How to launch an online business

There comes a time in everyone’s work-life when we long for a complete career switch.

Working for oneself can mitigate the stresses and strains of corporate life, and whether it be scenery, pace, mindset, or the whole shebang, a change is certainly better than a cardiac arrest.

With that in mind, it’s heartening that the online world offers a painless and relatively low-risk way of easing into your second career.

There are many methods of earning money online, though put aside dreams of “get rich” schemes and earning thousands overnight. Digital working involves commitment and focus, but Matrix-level IT skills and huge expenditures are definitely not key requirements.

There are a few basic business models to making money on the Internet, but most of these boil down to the following:

  • Selling a service, like consultancy or work as a virtual PA
  • Selling a digital product – holidays, tickets, ebooks and the like
  • Selling a product and shipping it to customers yourself
  • Selling a product and getting someone else to ship it to your customers
  • Selling someone else’s product and getting them to ship it to your customers (known as “dropshipping“)
  • Sending prospective customers to another person’s website that sells a product, and receiving a commission (called “affiliate marketing“)
  • Hosting adverts on your site

With most of the above, the same tools and methods apply, regardless of what your business does.

In all likelihood, you will need a domain name. These can be bought cheaply from many different suppliers, but it’s best to go with one of the bigger companies such as Godaddy or 123 Reg. Having to deal with a domain name registrar that goes out of business is a very painful process – take it from someone who knows…

Depending on how you want to host your business, and what model you are using, will influence your choice of hosting.

Realistically, your choice of platform to launch your business on a budget will probably be one of the following:

1. Wix

Wix is a platform that is designed for those with little or no technical experience. It currently has over 3 million paid subscribers worldwide and can do pretty much all the basics of getting your business up and running. It’s certainly not as fully fledged as something like WordPress but’s it’s a great solution for when the muse takes you and you want to have a site set up this instant.

2. Squarespace

Squarespace is another website builder that is very similar to Wix. Again, it has all the whistles and bells for a quick start, but you might want to think of it as a stop gap until you get a more robust solution.

3. Shopify

Shopify is a great e-commerce solution for those with little experience with web development. No coding is required and it’s an ideal route to go down if you are planning on selling physical goods. Have a look here at some inspirational stores built on Shopify.

Shopify also supports dropshipping and integrates with many major affiliate marketing sites including Amazon, should that be part of your business model.

4. WordPress

WordPress has a hosted service much like Wix, but there is a far bigger development community. This means there are tens of thousands of themes and plugins available to enable you to do just about anything. Want to start an e-commerce site, dropshipping, make affiliate revenue from Booking.com or Amazon? Everything is possible. You can also host WordPress yourself with a cheap hosting provider such as Bluehost or a specialist company such as WPXHosting.

Over 25% of the world’s websites are hosted on WordPress, so they are evidently doing something right.

How to sell your product…

The other must-haves in your digital business toolbox would be:

Google Analytics account – This is free and integrates with all of the above solutions. It’s crucial for you to understand what your users are looking at and how you can better serve them. This service allows you to see all the user interactions with your site and make changes accordingly.

A monitoring system such as Uptime Robot is also really useful. This is also a free service that lets you know should your site go offline. Maybe you’ve been hacked, maybe it’s routine maintenance… it’s good to be on top of things.

Google Adwords account and Facebook Ad Manager. These two advertising platforms are the backbone of many a successful campaign. With Google, you can serve adverts to people searching for specific keywords or phrases, and with Facebook, you can target incredibly specific demographics with your adverts – such as 20-25 year-olds in Nuneaton, interested in hiking and The Walking Dead. Both methods of advertising obviously come at a cost, but the return on investment can be very impressive if used correctly. There are also free courses on how to use these systems here and here should you want to delve deeper.

Having a way to create email campaigns is crucial to successful online marketing. MailChimp is one of the easiest and best solutions out there for small businesses and start-ups. There is a free version, with loads of helpful tutorials, so you can simply send out a monthly missive to your subscribers, or create complex automated email marketing routines depending on your requirements.

In future articles, we will look at the specifics of setting up particular businesses, such as selling jewellery or starting a travel agency, all from the comfort of your spare room.

Stay tuned…