An online ‘side hustle’ can be a permanent income option for Canadians, or a fast, cheap, practical and safer way to test the waters before going full time.
It’s a scary leap to just quit your job and try to earn enough money online from home. Even if you’re already home with the kids, it’s tough to work on your business full time while taking care of them. A lot of people may simply need to supplement their existing income while they work a “day job” or enjoy retirement. Students need to work part-time with a flexible schedule to accommodate classes. Luckily, many online business models make it perfectly feasible to work part-time from home.
It’s a popular concept. An Intuit study reported that 53% of all new startups in Canada are run by part-time entrepreneurs.
“It means that the average startup – defined as a business in operation for three years or less – is not what it is commonly assumed to be,” the Intuit report states. “The true portrait of a Canadian startup is the woman down the street who is working through nights and weekends in pursuit of her great new idea, while spending her days working for someone else.”
10 Low-Cost Side Businesses you can Start Online from Home
1. Freelance Content Writing, Video Production, or Graphics Design
Content is king online and companies are screaming for it. This can range from corporate blogging, to video production to graphics design (such as infographics). Set up a simple website and focus on promoting your personal brand. Don’t worry about hiring a website designer for now, just select a host with website building tools. They’re designed for those who don’t know HTML and they get more user-friendly every day. Read Checklist: Choosing a Website Host for your Canadian Business for guidance.
Further reading: How to Start a Digital Content Freelancing Business in Canada
2. Drop Shipping
Drop Shipping is the easiest, least expensive way to sell products online. You won’t have to worry about inventory or shipping. You make arrangements with a wholesale supplier or manufacturer to sell their products direct online. You can offer these products on your own website, or via online auctions like eBay, or through a sellers’ market like Amazon. The customer price minus the wholesale cost equals your profit.
Further reading: Drop Shipping / Wholesale for Canadian Sellers
3. Start a Blog (But not Just any Blog)
Millions of people have started blogging, but far less make money doing so. Lucrative blogging has a learning curve but you don’t have to learn it all at once. The most important thing you need to know right now is you must choose a niche that is a happy medium between popularity and originality. You don’t want to start out with a topic that’s insanely saturated like your average “Mommy Blog”, you will be much more successful if you dig a niche out of it. Using the “Mommy Blog” as an example, you might want to narrow the niche to parenting teens, or go even deeper and write about parenting “difficult” teens, and so on.
Once you’re established, you can do quite well with sponsorship from individual companies and/or affiliate marketing. Most free, hosted blog platforms limit your income options, so check into hosting your own blog as soon as possible.
Further reading: How to Make Money Blogging in Canada:The Ultimate Guide.
4. Affiliate Marketing
Affiliate programs allow you to advertise for a company and earn a percentage of the sales you generate for them. To make a decent amount of money with affiliate marketing, you’ll need a website. This will be your home base for everything from building a mailing list to social media promotion.
Many people are interested in affiliate marketing because they believe in the “make money while you sleep” concept. That may be technically true, but in reality successful affiliate marketing demands a lot of effort. Once you’ve established a following, both on your website and in newsletter subscribers, it will get easier.
Further reading: How to Start Affiliate Marketing in Canada
5. Digital Information & Learning Products
Virtually everyone has a high level of expertise on one topic or another. Create & sell information products such as courses, white papers, reports, or even an eBook.
Further reading: How to Develop Your Own Online Coaching Info-Products
6. Virtual Assistant (VA)
Virtual assistants may do anything from social media management to secretarial tasks. Whatever skill you have that can be done remotely, is marketable under the ‘Virtual Assistant’ label. Working as a virtual assistant has become even more feasible with the option of working and collaborating in “the cloud”. Tasks like collaborative design and accounting are easily accomplished thanks to “the cloud”, along with other online collaboration and file sharing tools. If you need marketable qualifications, you can take a course in executive administration, medical assistant, computer tech or other profession suitable for working at home.
Further reading: How to Become a Virtual Assistant (VA) in Canada
7. “Member Only” Content
It’s relatively easy and economical to set up any WordPress blog with member-only content that you can charge a membership fee for. It can be a stand-alone offering, or part of a course, eBook, etc. They’re often combined with private online communities on the topic, which can also be established with inexpensive WordPress plugins. Alternately, you may want to invest in a website management system that is specially designed for it.
Further reading: How to Start a Popular and Profitable Membership Website
8. Web translation
In Canada, there are a good number of websites, social media, and videos that need a French version. Set up a basic website and promote your services. You can also network with web designers and even offer them a commission if they refer clients to you.
Further reading: Start an Online Content Translation Business in Canada
9. Open an Online Store
Sell products or services online through your own eCommerce business in Canada. This can be almost as inexpensive as other businesses, but you will have to purchase or produce inventory. Start with a few products or your own creations and let the sales feed your line expansion. Don’t go crazy and purchase or produce 5000 of each item, start small to test the market. Your profit margin may not be high when you buy in small quantities but your losses on products that don’t sell will be minimal.
The first thing you’ll need is a domain name that reflects your company, while keeping it as short as possible to make it easier for people to remember. You’ll also need Canadian-friendly website hosting / eCommerce software (like Canadian currency and a shopping cart with Canada Post integration), such as Shopify. For more information, please read the Canadian Guide to the Best eCommerce Platform Software.
10. Auctions and Online Marketplaces
The perfect way to try online business is through auctions and online marketplaces. This option can go well beyond eBay, with massive online marketplaces like Amazon, or specialized marketplaces like Etsy. More and more Canadians are finding out that selling on marketplaces can become a thriving business. They use creative methods for sourcing and selling merchandise. Taking advantage of FBA (fulfillment by Amazon) makes it much easier to manage and usually increases sales.
Tools and courses have been launched specifically for Amazon sellers, designed by their colleagues to streamline the marketplace learning process and legwork. Jungle Scout has a highly-rated, free FBA course, along with a suite of popular Amazon tools for product & keyword research, competitive intelligence and product sourcing.
If you don’t want to learn it all and do it all, you don’t have to! There are lots of freelance experts covering every aspect of selling on Amazon and similar online marketplaces.
Further reading: Online Marketplaces for Canadian Sellers
Thousands of Canadians are starting side businesses online with very little tech knowledge. In fact, if you can use Facebook, you’re capable of starting an online business. You don’t need to know HTML, website and eCommerce software is designed for people who don’t. There are endless sources of information online to guide you through the rest. It often costs very little to get started and the ROI odds are in your favour. Before you know it, you could be working online full time if you want to. Having an online business gives you the freedom to decide.
??? Have you ever made money part-time online or are you just exploring the possibility? Please share with us in the comments below or discuss this and other online business topics in the Online Business Canada Facebook group!
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Melody McKinnon's formal education is in business management, which she enhanced with more than 60 certifications revolving around business, marketing, health, general sciences and writing. In over 20 years of working online, she has owned or managed both educational and eCommerce websites.
Melody has worked with many businesses & brands in a multitude of capacities. She can often be found on CanadiansInternet.com, CanadianFamily.net and AllNaturalPetCare.com, as well as other quality digital publications. Her content has earned reference links from highly-respected websites, magazines and university textbooks.