Starting an online business
Once you have decided it’s time for you to start an online business, then it’s just a matter of putting the pieces together. People have lived before you and there’s no need to reinvent the wheel.
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Why start an online business? Freedom, flexibility and money are the three reasons online entrepreneurs cite the most. They want to harvest money from the internet, make their own hours and work from whatever location suits them best that day.
Some people leave their day jobs to start an online business and very quickly end up broke! This happens when they go a little too heavy on the freedom and flexibility without enough focus on the making money part.
It’s easy to get lost down rabbit holes of things that feel like work, but don’t actually make you any money. Tasks like endlessly optimizing website designs or logos or complex sales funnels are common ways to burn days or weeks.
Don’t be one the people who is “getting ready to get ready” forever. You don’t have an online business until it’s making money for you. Until then, it’s just a hobby.
Once you’ve decided it’s time to get started, it’s just a matter of putting the pieces together. People have lived before you and there’s no need to reinvent the wheel.
Step one: Figure out what you are going to sell
You have a choice here. You can either find a product someone else has made and sell it on your website, or you can create a product of your own to sell on your website.
Creating your own product takes some time and energy, but the benefits are significant. It also gives you a degree of control that you don’t have when you’re rely on someone else to create what you’re selling.
For example, selling N95 face masks might seem like a great business these days. The people who had businesses selling these masks during the coronavirus pandemic ran into some challenges. The demand was through the roof! Great news, right?
There were some challenges filling orders from customers. The government was seizing any new shipments of N95 masks instead of letting them be shipped to their intended recipients.
To make it even more complicated, Facebook and Google banned all advertising for N95 masks (even from legitimate companies who had been advertising them for years). They had to do that because the scammers and price gougers showed up en masse when the coronavirus panic began. The problem was this policy ALSO harmed the legitimate sellers.
That’s an extreme example, but you get the idea. You are always at risk if you are selling someone else’s product. It’s better to have your own product to sell, whether that’s a physical product or a digital product.
Informational products are perfect items to sell on the internet. If your final product is an ebook or a course or an instructional video series, you can sell an infinite number of them after doing the work of creating it. Plus, it’s easier to maintain a website than it is to manage physical inventory, production, shipping, returns, etc.
A common response here is, “But I don’t have any special knowledge that anyone would pay for!”
You might be surprised.
I would argue that everybody has something of value they could teach others, no matter how obscure or unimportant or basic the knowledge might seem to you.
Some examples of informational products that sell well are cookbooks, Excel templates, personal finance guides and how-to courses for even the most basic subjects (think about how popular the For Dummies books have become…nothing is too basic). Somebody out there wants the knowledge you possess and it’s your job to make it easy for them to find you on the internet.
The easiest informational products are the ones that don’t take much or any technical skill to create. Which one of these do you think would be easiest for you? Pick one and start there.
• Online courses: A combination of text, audio and video content is the preferred delivery method these days. There are some free WordPress plugins (more on WordPress later) that will do all the heavy lifting around the course structure and such. All you need to do is add the content. You can charge a flat fee per course
• Ebooks: Like the one you are reading right now! You can sell ebooks on your own website as well and many people do so with great success. I like the Kindle store because I can lean on Amazon’s massive distribution reach. Ebooks don’t need to be as robust as full-length paperback books and they can focus on the most obscure topics imaginable.
• Membership websites: This sort of business is a bit more involved because it requires some ongoing work in order for the value to be there for the members. The general idea is that you provide premium content of some sort that your users can access for a monthly membership fee. Many successful membership sites make some of their content available to everyone for free, and charge money for the premium content. These are good if you have some specific knowledge about a topic. Again, WordPress has some free plugins that make the membership features easy to implement.
• Online events or webinars: These businesses are great alternatives to in-person events and seminars. People are willing to pay for high-quality content. Live events are one approach, and you can also record webinars and events to sell over and over in the future.
Once you have decided on your first product to create, it’s time for the next step.
Step two: Buy a domain name
There are a bunch of places that will sell you a domain name. A domain name is the .com, .net, .info, etc. that people will use to find you and your website. The domain name for this website is expatjobs.io.
There are some important nuances to understand here. If at all possible, you want to find a domain with an extension that is a .com instead of a .net, .info, .news or any of the other dozens of options that have appeared over the past few years.
We went with .io for all of our domain names because we could keep it uniform across all of our web properties. There’s no right or wrong here, but I would suggest not trying to be too clever with some of the bizarre extensions that are out there.
Also, try to keep the name short, simple, easy to spell and easy to pronounce. Assume that every visitor to your site will have no more than an eighth-grade education.
I understand many of the “good” .com names are taken. You can get some creative ideas by using a thesaurus if needed. A simple solution for many people is to buy your firstnamelastname.com, assuming you have a unique enough name that it isn’t taken yet.
The domain registrar I recommend is GoDaddy. WARNING: GoDaddy will try to up-sell you all sorts of things you don’t need, like hosting, professional email, privacy (privacy is a maybe for you), etc. Decline all of it. Just pick your domain name and skip ahead to the checkout page. Also, you only have to register the domain for one year at a time, even though their default at check out will be five years. They are tricky like that.
Step three: Get a quality hosting account
Website files need a place to live and the companies that provide this service are called web hosts.
Buy this today: WP Engine (that link will get you a nice discount) is the best hosting provider I have found for the purpose of running an online business. They are the right combination of quality, price and AMAZING customer service. I’ve bothered them with so many random questions and they always find a way to help. (Check out website for a discount link for WP Engine)
This is especially important if you are not super technical. They have tutorials and live chat help for anything you’ll need to do with your website.
They also make it easy to handle things like unexpected surges in website traffic, DDOS attacks and making regular backups of your site in case something goes wrong. You can also make changes in your website in “developer” mode, so the world won’t see you experimenting with it. The customer support is top-notch as well (I like the Live Chat support function the best).
Once you have your hosting account, follow their instructions to connect your domain name from GoDaddy to your hosting account at WP Engine. They have tutorials and they make it easy for you.
Step four: Install WordPress and get a proper WordPress theme
This is my favorite step because it doesn’t cost any money!
WordPress is the framework that powers about one third of the websites in the world. It’s FREE and easy to install through WP Engine. In fact, the “WP” in WP Engine comes from Wordpress. They have all the support you’ll need if you can’t figure out how to do it yourself, but it’s not hard. It should only take you a few minutes and a few clicks.
It could cost you money if you want to be super fancy, but there’s no need to spend that money now. Save your money for a rainy day. Pick a free WordPress theme from inside your WordPress Dashboard (where you will make all the edits to your website). It’s relatively easy and painless to upgrade to a paid theme later when your site is paying for itself, so don’t sweat it.
Once you’ve installed WordPress, you will want to install a theme. A theme is what makes your website pretty. There are a gazillion free themes out there and a bunch of paid options, too. It’s best to pick a free one for now and worry about updating to a paid one after you’re more comfortable with the specific needs of your online business.
You’ll find the free themes inside the WordPress dashboard once you have installed WordPress on your domain. You’ll be prompted to create a username and password when you install WordPress and they’ll email you login credentials. To install a theme, go to your WordPress dashboard, click on Appearance, then Themes. You’ll see a bunch of free theme options in there. (Again, WP Engine has in-depth walkthrough articles and a responsive support team if you get stuck.)
All the themes focus on different features and they can do different things. WordPress a very flexible framework and there are solutions for everything you can imagine. Plus, it doesn’t require any coding or programming experience to work with it.
Step five: Put a payment mechanism on your site
This step is also free. It will cost you nothing to create accounts with Paypal and Stripe. Go do that now.
Paypal is super simple and you probably already have an account with them. The easiest way to add payment options to your site for whatever you’re selling is to add a Paypal button. You can following the simple instructions inside your Paypal account for installing the button on your site.
Paypal will charge you a small percentage of your sales you make through the use of the Paypal button. You should also know that Paypal will take a few days to transfer money to your bank account when you’re ready to collect your cash. It’s mildly annoying, but you’ll survive.
WARNING: Paypal has a nasty reputation if you make too many sales too fast. This is especially true if you have a new Paypal account and/or a new product you’re selling with your Paypal button. Weird, right? I agree.
There are horror stories about people having their funds frozen by PayPal for weeks or months with no way to fix the problem (no phone number to call, emails and support messages are ignored). It’s rare, but it happens. Paypal will probably work just fine forever for smaller projects, though. Consider yourself warned.
A better payment processing option once you have tested your product and it looks like people are ready to buy it is Stripe. Stripe takes a little more sophistication to implement on websites, but it’s still on the easy end of technical skill.
Like Paypal, they allow you to establish an account for free and they take a small percentage of your sales that are processed through them. Stripe links to your bank account and automatically deposits your earnings on a regular basis. They have a great dashboard that allows you to track everything as well.
Stripe is growing by leaps and bounds. They continue to make improvements in functionality and ease of use. They also have a robust FAQ and tutorial section to help you get started with the more technical bits.
There are also merchant accounts available through most traditional banks. Payment processing through merchant accounts with a traditional bank should be avoided at all costs. They are clunky, horrendously expensive and they use outdated technology.
Step six: Find customers
“If you build it, they will come.”
You’ll have to find a way to get customers to your site so they have a chance to buy your product. It’s great when customers find your product through channels that don’t cost you any money, like word-of-mouth, social media posts or search engine results. In the beginning, it’s unlikely that enough customers will find you through the free channels, so you’ll have to spend some money.
Google and Facebook are the big dogs when it comes to finding customers online through advertising. They both have advertising products that allow you to target people based on certain parameters. There are plenty of tutorials that will help you learn their systems.
I suggest setting a low budget and capping the daily amount of money you can spend on ads when you first start. If you don’t put a cap on it, Google and Facebook will definitely take all of your money. You can learn and see what works with a small budget, then increase your budget later once you know the math and know what works.
Step seven: Repeat as needed
There’s power in being focused. Pushing on only one product is the best approach until your product is reliably selling at a rate that is acceptable to you.
One of the benefits of informational products is that you should be able to automate most or all of the selling once you get the hang of it. Once that happens, you’ll have some time on your hands to create another product.
Creating a natural extension or “sequel” of your first product is usually a good way to do it. You already have customers, an email list and you know how the ads perform in your category. There’s no need to start over with something unfamiliar when you have so much leverage from your first product.
One of my favorite success stories from this approach is Robert Kiyosaki with his Rich Dad series of books, courses and games. He built a brand around personal finance and created multiple products around the same theme. Regardless of what you think about the guy as a person, he was a master at building a large brand with informational products.
That’s it! You should be good to go. We love to hear success stories, so please share them in the comments below when you start making money online!