Category: Business (page 2 of 3)

How to Start an Online Business For Free: a Step-by-Step Guide

Want to make money online and not sure where to start? As someone who does this full-time (and I don’t mean through this blog), here’s my advice: avoid paying for any expensive courses or “bootcamps.” You have to learn the ropes yourself. Here’s how to start an online business for free. It’s the best method I know for beginners.

Summary: Stay as frugal as possible. Where possible, use free tools and resources. Give yourself the best reward possible – become profitable as soon as you can.

1.) Market Research

The first step is free – and it’s the most important one. You have to provide something people want.

Have you researched whether there is a market for what you want to sell? Some of the best free tools are Google AdWords, Quantcast, Compete and social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn and Reddit. If you are planning to sell physical products, check if it is readily available on Alibaba.

Once you have confirmed that there is a need for the product, the next step is to test it out. Validate that idea.

2.) Domains and Hosting

You will need to register a domain for your business. I recommend using Instant Domain Search to check what’s available and Namecheap for the actual domain registration. You can always find coupons to get a couple dollars off – just search for “namecheap coupons” on Google and see what you find.

Some tips for domains (that will save you money in the long run):

  • Keep it as short as possible, 2-3 syllables is best
  • Make it memorable, and easy to pronounce/spell
  • Go for the .com (people will forget .net and .org)
  • Try not to participate in auction – get one that’s not taken

You will also need a place to host your page. If you are still at the idea validation stage, consider using LaunchRock to collect emails and assess interest (it’s free).

Chances are, you will need your own web hosting. Don’t worry too much about the details – go for reliable and affordable shared hosting. My favorite is MDDHosting, and it’s the one this site is running on right now. Again, look for coupons online – you can probably get a whole year of hosting for under $40. That’s about 10 cents per day.

If you are hosting web apps, try affordable solutions that will allow you to scale up as needed. Heroku is a great platform, offering one click deploys for Ruby on Rails apps.

How to Start an Online Business for Free

You can start an online business without leaving the house

3.) Website Development and Design

Keep it simple to start.

Get something out there – if you are not already quick with HTML/CSS, use a free lightweight platform like WordPress (what this site runs on). It’s easy to set up, well maintained and reasonably fast. Using a pre-built framework allows you to focus on what’s most important – showing your value proposition.

If all you need is a simple page to generate interest, check out the top rated landing page themes on Themeforest.

If you absolutely need custom work done, try starting a competition on 99 Designs (e.g. logos, web design) or post on a job on Upwork (online contractors).

Remember that all you really need to get started is:

  • A Home page that explains what you are offering (preferably in 10 seconds or less)
  • An About page, where you can prove your credibility
  • A Pricing page, where all your offerings are clearly laid out and priced
  • A Contact page, with a phone number and email at which you can be reached

For design best practices, check out Johan’s Design for Developers presentation.

4.) Marketing, Promotion and Analytics

Try using free methods to promote your site at first. Tell all your friends on Facebook, spread it to your network on LinkedIn, and promote to all your Twitter followers. Post a link to the relevant subreddit on Reddit. Get some early users and feedback.

Don’t hire any SEO “experts.” Write good content, and make sure your site works (no loading issues). Be a good source of information, and you will be rewarded accordingly. It’s a waste of time trying to guess (our outsmart) the ranking algorithms, especially at the beginning.

If you are experimenting with paid traffic, start with low competition, low cost clicks from Google and well targeted niche campaigns on Facebook. You can probably find a $100 AdWords coupon if you look around. Be conservative and frugal.

Before blowing too much money on paid traffic, learn the most you can about your visitors so you can increase the conversion rate. Quantcast offers a free tool for demographic profiling, and Google Analytics gives you a comprehensive look at your traffic.

5.) Payments and Billing

You gotta get paid!

If you are running a services company (e.g. consultancy, tutoring), you can bill up to 3 clients for free with FreshBooks. Upgrade to a paid plan when you start getting more business.

  • You can use PayPal and Gumtree to sell just about any goods and services online.
  • If you are running an eCommerce store, Shopify is probably the best option to start with.
  • If you are running a web app and know your way around code, consider using Stripe.

That’s it!

The most important thing to remember: choose the tools that will allow you to focus on your business and how to provide the best service to your customers.

Less turnover, more profit

Too many ideas? How To Decide What Business to Start

Idea generation is the first step in deciding what business to start

There’s never a shortage of ideas

“If there are nine rabbits in the ground and you want to catch one, just focus on one.” – Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba.com

Do you have too many business ideas? It’s not easy to decide what business to start. Here’s a quick guide on how to pick the best one for you – time is of the essence. 

Ideas come easy to the entrepreneurial minded. It’s not hard to come up with a lot of potentially great business ideas – the hard part is picking just one to focus on.

It is even harder to narrow it down if you have been holding on to a few ideas for a while. The longer you wait before taking action, the more attached you become to an idea – even though it is worth nothing without execution. You start feeling like it is your own private invention, and think it to be worth something.

You don’t have to throw all your ideas out (coming up with new ones is a great mental exercise), but defeating analysis paralysis is important. Picking just one idea requires willpower and honesty (with yourself).

You have to pick the idea that’s most right for you

Try this exercise. For each of your potential ideas, answer the following questions:

  1. Is this something people actually need? Is there a burning desire in the market?
  2. Is it lucrative? How big is the market and how many potential customers are there?
  3. Is it for you? Is it something you would be satisfied doing for the next 5 years?
  4. How easy would it be to test it out with a quick Version 1.0 and get feedback?

For each of these questions, give a score out of 5.

It doesn’t have to be a precise score (this is not an exact process), but you have to decide on a score. Then you add the individual scores to get the total (out of 20).

You will find that by answering the questions one by one, you start thinking more objectively about the business idea.

I’ve completed the exercise for a few ideas I’ve had recently:

IdeaIs it needed?Is it lucrative?Is it for me?Easy to test it?Total Score
Guide for RTW Travellers115512
Display Ad Generator333211
English Tutor Listings323210
Internet Literacy Academy325414
Pushup Tracking App11338

In short, none of my ideas were that good. Of the five above, I concluded that none even stand out. They just happened to sound cool when I first came up with them – prior to doing any research. Unless the idea gets 16 points or more, I disregard it.

Some points to consider:

  • When assessing whether something is truly “needed” ask yourself: was this a real human need 10 years ago? And will it remain a need 10 years later?
  • There’s no way to tell exactly how lucrative it will be (this all depends on your execution), but you can guess this by the growth rate of the market you are targeting and the total size of the pot of gold to be split up among the players
  • If you can’t imagine keeping a daily blog about the business, chances are it’s not really personally satisfying – perhaps you are only in love with the idea of it
  • Anything that requires a lot of initial development (e.g. coding) to test out should not have a high “ease” score

So try it out! If you have dozens of ideas, this will help you narrow it down.

And once you see a clear winner, go for it. Do something.

Get the prototype out, and see if anyone bites!

Less scrambling, more focus