American consumers have an undeniable debt problem. In fact, we carry more than $1.6 trillion in student debt and $1.2 trillion in auto loans. Credit card spending is usually more discretionary, but we struggle with it too. The average citizen owes $8,398 spread over four different accounts.
Economic trouble has only made things worse. The impact of the restaurant, retail, and transportation industries all but disappearing put millions out of work. Stimulus packages and unemployment only go so far, and people need other ways to keep up with their mounting debts.
With the whole world going increasingly remote, there’s never been a better time to build an online business. It can provide you with a source of income that’s not reliant on a boss who may let you go in times of economic trouble. Here are some ideas for the best online businesses you can start to get out of debt.
Criteria for the Best Online Careers
There’s no shortage of lists out there with seemingly endless suggestions for ways that you can make money online, but you don’t need an exhaustive list. Not all online business ideas are worth pursuing. In fact, most of them probably won’t be - at least for you.
You only need one solid business idea that fits your needs. While there’s no one-size-fits-all business model, there is a repeatable recipe for a successful online business. It should meet all of the following criteria:
- Low Start-up Costs: You don’t want to have to invest thousands of dollars into your business (and go deeper into debt) to start making money. Pick something that you can do without paying for expensive equipment, merchandise, or labor upfront. You can even go solar to further decrease your costs and if you want to help the planet by using a completely renewable source of energy for your business.
- Easily Scalable and Profitable: Choose something that you can vet early, then grow into a full-time business if you want. Early success will build momentum and confidence. It’ll also help you keep up with debt payments before more interest accrues.
- Leverage Your Existing Skills: It’s almost always a mistake to jump into a business that you have no idea how to run. You’re going to have to compete with many others, and it always pays to have some sort of competitive advantage.
It’s a tall order to find a business model that meets all of these criteria, and it’s going to look different for everyone. These are some ideas that can work for a significant portion of the population.
1. Virtual Assistant Services
Administrative roles are classic entry-level jobs. The skillset doesn’t usually require higher education, and there are low barriers to entry. With some solid organizational and interpersonal skills, you can add a ton of value to a business as an administrative assistant.
Nowadays, you don’t have to sit at the front desk of an office anymore to take advantage of the demand for these services. Virtual assistants fulfill many of the same roles as traditional office assistants, but they can do so from the comfort of their own home - and for many different businesses at once!
If you enjoy organization and systems optimization, a business as a virtual assistant checks all the right boxes. You don’t need anything more than a laptop and an internet connection to start, you can make decent money very quickly, and the earning potential is surprisingly high. The best virtual assistants can charge $50 an hour.
2. Remote Accounting Services
If you have experience in accounting or finance, providing those services on a contract basis is a great online business you can start to get out of debt. Accounting has become an increasingly automated process, but a lot of human hours are still necessary.
Whatever your level of expertise, there are plenty of services you can provide. If you’re less experienced, you can start with bookkeeping. If you’ve worked in public accounting and have a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) or Enrolled Agent license (EA), you can charge a lot more for tax preparation or planning. Again, you can see profits very early with little investment, and the upper earning potential is very high.
3. Social Media Management
At their heart, most online service businesses function similarly. You fulfill an essential function for small businesses or entrepreneurs who can’t (or don’t want to) pay full-time wages to an employee.
The economies of scale are in your favor as a freelancer. You can become extremely efficient in your specialty, increase your rate as your expertise grows, and grow your clientele to the perfect volume.
Managing social media accounts is yet another great way to follow the broader service business model. Most business owners don’t specialize in marketing, but they know that they need to generate demand for their business. If you understand the ins and outs of internet marketing and managing social media, you can develop a profitable client base in no time.
4. Freelance Writing
Freelance writing encompasses a massive amount of different business models, but that makes it a viable option for many people. If you’re talented with the written word and have useful subject matter expertise, you can do well for yourself.
Businesses and freelancers can monetize long-form written articles (like this one!) in many ways, including advertising, affiliate marketing, or by using it as lead generation for their product or service. If you prefer sales-oriented writing, you can also pursue website copywriting, which is meant to persuade people to take action (like buying or subscribing).
Like the previous online service businesses, freelance writing takes some time and effort to break into, but you can see results relatively quickly without undue risk. You can also grow your earning power to considerable levels over time.
5. Tutoring or Coaching
All of the options on this list can apply to many different people, but teaching someone what you know is probably the most flexible. If you have any sort of useful expertise, you can charge people money to learn from you.
If you have a college degree that you’ve put to use for years in a related industry, chances are that you have a lot to offer. An easy way to break into tutoring would be to offer tutoring services to students at your alma mater. Once again, there are few barriers to entry and it’s highly scalable with a high ceiling on earning power.
Don’t Chase Get-Rich-Quick Schemes
The suggestions on this list can start generating money in a relatively short amount of time for a wide range of people, but they’re not get-rich-quick schemes. They will still take time, discipline, and hard work to bring in meaningful profits.
They’ll probably be able to generate enough money to help you start paying back your debts in a matter of months. If that’s a longer time horizon than you can afford, entrepreneurship might not be the best route for you. However, if you want to start the freedom and profitability of an online business, they’re a good place to start.
If none of these particular examples appeal to you, think back to the qualifications that make a good business idea in the first place. Use those to find one that suits your skill set and personal preferences.