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.
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.
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.
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