Self-employment through a home-based business is a dream many Canadians have, and lots of us are making that dream come true. The internet has made it relatively easy to start a business at home, either full time or as a side hustle.
However, it’s difficult to choose the right type of business from the growing number of online business models. This article is based on over two decades of being self-employed and working from my home office in BC. It will clarify your choices and send you down a profitable path.
Self-Employment in Canada
Here’s a statistical snapshot of self-employment in Canada:
- According to Global Data, 2.7 million Canadians were self-employed in 2021. Almost a million of them were women and 1.69 million were men.
- Statistics Canada reported self-employed Canadians made up 15% of total employment in 2018, with the highest number in British Columbia.
- The types of self-employment in Canada that have grown the most over the past few decades are professional, scientific and technical services.
Cause for Concern
Some online business models are more suitable for a home business than others.
• Space is a primary concern for many home-based business ideas. Most people will be operating their business from a home office, or they may not have a designated business space at all. A lack of storage also eliminates any business model requiring a large amount of inventory. Additionally, you might require a shipping station with enough space to pack shipments and store packing materials.
• Another huge consideration is time. If you’re working at a fulltime job and starting an online side hustle, your time will be very limited. If you provide care for family members, you’ll require a flexible schedule that allows you to put them first without negatively impacting your business or clients. Statistics Canada found more women were motivated by work-family balance and flexible hours than men.
• Money is a concern for most people and its often the motivation behind starting a home business. One in three Canadians (33.1%) lived in a household that had found it difficult or very difficult to meet its financial needs over the previous four weeks, according to 2023 data from Statistics Canada.
Chances are, your goal is to make money and there probably isn’t much to invest in a new venture. The good news is businesses launched from home are often the least expensive to start as well. These home-based, online businesses usually require equipment and services you already have. Namely, an internet connection and a computer of some sort. Some could even be started with your smart phone if you don’t have a computer.
There are also clever ways to significantly reduce expenses, such as waiting for Black Friday / Cyber Monday deals to buy a pricey marketing tool, using discount services like NameCheap to register your domain name, or cashing in loyalty program points to purchase equipment (that’s how I got my first pro-level camera).
• Last but not least, you must keep an eye on your stress levels and take care of yourself. Starting a business should bring you joy and fulfillment. You’ll face challenges like any other business, but resolving them will empower and motivate you. With so many online business opportunities to choose from you’re bound to find at least one that will make you happy, if you take your time and do some research.
“One-third of self-employed workers cited independence, freedom, and being one’s own boss as the main reason they were in self-employment,” shares Statistics Canada. “For self-employed workers of all age groups, independence and freedom was paramount – particularly for those aged 55 or older.”
Top Online Businesses for Home-Based Self-Employment
In 25 years of working online, I’ve seen many home businesses thrive and some failures. The following home business models are consistent winners for those who are willing to do the work. Each of the above concerns have been factored in each option, resulting in a list of those most suitable for people who need (or want) to work at home. Make your own list of concerns and requirements so you can choose an online business that will work best for you and others in your life.
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TIP: Many online business models can be combined to generate multiple revenue streams. Choose your primary business and plan for future expansion, then bring in another complimentary revenue source or strategy. I recommend you try them one at a time so you can focus on mastering one before moving on to another option.
I strongly suggest you have a website for any online business, even if you sell on an independent platform. Today’s hosts all offer design tools for those who don’t know HTML and they continue to get more user-friendly. GreenGeeks hosts all of our websites and they have a special WordPress package if you need it.
Follow our Checklist: Choosing a Website Host for your Canadian Business to help you make the best choice.
If you need some help setting up your business, read How to Start an Online Business in Canada.
Virtual service businesses are the most inexpensive to start and often the fastest to generate revenue. They typically offer complete control over your schedule and you probably have everything you need to get started.
Freelance Content Production
Of all the freelance jobs you can do online, content creation is the one in highest demand. From corporate blogging, to video production to graphics design (such as infographics), businesses are desperate for it. Set up a simple website and focus on promoting your personal brand.
Further guidance: How to Start a Digital Content Freelancing Business in Canada
Virtual Assistant (VA)
Virtual assistants may do anything from data entry to online marketing tasks. If you have a skill that can be done remotely, you can offer it as a Virtual Assistant. 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 to grow your skillset into marketable services, you can take a course in administration, marketing, or other profession suitable for working at home.
Further guidance: How to Become a Virtual Assistant (VA) in Canada
Online learning has grown exponentially over the past decade, be it an educational blog, ebooks, or developing actual courses. Since everything is accessed online, you’re sure to find a suitable way to teach and inform others from the comfort of your home.
Online Information & Learning Products
Virtually everyone has a high level of expertise on one topic or another. Use this knowledge to create & sell information products like courses, white papers, reports, or ebooks. You can sell the same creation over and over again without having to worry about inventory or shipping.
Further guidance: How to Develop Your Own Online Coaching Info-Products
Blogging isn’t the fastest way to make money online at home, but once you’re established it can be an excellent source of income with maximum flexibility.
Whether you’re teaching people how to manage their money or how to make cookies, most bloggers share some kind of expertise or talent. Blogging can be used to generate revenue from individual sponsorships or affiliate marketing. It’s also a perfect compliment to any online business, bringing you traffic and establishing your level of expertise.
If blogging will be the backbone of your business, choose a niche that has a good balance between popularity and originality. For example, if you want to start a baking blog with recipes, refine your niche to holiday baking, or revolve it around dietary restrictions like sugar-free treats.
TIP: Most free, hosted blogging platforms limit your income options, so buy a domain and host your own blog if possible. Many hosts offer easy, one-step installation of popular blogging software, such as WordPress.
Further guidance: How to Make Money Blogging in Canada: The Ultimate Guide
Affiliate marketing is a monetization method that can be used in combination with several online business models. Digital products and your blog are perfect for affiliate marketing.
Affiliate programs allow you to advertise for a company and earn a percentage of the sales you generate for them. Most of the income generated by my home business comes from affiliate marketing.
Further guidance: How to Start Affiliate Marketing in Canada
Ecommerce at Home
There are a couple of ways you can sell products online without worrying about space, inventory, or shipping. Focus on online retail options with low (or controlled) inventory requirements.
Auctions & Online Marketplaces
A safer way to try online business is through auctions and online marketplaces. More and more Canadians are diving into marketplace sales, selling everything from used goods to their own products. These home-based entrepreneurs use creative methods for sourcing and selling merchandise.
Tools and courses have been launched specifically for online sellers, designed by their colleagues to streamline the marketplace learning process and legwork. For example, Jungle Scout has a highly-rated, free FBA (Fulfillment by Amazon) course, along with a suite of popular Amazon tools for product & keyword research, competitive intelligence and product sourcing.
Helpful resource: Online Marketplaces for Canadian Sellers
Drop Shipping (dropshipping) is the easiest, least expensive way to sell products online at the retail level from home. Many companies use dropshipping to expand their product line or they base their entire fulfillment model on it.
In short, you’ll make arrangements with a wholesale supplier or manufacturer to sell their products directly online. Orders are sent to your dropshipping supplier, who then ships it directly to your customer. The customer price, minus the wholesale cost, equals your profit.
TIP: Always place an order with each of the drop shippers you’re considering. Not all of them are reliable, and you’ll want to check their shipping time & practices to ensure your customers will be happy with their order.
Further guidance: Drop Shipping / Wholesale for Canadian Sellers
Canadians Want to be Self-Employed
You’re not alone. The movement towards self-employment is strong in Canada.
FreshBooks reports, “An astonishing 7 million Canadians are expecting to exit their traditional jobs in the next two years for self-employment. Add to this, nearly 2 million others are already supplementing full-time employment with side gigs.”
I feel very fortunate to have a home-based online business and it’s an opportunity available to almost anyone. Pick up the ebook, 7 Recession Proof Online Businesses to Start From Home, for more ideas and a complete guide that will have you making money online in no time.
Join us to discuss legit online business opportunities in Canada 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 25 years of working online, she has owned or managed both educational and ecommerce websites. Her book, 7 Recession Proof Online Businesses to Start From Home, is available on Amazon.
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.