6 Online Business Models That Don’t Require Shipping

A huge challenge for Canadian small businesses is the high cost of shipping. Between the actual cost and ‘fuel surcharges’, it’s ridiculously expensive to ship within Canada and it’s even more expensive to ship to other countries. Sadly, these costs have caused the closure of many small businesses, or have resulted in them avoiding online sales to a point of stunting their digital transformation.

With Canada’s heavy dependence on small businesses for economic stability, one would think those prices would be coming down to accommodate them. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case.

“Prices for couriers, including air transport and ground delivery, were up as well—nearly one-quarter (23.1%) higher in June 2022 than in the same month a year earlier,” reports Statistics Canada.

The prices for local messengers and local delivery services rose to a lesser degree, by 14% over the same period. This industry includes delivery services of small parcels, as well as take-out meals and groceries, by small truck, van, bicycle, and by foot.”

Shipping is so cost prohibitive in Canada, the larger online marketplaces have taken notice. Most recently, eBay partnered with Canada Post to offer lower shipping rates. Etsy has also improved shipping discounts for Canadian sellers. It all helps, but it’s still far from affordable.

Luckily, selling physical products is only one of the standard online business models available today. There are two others that can be even more profitable: digital products or online services.

Digital products are usually downloaded or accessed online. It could be an ebook, special report, online course, videos, software as a service (SaaS), apps, gated content (membership sites), printables, podcasts, etc.

Digital services are perfect for those who enjoy working with people online. For example, if you have a high level of expertise on practically any topic, you may be able to offer consulting, coaching, freelance tasks, or virtual assistant services.

Additionally, digital services are a natural extension of digital products, be they books or courses (and vice versa). They can also include paid memberships or a mastermind group.

Online business models that don’t require shipping are usually entirely web-based. Everything from staff to customer communications are managed through the internet. That makes them perfect for home-based businesses and side hustles, while still being scalable to any size business you want.

Online Businesses That Don’t Require Shipping

We’ve included links to more information about starting the following online businesses that don’t require shipping. For further guidance, please check out our ebook on Amazon: 7 Recession Proof Online Businesses to Start 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. “Member Only” Gated Content

Membership content is usually hidden behind a paywall of some sort. We’ve all become used to a free internet, but few seem to realize it’s paid for in other ways. Now that ad blocking and cookie tracking is limiting other revenue sources, more content is being locked away behind paid memberships and subscriptions. As it becomes more common, it’s more readily accepted.

It’s relatively easy and economical to set up any WordPress blog with member-only content that you can charge a membership or subscription fee for. It can be a stand-alone offering, or part of a course, ebook, etc. They’re often combined with private online discussion communities (forums) 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

3. 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

4. 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

5. Content 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

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

If it’s just the hassles of shipping you’re trying to avoid, you could consider drop shipping or a third party logistics company. You might be able to find a dropshipper with free shipping.

You could also consider a hybrid business model that offsets shipping costs by diversifying digital revenue sources. For example, you can add digital products to your online store or accept advertising. That income can help to cover shipping expenses or fulfillment fees. Check out 12 Ways to Slash Shipping Costs for Canadian Small Businesses for more ideas.

Which online business will work best for you? Please share your thoughts in the comments below, or join us in the Online Business Canada Facebook group.

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Digital Business & Marketing Manager at Online Business Canada | Website | + posts

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.

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