How to Earn from Anywhere: Top Business Models for the Online Entrepreneur

Over the past nine years, my journey has taken me through bustling cityscapes, serene beaches, and picturesque mountain towns – all while running my own online business. Being a digital nomad or and online entrepreneur isn’t just a trendy label; it’s been my life, a blend of passion, freedom, and, admittedly, its fair share of challenges.

From the euphoria of sealing a deal while watching a sunset in Costa Rica to the despair of a project gone wrong in a small European café, I’ve experienced the spectrum of highs and lows that come with blending travel and work. It’s been a ride filled with invaluable lessons, and today, I want to peel back the curtain and share some of that wisdom with you. Hope this insights in this article will help you become a successful online entrepreneur.

If you’ve ever dreamed of making the world your office and yearn for a work-life balance where travel isn’t just an annual two-week escape, but an integral part of your routine, then this article is for you. I’m about to delve into the best business models for digital nomads (online business)– those that have served me well and others I’ve seen fellow nomads thrive on. Hopefully you can find the best online business ideas for you. Let’s embark on this journey together and uncover the important things you need to consider to run a successful online business.

1. Freelancing

Your Passport to Flexibility and Choice

When I first dipped my toes into the nomadic lifestyle, freelancing was my trusty companion. It’s like the Swiss Army knife of the digital work world, offering versatility in both the types of work and where you can source it. I chose the profession of digital marketing. However there are so many options to choose from here. Whether you’re a wordsmith crafting engaging articles, a designer bringing visuals to life, or a developer coding the next big app, freelancing has a space for you. Platforms like Upwork, Freelancer, and Fiverr have democratized the playing field, while specialized sites such as Toptal and 99designs cater to niche professionals.

The allure of freelancing is undeniable. You’re at the helm of your destiny, picking projects that resonate with you, clients that align with your values, and the freedom to set your hours. Imagine working from a beach hut today and a quaint European town square tomorrow. But, like any venture, it’s not without its challenges. The fluctuating nature of gigs means your income can be as unpredictable as a tropical storm. The digital marketplace is bustling, and standing out requires constant marketing efforts and constantly increasing your skills. However, for those willing to navigate these waters, freelancing can be the ticket to a balanced blend of work and wanderlust.

My recommendation, automate your marketing effort to ensure you have a constant flow of leads coming in while you are working on projects. This can be done with automation software, an engaging social media presence, clear service offerings and scheduling software.

2. Blogging/Vlogging

Sharing Stories and Building a Brand

Ah, blogging and vlogging, the art of weaving tales and sharing experiences. I’ve always been fond of this avenue, having been a content creator on YouTube for years. But things took a transformative turn when I moved to Portugal. Inspired by its picturesque landscapes, vibrant culture, and my personal adventures, I began vlogging my various experiences toward residency. Not only did it add a refreshing layer to my content, but it also became an unexpected income stream, bolstering my personal brand in the process.

The beauty of this medium lies in its monetization versatility. From affiliate marketing partnerships, where I could share products I genuinely loved, to sponsored content that aligned with my brand, the opportunities were vast. Digital products and ads further augmented my revenue streams. And the cherry on top? The potential for passive income. Once content is out there, it can continue to generate earnings with minimal upkeep.

But it’s not all sunsets and cappuccinos. The demand for consistent content creation can be taxing. Readers and viewers crave regularity, and the algorithms favor it too. Gaining traction, building a loyal audience, and seeing substantial revenue can feel like an uphill battle, sometimes taking longer than one might hope. And while sharing personal stories can be cathartic, it also opens one up to scrutiny, a downside many don’t anticipate. Yet, for those with a passion for storytelling and a knack for connecting with an audience, blogging and vlogging can be a rewarding blend of work and expression.

In this area, it is super important to leverage various social media platforms to assist in growing your blog or vlog audience.

3. E-commerce/Dropshipping

The Double-Edged Sword of Digital Retail

My foray into the world of e-commerce began with a burst of enthusiasm and the dream of creating a one-stop-shop for travel enthusiasts. Utilizing Shopify, I crafted a store selling swim suits and essential travel gear. On the surface, e-commerce seemed like the golden ticket: immense scalability options, the allure of potentially passive income, and a broad audience. Platforms like WooCommerce and BigCommerce further opened up avenues, making setting up and managing a dropshipping business simpler than ever.

However, the realities of e-commerce soon came crashing down for me. Before the global shutdown, orders flowed in, and business was booming. But as borders closed and supply chains were disrupted, my online store faced an unforeseen challenge. My primary distribution network, rooted in China, came to a screeching halt. Overnight, the once smooth process of getting products to customers became a logistical nightmare. The stress of managing inventory, handling customer service inquiries about delays, and dealing with potential returns was overwhelming.

Dropshipping, where one doesn’t handle inventory directly, might seem like a solution to these challenges. But even that model isn’t immune to supply chain disruptions. For many, e-commerce is a goldmine, a digital storefront that turns impressive profits. But my personal journey was a testament to its complexities. It’s a realm where the uncontrollable factors – like global events or supply chain issues– can significantly influence your bottom line. While I admire and respect e-commerce entrepreneurs, I found that for my peace of mind, I needed a business model with fewer variables at play.

4. Online Courses and Coaching

Empowering Others and Earning From Your Expertise

Out of all the ventures I’ve delved into, online courses and coaching hold a special place in my heart. The beauty of this model lies in its simplicity and the profound impact it can have. Platforms like Udemy, Teachable, Coursera, Thinkific and Skillshare have democratized education, offering experts a stage to share their knowledge and students a platform to quench their thirst for learning.

The advantages are bountiful. Firstly, the profit margins can be astonishingly high. Once a course is created, every additional sale is almost pure profit, especially if you host it on your platform. Secondly, you’re not just earning; you’re empowering. By leveraging your expertise, you’re making a difference in someone’s life, helping them acquire a skill or navigate a challenge. And the cherry on top? The potential for residual income. Your course, once live, can continue to attract students and generate revenue with little to no ongoing effort. Online courses have so many components for a successful and profitable business.

But it’s not without its hurdles. Crafting a high-quality online course often requires a significant initial time investment. From ideation to content creation to marketing, the upfront work can be extensive. Moreover, with the burgeoning popularity of online learning, some niches are saturated, making it imperative to either find a unique angle or market more aggressively. So many online training is absolute trash so it is critical to take the time and effort to create an outstanding online course that adds value to the customers.

Drawing from my personal experience, online courses and coaching stand out as the most sustainable and rewarding model for solo entrepreneurs like me. Unlike the multifaceted world of e-commerce and dropshipping, where I felt like a juggler with too many balls in the air, online courses allowed me to focus on my strengths and expertise. The key takeaway? If you have a solution to a problem and can deliver tangible results, there’s an audience out there willing to pay, irrespective of where you are in the world. It’s the perfect blend of impact and income.

5. Affiliate Marketing

Building Trust Before Transactions

Diving into affiliate marketing can feel like entering a vast ocean of opportunity. With platforms like Amazon Associates, ClickBank, ShareASale, and CJ Affiliate, there’s an abundance of products and services waiting to be promoted, each promising a slice of the profit pie. The allure is evident: potential passive income streams and minimal overhead. You’re essentially monetizing your recommendations without the complications of product management.

However, before you rush into plastering your site or content with affiliate links, I have a piece of advice that’s served me well: focus on building your audience with invaluable content first. Some affiliate programs offer commissions that, on the surface, might seem modest. And without a substantial and engaged audience, these small percentages might not translate into the financial rewards you’re aiming for.

Take a moment to reflect on the brands, tools, or software you genuinely love and use daily. These are the products you can advocate for authentically, sharing insights and experiences that others might not be able to. For instance, if there’s a particular software tool that’s been instrumental in your business, delve deep into its features, benefits, and your personal experiences. Your firsthand knowledge can be the difference between a generic recommendation and one that resonates deeply with your audience.

Remember, in the realm of affiliate marketing, authenticity is your currency, and trust is your foundation. Avoid the temptation of quick gains through random product endorsements. Your brand’s integrity is paramount. Every recommendation you make is a reflection of your brand, and in the long run, a trustworthy reputation will yield far more fruitful rewards than short-term gains. Prioritize value, authenticity, and trustworthiness, and the commissions will follow.

6. Stock Photography/Videography

Capturing Moments and Monetizing Memories

The world of stock photography and videography is as vast and varied as the subjects it captures. Platforms like Shutterstock, Getty Images, and Adobe Stock offer photographers and videographers a stage to showcase their work and earn from their creativity. The allure? The potential for residual income. A well-taken photograph or a beautifully shot video can continue to sell for years, turning a moment’s inspiration into a lasting revenue stream. And when one of your captures becomes popular, the payouts can be substantial.

However, this arena is not without its challenges. The stock photography market is highly competitive, with countless talented artists vying for attention. Moreover, while platforms provide exposure and a marketplace, they also take a slice of the pie in the form of commissions.

Drawing from my journey, I have a piece of advice for those looking to dip their toes into this field: think of stock photography/videography as a blend of selling both your product (the photo or video) and your service (your unique perspective and skill). If you harbor dreams of globe-trotting, capturing the essence of exotic locations, start right where you are. Build a portfolio that mirrors the work you envision doing on an international scale.

For instance, if photographing luxurious hotels in far-off lands is your goal, begin in your hometown. Approach local hotels and propose a collaboration. In my experience, many establishments appreciate the value of quality visuals and are open to arrangements that benefit both parties. By offering them content they can use for their marketing, you not only get access to beautiful locations but also create a win-win scenario.

So, before you pack your bags and camera gear, look around. Your next best shot might be just around the corner. And as you build your portfolio, you’re not just collecting images but stories, experiences business ideas, and connections that will serve you well in your international endeavors.

7. Remote Consulting

Offering Expertise from Anywhere in the World

In the age of digital connectivity, geographic location no longer bounds expertise. Remote consulting offers professionals the opportunity to share their knowledge and skills with clients from around the globe. Whether it’s guiding small businesses through strategic decisions, aiding in IT implementations, or crafting marketing strategies, the consulting domain is vast and varied.

One of the undeniable advantages of remote consulting is the potential for high hourly rates. Your expertise becomes your product, and if you’ve honed your skills and knowledge in a particular niche, clients are often willing to pay a premium for your insights. The freedom to consult from a beach in Bali or a cafe in Paris is just the cherry on top.

Yet, like any venture, being an online consultant comes with its set of challenges. Building a network and reputation is paramount. Unlike a business owner with tangible products, you’re selling trust, insight, and strategy, which demands a proven track record. Furthermore, consulting can sometimes lead to irregular income, especially during the initial phases when you’re still establishing your brand.

Drawing from my own journey, consulting stands out as one of my favored income streams, but it didn’t come without its lessons. My advice to budding consultants is to prioritize brand-building. Before you dive into consulting, ensure you’re perceived as an expert in your niche. Invest time and effort into your online presence, be it through articles, webinars, case studies, or testimonials. The digital realm is vast, and it’s easy to get lost in the noise. Many talented consultants don’t reach their potential simply because not enough people know they exist. So, before you set out to offer your consulting services, make certain you’ve laid a solid foundation, showcasing your value and expertise. With the right strategy, the world becomes your marketplace, and your insights become its sought-after commodity.

8. App Development and SaaS

The Digital Age’s Goldmine

In today’s interconnected world, software solutions and applications reign supreme. Whether it’s a novel app that streamlines daily tasks or a Software as a Service (SaaS) platform that revolutionizes business operations, the digital realm offers immense opportunities for innovators and entrepreneurs.

One of the standout benefits of delving into app development or SaaS is the potential for scalability. Unlike physical products, digital solutions don’t require extensive logistics or inventory management. Once developed, an app or software can be distributed to countless users with minimal incremental costs. This scalability, paired with the subscription-based models commonly associated with SaaS, leads to another enticing advantage: recurring revenue. Imagine crafting a solution once and then enjoying a steady stream of income as users subscribe or renew their access.

However, the path to success in this domain isn’t without its hurdles. Firstly, it demands technical prowess. Whether you’re coding the solution yourself or guiding a team of developers, a deep understanding of the technical landscape is paramount. Moreover, the digital marketplace is bustling. Every day, countless new apps and software solutions are launched, making competition fierce. Standing out requires not only a unique value proposition but also robust marketing and user support strategies. And let’s not forget the initial investment. Whether it’s in the form of time, capital, or both, bringing a digital solution to life requires resources.

In essence, while app development and SaaS offer a promising avenue for those looking to make a mark in the digital world, it’s a journey that demands technical acumen, strategic planning, and a commitment to continuous improvement. For those willing to navigate these challenges, the rewards can be bountiful, with a global audience just a click away.

9. Subscription Models

The Power of Recurring Revenue and Community Building

In the vast landscape of online income avenues, subscription models stand out as a beacon of sustainability and community engagement. At its heart, this model revolves around offering value-packed content or services in exchange for a regular subscription fee. Whether it’s insightful newsletters, exclusive premium content, or access to niche membership sites, the promise of fresh, consistent content keeps subscribers coming back for more.

Platforms like Patreon and Substack have made it easier than ever to set up and manage subscription offerings. They provide the infrastructure, allowing creators to focus on what they do best: crafting content and building a community. The allure of subscription models is twofold. Firstly, there’s the promise of recurring revenue. Instead of one-off sales, creators enjoy a steady stream of income from loyal subscribers. Secondly, it allows for the cultivation of a dedicated community. Subscribers aren’t just customers; they’re ardent followers, often deeply engaged and invested in the content or services provided.

However, this model isn’t without its challenges. Consistency is the name of the game. Subscribers expect regular value, and failing to deliver can lead to churn, where subscribers opt out of their recurring commitment. This makes it imperative for creators to stay attuned to their audience’s needs, constantly innovating and ensuring their offerings remain relevant and valuable.

Drawing from my own experience, I can confidently say that subscription models are my top choice for generating online income. The allure of recurring revenue is undeniable. Yet, a word of caution for budding entrepreneurs: while many platforms simplify the process, it’s crucial to retain control over your audience. Some platforms restrict access to subscriber contact information, acting as gatekeepers. But remember, it’s your content, your community. Why should a third party control the communication channels? Choose platforms that empower you, not limit you.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, be proactive in combatting churn. Engage with your subscribers, solicit feedback, and be agile in adapting to their needs. By consistently delivering value and fostering a sense of community, you not only retain subscribers but also turn them into brand ambassadors, amplifying your reach and impact.

10. Virtual Assistance

Bridging Distances and Driving Efficiency

In an increasingly digital world, the demand for virtual assistance has surged. Businesses and entrepreneurs, swamped with administrative tasks, turn to virtual assistants (VAs) to streamline their operations. From managing overflowing inboxes and setting up meetings to handling day-to-day administrative tasks, VAs have become the backbone of many modern enterprises. The benefits are clear: the potential for regular work and the chance to build lasting relationships with clients.

However, the role of a virtual assistant is not without its challenges. The work, while consistent, can be time-intensive. Unlike project-based roles, a virtual assistant often work in real-time, their schedules closely aligned with their clients’. This can sometimes lead to long hours, especially if catering to clients in different time zones.

Now, a word of caution from my playbook: The landscape of virtual assistance is evolving, and not just because of shifting business needs. The advent of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is reshaping the industry. While AI brings automation and efficiency, it also presents a potential threat to various service offerings VAs do to generate income. But rather than viewing AI as a competitor, I’d advise integrating it as a tool in your arsenal. Embrace AI-driven software to automate repetitive tasks, manage workflows, or enhance service delivery, increase the value you provide to your customers. By doing so, you not only increase your efficiency but also elevate the value you offer to clients. In essence, staying updated and leveraging AI can transform virtual assistance from a support role to a strategic partnership, ensuring longevity and relevance in the digital age.


Charting the Digital Nomad’s Journey

The digital age has ushered in an era of boundless opportunities for those with a wanderlust spirit and an entrepreneurial drive. As we’ve journeyed through the various online business ideas and models suited for digital nomads, one thing stands clear: there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. From freelancing and consulting to leveraging the power of AI in virtual assistance, the avenues are as diverse as the destinations we dream of exploring.

Yet, amidst the potential and the promise, lies the importance of strategy, authenticity, and adaptability. Whether you’re harnessing the power of subscription models or building a brand through affiliate marketing, the key is to offer genuine value, stay attuned to industry shifts, and continuously evolve.

Remember, the digital nomad’s path, while dotted with stunning sunsets and exotic locales, also has its share of challenges. But armed with knowledge, a clear strategy, and a passion for both work and travel, you can craft a journey that’s fulfilling, profitable, and truly adventurous.

To all aspiring digital entrepreneurs: the world is vast, and the opportunities are limitless. Here’s to charting your unique path, building sustainable income streams, and embracing the adventures that await.

Questions & Answers for the Aspiring Online Entrepreneur

As an online entrepreneur, which business model offers the quickest return on investment?

While each online business idea and model has its unique timelines, freelancing often provides a quicker ROI for online entrepreneurs, as you can start earning as soon as you secure your first client.

How important is technical knowledge for an online entrepreneur interested in App Development or SaaS?

Technical knowledge is crucial. While an online entrepreneur doesn’t necessarily need to be a developer, understanding the technical nuances aids in managing teams, refining product offerings, and addressing customer needs.

Can online entrepreneurs succeed in affiliate marketing without a large following?

Yes, successful online business entrepreneurs can find success even with a smaller, engaged audience. It’s about promoting the right products authentically and building trust. Over time, as your audience grows, so will your affiliate income.

What’s the most sustainable model for an online entrepreneur seeking long-term stability?

Subscription models, like newsletters and membership sites, offer recurring revenue, making them a sustainable choice for online entrepreneurs aiming for long-term financial stability.

How can an online entrepreneur stand out in the competitive field of stock photography?

By carving a niche, offering unique perspectives, and consistently delivering high-quality images. The key is to provide content that others can’t, setting the successful online entrepreneur apart from the crowd.

Is remote consulting viable for an online entrepreneur without a vast network?

While having a network helps, an online entrepreneur can also start an online business by offering expertise on platforms like Upwork or Fiverr, gradually building reputation and clientele.

How does the rise of AI impact the future for online entrepreneurs in the virtual assistance space?

AI introduces automation, which can handle repetitive tasks. Online businesses and entrepreneurs in virtual assistance should consider integrating AI tools to enhance efficiency and offer advanced services to clients.

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