So how do you even start an online business from home?It's like being in the high-speed commuter lane, a direct shot to the best tips and information. Click To Tweet
To start an online business from home takes some work. There are a lot of things to consider, but it’s an exciting leap! My jump into digital marketing and an online business occurred after years of watching others do it and knowing I wanted to be in the game, too. During this time, I thought it would be a good idea to take a blogging for beginners approach and learn what I could by creating a “hobby blog.” This allowed me time to hone my WordPress skills as I continued to study techniques that “the masters” used. These are the people who had started ethical online businesses, each one with a different backstory, and who had made a significant living from their digital marketing business.
I studied website themes, SEO, hosting, SSL, shopping carts, product launches, social proof, Google penalties, affiliate marketing, A/B testing, backlink strategy, analytics/metrics, ebooks, image sources and Creative Commons, infographics, keyword research, landing pages, lead magnets, mastermind groups, niches, LLC formation, ethical business practice, avatars, power words, redirects, effective headline structure, hooks, roundup posts, sales funnels, webinars, courseware, and more.
I really like this stuff, and if you’re just starting out don’t worry.
I’ll provide you with sources of information to improve your game
If you’re driven to start an online business from home, you’ll do fine. All this will come to you naturally over time, and along the way you’ll get better at it. To help you, I’ve provided the “Knowledge Zone” where you’ll find an ongoing series of blog posts that enable your continuing education – tips from the very bloggers that are on the front lines.
Going site to site looking for the golden nuggets of information that beginners and experienced marketers/bloggers need, impacts one thing we all share:
The common equation is time
I want to help you with that. I read a lot of stuff every day. When I find something of value, I post it here, fast. It’s like being in the high-speed commuter lane, a direct shot to the best tips and information.
Let me email you as soon as the good stuff hits the page – use the form over on the right!
Starting out FAQ – What I needed to know as a total newbie
To take some of the puzzle out of how to start an online business from home, I’m providing notes on some of the things I questioned and sought answers to. I also include some of the decisions I made and steps I took, along with why. Finally, I present my timeline to go from no business to online presence. This timeline is based on what is called “the side hustle,” which simply means you are working on building a business while you are fully employed. So – if you are not employed you have much more of your day to spend on getting your business running, therefore shortening the timeline significantly.
This is useful guidance, but keep in mind that your situation and temperament may vary from mine. Use what helps you. This framework worked well to get me started.
(Disclosure: this page contains affiliate links, which means if you buy from this link there is no extra cost to you, but I do get a small commission)
Here are the questions that I scratched my head over, and the answers I arrived at.
- It’s important to decide if you’re going to run this as a business or a hobby. I decided if I was going to make money, I’d need to be serious and set things up as an ethical business.
- If you’re just testing the waters to see how WordPress works, determine if you can attract an audience and learn the ropes over time, then doing it as a hobby may be your best bet. I actually did it this way on a non-commercial hobby blog, and learned so much that the business decision and process was easier to do; it saved a big chunk of time because there were so many basics I didn’t have to learn from scratch.
- Are you primarily trying to raise money? Are you primarily trying to help people solve a problem? Both? If so, which is the priority? Knowing why you’re going into business will help you formulate your strategy and go in a positive direction.
- The segment, or narrowness, of the topic you choose to write about matters. If you pick too broad a topic (for example “dogs” versus “best working dogs”) or a topic that has no audience (and unfortunately you may discover that after you go online), then you have less chance of being found and helping anyone while making money for your business. It’s kind of cliché, but the saying “the riches are in the niches” holds true. Find a good one, bounce the idea off people you know, think about your ability to sustain momentum in blogging, and make an informed decision.
- Who are you selling to? Sometimes called “your avatar”, this person is the definition of your target buyer. For example, “male, 30-45 years old, just beginning tennis lessons on a moderate budget.” Knowing this is your target helps define your niche and focus on how to help and what products or information they could purchase from you.
- Before you spend a ton of effort on writing an ebook or making a physical product, you should validate it. Is it something people actually need and want to buy? The saying about building a better mousetrap and people beating a path to your door actually holds a lot of truth. A viable, useful product that solves a problem will sell. Just imagine, though, how much time you’d waste, energy you’d spend, and money you might burn up putting product after product on the market (“hope marketing”). It would take a long time to find the right one out of many variants. Validate ahead of time. Ask questions, send out surveys, collect the data.
- What form will your business take? Many people go the Limited Liability Company (LLC) route. It’s a pretty easy process to complete and allows you, for example, to keep your business funds and business information separate from your personal assets. It also adds more professionalism to your business.
- You need a domain name that identifies your brand or purpose. Using a .com domain is still the accepted professional look, though with so many new domain suffixes, you may find a perfectly professional one other than .com that may closely align with the type of service you provide. You should also consider whether that domain name can be used completely or in close part in your social media names.
- Most bloggers use the popular content management system called WordPress. Be aware that WordPress comes in two variants: WordPress.com and WordPress.org. You can go to WordPress.com and set up a WordPress site quite easily, but you’ll have fewer features and less control over your site. Also, you are not on your own domain. However, when you sign up for hosting and install WordPress to build your site, you’re actually going through WordPress.org. Same people, just two different ways of using WordPress.
- Mailing lists are a key component of your marketing strategy. Don’t underestimate the value of mailing lists. In fact, the sooner you start your list, the better off you are. “The money is in the list” is age old guidance which applies to digital marketing as well.
There are many ways to do this. Primarily, you need to keep track of income and expenses, and you can do that in a handwritten journal, on ledger paper, or on a spreadsheet. Once you start to charge for your products or consulting, etc, you will need to send invoices. A much better way to manage all of this is with one of the best blogger-friendly software packages out there – FreshBooks – FreshBooks is the #1 accounting software in the cloud, designed exclusively for freelancers and growing service based business owners. Give it a try.
Q: Content, keywords, SEO
- “Content is king” is generally accepted as sage guidance for bloggers and marketers. The better your content solves the problem someone searched for, the higher you are likely to rank in search results. Your content needs to scratch the customer’s itch. One way that’s done is by knowing the kind of questions your readers would ask. Those questions naturally contain key words. If your content closely matches those key words, the search engine algorithms see you as a good match. These key words are referred to as, well, “keywords.” For example, if someone were to write this query into a search engine: “what is a tactical flashlight”, the type of keywords you would want to address in your content would be something like tactical, flashlight, and tactical flashlight. If you write content that includes those keywords, you are more likely to be found by the search engine. There is a whole lot more to know about keywords, but if you understand that much you probably have 70% of the equation already. As for SEO, that stands for search engine optimization. It means writing content and building your site in a way that optimizes your chance of search engines seeing your content.
- Do you want to market your own products or someone else’s? If you sell other people’s products, such as in affiliate marketing, those products could disappear overnight. With your own product, you have much more control over your financial fate. You could do one or both. You could have many affiliate products to put you in an even better position. If you are familiar with portfolio diversification in investing, you understand what I mean.
- Everyone is concerned about security these days. Search engines are now giving more priority to sites using https over those with just http (penalizing non-secure sites by placing them lower in search results.) When you sign up for hosting, make sure you get a security certificate and setup your site as https. Web hosting companies make this pretty easy now. Take a look at my Resources page if you want to see the hosts I use and recommend. By the way, Google also places heavy emphasis on mobile-friendly sites, so when you choose your WordPress theme, try to find one that is mobile friendly. More and more people are searching the internet on their mobile devices versus desktops, so that’s very important..
- A sales funnel is the narrowing path your customers follow to go from wondering about something to spending money on something. You need to help them though this process. The words they use when searching online indicate a sense of what phase they’re in. If they ask ” how” or ” what is”, they may be trying to figure something out. They are early in the funnel. If they search for “best xxx” then they are very close to buying. Your content needs to help answer their questions at several points along that path. If you can lead them effectively, it’s more likely they’ll purchase from you.
- A good web host, WordPress (to build your website), an email service provider to use for building your email list and opt-in pages, and a few good plugins for WordPress. The Yoast SEO plugin is a must-have (helps you ensure your content is checked for Search Engine Optimization).
- See my Resources Page
- If you want to earn money it makes a lot more sense to form an actual business. You can use an EIN instead of your social security number when you sign up for affiliate programs. You can establish and use a business address instead of your home address. There are legal risk considerations that play into it as well. It’s a personal decision, but if you’re going to make money you might as well commit and form a business.
- It depends, but see my Timeline section on this page
- This depends on how deep you want to go. Basically you’ll need to form the business, get a business address, get a registered agent, get secure web hosting (https), a domain name, and site privacy. Low side maybe $300, high side maybe $700. This is not including a computer, which is obviously a must-have!
- It kind of depends on a lot of factors… SEO, does your product solve a problem people are searching for, etc. Honestly, you could start seeing a trickle of earnings in a month, but real money takes real work. Just know that up front. Picture a locomotive train. Slow, chug chug chug at first, but once you build up speed and momentum, things start clicking (ok, and clacking if you get the rail metaphor). From studies I’ve seen, maybe 3-6 months before you feel you’re getting somewhere. As in most things, it depends. Keep at it, though.
Search Engine Marketing
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Pay Per Click Advertising (PPC)
Social Media Marketing
Q: What else do you want to know about starting an online business from home?
Here’s a great chance for you to tell me what you’d like to see added here!
This may give you a good idea of how long it takes to get started. “Your mileage may vary”
- Decision to go ahead. Began researching all the aspects that are needed to make a smart business, not a hobby site
- Decided on LLC as a structure
- Began research on Registered Agents (what they do, cost, options)
- Brainstorming my first site and its purpose (had a few ideas for various sites, but decide to start on just one first then get it rolling before giving attention on another one)
- Built a list of things I’d need to achieve (these are not necessarily in order)
- File a Certificate of Formation for LLC
Pay the State fee for doing that
Wait to receive the approval online (and later the real one in the mail if they send that)
Get a Federal EIN tax ID for the LLC
Create an LLC Operating Agreement (this seemed like fluff but I found out it is a wise move for the professionalism of your business and also needed by the bank when opening an account)
- Once all documents are done, take them to the bank and get a business bank account
- Brainstorm the domain name
Decided which web host to go with
Choose first domain and get hosting
Check out a few WordPress themes that come standard – pick one and move on (can always get a paid theme later)
Setup email on the domain I chose
Choose an email service provider for autoresponders and landing pages, opt-ins, etc
- Decide on a few good affiliate programs and review the rules for disclosing your affiliate relationships
Consider what Twitter name to use
- Research Privacy Policies, Cookie Policies, GDPR rules
- Study up on Google Analytics
- Firm up the cost estimate for my startup costs
- Complete a starter set of blog posts I need to have up before launch
- I’m also working on a launch strategy
- Been running into some issues signing up for affiliate programs, because some of the forms are vague about the information they’re looking for. Eventually with some emails and chats, I got this worked out.
- (look, squirrel!) Almost changed my email service provider when I saw they upped their free-plan subscriber count, but after walking through the user interface I decided it was a little harder to use than my original choice. More time spent on stuff that’ll pay off in the end, but took me away from blogging.
- Working to add good images to blogs posts. The key is finding good license free creative commons photos, and I found two or three good sources.
- Checking the menu structure to make sure it hits the main items in the right order
- Proofreading and correcting each page, post and checking SEO for each one. Blog posts need the most attention, filler material for the theme sliders are very short and don’t need much work.
- There is a learning curve even for the simple, free WordPress theme I chose. I looked at each page and post as if I were a visitor to the site and found several annoying things that needed tweaking. The good thing is, once I figure out where to tweak things it’ll go much faster from here on out.
- Cookies: With GDPR, this is a much bigger deal than it used to be. Finding a good plugin is “interesting” They all, of course, say this will not make your site GDPR compliant, but also go quite a ways toward getting cookie acceptance headed in the proper “active acceptance” direction. It’s time-consuming, with a lot of time spent digging into GDPR.
- Near the end of the month and I’m feeling pretty close to launching, so need to start finalizing my launch strategy.
- Spell check, read the site as if you were a visitor, I’m still finding little things that don’t real well or are misspelled. Grrrrrrr
- Near the end of September, I got a second wind and created quite a few more blog posts and also started to build buzz with a few tweets. I was rewarded with inspiration when Gary Vaynerchuk liked one of my tweets. It’s a little thing sort of, but a big boost to me. Thanks for taking the time Gary!
- End of September – read about setting up a good 404 Page, more personable than the standard one from WordPress. I added a plugin called 404Page, setup was very easy. Also working on Facebook and mewe.com accounts
- Setup the YourDigitalMarketingIQ group on mewe.com
- Soft launch, first time I took the site out of Coming Soon mode, you see when I started and nos it’s soft launch time. A few emails and tweets starting to roll to get feedback and pretty low key. I’ll set a date for the launch kickoff shortly, and it’ll be soon
- Soft launch about over, I am writing tweets for the first week and scheduling them via Hootsuite
- Been using mewe.com as an alternative to Facebook but getting no traction. It’s too new with minimal groups, but I do think it’ll catch on. Will setup Facebook in the near future.
- Started learning how to market with Pinterest, not as hard as it seems. Pinterest even allows you to use affiliate links now – Make sure you state (affiliate) in the Pin description!
- End of October – the search term “digital marketing iq” now shows up on page 7 of Google SERP – slowly making progress! I’ll try a few other keywords later, but it shows the site is at least ranking in SERP where a week ago that term wouldn’t find my site.
- I also noticed I’m starting to get more spambot comments in WordPress waiting to me moderated, so that’s a sign that my site IS out there and able to be found. At this early stage of the game that’s encouraging, but not at all what I’m hoping for, obviously. So I continue working on more content and preloaded tweets in Hootsuite.
- Near the end of October, got a few clicks on my Amazon Associates account, evidence that people are starting to find my site. No income yet, but at this point, that’s the norm.
- Some improvement in ranking based on LongTail Pro‘s Rank Tracker. Also read a few blog posts that confirm this takes time, be patient!
- Created my Facebook Business Page, and Facebook is giving me fits. Everytime I log in and use it for 5 minutes or so, it kicks me out and makes me send a new photo to prove I’m human. Rocky start, but I’ll stay with it for awhile. I also had my Business Page locked out for unknown reasons. I had to appeal it and ithin a week it was unlocked. There is literally no way to get help from when these things happen. Very frustrated.
- … However, that seemed to sort itself out as I connected to Friends and added a different profile photo
- Joined several Facebook Groups devoted to blogging and online business
- Worked a lot on Quora, answering peoples’ questions, great response there
- Started my YouTube channel and added my fist video
- Planning for 2019 underway
Interesting takeaway for you new bloggers:
THINGS SEEM S L O W – When you’re about a week into your launch, you can get disheartened because search engines haven’t ranked you highly yet. Even with tweets and other social media efforts you may see a trickle of visitors, but most likely no one has clicked through to your affiliate links or maybe even subscribed to your email list. THIS IS NORMAL, don’t give up.
By way of example, when I run the SEO Analyzer from NeilPatel.com, it tells me there are 7 million blogs more popular than mine!
A New blog is buried DEEP in the internet. This is disheartening, but normal.A new blog is buried DEEP in the internet, do not be dis-heartened when you launch yours. You will gain traction over time. Click To Tweet
Good news – only 2 days after I ran the SEO Analyzer in the graphic above, it was up to (hold your laughter)… 7,902,266 – which means in 2 days I gained 3,073 spots. After about 4 months the number was approximately up to the 950,000th most popular in the world!
Afterthoughts based on progress to date
One thing I noticed, even though I built another good WordPress site a few years ago and did a lot of work on it, is that starting an online business from home brings with it a whole new set of things to consider. I noticed things that had to be done differently due to a new theme. There’s been a little learning curve not only for building the site but considering all the business aspects that go along with it. Lots of fun to do, but definitely takes time to get right.
I was surprised how fast the LLC was approved (online application, approved overnight). I was expecting at least 2-3 business days.
Finding a business mail address was a little time-consuming, as was finalizing a registered agent due to varying prices for similar services.
The Operating Agreement seemed daunting but was easy to do after finding a template on the web. Also, the bank did ask for it when I opened my account.
The bank process took about 2.5 hours.
Choosing a host was a matter of reading reviews and guidance from several sites’ resources pages. The host I used for my earlier WordPress site was still highly rated, yet I found another one that seemed a little more applicable to my business goals.
It does take some time to get hosting and set up WordPress, but I had done this before on my previous site. I just had to remember the process and it was pretty much guided by the hosting company. The hardest part was deciding on a theme (cost and learning curve considered)! I chose a free one and will consider updating later.