Every year, more and more people decide to ditch the rat race and start looking for better opportunities.
Working online has been the center of attention when it comes to making fortunes quickly, working less and improving one’s health.
All while getting rid of the alarm clock and your boss at the same time.
But how is it possible that some high school dropouts make more money than specialized doctors simply by selling fidget spinners?
The answer is simple.
They learned the art of starting an online business.
You probably heard the term before and you like the concept as an idea. People working from home, the beach, or a fancy co-working space that reminds of an eastern retreat.
But are you willing to put your head down and work hard to drastically improve your life?
If the answer is yes, you have come to the right place.
We have compiled a detailed guide that will help you create and run an online business in 2019, covering each and every aspect of the process.
Ready to dig in?
- Getting started
- Online Business Models
- Selling a service
- Selling a product
- Becoming an expert
- Best resources for starting a service business
- Best resources for starting a product business
- Setting up your website & communication channels
- Selling on freelance platforms
- Selling on an e-commerce platform
- Selling from your own website
- Start selling
- E-commerce marketing techniques
- Tracking sales and monitoring progress
- Ready, Set, Build!
So you have decided to change your career. You handed in your notice and you have 30 days left before you have no source of income.
A giant leap of faith!
This is for the best, you keep telling yourself. You just want to know where to start.
Preferably, you are looking for a “how to start an online business for dummies” guide.
Don’t worry though, things are easier than they look like.
First of all, you need to know that working for yourself comes with a number of different challenges. Time planning and productivity are two of them.
Starting your online business needs mental clarity, good planning, and a profitable idea.
Make sure you buy a notebook or a planner to keep track of all the activities that need to be done daily. And if you are not into notebooks, there are also apps like Asana and Evernote to help you out.
Then, of course, you will also be wondering how much it costs to start an online business. There is not one answer to this question.
We will explain, further below all the parameters on which this amount depends on.
Online Business Models
There are millions of online business models. In fact, most services can be offered online.
Sure, a surgeon cannot operate online, but he can definitely offer consultation services.
You see where I am going?
Also, some ideas are easier to start with than others. Several skills are on high demand right now.
When you are at the beginning of your journey, you want to plan accordingly. Don’t jump into hoping to “figure things out as you go”.
This is the wrong mindset and one that may cost you months, if not years to set straight.
To increase your chances of success, you need to create an online business that has low starting capital requirements and high demand.
There are two main categories of online businesses. Businesses as a service and merchandise businesses.
Selling a service
Most people who work online, start by offering a service.
Online (service) business startup costs are usually very low and, usually, most people specialize in at least one type of work, whether that is being an accountant (your latest office job) or making origami as a hobby.
When looking at the current job demand for online services, there are a number of different skills that can be learned fast and will have you earn the big bucks.
These jobs are:
1. Software developer/engineer
This profession is currently in high demand. Building software and working with code requires a person with an eye for detail and a passion for solving complex problems.
2. Digital marketing specialist
Selling your products online is an art. Digital marketing specialists help e-commerce businesses by offering everything from ads, to content creation, to SEO.
3. Graphic designer
A brand needs a presence. Usually, this is expressed through both written and visual content. Graphic designers help design logos and images that speak to the audience of given brands.
4. Video editor
All things video is trending for already several years, with more influencers switching from photo to video content. Video editors structure and edit videos to help brands and influencers optimize their content.
5. Content creators
While content is as much written as it is audiovisual, it is easier to start by writing. Great content creators focus on one niche and try to express a brand’s image through words.
6. Lead Generation
Lead generation is a great opportunity in today’s local and international markets and on the (inter)national stage. The relatively liberal model of Lead generation is usually not exclusive, allowing marketers to use a broad range of marketing strategies without the need for approval.
Apart of these options, there are also services that don’t require experience, such as:
If you have a good voice, doing voice-overs is a good way to supplement your income. However, keep in mind that you will need to invest in a good microphone.
For people that write two or more languages fluently, it may be a good idea to start translating documents in their free time. These jobs are easy to find and a good way to start working online.
9. Video reviews for products
Many brands want people to make videos of customers using and/or reviewing their products. And the best part, they are ready to pay for it. This is a great way to start working online.
10. Affiliate Marketing
With affiliate marketing, you essentially drive traffic to certain websites that pay you a commission every time your referrals make a purchase. Almost all products have affiliate programs somewhere, so you have many options to choose from.
Selling a product
Selling products is very luring because it is easily scalable. Make a truly valuable product and more people will buy it as your marketing efforts start paying off.
Creating a product is also a job many will find more interesting than simply selling their time.
The best part? Once you create your product, pretty much everything else can be automated or outsourced.
Products are split into tangible and intangible products.
1. Intangible products
Intangible products are easily distributed due to their digital form. You can easily scale your sales without the need for additional effort.
You can also update their content to improve their quality, size, and relevancy.
Below are some of the most popular digital products.
You don’t have to write the best book in your niche. Many people write a large number of short ebooks (<10000 words), focusing more on the total volume of books rather than the size of each one individually.
You can easily create and sell your own info products, such as an online course. Teach through video or written content the subjects in which you are considered to be an expert.
Software as a Service (SaaS)
Selling software can be one of the most rewarding business models as it has a low maintenance cost and recurring billing, ensuring a recurring cash flow and a higher lifetime customer value.
A productized service is a way to take what normally would be a one-to-one client service, such as paid ads or web development, and packaging it into a “product-like” service, with recurring payments and customized options.
Despite their high competition, apps are still a big business (remember Pokemon GO?). Creating apps such as addictive games or business tools can turn a simple idea into a big success.
2. Tangible products (merchandise)
Tangible products can also be seen as merchandise. These are products that need storing, shipping and, often, replacement.
There are many options as to what you can sell, depending on your available budget and creativity.
The trend of dropshipping is still going on strong. Here, the goal is to sell products to customers and only order them from the manufacturer after the sale has been made.
Existing products without brand labels allow you to design them as you like and sell them. While a good knowledge of marketing is needed, this form of online business is much easier than creating a product from scratch.
Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) is very similar to a merchandise store, but it is completely set up and run on Amazon (traffic generation, affiliates, promotion, etc). This is a great online business model to consider especially if you have not yet built an audience.
Build a product from scratch
Here you will have to turn your idea into a product by finding manufacturers, testing out different versions of your products and creating something new an unique. The initial costs are more but so are the profit margins.
BONUS: Google AdSense
Do you already have a channel that is driving a lot of traffic? Are you already writing content that people read and share? Then Google AdSense is a great business model for you.
You basically create drive traffic to your website (usually organic traffic) and allow Google to use space on your page to advertise products of third parties. The ad exposure leads to a quick and easy paycheck.
Becoming an expert
One of the biggest problems that hold people back is the limitless amount of directions they can choose to follow.
You may already have a tendency to do several things better than most people. It may be a good idea to start looking there.
It’s important to make a decision and stick to it. And while this sounds simple, this decision is very hard for most people.
Whatever your choice, you will have to become an expert in your topic.
And by expert, I don’t mean slightly better than others. I mean a true master of your craft.
According to Malcolm Gladwell, becoming an expert takes 10.000 hours of learning.
But… that may not necessarily be true.
So keep reading.
Ever heard of the Pareto principle?
The Pareto principle (or 80/20 rule) states that 20% of your efforts in any area of life, generates 80% of the results.
And this can also be applied to learning; it will likely save you tons of time in the process.
Here is how it can be applied to the learning process of new skills:
- The 80% of your required knowledge can be learned in 20% of the time. And most of the time, this 80% is all your customers will ask for. Start by learning the 80% of the total. Don’t sweat the extreme details just yet. In time, as you gain more practical experience, you will naturally improve your knowledge as well.
- Ensure that only 20% of your learning time is spent getting theoretical knowledge, while 80% is applied, job-based knowledge. In this case, you would spend 80% of your time writing actual list posts.
- Apply the 80/20 rule on the books you read as well. Find the top 3 books in your niche and study them until you know them by heart.
Bellow, we have compiled a list with the best books you should read depending on the category you chose.
Best resources for starting a service business
In order to become an expert in your niche, you will need to learn. Choosing the right resources will not only put you on a favorable position to improve your skills but also help you get there faster.
1. Online courses
- Software developer course
- Digital marketing course
- Graphic design course
- Video editing course
- Content creation course
- Lead Generation course
- Software development books
- Digital Marketing books
- Graphic design books
- Video editing books
- Content creation books
- Lead Generation books
- Software development Podcast
- Digital Marketing Podcast
- Graphic design Podcast
- Videography Podcast
- Content creation Podcast
- Digital marketing Podcasts
- Lead Generation podcasts
- Software development Webinars
- Digital Marketing Webinars
- Graphic design Webinar
- Videography Webinar
- Content creation Webinar
- Lead Generation Webinar
Best resources for starting a product business
In order to learn more about selling a product, whether digital or tangible, you will have to understand the complete development, marketing and selling process.
The following resources will help you learn all the necessary skills so you canget started as soon as you feel ready.
1. Online courses
- Writing Ebooks course
- Creating your own online course
- Saas Business course
- Productized Services course
- Apps course
- Dropshipping course
- White label / Private-label selling course
- Creating your own product
- Ebook writing books
- Creating your online course books
- SaaS Business books
- Productized Services books
- App development books
- Dropshipping books
- White label / Private label books
- Creating your own product books
- Ebook writers podcast
- Online course creators podcast
- Saas Business podcast
- Productized Services podcast
- App development podcast
- Dropshipping podcasts
- Whitelabel podcast
- Creating your own product podcast
- Writing Ebooks – Webinar
- Creating an online course – Webinar
- SaaS Business – Webinar
- Productized Services – Webinar
- App development – Webinar
- Dropshipping – Webinar
- Whitelabel – Webinar
- Creating your own product – Webinar
5. Bonus resources for online business growth
Setting up your website & communication channels
Now that you know what kind of online business you want to create, it’s time to see where you will be selling. Here, once again, there are two paths you can take.
You can either sell on an e-commerce platform or on your own website.
You can also sell on both.
Let me rephrase that… You SHOULD sell on both.
Selling on both e-commerce platforms and your own website will increase your chances to bring more traffic to your offer.
Selling on freelance platforms
When you have a special skill but no audience to sell it to, you can start from an environment where people are looking to find (and pay for) those.
There are many freelance platforms that can help you sell your skills online.
We will analyze the most popular platforms, that have turned many side-gigs into full time, online businesses.
Upwork is a platform for freelancers looking to offer their skills online.
Your profile is everything here. Add a professional photo and describe the services you offer.
Go through the available tests, do some cheaper gigs to get good reviews, decide on your hourly rate and start by applying on all jobs you could do.
Fiverr is a freelance platform which is considered to be the cheaper alternative of Upwork. Here, professionals usually charge less, with all offers starting from a fiver ($5).
While this may not be the optimal income for you, it does help you get some paid practical experience, all while helping others.
You can see Fiverr as the best place to make a name for yourself, offering cheaper gigs to get more reviews.
The world’s most popular social media platform has helped many freelancers offer their skills online through paid ads and Facebook groups.
In fact, many people choose to solely focus on Facebook when creating their online job, building relationships through effective communication.
We asked Jordan Lark, a successful online personal trainer who’s coaching business runs solely on Facebook to tell us what his motivation is behind using Facebook for business:
“I think Facebook is a very effective platform because it provides an environment to grow trust and relationships, when done properly.”
Therefore, start by reaching out and creating relationships with the people in your friends’ list. Over time, the quality of your services will bring more people to your business.
Selling on an e-commerce platform
Selling on platforms that have an already existing audience that is searching for and buying products is a great way to get started. Of course, once you start to establish authority in your niche, it is a good idea to create your own website as well.
Ebay has been the golden standard for many businesses looking to sell products online. The high amount of competition may push you towards lower profit margins or incredibly unique products.
The platform is great to get ideas for creative descriptions and price ranges of products similar to yours.
Who doesn’t know Amazon? The biggest online merchandise platform in the world does not only offer an easy-to-use platform, but also an enormous audience looking to buy directly.
Amazon also offers the possibility to have third parties create affiliate links for your products, leading more traffic to your products for a very low % of your profits when using Amazon FBA.
Etsy is an e-commerce website focused on handmade or vintage items, as well as unique factory-manufactured items.
The platform has been growing steadily over time and is now considered to be one of the biggest platforms for people selling their own products.
So if you are crafty, or sell something unique, it may be a good idea to offer it on Etsy.
Gumroad is a great platform to sell your ebook or online course while paying little to nothing in fees.
The platform is currently in its growth phase and is often utilized by influencers with large fan bases to sell their digital products.
Selling from your own website
While selling on platforms is a good start to your online career, eventually, you would want to also create your own website.
Whether that is simply to showcase your portfolio, present your reviews or place a detailed overview of your services, websites add authority and professionalism to your online business.
If you already have a social media following on an email list from existing leads/customers, it is a good idea to create a “new website announcement” post, to celebrate your new selling platform.
Another good idea is to reach out to your following when you are introducing new website features or designs. This will remind your audience that they can shop directly from there as well.
Depending on your needs, you will have to choose a host to build your website with. The most popular you can choose from are:
Squarespace is one of the most popular website builders available.
The software offers templates, a content management system, hosting, e-commerce options as well as 24/7 customer support.
When using this website builder, you can choose between the “standard” version, which is used by people with no web development skills and the “developer’s version”, which allows access to the source code.
The latest permits the addition of greater functionality to Squarespace sites and the creation of custom templates. This version is only suitable for experienced developers.
WordPress is the most popular website building tool that is currently being used by no less than 80 million websites.
The website builder helps you create literally any website you can think of – including membership websites, forums, ecommerce stores, business-oriented websites and many, many more.
This software also has the additional benefit of using a large number of plugins which will customize your experience as a total, since you will only use the tools that suit your needs.
You can choose between a free website, a personal website, a premium website or one for business. Pricing differs and every model has its benefits depending on what your goals are.
Wix offers the tools and capacity to build personal or professional websites while adding widgets and plugins to fully customize the page’s outlook.
What make’s this website builder special compared to the ones we mentioned above, is the degree of personalization and how easy these changes can be implemented.
All templates are open for custom modifications, turning your online presence exactly how you had it in mind.
On top of that, Wix has special mobile-optimized builders that come to no additional cost.
It’s one thing to create a business. But its a completely different thing to create a business that makes money.
Sales and marketing.
This is the most important step of them all.
When it comes to e-commerce, your business will need to do a lot more work to acquire customers.
It is not as simple as setting up a shop in the corner of the street, putting up a discount sign and having people walk in to check out your products.
No, here everything is about creating funnels.
Understanding the buyer funnel.
What are funnels?
Well, funnels are the process a customer has to go through to discover you and your products.
Generally, there are 4 stages a customer has to go through before making a purchase. A great model to visualize this process is the AIDA model.
Let’s have a look at each stage of this funnel to better understand the customer’s journey.
1. Awareness stage
The first stage of the AIDA model, awareness, is what occurs when a potential customer discovers the existence of a product, through your marketing efforts. Essentially, your goal here is to lead people to your website.
2. Interest stage
In this stage, potential customers know you exist and are interested in knowing more about your brand.
To do this, you will need to offer educational and informational content, such as buying guides, “How to” videos, and other resources that show your expertise and boost your authority.
3. Desire stage
Desire is the final stage before a lead becomes a client/customer. The potential customer is now ready to buy.
Once a consumer has reached this stage they are very likely to use your services or buy your products since they have created an emotional connection with them.
4. Action stage
This is the final stage of the buying process, and the one everyone who has an online business is hoping for – The actual conversion.
5. But remember…
Marketing strategies should not end at the point of conversion. Once a consumer has made a purchase, it is very important to keep communicating and strengthen your bond.
Offer repeated purchase discounts, ask for feedback, send surveys. You can even send personalized emails.
If this process is carried out effectively, you will build brand loyalty and increase your lifetime customer value.
E-commerce marketing techniques
Let’s dig into the Marketing side of things. In this chapter we will go through all the methods you can use to grow your exposure and, hopefully, your online business.
1. SEO – Growing your business organically.
This is a skill that every online business owner needs to learn.
SEO is the practice of increasing your website’s traffic, both in quantity and quality, through organic search engine results.
Essentially, you create strategies for “on-page” and “off-page” adjustments that will lead to an increased amount of traffic over time.
“On-page” SEO entails the technical aspect of your website; the adjustments in the code. It also entails all content that is published on your website’s pages.
For more information regarding on-page SEO visit this post.
“Off-page” SEO is focused on link building efforts through the relationships you will build with other, more authoritative websites in your niche (more on this later on).
For more information regarding off-page SEO visit this post.
You can also check out our massive case study on how the best E-commerce businesses do SEO!
2. Paid advertisement on Search Engines.
Paid ads will help you kickstart your business. While they are more expensive than SEO, they can be seen as a complementary method to give you the exposure you need for those initial sales.
When we talk about search engines, we talk about Google and Bing, both of which offer a PPC (Pay per click) model for their paid advertising.
Knowing how to utilize paid ads correctly is essential, especially in the beginning of your online business journey.
This is because SEO efforts build up slowly and it will take some time before you start ranking for the keywords you are targeting.
Paid ads are similar to renting a house, while SEO is more like building a home.
The first one is more expensive but immediately gives you a space to live in.
The second one takes months or even years to build, but once done requires little maintenance.
And while your house is being built, you will still have to live somewhere!
3. Paid advertisement on Social Media
In 2019, Social media advertisement is becoming more complex, as more and more businesses choose certain channels over others to advertise their products in different ways.
Instagram is very popular for merchandise, with brands looking to invest in influencers of all kinds, from micro level (±2000 followers) all the way to macro level influencers (celebrities).
STEP 1: Find niche-specific influencers
Find influencers in your niche by making relevant Instagram searches.
STEP 2: Filter them carefully
Choose the influencers that best represent your brand and what you have to offer.
STEP 3: Contact them
Reach out to each one via DM or email and see what kind of collaboration opportunities are available.
STEP 4: Create partnerships
Create paid partnerships according to your marketing strategy and budget.
To learn more about Instagram Influencer Marketing click here.
Facebook is used for a multitude of reasons, from awareness campaigns all the way to retargeting. This platform would require a whole article (or even book) on its own. Thankfully, you can read this guide.
For more information on Facebook Ads, click here.
While building your marketing strategy it will be essential to analyze each Social Media channel and see how it could help your business grow.
4. Build an email list
I can’t stress this enough. Email marketing has the highest ROI compared to all the marketing methods above, ranking at an impressive x38 of your investment.
Essentially, email is used to create a relationship with your clients by writing educational (and maybe humorous) content that will establish you as an authority figure in your niche.
Email can also be a very strong tool to develop a loyal fan base and ask for customer feedback while providing value for free.
The best part is that you can automate this process. If you don’t have an email marketing provider already, check MailChimp & SendinBlue which offer free small list plans.
Simply implement a pop-up window or a sidebar inviting visitors to sign up with their email address.
After people sign up, provide useful information through daily/weekly emails.
With the help of Email communication, your subscribers become your friends, leading to a stronger bond.
5. Use Fiverr to your advantage
If your budget is low and you want to get the best out of it, you mind find Fiverr worth exploring. With its wide range of creative promotional gigs, you can often find hidden marketing gems for just $5.
STEP 1: Find the best offers.
Search for gigs that promote, market or advertise in the location you sell your services. Use keywords such as “product promotion”, “product marketing” or “product advertising”.
STEP 2: Make sure the freelancers fit your requirements.
It is also important to work with individuals who speak your audience’s language properly. If your product is sold to an English speaking audience, find English speaking freelancers.
STEP 3: Ask the right questions.
Don’t hold back when it comes to asking questions. Your goal should be to use the best bang for your buck and, to do so, you have to find the best options available.
STEP 4: Choose the gigs that work best for you.
Eventually, choose a number of gigs that you think work best for your website and test it out. For a modest amount of $20 you may see some impressive traffic increases.
If you want to boost your marketing skills even further, you can also check out our 128 growth hacks post, which outlines a number of different methods to accelerate your business’s growth.
6. Link building strategy
The content you are creating to lead prospects to your website should be viewed by as many people as possible.
To achieve this, it’s required that you rank high on search engines like Google.
This means that your website should have high authority and high-quality content.
Now, assuming you have figured out how to provide high-quality content, you would still need to increase your authority.
To do this we need to develop a link building strategy.
In other words, we need to have as many websites as possible linking back to your content or home-page.
And it would be best if these websites have a high authority as well.
To do this, you would first need to create top-notch educational content for your niche, utilizing keywords that they would be looking for.
Next, would need to peak into your competitor’s backlink strategy, by checking their existing backlinks on similar content to yours.
Here is how you can do this.
STEP 1: Add a competitor
Select the website you want to find add competitors for. After the dashboard opens, find the Competitors tab and click on Add a Competitor.
STEP 2: Manually add the URL of your competitor.
Add you, competitor, manually and click on ADD COMPETITOR
When the competitor’s profile is uploaded, check which websites link back to their website by clicking on the Backlinks tab.
Once you click, you will see your competitor’s backlinks.
STEP 3: Export
Simply click on Export on the top right corner to download all the information on an Excel sheet or CSV file.
There! You now have a list of all the websites you need to contact to help you increase your exposure and rank higher in Google!
You can find more information about stealing your competitor’s backlinks here.
7. Email Outreach
Once you have discovered your competitor’s backlinks, it’s time to contact these websites and (kindly) ask for a backlink to your content instead.
Once again, you would have to go through a lengthy process of manually finding emails and reaching out to each website separately.
Fear not, however, since this process can be automated as well. Ninja Outreach, an email automation tool that helps you automate Link building outreaches, is perfect for this job.
STEP 1: Create a new list.
Start by creating a new list on Ninja Outreach and name it.
STEP 2: Import a list.
Click on Import a list so you can upload the file you previously downloaded from Linkody.
STEP 3: Check where your URLs will be uploaded.
You will be able to see that the URLs you are about to import will be linked with the list you just created.
STEP 4: Choose how you will import your files.
On Ninja Outreach you have the option to upload your files through a CSV file or simply upload the links by copy/pasting them (If they are less than 1000).
STEP 5: Import the URLs.
Click on Import and wait for a few moments in order to complete the upload of the URLs.
STEP 6: Create a template.
Click on Templates and create a template that best fits the message you want to deliver. Are you looking to receive a backlink? Offer them something in return, whether that be a placing of their backlinks, a guest post or anything else you can think of.
STEP 7: Schedule A Campaign.
Now that both the list and the template(s) have been developed, you can schedule your first campaign. You can find more information on how you can do this by reading our detailed guide on stealing competitor backlinks.
Finally, make sure you use the free trial of Ninja Outreach to see if it works for you.
In time, your pages will receive more backlinks, increasing the authority of your website and ranking it higher in the Google search engine.
Tracking sales and monitoring progress
To better understand your progress and see how your efforts are paying off, you will need to track your data over time.
This will help you understand which areas of your business require more work and optimize your strategy.
Google Analytics is a digital service that helps you create detailed statistics and reports about the traffic on your website.
While the product is mostly aimed towards marketing specialists, online business owners can get valuable insights that will help them optimize their strategy.
To achieve this, Google Analytics offers a set of tools that help you better understand what is happening on your website.
Once again, covering this topic would require writing a whole book, but I will briefly introduce you to a few reasons why Google Analytics can help your online business:
As an online business owner, you can :
- See which marketing initiatives are the most effective
- Find accurate traffic trends and patterns
- Check where your traffic is coming from
- Determine your most valuable customer segments
- See which keywords convert best
- Understand your customer’s journey while on your website
- Figure out which paid ads convert better than others
- Track your link-building efforts.
And a lot more!
Having access to all this information will improve your website to better serve your customers and help you earn more.
Ready, Set, Build!
If you have made it this far, congratulations.
I hope you kept some notes. You now have all the necessary tools to create your online business.
You can always come back to this article and refresh your memory. But for now, it’s your turn to take action.
In order to be successful and build a business with a long term outlook, you will have to understand and repeat a few key practices over and over again.
Finding the right idea, doing marketing, selling the product, and a lot of process optimization.
Building an online business is not easy but now you have the steps to get there.
We hope you found this guide useful and are open to your questions and suggestions.