How To Start An Online Business In South Africa

A business that never sleeps.

An online business is just like any other traditional business, except that through continuous technological advances we can take existing businesses online and compete for a global audience, enter new markets, or build businesses which solely exist online.

Data is at the forefront of an online business. Today we can build better products for our target audiences and adapt in real time at minimal cost, versus pre-internet era where starting a business would require industry-specific experience and expertise paired with business fundamentals and bookkeeping skills, and in many cases significant start-up capital too.

South Africa also has an unfortunate history where education, business opportunity and financing was primarily directed towards the advantaged at times.

With more people gaining access to the internet, tech savvy younger generations and a more equal society developing whether it be gender or race, anyone can start their very own online business.

What would you do if you didn’t have to earn a living?

Dumb question – I know – we’d all kick our feet up, Netflix and chill.

If you want to start an online business for the sole purpose of making money online, hold your horses! There may be better was to earn a side income online or generate passive income. An online business doesn’t sleep.

You’ll have to continue to evolve with it and go through the ups and downs with it. It doesn’t hurt to work on something you enjoy doing. Many businesses fail, an online business is no different.

Just Start

Now that we’ve set the mood, let’s get this online business started.

There are so many different types of online businesses one can start and many only require minimal investment with a ton of effort, while others may need significant investment with a pinch of effort.

The key?

Just Start.

Existing business?

Taking an existing business online is the best thing you can do for your business. Really, and you will surely feel the impact thereof. A bakery which takes their presence online could:

  1. Showcase their sweet cakes on their website.
  2. Link a digital menu.
  3. Take orders online.
  4. Share their address and location on Google maps.
  5. Moderate reviews of their business.
  6. Post delicious pictures of their baked goods on social media.
  7. Grow a loyal audience of sweet-tooths who subscribe to an email newsletter and take action whenever there’s a promotion on.
  8. Post recipes and baking-related content to a blog to reach new customers searching for baking-related content.
  9. Engage with other businesses and expand service offerings or sell online directly from their own website.
  10. Pay to acquire new customers through various mediums of digital advertising at a fraction of the cost of traditional media such as radio, newspapers, and television ads.

There are 10 reasons to take your existing business online. Need I say more?

What if I don’t have an existing business?

Don’t have an existing offline business, no worries. Starting an online business is much easier than an offline one – however, still requires a lot of hard work.

Deciding what online business to start

When it comes to online businesses, there are many ways to make money online. You could sell products or services, for example you could sell digital products such as templates or website themes, or services such as social media marketing or copywriting.

Then you could also sell other companies’ products and get a commission for every sale through affiliate marketing or sell ad space on your website to advertisers looking to reach your audience.

Ask yourself what you enjoy doing and start there. An online business enables you to be extremally adaptable and experimental. Where you start may not be where you eventually end up.

10 Types of online businesses you can start today

  1. eCommerce
  2. Blogging
  3. YouTube Channel
  4. Services Business
  5. Software As A Service (SaaS)
  6. Dropshipping
  7. Affiliate Marketing
  8. Email Newsletter
  9. Social Media Influencer
  10. Podcasting


Starting your own ecommerce store or online shop is today easier than ever with many new technologies, products and services which allow us to get up and running within days to weeks.

You’ll need a a catchy domain name and products to sell. Buy a domain name from a reputable domain name registrar and decide between self-hosted or fully-hosted ecommerce solutions.

A self-hosted eCommerce solution will require you to setup and manage all the individual parts of an online shop. An example of this is launching a WooCommerce store. You’d need a domain name, web hosting, payment processors, the WooCommerce plugin (which is free) and a WooCommerce compatible theme.

A fully hosted ecommerce solution like Shopify bundles all the above into one complete package. All you need to do is is to source your products, set up your store, and start selling.


Similar to eCommerce above, droppshiping involves the sales of goods online with the difference being that you do not have to stock or handle shipping of the products. Instead you “drop ship” the products straight from the suppliers you source.

Many ecommerce stores you visit are in some instances only dropshipping stores. Vendors make it easy to integrate their products into your dropshipping store after which you only add your markup and ensuring payment and delivery details go to the vendor who will fulfill the order.

While dropshipping is a low effort online business to start and manage, it takes time to source quality products.

Additionally due to you only adding a markup on the products to generate a profit your products may be on the pricier side versus competitors which is not in your favour while your product may also not have the highest quality or is sourced by many other dropshippers.


Another online business you can start today is a blog. Blog about anything you find interesting and as your audience grows you will be able to monetize your blog with various methods of monetization such as Ad Networks like Google AdSense to display banner advertisements or affiliate links to promote content related to your blog.

Email Newsletters, forums, courses and tools are just some of the ways you can turn your blog into a profitable online business.

Recommended Read: How To Start A Blog in South Africa

YouTube Channel

With a YouTube Channel you are able to leverage the YouTube’s algorithm and large userbase to grow an audience. YouTube’s Algorithm recommends your videos next to similar or related videos to users who have show interest in the topics you create videos about.

This removes a lot of effort in starting an online business compared to other online business avenues. However, you still need to record, edit and upload content on a regular basis.

Once you’ve reached a sizable viewership, you’ll be able to monetise your YouTube channel through the YouTube Partner program or through other methods like affiliate links or membership to premium content.

Services Business

If you’ve got a particular skill or hobby which you could offer your time for in exchange for a fee, you can start an online services business.

For example, if you enjoy writing, you could offer your writing services whether it be in the form of creative writing, copywriting, blog writing, ghostwriting, or publishing your own eBooks online.

An online services business may take some time to get off the ground but as you land clients and you build a portfolio of excellent work, you will definitely be able to flourish online as wont be limited to local business but have the world at your fingertips.

Software As A Service (SaaS)

Tech savvy or have the funds to pay for the development of a software that solves a particular problem?

Some of the most profitable online businesses are Software as a Service businesses. Instead of exchanging your time for money you could build a platform which solves a problem or makes life easy for others online and charge a flat or subscription fee in order for people to make use of your software.

Examples of a Software as a Service business could be a website builder helping people who don’t have coding skills build their own websites, a time tracking tool enabling people to be more productive, or a tool which helps people edit their images or videos online without the need to download large programs.

Similar to SaaS, you could create an app and publish it on the Appl Apps Store, Google Play or Huawei App Marketplace. This could be an extension of your Software as a Service product and you could further monetise it via Google Admob.

Affiliate Marketing

You can make money with affiliate marketing by promoting products and services of known brands locally and internationally through their in-house affiliate program or by joining an affiliate network which hosts a variety of affiliate programs to choose from.

With affiliate marketing, you don’t have to build and launch your own product or service, but only market existing products and services and every time you generate a sale or lead you will earn a commission.

Email Newsletter

While email has come ang way, nearly everyone has an email address and it is still a great method to build an online business. You could create an email newsletter around a specific topic and monetise it via subscription with platforms like substack.

An email newsletter can also support other types of online businesses like blogging where you can drive traffic back to your blog or to your YouTube channel whenever you publish new content. Million dollar businesses like The Hustle and The Skimm have been built on the premises of email marketing, and so have many other businesses.

Social Media Influencer

Do you post regularly on social media or enjoy spending time browsing and curating content? A social media influencer’s online business revolves round their audience and reach. As you grow your reach and fanbase, brands are willing to pay you to reach your audience.

Whenever you see an influencer posting content with emphasis on a particular brand, usually its the case that that brand is paying them a fee, determined on the size of the influencer’s fanbase and their popularity.

The more you go viral the more brands will be vying to leverage your influence to promote their products and services.


Podcasting has become a popular medium through which millions of people around the world consume informational content, and is super easy to launch as well as manage. You don’t need to start with the fancy equipment or studio from the get go.

Start a podcast with the recorder app already installed on your phone, and as you begin growing your podcast you’ll be able to leverage your reach to connect with anyone in your industry or niche and land sponsors for your podcast.

You could also combine podcasting with some of the previous mentioned online business ideas such as blogging or your YouTube Channel. On your blog you could transcript your podcast episodes allowing it to rank in Google, or you could upload your podcasts to YouTube and earn ad revenue form YouTube’s partner Program.

Going online

Most online businesses don’t require much upfront investment, while others may need a small month-to-month or annual fee to get of the ground such as paying for web hosting or registering a domain name.

Once you’ve made the decision to build an online business, you will also need to remember that it is a business and general business skills such as marketing and accounting will go a long way.

Thanks to the internet, such information is freely available, so be sure to upskill yourself and those you work with, and invest in the tools which save you time and enables you to compete on a global online marketplace.

Lastly, move fast and adapt quickly, the internet is hastily changing week-on-week, and you don’t want to be left behind.

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Leigh Williams
Leigh Williams
Leigh Williams is a digital marketing specialist and writer currently interning in digital media at Conversion Science, and works alongside Incubeta as a paid media manager. Leigh began his career as an SEO intern at Adevia Health. Leigh is also the founder of IXA Media, publisher of The Frontline.




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