to show them how you could help them get more customers. It might be a good idea to create a portfolio of previous work that highlights your experience. 

5. Create a Masterclass

If you like sharing your knowledge with others, create a masterclass.  Masterclasses are typically a short series of highly-focused videos that teach eager students how to excel at a particular subject matter.

It doesn’t matter what your topic is as long as there’s an audience for it. A great way to find a topic for your masterclass is to tap into what’s trending at the time. Do people want to learn how to crochet, garden or create mouthwatering baked goods? By tapping into what’s popular, you’re more likely to find an audience for your classes.

To create your masterclass, you’ll need to plan and structure your content in such a way that audiences will have a new skill in their back pocket after watching your videos. Once you’ve planned them, film your content and upload it onto a platform that’s accessible to your audience. 

6. Sell digital products

An illustration of audio that's for sale to illustrate the online business idea of selling a digital product

These days the digital screen is the lens through which many people see the world, whether they’re using it for work, want to learn something new or need help staying organised. It’s why creating a digital product can be profitable.

Digital products include ebooks, printable planners, soundtracks for videos, photoshop templates, wallpapers, audiobooks and even printable games or riddles. Choose a digital product to create based on the skills you have and sell it via an online store.

Read more: 10 side hustle ideas you can turn into a small business

7. Buy and sell secondhand books

While secondhand bookstores have always had their place tucked away in obscure corners of towns, they can be just as popular online.

Prelovedbookssa, and Lotus Bookstore both sell secondhand books online. While the former sells books directly on Instagram, the second has a website through which avid readers can purchase books. 

To make this venture work, you’ll need to be able to sniff out good books at a good price and find people who are willing to sell you their collections at a fraction of the cost so you can resell them to make a profit.

Tip: Tap into online reading communities on BookTok, BookTube and Bookstagram communities to find customers interested in your stock. You’ll sell even more if you’re able to find copies of what’s trending at the time. 

8. Curate subscription boxes

Wine of the month club, tea subscriptions, coffee subscriptions – there’s a reason why the subscription model has increased in popularity. It allows enthusiasts to discover more of what they love at a fraction of the cost without them having to do the work of actually finding it.

Other than building a subscription around a beverage, you could also create a subscription box based on pop culture (e.g one with Game of Thrones merchandise) or curate boxes filled with beauty products, accessories or foreign snacks.

For this business to be profitable, you’ll need to be able to buy your stock in bulk at a lower price. You’ll need the initial capital to build these boxes to sell. 

9. Create niche gift boxes with local products

an illustration of niche gift ideas as an online business idea

The perfect gift is often elusive, with many people not knowing what to buy their friends and family. Similar to the subscription box – you could create gift boxes with niche products from local suppliers. To Be Gift Boxes does this really well. Their gift boxes are all built around a particular occasion – whether that’s a birthday, a wedding or Christmas.

These boxes are great because it takes the hassle out of the consumer to find each product individually. Instead, they can buy a box from you that contains a worthy gift for any occasion.

You’ll need to have good knowledge of what makes a great gift for different occasions, the negotiation skills to get a good price for your bulk buys and some startup capital to be able to buy these products to make up the gift sets. 

10. Edit videos 

As social media platforms place more emphasis on video content, it’s become more important for brands and influencers to create their own. And although short-form content is flourishing thanks to TikTok and Instagram Reels, long-form video on YouTube is still incredibly popular, with 25.3 million South Africans using the platform.

If you can tell compelling stories through video and know how to use the software, why not partner with influencers to edit their content for them. This would free up their time to film more content without having to worry about the time-consuming process of editing it. It’s a win-win for everyone involved. 

11. Build websites for small businesses

As mentioned earlier, the ecommerce industry is flourishing in South Africa. And while many small businesses want to tap into the potential of ecommerce, not everyone has the time and skill to build their own website or online store.

Web builders like Squarespace and Shopify have drag-and-drop features that make it simple to learn how to build a website, while WordPress has created numerous tutorials for you to follow. Learning how to create websites and online stores is a skill that can be beneficial to you in the long run.

Once you’ve learnt the necessary skills, find potential clients by scouting out the businesses in your area. Determine which ones have yet to build their websites and offer them your services. Alternatively, you can tap into small business groups on Facebook to find those who are looking for someone to build their website for them.

Read more: 6 factors you should consider when starting a business

Although these online businesses are simple to start, they require time and effort to make them work. With thousands of businesses operating online, you’ll need to work hard to ensure you stand out from your competition. When you’re ready to start your business, read this article to learn how to market your business and check out how HerMerakai turned her passion into a flourishing business. 

Written by

Megan is a Content Strategist at SnapScan, with a book-buying habit that is spiraling out of control.

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