Starting a business in “the real world” is a ton of work and often requires substantial start-up capital.
You need to rent a place, purchase equipment and material, hire employees, apply for a business loan, check out the legalities — the list goes on.
When you start a business online, there’s no enormous initial investment.
That’s not to say that starting an online business requires no work. Nor does it happen overnight.
It does however simplify things. Just compare the flowchart below with the complexity of starting a business offline.
Likely, you already have an idea. Maybe you also know why you want to pursue your idea. Whether it’s to earn extra income for your children’s future or it’s always been your dream, you know why you want to do it.
… but you may not know how to actually start.
From finding the actual demand of your topic to attracting & growing an interested audience, here’s how to start a business online the right way.
1. Solidify Your Idea
Before you do anything, answer this:
Solidify what your idea is and be able to explain it simply. Think elevator speech simple.
Then, you need to know the most important part of any business:
That’s to say: how many businesses are there that do what you want to do? And how much demand is there for those businesses?
The simplest way to find out that information? Keyword research.
Most keyword research tools are paid, but you could always try WordStream or Ubersuggest to get a sense of what the supply and demand are.
Keyword research will give you a strong picture of how much demand there is for your topic… and most importantly, how “winnable” it is.
Once you’ve figured out if your idea is definitely viable, then…
2. Research Potential Competitors
If there’s demand for your business idea, you’ll likely have competitors. Now is the time to find out who is the best of the best in your field and analyze their business model.
A simple SWOT analysis is a great place to start.
What makes your competition stand out? Have you tried their product? How is it? What are they known for? Is it their branding? How personal are they? Is their site super easy to use?
Basically, why do people like them?
What are your competitors’ weaknesses? What is their downfall? Their achilles heel?
What can you do better? Can you figure out a way to address all their weaknesses, so that you don’t make the same mistakes?
What is your competition doing that could make it harder for you to enter their field?
The goal of this exercise is to get a clear understanding of what your business needs in order to succeed.
3. A Two Part Business Plan
Now that you’ve done your keyword research, solidified your idea and completed the market research, you can move into the further steps of your business plan.
Yes, even if your business is online, you still need a concrete plan, because arguably the most important part of a business is creating income.
How Will You Make Money Once You Start A Business Online?
If you’re planning to create a product, that’s great… but if you’re not sure what kind of product you will want to create, that’s totally fine.
You don’t need to sell a physical product in the beginning. There are many other ways to make money online with just a website.
You can earn money from placing ads on your website through Google AdSense, Mediavine, or any other service. You can also recommend products you love and earn commissions on them without even having to ship them yourself (this is called “affiliate marketing“). You can be a coach or offer paid advice for your area of expertise. The list goes on and on…
How Will You Market Your Business Online?
This is where most people make a fatal mistake.
Many people believe they can rely on buying Facebook Ads or Google Ads to drive traffic to their website and make sales. It’ll be easy, all you need to do is spend money on ads — I mean, you’ve got to spend a million to make a million, right?
What most people forget to consider is: What if Facebook suspends your ads? What if they kick you off their platform entirely? What if your cost per conversion is in the $100’s? Are you able and ready to spend that much? This happens to more people than you may think.
Sure, you can definitely pay for advertising, but it might not work forever. So what is the best and most solid way to market your business?
Create a website that actually gets organic Google traffic — that’s to say that folks who are on a search engine (like Google or Bing) and are looking for information surrounding your topic will find your site.
Everything so far doesn’t really matter if your site isn’t getting any traffic. Relying on third-parties to promote your site forever isn’t a wise business decision… but ads and organic traffic to create a fanbase and drive sales is a winning combination.
… and this leads into an equally important question; how and where will you build your site?
4. Decide on Your Platform
Since you’re starting a business online, you’ll need a website.
… but a beautiful looking site does not equal success.
Here’s a comprehensive summary of platforms you can use to build your business online.
This summary is a crucial read, because choosing a guide-free platform vs. one that explicitly explains how to build a successful business online is crucial.
Especially because in the beginning, you’ll undoubtedly want to create compelling content in order to get found.
5. Create Content
To get visitors and paying customers, you’ll need a way to get them to know, like and trust you.
The best way to do that? Create captivating content that they aren’t finding elsewhere and really draws them in.
Remember the demand & keyword research that’s needed in the beginning? That research will help inform topics for site pages and blog posts that have to do with your niche, also known as website architecture.
Folks will visit your site and if you provide enough relevant and interesting information, they’ll likely return and become fans. This is called warming up your visitors or PREselling. It’s a particularly important step in the beginning, because people only buy from those they like and trust. So you’ll want to instill that confidence in your site visitors from Day 1.
Your content doesn’t have to be all written pages or posts.
Provide value to people in other formats including podcasts and YouTube videos.
Take Darren Priest for example. He’s run www.AutoFetishDetail.com and BestAutoDetailingTips.com since 2008. Along with the content on his sites, he also has a successful YouTube channel with close to 100,000 subscribers. This gives Darren’s viewers and site visitors options for consuming his content — written and visual… it also establishes extra trust in his online business.
6. Keep Focused
When you start a business online, you need to stay focused.
This might sound dramatic, but a key factor to any business’s success is the owners ability to stay on track. This means that in the beginning you should only work on tasks that will move your business forward.
Avoid getting distracted by wanting to do everything — focus on the 20, not the 80.
If you have to remove distractions, like moving your cat to another room, then get Fluffy out of there!
If it means you set a timer for 60 minutes and power through your tasks, that’s great!
If you need help getting back on track, but don’t know who to reach out to, then surround yourself with a like-minded community!
If you’re reward driven, then give yourself a treat after you’ve completed a task!
No matter how you decide to keep yourself focused, you just have to stick with it.
How to Become an Online Business Owner
It all starts with your idea. From there, the opportunities are endless.
Keep your online business as a tightly run solopreneur ship or hire multiple employees and grow it into a multi-million dollar company.
Ashley Cotter-Cairns started his online journey by losing $30,000. Within 2 years of starting his business online (www.SellMyComicBooks.com), he earned $1,400,000.
When you watch his interview, you’ll find out that it definitely wasn’t easy… but it is doable.
Another example is Cath Andrews, who runs www.Raising-Happy-Chickens.com. While Cath only works on her business part time, it still earns her a healthy amount of extra income.
From a hobby site that earns passive income to a multi-million dollar comic book business, how much you grow your online business is up to you.
You just need to start, because after all…