There’s an undeniable power in the bits and bytes floating through cyberspace. With valuations ballooning, and platforms easily reaching into the billions of users, businesses that embrace the sheer power of the web are flourishing. However, as powerful as the internet might be, and as limitless of a span as it might provide for reaching users across the entire planet, actually starting a business online and making money has become a monumental feat.
Fierce competition, a steep learning curve and an inability to understand and absorb some of the fundamentals of online marketing such as search engine optimization, blogging and social media marketing, leave most would-be entrepreneurs in the dark. They flounder like fish out of water, unaware of how to get ahead in life and exit the proverbial rat race. They work, seemingly tirelessly, but to no avail.
In the end, they give up. We all give up. The going gets tough and the tough run out the door. We’re unable and unwilling to keep going when everything around us seems to be falling apart. How can we start an online business and make money when, not only do we fail to absorb the fundamentals of marketing anything on the internet, but we also don’t lack the fiscal and corporate tools to build a business that relies heavily on a founder wearing so many hats?
For the most part, many of us fall victims to scams and tricks. Unscrupulous internet marketers prey on us, just hoping and waiting for us to click on their offer so that they can entice us with the latest system or hidden trick for making money with a business online. However, for those that are in-the-know, it’s well understood that it doesn’t quite work that way. In fact, they’re more interested in extracting dollars from you rather than helping you to make it.
Yet, they prevail in the online space by peddling “knowledge” that was just discovered or conveying some super simple set of secrets that can easily help you to make millions. No. It doesn’t work like that. Not now. Not ever. If you’re serious about making money online and starting a business, it’s going to take time and effort. It’s going to be hard and it’s going to be either make or break you.
I’m not saying all of this to dissuade you from starting a business online. No. Quite the contrary. I’m trying to mentally prepare you for what lies ahead. Yet, to the victors go the spoils. If you’re willing to put in the work and suffer grueling amounts of tireless effort and long hours, then you’ll eventually succeed with any business you start online. It honestly doesn’t matter what it is, as long as you stick it out, there will be a shimmering pot of gold at the end of that rainbow.
How To Start A Business Online
Before we dive into the mechanics of running a successful business online and actually generating a respectable amount of cash, let’s look at some of the basic steps for what it takes to start your very own online business. This brief guide should help you define and understand the type of business you want to launch, assess the viability of the marketplace, understand your demographics and actually discover ways to reach those people and make money in the process.
The first question you need to ask yourself, before you do anything else, is, “What am I going to sell?”
You have three options here:
- Sell products
- Sell services
- Sell information
Okay, so there are other options. You could become a broker for certain things such as real estate or cars or anything else for that matter. But for the most part, if you’re starting a business online, you’re selling one of those three things. Either you have a product you’re looking to sell yourself or drop-ship for another company, you’re looking to sell some type of professional service, or you’re simply looking to peddle information.
Most people opt for the first or second option. It’s either products of services. Selling information is feasible, but it takes a big platform or a pre-existing list to market to in order to make any type of dent in sales. Without that, you’ll find a difficult road ahead. Now, that’s not to say that the former two options will be easy. No, not at all. I’m only saying that it’ll be easier than selling information.
With that said, in order to start your on the pathway to online business success, not only do you need to decide what type of thing you’re going to sell, you also need to understand the specific things they’ll be. What specific product are you interested in peddling? What specific service are you keen on offering? What type of information will you be providing and in what format will you do it in?
Things To Consider
Depending on where you live, there are some things for you to consider. Now, I’m not going to pretend like I know the laws in every country. I definitely don’t. But here in the United States, when you decide to start a business, there some legal considerations. Before you open your virtual doors, you need to actually setup that business.
Even if you’re imagining that you’re going to do this part time, it’s still important to ensure that you’re protected legally and financially. How will you claim the income that comes through that business? Will it pass through as income through an S-Corporation, for example. Will you setup an LLC to ensure liability protection of your personal assets? Or, will you do a C-Corporation and attempt to raise funds?
I’m not here to talk about all that. But I am here to tell you that you need to consider it. Why? The more serious you take your online business from a legal and financial standpoint, the more likely you’ll be to succeed. By doing all of this from the outset, you’re telling your mind that this isn’t just another whim or venture that you’re going to give up on. No. This is serious business. And by taking all these steps, you’ll be more likely to follow through.
The truth? It’s hard to succeed with any business, let alone an online business. There are so many considerations and frustrations that will appear down the road as you work to build this business. More often than not, you’ll find yourself on many days wanting to give up. You’ll wish you had that steady check and guaranteed income. But you can’t cave into those hopes and those thoughts. There’s a quote that I once read that goes something like this:
Entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won’t, so that you can spend the rest of your life like most people can’t.
That quote really resonated with me for a long time. I had to think long and hard about what I was willing to do so that I could live a life that most people could only dream of. Putting in that work and effort was excruciating. Failing over and over was painful. But I would do it all again in a heartbeat. However, along the way there were many things to think about when looking back. If you’re serious about starting a business and you only have a little bit of money, think about the following:
#1 — Legal Structure
The legal structure of your business is important. Will you start a corporation or will you wing it without the protection of this important component to your business? That choice is yours and yours alone. However, if you’re at all serious about the business you’re about to start, you need the protection of a corporation. What type of corporation or business entity you choose should be based on advice from your tax advisor or legal representative.
Now, you can setup a corporation on your own by using a company like Incorporate.com whose been in business since 1899. You can create an LLC, an S-Corporation or a C-Corporation here in the United States. Of course, you could just file a doing-business-as (DBA) also. Again, this is largely dependent on the tax implications associated with the type of entity you choose along with your personal tax situation. Be wise and be careful. Get organized at the outset so that you can set yourself up for success.
#2 — Accounting Measures
The next consideration, no matter how little money you’re investing on the front end, is regarding your accounting. The better and more organized you are going forward, the less hassle and headache you’ll deal with in the future. Getting organized with your accounting isn’t something that’s going to cost an arm and a leg. There are plenty of cloud platforms such as FreshBooks that are freely available along with apps for your phone that will help you track your accounting.
Much of this is a conscious decision on your part to be aware of how and where you spend your money. Clearly, tracking expenses and being organized with your accounting is a good habit that develops over time. If you have poor personal habits regarding money, you might find this more difficult. But, needless to say, you won’t succeed with your online business if you don’t pay attention to these types of details.
#3 — Business Plan
Okay, so before you actually start your business online, how much of a plan have you developed? The problem? Planning a business is hard work. Understanding things like SWOT analyses, which looks at strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats, is complicated. Understanding your demographic and knowing where they congregate and being able to reach them effectively through marketing means is also difficult.
However, this is something you need to consider. Build a business plan. Identify a step-by-step process that will help to guide you through that plan and ensure that you consistently take action every single day. By breaking things down at the outset, you’ll have a better idea of where to go from here. If you’re serious about your business, use software like Business Plan Pro or others for assisting you in the creation of your business plan.
Steps For Launching Your Online Business
If you’re ready to launch your online business and you’ve picked what you’ll be selling and you’ve gone through the considerations that include your legal structure, accounting and business plan, now it’s time to take some action. Once you’ve done all of this, it’s time to get to work. Incorporate your business and open up your bank account. When you’ve done that, you’ve opened the virtual doors, even if you haven’t started selling anything yet.
Of course, setting up a business online is going to involve a website. You need to decide how you’re going to sell your products, services or your information. You also need to decide who’s going to develop that for you. Are you going to try to build a website on your own? Or, are you going to try to hire someone to assist you? Then, what next? How will you get the word out? How will your market your business online?
Obviously, there are tons of considerations to keep in mind. However, there are some relevant steps that you need to take in order to get things off the ground. If you follow along with these steps, it should provide an overall framework for building your business online, even with little money. Clearly, don’t quit your day job just yet. But, be prepared to put in the long and grueling hours in the beginning to get things off the ground.
#1 — Define Your Demographic
The first step you need to take once you’ve created your business shell, so to speak, is to define your demographic. Who are you going to market to? What does your customer look like? I mean, exactly look like? The better you understand your demographic, the more likely you’ll be to succeed with your online business.
Just think about it for a moment. Let’s say that you define your typical customer as a married, thirty-something technophile who lives in a major metropolis such as San Francisco or Los Angeles. You learn everything about this person and you understand his or her needs. Then, you work to figure out where this person congregates.
This information is gold. When you know your customer, and you learn what he or she does every day, the sites they visit or the places they go, you know just how to target them. You’re not guessing or stabbing in the dark. You know that they get coffee at a particular spot or visit a certain type of website every single day.
That information is unbelievably invaluable and will allow you to build your business even on a shoestring budget. However, in order to understand your target demographic, you really need to know what products, services or information you’re peddling and you need to know it very well.
#2 — Develop A Brand Identity
Once you understand your demographic, start developing a brand identity. This is an incredibly important part of the process. Even if you don’t have much money to spend, you need to explore every possible avenue. Use websites like Fiverr, Upwork or 99Designs to source your brand identity. Find an individual or company that can best help you to build a solid brand identity. You don’t need to spend a fortune, but you do need to understand some fundamentals.
Here are a few things to pay attention to when developing your brand:
- Are you paying careful attention to the colors in your logo?
- Does your brand’s identity and logo appeal to your demographic base?
- Did you take the time to create a mission statement for your business? What sets you apart from your competitors?
- Have you picked a slogan that’s aligned with your company’s mission?
- Does your logo and brand present a professional appeal or an amateur one?
People pay acute attention to your brand’s identity. The more professional and solid it comes across, the more likely you’ll be to gain a consumer’s attention in such a crowded world where so many things are vying for our attention.
#3 — Build A Website And Blog
You don’t need to become a web developer in order to build a website. There are plenty of simple and easy-to-use systems out there for building a website and a blog. However, there are still many considerations to keep in mind. If you’re serious about building a website, you need to understand the mechanics of things like the page’s speed, the functionality and simplicity of navigation, and the overall aesthetic design, amongst many other things.
If you don’t have much money at the start, that’s okay. You can still build your online business by starting somewhere. Don’t be held back just because you lack some capital to get things off the ground. Bootstrap and figure out what you can on your own. You can DIY a site. It might not be that good, but at least you’ve started somewhere. And that’s the point. Build a site and ensure that you build a blog along with that site.
Your blog will allow you to deliver content to users and set yourself up as an authority. There are so many rules when it comes to blogging, but basically, without a blog, you can’t help others by conveying knowledge and information. And, when you don’t help others, they won’t look at you as an authority. It’s through your sincere efforts to teach people about a certain industry, niche or topic that you can set yourself up as an authority.
#4 — Deliver Enormous Amounts Of Value
Clearly, anyone can setup an online business. Anyone can make a marginal amount of money online. However, the people that will fail are those that focus on doing the least amount of work for the greatest return. It doesn’t quite work that way. As frustrating as it might seem, you need to do the opposite. You need to deliver enormous amounts of value. And you need to do that consistently, if you want to succeed of course.
How can you deliver value? What way can you help others? Can you build an informational site to guide people through something that might pose difficult? Can you help to build online tutorials that will get people acclimated to a certain skill? Can you assist them with something else by writing an ebook or creating a series of articles that will help to guide them through the process?
The better those guides and tutorials are, the more likely you’ll be to deliver value. And the more value you deliver, the more people get engaged. The more they’re engaged, the more they want to share and tell their friends about you. And that’s when the magic starts to happen. It doesn’t occur quickly by any measure. It takes time. How much time? A very, very long time. But it does happen as long as you stick it out.
#5 — Understand Search Engine Optimization
As mystifying as it might seem, search engine optimization isn’t actually quite that complex. There are a number of fundamental rules that are mainstays. This isn’t about gaming the system. This is about tried and true methods and strategies that deliver results. The reason why you found this page is because of the power of SEO. Without it, how can you expect people to find your content?
At the outset, you might not understand it fully. You might not even comprehend it in the slightest bit. But don’t let that stop you from starting your online business with almost no money in the bank or in your pockets. Do it anyhow. But learn. Decide on educating yourself. Pick up an audiobook or book on the topic or learn from one of my courses. You owe it to yourself to understand SEO.
Some of the underlying principles of ensuring that you adhere properly to SEO at the outset include the following:
- Create amazing content that will engage your audience
- Create content that’s keyword-centric (don’t try to optimize for multiple keywords or over-use certain keywords in an effort to rank higher — it won’t work)
- Make sure your grammar and spelling are on point
- Don’t create thin content (i.e. less than 500 words)
- Use an advanced reading level
- Be sure to cite all of your sources
- Link to relevant external sites
- Use high-quality images but ensure they’re optimized using a lossless compression such as compressor.io
- Use rich media such as video and audio to further convey your message
- Section off your content with keywords and headings
#6 — Get Social
Success in the online world has very much to do with how social you are. People aren’t going to find you in the beginning. Unless you have a vast marketing budget, you won’t be able to get that proverbial word out unless you put in some sweat equity. And that’s precisely what you have to do in the beginning. You need to get out there and act as the bullhorn for your business. No one else is going to do it for you.
Now, don’t get me wrong. You can’t constantly cheerlead your business or products in front of your Facebook friends, for example. That will just agitate people. Do things with tact. Share other useful content with your audience and give credit to others where credit is due. That’s how you build an audience. You need to show an interest in others if you want them to show an interest in you.
You also need to ensure that your content is easy to share. The easier your content is to share, the more likely people will be to share it. Whether you use plugins for this or implement some other method, it’s an important part of the process in order to set yourself up for success.
#7 — Build A Sales Funnel
What most people don’t realize about online businesses is that oftentimes, the sale won’t occur on the first interaction with the customer. It will take time. You have to develop a relationship with that person. Yes, you need to deliver value and do it consistently by having an intimate conversation with that person. To do this, you need to engage in email marketing. You need to setup a free offer and give something to them of value in exchange for that highly valuable email address.
The first thing you need to do is set yourself up on an email marketing system such as Aweber. Learn how it works. Setup an opt-in on your website or blog. And build a free offer that you can give away. Then, be sure to stay in touch with your subscriber base by constantly and consistently delivering them value on a periodic basis. Use compelling sales copy to sell, but also be sure that you build a relationship in the meantime.
Email marketing is certainly an art form. However, this is one of the surest way to riches with your online business. The bigger your list, the more likely you’ll be able to sell anything you decide to sell. As long as you don’t take advantage of your audience and try to trick them into buying things from you, then you won’t lose their trust.
#8 — Under Promise And Over Deliver
This might not seem like a physical step. More like a principle, in fact. But I can’t overstate the importance of this. Always under promise and over deliver. Always. If you’re serious about your new online business and you have very little cash to get things off the ground, this has to be your guiding principle as you move forward. Always under promise. Always over deliver. Don’t waver from this if you’re serious about long-term success.
The problem? Most people don’t do this. They take shortcuts and they cut corners. Don’t you think people notice that? When you do realize that someone over delivered for you, don’t you remember it? Don’t you tell all your friends about how great your experience was? Of course you do. And that’s how great businesses are built. Period.
#9 — Collect Customer Reviews
Work on collecting customer reviews. Place a link to review your business in your email signature if you want to automate this. Display those reviews proudly on your website. What does this tell people? That’s you’re committed to customer service. It tells people that you’re serious about delivering value and ensuring that you create raving fans rather than simply customers. That’s how you create a loyal following.
Use websites like Yelp, BBB, Zillow and TripAdvisor, just to name a few, in order to collect those reviews. Every single time you make a sale, be sure to get that customer to leave you a review. That’s an important part of the process in growing your online business.
#10 — Stay Persistent
It’s really hard to stay committed to an online business, especially when things are slow-going. How do you stick it out and see things through when it seems like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel? Well, I could go on and on about people who stuck it out in business to succeed, but failed at the outset. They stayed persistent. That’s how they were able to succeed.
The truth is that most people give up just before they make that major breakthrough. they throw in the proverbial towel just before they see things through to the finish line. And that’s no way to go out. If you’re serious about build an online business without any money, then you need to stay persistent. Become a student, constantly learning and expanding your knowledge. Over time, it will happen. Not overnight.
Please note that there are affiliate links in the information contained in this article. That means that I might get paid a small commission or fee if you sign up to some of the services or purchase some of the products referenced in this article. But that doesn’t mean my opinion is for sale. I stand behind every product or service that I recommend because I’ve personally used it or interacted with it before and am intimately familiar with the company and its track record in delivering real value in its niche.