How do you start your online business from home and with no money? Is this even possible? The short answer is yes. There are thousands of successful online businesses that started with no money, and today they are making thousands of dollars in revenue.
In fact, many of them have no physical presence but are operated from home with remote teams. To start your online business, you don’t need to have prior knowledge of how to start your online business. Running an online business is different than managing a brick-and-mortar store.
Over the years, I’ve had successes and failures, but most importantly, I created a framework that beginners can follow and increase their chances of establishing a successful online business on the first go.
In this complete guide, I’m going to give you the steps to follow to start your online business from scratch and from the comfort of your own home. While it’s impossible to start your online business for free, you don’t have to pay a fortune to get a business off the ground, and I’ll give you all the details.
Since you’re convinced that you want to become an online entrepreneur and start making money online (hence why you are reading this article now), I’ve added the actionable steps first, but towards the end of this guide, you can learn more about how to start on onilne businesses work and other useful information.
1. How Do You Start Selling Online
You’ve got a product, and now you’re ready to go to market online. Before you begin setting up an online store, be sure to have these steps completed:
- Do market research.
- Finalize products to sell.
- Identify your customer base and segment your audiences.
- Begin research on what eCommerce platform you’d like to sell on (like your own online store, Amazon, eBay, Facebook, and other sites customers commonly buy from).
- Create high-quality product content (including product descriptions and imagery).
- Create a strategy to market to your potential customers (so you can drive traffic to the store).
The truth is, launching an eCommerce store is not a walk in the park. But, with the right tools and an organized pre-and post-launch plan, you’ll be on the right track toward success. You will learn how to start your online business set up for success.
2. How Much Does It Cost To Start Your Online Business
The cost to start your online business can be from a few dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars. It depends on the type of business you want to start.
Let me give you some examples of start your online business:
- Cost of registering a domain name for your business – $15 per year (some hosting providers give this for free).
- Cost of setting up a WordPress blog – It can be as low as $2.75 per month, including domain registration.
- Cost of a professional WordPress theme – around $100 to get a professional and optimized theme.
- Cost of setting up a self-hosted eCommerce business (WordPress and WooCommerce) – You can get a theme for $100 or a custom-made website ($2000-$10000 depending on requirements and functionality).
- Cost of setting up a self-hosted eCommerce business (Shopify) – $29 – $299 per month (depending on the size of your store).
So, while you cannot start your online business with no money, the initial cost is affordable for everyone.
3. How Much Money Can You Make Online
The short answer is from zero to millions of dollars per year. It depends on the type of business, business model, products, profitability, and many other factors.
Let me give you some examples for inspiration:
- On some of my sites, I use AdSense to make money.
- On this website, I make money by selling my online SEO courses and digital marketing services.
- Yoast makes money by selling WordPress Plugins and online courses.
- Syed Balkhi makes millions of dollars per year through his SaaS companies.
- Patt Flynn makes money through affiliate marketing and online courses
- A lot of my clients make money by selling physical products through eCommerce Stores.
The possibilities to make money with start your online business are endless.
5. Decide What Type of Online Business To Start
The first thing to decide is what kind of start your online business. As you’ll see below, there are many options, and depending on the type you choose, you’ll have different ways to monetize your business and make money.
The most popular types of start your online business are:
- eCommerce stores selling physical products (Amazon, Etsy, etc.)
- Websites selling digital products (ebooks, online courses, etc.)
- Consulting / Coaching (Personal development coach, fitness coach, etc.)
- Selling Services (digital marketing agencies, software development, web design, etc.)
- (Saas) Software as a Service (online tools, subscription-based model)
- Online News Publications (HuffPost, etc.)
- Niche Blogs (travel blogs, clothing and fashion blogs, etc.)
The most popular methods of making money from your online business are:
- Selling your own products (physical or digital) – Selling products directly to consumers on your own hosted website or through an online store on a third-party marketplace like eBay, Amazon, Etsy, Udemy, etc.
- Advertising Revenue – Making money by selling ad space on your website either directly to advertisers or through an online platform like Google AdSense.
- Drop-Shipping – Selling physical products on your own store, but shipping and handling are done by the product manufacturer or B2B provider. You get a commission every time a product is sold.
- Affiliate marketing – You refer clients to the seller’s website (for either physical or digital products), and when a product is sold, you get a commission.
- Revenue from consulting services – You get paid for providing consulting services online (by email, skype, or other means).
- Subscription-based model – You make money from people subscribing to your monthly services (for example, hosting, online tools, etc.)
5. Find Your Niche
Now that you have an idea of the different types of start your online business, the next step is to find your niche. In other words, to come up with the idea that can be transformed into a start your online business. From experience, this is the most difficult step because it has a lot of uncertainty.
Nobody can tell you in advance if your idea is good or not, and no one can guarantee that your business will succeed or fail. It’s a risk that all business owners have to take, but this should not hold you back. The only way to find out if your idea is good is to try it, and even if you fail, there are so many things to learn from failures that bring you closer to success.
5.1 How To Find a Niche
You should understand from the beginning that you don’t have to come up with a unique idea in order to succeed online. If you can do it, this will give you an advantage, but uniqueness is not required for setting up to start your online business. You can take an existing idea and improve it or create something (a product, blog, service) that is better than what is already available on the Internet.
5.2 Find What Are You Truly Passionate About
Being passionate about a topic, an activity, a hobby, or a product will help you create a good product or great content that others will find valuable and useful. Take a few moments and think about what you like doing for fun and how you would like to spend your time if money wasn’t an issue.
5.3 Find What You Are Good At
Do you have any skills that you can use to help others accomplish a task, learn something or solve a problem? Maybe you like teaching people how to fix things, start your online business or you like to write good stories to educate people on different subjects. Find what you believe you are really good at and think of ways you can utilize your skills to create a product that people will be willing to pay money to get it.
5.4 Are You an Expert
Is there an area that you have the right training, qualifications, and experience to be considered an expert? This is a great candidate to explore further and find out if you can build a business around it. The Internet is full of ‘so-called experts,’ so if you are a ‘true expert’ on a topic, you will have an advantage over others.
5.5 Can You Spot Any Gaps In The Marketplace
Are you looking for a solution to a problem and cannot find a good product or online resource to solve your problem? Can you spot any gaps in any industry that you can fill with a new product?
Do you find that online content about a topic is incomplete or something that you can improve? All these questions will help you generate ideas that can possibly help you find the one idea to start your online business. Before, getting too excited, the next step is to evaluate your ideas and decide if it’s good or not.
6. Evaluate Your Idea
Evaluating an idea means finding out if a particular idea is something that you can start your online business that will potentially generate profit. Follow the steps below to evaluate the potential business success of your idea:
6.1 Do A Thorough Google Search
Naturally, the first thing to do is go to Google and search for keywords related to your idea. Don’t just type in keywords directly related to your niche but search for broad terms and terms that are indirectly related. Your goal at this stage is to find out what is already available in terms of websites, content, and products.
How many websites can you find on the specific topics, what type of content do they have, do they sell their products or display ads? Go beyond the first page of Google and look for the second page as well. Some businesses don’t pay the required attention to SEO, and while they have good products and content, their search engine optimization techniques are not good enough to rank high on Google. How would you rate the overall user experience when searching for this information? Can you offer something better to the users?
6.2 Search Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Pinterest
Perform the same search on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Pinterest. Try to figure out what kind of content is being published on those networks. Is it high-quality videos, is it images, articles, products? How many interactions (likes, comments) do the posts get? Can you spot something that is missing or that can be improved?
6.3 Do A Search On Popular Marketplaces
There are many popular marketplaces you can use to find out what products are being sold online.
Udemy – if you’re thinking of creating an online course, you can search Udemy to find out how many courses there are on the chosen topic, how many students they have, their comments, ratings, content, etc.
Codecanyon – If you’re thinking of creating a software product, you can search Code Canyon to find if there are similar products and how many sales they have.
Flippa – Flippa is the most popular marketplace for buying and selling new and start your online business. Browse through the listings and look at the provided information.
6.4 Do an Affiliate Marketing Search
Even if you don’t plan to follow the affiliate marketing model, you can still use the different affiliate marketing sites to find out which products are being sold, their price, the number of providers, and much more useful information.
7. Analyze Your Potential Competitors
Once you evaluate your idea using the above techniques, the next step is to do an analysis of your potential competitors. A potential competitor is one or two companies already selling products or services similar to what you want to sell.
For example, let’s say you decided to start your online business selling custom-made parrot cages through an online store. You already evaluated your idea and found out that there is enough demand from users and that there is room to create a better product.
The next step is to find out more information about your potential competitors. Using different tools, you can figure out how much traffic they get, which channels they use to sell their products, and how much they spend on online advertising.
8. Identify Your Targeted Audience
Before actually start your online business, the final step is to identify your target audience and create buyer personas. This step is critical because the outcome of this exercise will determine how you will approach the next steps.
What you are looking for at this stage is answers to the following questions:
- Who can potentially visit your website?
- Who can potentially buy your products?
- What is their gender, age?
- Where do they live?
- What languages do they speak?
- What is their education level?
- What is their ethnic background?
- Which social networks are the most likely to use?
- Who are the online influencers of your target audience?
- Which other websites are the most likely to visit?
- Which online forums or groups do they use?
Getting straight answers is not always easy at this stage because you don’t have any data of your own, but you should do this exercise before you get started and enhance it as you go along. Don’t forget that you can use Step 4 (competitor analysis) findings to create a first version of who your target audience is.
At a later stage, when you set up your website and start getting traffic, it will be easier to answer these questions. You can ask your customers and community directly via surveys or analyze your social media followers using various tools.
9. Decide On Your Brand Name and Register A Domain
Once you get to this point, it’s time for the exciting part and is no other than selecting a name for your brand and registering your domain name.
Things to consider when choosing a brand name/domain name:
- Find something catchy that people will remember
- Keep it as short as possible
- Make sure it’s easy to read, type (examples: yahoo.com, x.ai, apple.com)
- Add a keyword that’s relevant to your niche (examples: teachable.com, healthline.com)
- Don’t use hyphens or numbers reading it out loud will be a nightmare
You can use different tools to check if a domain name is available, but before proceeding, you also need to ensure that:
No other companies are using the same brand name on a different domain Search for your ‘to be’ brand name of Google and look at the results. If there are other companies using the same brand name, that could be a big issue, and it’s better to come up with something unique.
Check all social media networks to ensure that the name (handle) is available – you don’t want to register a domain name to find out later that you need to use a different name for your Facebook or Instagram page.
Check that all variations of your domain (.com, .net, .info, etc.) are available – if there is already a company that is using the .com domain, it’s not wise to register a .net domain with the same name. This will confuse both your customers and search engines.
Avoid choosing a country-specific domain – avoid registering a country-specific domain reliablesoft.co.uk unless you plan to start your online business specific to that region. It is recommended to go with a .com or .net domain.
10. Find Web Host
A web host is a company that essentially will “rent” you space on their servers to host your website. These companies usually offer domain registration, and it’s often easier to have both with the same company. However, many people will buy their domain with one company and host it with another.
Your web host is where you will upload your web pages, images, videos, etc. Web host features such as storage capacity, uptime percentage, domain-based email, and server security should be important to consider when evaluating a web host. Also, the ability to host a blog, provide response forms, marketing tools, and tools for e-commerce are essential criteria to consider when choosing your Web host.
Also, you’ll want to be sure that your web host offers WordPress compatibility (the most popular website CMS software) and offers your website to be secure (technically an SSL certificate). Another key thing to consider, possibly the most important, is easy-to-access 24/7 customer support.
Some popular web hosts include:
- Site Ground
Generally speaking, most web hosts offer the same services, features, and benefits; and all generally cost around the same amount. Though I’m a big believer in supporting local businesses, this is one area where you’re better off going with a larger company that can offer 24/7 support in the event of a problem. No mom-and-pop hosting companies are recommended!
11. Designing Your Website
This isn’t as difficult as it sounds. You have two options for site creation:
- Create the site yourself
- Hire a designer to create it for you
There are at least three options for creating your site.
- Many hosting companies offer free website-building tools.
- WordPress is a popular free blogging platform both for websites and stand-alone blogs. It is a very simple install, with many hosting companies having install tools just for WordPress. You won’t need years of study and thick manuals to use this software. There are literally thousands of WordPress templates you can find to further customize your site.
- The other option is to use a high-end program like Dreamweaver by Adobe (Visit Adobe’s Website) which will do everything you need but has a pretty steep learning curve. One of the training manuals for Dreamweaver is an overwhelming 1000 pages thick.
Hiring a professional designer may be a simpler option. This isn’t necessarily expensive. There are several websites where you can find freelance professionals, including CraigsList.com, UpWork.com, and Fiverr.com. You may even consider hiring a local high school or college student inexpensively.
In addition to the visual design work, you’ll need to give significant thought to your site content. Again, it’s important that if you outsource the design of your website, you actually purchase and own both the domain name and hosting account; the web designer is simply designing your website.
Suppose you’re not good with technology or don’t have the time or patience to learn how to build your website. In that case, you’re better off outsourcing it to a pro so you can focus on the essential things like product creation, marketing and promotion, and other higher-value activities. The key is to prevent any of the technology holding you back from getting started and start your online business. You’re in the business of online marketing and selling, not becoming a professional coder.
12. Get Traffic To Your Website
Even the most cutting-edge design and amazing new product are worthless if it’s buried under millions of other websites. In order to generate sales online, you have to drive massive amounts of website traffic. Consider these basic methods of promoting your new site:
- Register with the three major search engines (Google, Bing, and Yahoo)
- List your blog in the major blog directories
- Content marketing, video marketing, and podcasting
- Online Advertising: Google PPC, Twitter Ads, and Facebook advertising
- Direct mailing (print, not email)
- Offline marketing (billboards, company vehicles, stationery, print ads, promotional products)
While there are several ways to drive traffic to your website, you don’t want to get overwhelmed by all the choices. Focus on just a few methods initially, maximize these sources of traffic, then continually add more ways to drive massive amounts of traffic to your website.
Suppose you’re already involved in this market, then you really should know where your market congregates, what websites they visit, which magazines they read, etc. If not, then you’ll want to spend a good amount of time doing market research to know what platforms you should be advertising on.
If you’re on a budget, then start with free methods of driving traffic to your website. Once you start your online business and generating profits, you’ll want to reinvest into paid methods of driving traffic (such as pay-per-click ads) because paid methods are much faster and scalable than free methods in general.
- What Type of Products Can I Sell Online?
Regardless of which industry you are in, there are two types of products you can sell:
- Commoditized products and
- Niche products.
Commoditized products are essential, high demand, or popular goods or services that can be physical or digital products. These are products that everybody needs. Commoditized products are what make up the majority of online sales. Think of anything you buy at Walmart or Amazon that has a big brand behind its food, golf clubs, clothes, kids’ toys, etc.
Niche products are goods or services that serve a specific customer base and product category. In many instances, these are unique, one-of-a-kind, or handmade products, making them some of the most popular items bought online. Niche products are often made in small batch runs or on-demand. Think of a unique beaded necklace, handmade frozen yogurt, or leather iPad case.
However, many store owners sell a combination of commoditized products and niche products to increase their profit margin. Offering only commoditized items, especially if they are popular products sold on major online marketplaces like Amazon, will make it extremely difficult to become successful.
Larger online retailers and marketplaces can buy items in large quantities, which makes for more profitable products. But chances are your startup won’t be able to compete right off the bat. Instead, offer commoditized and niche products to your customers while delivering an on-brand experience to set your online shop up for success.
13. How To Find The Perfect Products To Sell Online
No matter how long you’ve been an entrepreneur, start your online business has never been more difficult. Here’s a quick look at the 2020 online landscape:
- Competition is fierce,
- Product markets are saturated, and
- Consumers are demanding convenience more than ever before.
Before you begin to brainstorm the design and experience of an online store or even your company’s name, you’ll need to choose what products to sell. This decision is a strategy within itself, as what you will impact every other business decision you make, such as:
- Brand name
- Website design
- Loyalty programs and
- Shipping and fulfillment.
14. Finding Product With Branding Potential
You’ve identified a potential product that solves consumers’ problems and comes from a place of passion. So, what’s next? Creating a resounding brand message and can make a splash in the competitive eCommerce space.
Crafting a recognizable and memorable brand means you’ll need to put in the time to research and truly understand your target audience. Your brand should speak to your potential customers in a way that both resonates and compels them to come back. In other words, you want to build loyalty based on audience identity.
Some great questions to start your online business with here are:
- How does your target audience like to be addressed?
- How will you position your product?
- How will you design your website to communicate your brand and appeal to your potential customers through layout, color scheme, and calls to action?
When crafting a brand and experience that resonates, Jeff and Spencer Jan of Solo Stove are experts. Solo Stove has found success by focusing on the benefit their product brings to the market and consumers’ opportunity to make memories with their loved ones.
By centralizing on this theme, the company was able to exponentially grow an organic following of loyal customers. Solo Stove has been able to leverage its community of loyal customers to improve its brand, product, and online experience with authentic product reviews, community engagement, and honest feedback.
Solo Stove is focused on helping people reconnect to what matters most, and BigCommerce has helped us take that to the next level. John Morris, CEO at Solo Stove Leveraging your product to create community and purpose is crucial to growing your online store. Without a product and brand your customers can relate to, you essentially start your online business on an empty tank.