Many people have a presumption that it is difficult to start an online business due to lack of money. However, thanks to economy of scale, prices for online venture necessities like web hosting and Internet data have dwindled significantly. Affordable co-working spaces are expanding across the world and cross-border employment such as freelancing is becoming a norm. If you’re having that little itch to try your hands on a tech venture, here are eight simple steps on how to start your own online business with little to no money.
Step 1: Find a business idea
Every business starts with an idea. A good business idea should provide a solution to a significant problem and serve a certain market. It is advisable to turn something that you are good at into a business. For example, if you’re a prolific writer and love dogs particularly small breeds, perhaps the world could learn a lot from you about taking care of these little dogs via your dog-centric blog. Sometimes a good untapped niche is all you need to get that rush of traffic to your website.
Entrepreneurs who compete effectively usually know the major weaknesses of other competitors in their niche. Carry out a thorough research in your area of interest and find out what is lacking. Observe consumer behaviors and their attitude towards products from other companies. Visit online forums, social networks, and blogs and check customer star rating and comments.
Identify things that customers are complaining about or areas in which they want some assistance. Carry out research on the major problems and try to find out the possible solutions. Your products should be more effective and efficient in solving a particular problem.
Don’t forget to choose a sound business model. Whether it is advertisement model, B2C (Business to Consumer) ecommerce, affiliate or subscription, picking the right choice could determine the rise or fall of your business.
Step 2: Name your business
Once you have a business idea, you need to come up with a business name. Some successful companies have separate brand names from their corporate name (think 3M). Discuss with your friends or family and select the most appropriate name. The name should be unique and distinctive to avoid conflicts with other companies. Remember to also do a trademark search at your country’s intellectual property office, such as USPTO (U.S Patent and Trademark Office). Avoid using potentially offensive words or phrases in your business name and slogan. Make sure that it is easy to pronounce and spell even when talking on the phone. Think 4 syllables or less.
Step 3: Register your business
If you find this step necessary, you may consider registering your online business as an official business entity. The type of corporation that you choose when registering your business is important. If you decided to go for an unlimited liability such as sole proprietorship or general partnership, you or all the partners in your business will be equally responsible for all liability (debts) of the business. But it’s much easier to register these entities and a lot cheaper. However, for a limited liability corporation, you are not personally liable but the cost of registering one is higher than the former. If you’re just starting out alone, you could just run your online business without having to register a corporate entity as long as it is within the law but please ensure you perform your tax obligations.
Step 4: Get your domain name
Your domain name should be similar to your business name to avoid confusion. There are many domain registrars offering an array for domain name prices but some of them (notably GoDaddy) charge a low price for the first year but impose a much higher renewal fee in the subsequent years.
When choosing a domain name, you should select .com extension as your first choice. If .com is taken, the next popular extension is .net and .co. If those are taken, consider adding a connecting word like getpocket.com for Pocket, flyemirates.com for Emirates Airlines. However, avoid using a dash or special character in a domain since it can be confusing.
If you need a fast and easy way to check domain name availability, try InstantDomainSearch. But I must advise you not to buy your newly discovered domain name there. Instead, go to Freenom or Namecheap who offer more reasonable pricing.
If don’t mind running your website if a domain name with .tk, .ml, ga, .cf, .gq, you could, in fact, register one for absolutely free with Freenom.
Step 5: Get your web hosting server
In 2009, a study by Forrester Research found that online shoppers expected pages to load in two seconds or less. At three seconds, a large number of them abandon the site. Choose a web hosting service that is reliable and with a sufficiently fast connection. Many web hosting companies also throw in a free domain if you choose their hosting plans. Remember not to look at the price of hosting since most cheaper hosting companies limit the amount of traffic that you get per month or provide lesser resources (CPU, RAM) to each website that they host. Others have unreliable servers and this can cause your website to be temporarily unavailable when their servers crash. Find one that is value for money or one that you could afford to start with. Having cPanel, a web hosting management software is crucial since it is a lot easier to manage your files, emails and databases. Your hosting company should also offer 24/7 customer support since a website is open for business 24 hours per day. You will never know when you will need help. It’s best to choose to a local hosting company if your website only caters for users within a specific geographic region. This in effect would make your website inherently fast due to the shorter distance for the data to travel from the server to your users’ PCs.
If you don’t expect much web traffic at the start, you could consider getting a free web hosting from Byet Host as they offer 1GB of disk space for free or 5GBFree who offers exactly that. You could host your free domain name from Freenom in this account.
Step 6: Form a team
If you can’t do it all alone, you could draft a team to support you and provide some additional skills and experience that you might not have. Nowadays it is very convenient to outsource some work to part-timers or freelancers. That is a way cheaper to start than hiring a permanent staff. Building your own dream team might take some time. Until then, outsource.
Step 7: Build your website or product
The type of products or services that you provide will determine the workload for this step. If you want to minimize the cost, use free Content Management Software (CMS) such as WordPress or Joomla to quickly design a website without any programming at all. They come with literally thousands of design templates and plugins. Free eCommerce tools such as WooCommerce, Magento or Prestashop can be customized into a fully functional online store. Open source software or clone script is also available. As of June 2018, GitHub hosts 57 million open source project repositories. And there’s a clone software for almost any top products out there, from Uber to AirBnb.
You could also consider online building software such as Wix, Weebly, and Shopify but these are not free. Even if they are, there’s always a catch.
However, if your business idea is more customized, you could team up with a software developer to build it from scratch or outsource the work. It will take some time but your product should be able to reflect upon its unique selling proposition with the necessary features that you desire. You should start with the most important features then add more functions as you go along. Don’t focus too much on quantity than quality. Also, ensure that your online product is user-friendly with an intuitive user interface to reduce customer bounce rates.
Step 8: Promote or sell your product or website
Many startups find it difficult to promote their product or website in the first few months especially when they have insufficient marketing budgets. Having said that, the first thing to do is to inform your friends and other people in your circle about your product through word of mouth or “word of text”. Don’t forget to make use of your contacts on FB Messenger, Whatsapp, Telegram, Snapchat, and other chat messaging apps to spread the news around about your new business.
Social media marketing could also be effective during the early stages of your business. Well, at least it’s free to start with. Create a free Facebook page, Twitter and Instagram account for your business and post tutorials, offers, promos, discounts and more. Search engine optimization (SEO) is very important to any online business. Ensure your site is SEO friendly so that it ranks visibly well on organic search results.
If you have money to spend on marketing, utilize Facebook Ads or Google Adwords and other ads networks to generate more traffic on your website.
So you see, starting an online business mustn’t need much cash at all. What it really needs is your brain and energy to make it work. Ultimately, each business will require some investments to make it grow. When that happens, you should be able to find enough funds to scale.
This article first appeared on AllTopStartups.