BUY stock, store it, pick it, pack it, ship it. Managing inventory is a big commitment when you are running an online business.
But there are actually many business ideas you can start that let you focus less on the logistics associated with inventory and more on your business.
These low-investment, no-inventory online ideas make a great entry point for beginners or anyone with a busy schedule, giving you a hands-on education in entrepreneurship at a fraction of the cost.
You still need to come up with a solid idea, build a brand, do marketing, and provide customer service. But you won’t have to keep a stack of products in your living room or ship every order yourself.
Here are some low-investment business ideas that let you make money without investing a lot upfront, while freeing you from the demands of inventory management.
- Build a dropshipping store
Dropshipping is a business model where a third party seller stores and ships inventory to customers on your behalf. You just need to make the sales; you don’t need to handle the products yourself.
Simply put, dropshipping is a modern take on the oldest form of business: Buy an item for a low price and sell it for a profit. Except in this case, the supplier you’re buying it from is also the one responsible for getting it to the customer.
You can curate products from different suppliers into your own online store under a theme that focuses on a specific niche, like mats for yoga enthusiasts or water bowls for dog owners. When a customer buys a product from you, the order is sent to your supplier who fulfills it on your behalf. However, you are still responsible for your own customer service.
There are both local and overseas suppliers you can work with, as long as you can establish a relationship with them built on trust—an unreliable supplier will reflect poorly on your brand.
Since many of the products you can dropship are commodities and will be unbranded, your business will be competing with others through marketing and quality customer service. In other words, it often boils down to whether you can sell a product better than the competition.
That said, dropshipping is a low-investment way to test product-market fit and launch a business before you invest in your own original products. Just be sure to always order a sample for yourself to make sure that your supplier is reliable and that the quality of the products is fit for selling to your customers.
- Design and sell print-on-demand t-shirts
Another dropshipping model, print-on-demand puts inventory, shipping, and fulfilment in the hands of a third-party supplier. But unlike the dropshipping idea above, the focus here is on customising these products with your own designs to create something original.
T-shirts, hats, phone cases, hoodies, skirts, tote bags, and more become canvassers for your creativity. You can think up witty slogans for developers or references that resonate with cat owners—if there’s passion and pride within a community, there’s a potential t-shirt business you can start.
Even if you’re not a designer, you can find a designer to work with using freelance sites like Fiverr, Upwork, Dribble, or 99Designs.
With many print-on-demand services, you’re paying per-product, so the base price per unit will be more expensive than if you were to order in bulk. But the advantage is that if a certain t-shirt design doesn’t sell, you haven’t actually paid for the item yet (only the design if you outsourced it).
You can even use t-shirt mockup templates so you don’t actually need to spend money on a full photoshoot for every new design.
There are a variety of print-on-demand platforms you can work with, many of which can be integrated with your Shopify store for seamless order fulfillment. However, be sure to always order a sample of your product (often offered at a discount) to make sure your custom products look good.
- Launch your own book
A book is just another product when you think about it. And as such, you can create one to serve a particular demand in the market.
Cookbooks, picture books, comic books, photo books, coffee table books, and novels—if you’ve got the knowledge or the creativity, there are a variety of original books you can bring to the market.
Print-on-demand publishing is a relatively safe way to test the waters and get started with self-publishing, while giving you control over the quality and look of your book.
Blurb is a popular platform for this purpose, letting you create, order, and distribute your own books as digital and physical products.
While you can order one book at a time, costs naturally go down when you buy in bulk. You can consider pre-selling your book idea through Kickstarter to ensure that there’s demand and guarantee a certain number of customers for a bulk order.
Launching your own book can be a great way to monetise a blog if you have one or are looking to start one.
- Create digital products or courses
Digital products like music, courses, and templates are unique on this list of ideas. Unlike the others, they’re not tangible products. There aren’t recurring manufacturing or shipping costs to worry about so your margins can remain high.
The trick is figuring out what makes for a good digital product. What is useful enough that people are willing to pay to download it?
The answers range from original instrumental beats to stock photos that can be licensed to other creators, to information products and templates that help people level up their skills in a particular field.
If you’ve got a talent that can be turned into a digital product, you can think about packaging it into a new stream of income.
Shopify offers a free digital downloads app that lets you offer digital products in your store as easily as physical products.
- Sell print-on-demand posters, greeting cards, and prints
If you’re artistically inclined or know your way around a camera, you can drop using a print-on-demand business model to let others physically own a piece of your work. Just be sure you have the rights to the content you want to print, unless you’re using public domain assets that you can freely monetise.
If you’ve already got an engaged online following, say you’re a cartoonist or an urban photographer, you’re in an especially good position to give this business idea a try.
Depending on the printer you work with, you can turn your work into products such as posters or framed wall art, even greeting cards. There are plenty of digital templates and mockup generators like Place.it that you can use to showcase your products without having to print out each item and conduct your own photo shoots.
- Start a charitable business
Starting a non-profit organisation isn’t the only path you can take to help fund a better world.
Having a mission to go along with a business, and setting aside some profit for a cause, gives social entrepreneurs a unique way to position their company in the market while addressing the issues they care about most.
In fact, 89 per cent of consumers surveyed said they were likely to switch to a new brand with similar products and prices if it was associated with a good cause.
While many social enterprises offer their own original products, you can also take any of the business ideas above and partner a non-profit, or execute that social good with your own hands, as long as you’re transparent about how it works.