Make Money Online: How to Choose a Profitable Niche for Your Business

Determine Whether You Have a Money-Making Idea Before You Waste Your Time

There's a lot of appeal to making money online. Starting and growing a profitable online business can afford you the luxury of working from home, having a flexible lifestyle that allows you to travel the world and even making money while you sleep.

However, it's no easy feat to make money online today. The days of simply setting up a blog and collecting a healthy check from advertisement revenue are long gone. It takes a lot of effort and creativity to identify a profitable online niche that's ripe for disruption.

If you've been around here before, you probably know a bit about various methods for making money online ranging from building a profitable blog to information products to affiliate marketing and beyond.

The problem with trying to make money online, as you know, is that the road to ruin is paved with good intentions. So many good ideas flounder or never come to fruition. Not because they're bad ideas, but because they aren't tested, refined or even validated before pouring resources into them.

In the spirit of the Lean Startup, I want to throw open the doors on the process of settling on, and testing the validity of a profitable online business.

Over the next few months, I'll be launching a few pilots, to completely walk you through the nuts and bolts of running and building a worthwhile online business. Below, you'll find the first round of ideas that I will now go about testing and "validating" as actual online businesses.

Not every idea is great, and not every idea will survive, but every idea will offer lessons. Lessons you can learn from. Mistakes you can avoid. Techniques you can implement to help the success of your own ideas.

I hope you'll join me on the journey to make money online.

Training, Coaching and Online Courses

Two people going over plans
Dan Bannister/Getty Images

Many entrepreneurs will urge you to learn to profit from your own expertise, so this is the first route I'm going to pursue for my online business experiment. Coaching and information product businesses are all about turning your expertise into either a book, video or course that people will pay you for. 

In the past, I picked up a great side business helping bloggers move from Blogspot or Typepad to the much more feature-rich WordPress platform. From working with these clients I have learned a lot about the market for services related to helping bloggers enhance their websites. 

Affiliate Marketing

Person typing on a computer

A couple of years ago I read about the burgeoning appetite among readers for a genre of a book called "New Adult" -- basically contemporary romance which picks up where "Young Adult" leaves off. It seems that a crop of writers are making a living in this niche by self-publishing for Amazon Kindle, and their output, in the wake of the runaway success of Fifty Shades of Grey, can barely keep up with demand. 

At the time, I bought the domain, and I am now looking to see whether I can build demand for this niche and eventually make money online with it. My model here will be built around Amazon Associates and generating affiliate commissions from each book sale I make. 

Try it yourself: Attach your passion for a particular subject an Amazon Associate store. Here's how to get started.


A messy computer desk

My next online business pilot came from a joke with a colleague who introduced me to the Lean Startup. "Just call me the 'lean copywriter,' I joked, after tweaking a copy line. Hmmm, I thought to myself, I wonder if that domain is available? It was and I snapped it up.

With this business, I'm hoping to realize a hybrid approach from both selling an online course (probably hosted on Udemy), and from affiliate revenue by selling other courses and related Amazon products. 

Try it yourself: It's much easier to set up a site and build revenue than you might think. Here's how to get started.  

Drop Shipping and Fulfilled by Amazon (FBA)

Make Money Online By Pursuing Your Muse
Thomas Barwick/Stone/Getty Images

Have you ever heard of a "muse business"? I hadn't until I read Tim Ferriss' The Four Hour Workweek. The idea is to create a business that requires little effort from you and supports the rest of your lifestyle.

A popular concept for muse businesses involves drop shipping or using Fulfilled by Amazon where you outsource the shipping and fulfillment process of your products to a third party—thus removing a significant amount of work from your end of the equation. You sell the product, and you don't pay for inventory unless someone is buying. Simple yet very intriguing.

This one seems like the hardest one to pull off from my perspective but I love a challenge and I thought about something I really love (dogs!). Pawsitively Fourth Street is the result. I'll reveal more about how I plan to roll this out in the future but for now, consider it my most experimental idea.

Try it yourself: Chew on these tips from a successful "muse" business.

Rejected Idea #1: Blogging

Make Money Online By Starting a Blog
Jasper James/Stone/Getty Images

I constantly have ideas for amazing blogs and I'm always inspired by people who build businesses around blogs. The problem? I know all too well how much time and effort it takes to build a profitable blog. So this is one idea I'm tabling for the immediate future, but can work wonders if you're willing to invest the right amount of time and build relationships with other bloggers who can help amplify your results.

Try it yourself: Just because I'm lazy, doesn't mean you need to be. Here's how to build a profitable blog empire.

Rejected Idea #2: Podcasting

Make Money Online By Starting a Podcast
George Coppock/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

Podcasts are super hot right now, there's even a podcast called Startup by Alex Blumberg at Gimlet Media that chronicles his process of launching a podcast business. I love the idea of running a podcast, but like my reservations about blogging, I just don't feel I have the time right now to devote to content.