Learning how to start an online business has seriously appealing potential – flexibility, lower overhead costs, and room for growth. These are some of the reasons we love running one.
And if you’ve found this article, you probably already know why starting an online business is so appealing. What you need now is a clear outline for starting one, and that’s exactly what you’re going to get.
You’re going to learn how to start an online business that focuses on your customers from day one, plus other super important details like how to validate your idea, making it legal, how to reach your first customers, and more.
Here’s how to start an online business in 6 steps
Step 1: Identify a problem
You might have an amazing idea for a product or service but if there isn’t a real need for it, it’s going to be significantly harder to sell your idea. Identifying a problem first and then developing a business that solves that problem ensures that there is a market for your online business.
You’re essentially finding a pain point and then building a business that relieves that pain. It gives you a customer-first approach to running your business.
So how do you find a problem?
First, think about the niche you want to work in. This could be based on your hobbies, passions, professional experience, academic background, etc. Then, start looking at online groups in that niche and see what questions people commonly ask and what issues they want to solve.
There are tons of different groups on Facebook, so this is a good place to start looking, and they all have different vibes and focuses. Meetup is another suggestion, and you’ll find groups based in your area.
As you start interacting with people, you’ll start to see what kinds of products and services are used (the competition). Check out those websites and research what their products and services look like. Are there holes you could fill? How could you make that product even better?
Once you’ve identified the problem, you can move to the development phase of starting an online business and work on a product or service that will ease that tension.
For example: If you love to knit, you probably realize other people would like to learn how to knit too. So you can focus on developing a business that includes knitting tutorials, patterns, and online support.
Step 2: Validate your idea
What’s cool about this market-first approach to learning how to start an online business is that the idea almost begins to validate itself. But you should also spend some more time validating your business idea as it gets closer to launch time. This will show you if your idea is actually viable and if people will find value in it.
The best way to do this is to reach out to some people in the market you’re supporting, and see if they are willing to test your product before it’s fully launched – like a beta test.
Those testers will help you identify weaknesses, strengths, things you missed, and more. Those insights will not only help you create a better product but also have the potential to turn into testimonials. Testimonials are incredibly valuable for online business owners, especially new ones.
Testimonials = social proof. This tells potential customers that your business is legit, you know what you’re doing, and that your product is worth the money.
Step 3: Set up your business
Every business needs a name, website, and brand. This stuff is important, but don’t let these decisions hold you back from pushing forward with your online business. Here are some tips to help.
Your brand is your image
In the beginning, your brand can be something simple and broad – like the feeling or idea you want your business to evoke. Is that strength, likeability, warmth, intelligence, compassion, power, or something else?
You can develop your brand more as your business starts to grow, but right now you’re looking for the vibe or energy you’ll use to create your name and website. Don’t spend too much time here because you still have more work to do.
Coming up with a name
Mash-ups, like taking two words and putting them together, like Netflix = internet + flicks, can be fun. Many business owners use their own name or just their last name. You could use a nickname, abbreviations, acronyms, or pull out the thesaurus and find a synonym for your product.
Avoid names that are racially or culturally insensitive, meaning that you shouldn’t harm or take from a community you don’t belong too. A few minutes on Google will tell you if there are any connotations you should be aware of.
Build a website
Having a website is a big part of learning how to start an online business, but it doesn’t have to be complex in the beginning. It can start out as a place for people to learn who you are, what you do, and how to contact you – basically a landing page for people interested in your business.
If you’re starting a blog as an online business, we highly recommend going with a WordPress site that’s hosted through Bluehost. You own your content, are in control of how you monetize, and it’s an easy-to-use platform. We have a full step-by-step guide here if you’re interested.
Depending on your business, blogs can be good for even non-blogging online business owners. You can easily add a blogging feature to what is primarily a business website, and leave the door open for flexibility to blog in the future if you want. Blogging can even turn into a second income stream, with passive income possibilities.
Here are some suggestions for creating a professional-looking website:
- Keep the navigation simple so your site is user-friendly
- Don’t use too many colors or images – this can distract from your message
- A single color background (white always does well) with one or two fonts makes everything easy to read
- When you do add images or videos, it should only be to enhance your message
- Include an email opt-in form so people can sign up for your email list
And this might shock you (because we’re talking about online businesses), but you don’t need to spend a ton of time and money designing a super flashy website. Most service-based businesses can get away with a clean site that focuses on what you’re doing.
But if your service is something like graphic or web design, your page should show off your skills.
Step 4: Make it legal
Here’s the fun stuff. Yep, this includes taxes. Yay…
The legal and tax obligations that come with learning how to start an online business are similar to the ones a brick-and-mortar business will deal with. LegalZoom is our favorite resource for all things business related. In addition this article from the Small Business Association explains the basics, and it’s definitely worth a read.
You’ll want to research if registering as a corporation or LLC is better – LLCs are generally less strict, but there are important requirements you’ll need to follow. States have their own guidelines, so research the options based on the state where you will primarily operate your business.
As far as taxes, research:
- Getting a tax ID number
- Paying estimated quarterly taxes
- How to keep track of your finances
- State and online sales tax obligations
Accountants can address all of these issues for you if you get stuck.
Step 5: Find your first customers
An interesting thing about brick-and-mortar businesses is that many of them are now using the same marketing strategies online businesses use. This is because you can use inexpensive and targeted strategies online.
Running Facebook ads for your online business is one of the fastest and most efficient ways to bring in customers. You can generate leads by starting with as little as $1-$2/day running ads.
Facebook ads are so effective because you can run ads that target users based on demographic information and interests. It’s a way to put ads in front of the right people. And remember, the market-first approach you took in step #1 means you already have a good idea of who these people are.
Most business owner’s goal is for someone to Google certain keywords and have their online business show up on page one. While this doesn’t happen overnight (or by accident), you should start thinking about this as a long-term traffic strategy.
You can start optimizing your website for search by:
- Implementing targeted keywords into your website and blog content
- Making sure your website is mobile-friendly
- Learning as much as you can about SEO (search engine optimization)
Your inner circle, and your inner circle’s circle
We’re talking about networking here. Reach out to your friends, old colleagues, college buddies, family, and anyone else in your larger social circle. Shoot them an email with your info and ask them to pass it along. Most people are more than happy to help out where they can.
Getting involved with online groups, other business owners, and forums can help you reach others outside of your inner circle
There’s the potential to find people who are already interested in your online business, but you can also gain some referrals. Those help with the next strategy.
Start cold pitching
Cold pitching is emailing targeted strangers with a business proposal. You’re making a quick introduction and trying to convince them to work with you. This is a super direct way of reaching out to people, and it tends to work best for service-based businesses.
Hunter.io is an online platform that finds business email addresses from any URL entered, so you don’t have to waste hours searching. It even has a template for customizing your cold email outreach, and a tool for tracking leads.
The key to an effective cold pitch is to make your email personal, concise, and not spammy. A good email subject line will help your open rate, but after that, here’s an idea of what your email should sound like:
Hey [first name],
My name is [your name], and I’m reaching out because I can help you with [what’s the need your business fills]. One of the biggest benefits of my business is [enter the benefit of working with you].
I’d love to talk more about how I can help you. Are you available for a quick call?
Make sure to provide your website and any social media handles for your business. You can add an extra line that personalizes the email – may be something that stands out to you about the business you’re emailing.
And if you’ve gotten this contact as a referral, bring that up. You can add something like, “[Name of person] recommended that I get in touch with you.” That small connection can make a big impact on your success rate.
Send a follow-up email in a couple of days, and don’t get discouraged if you get a “thanks but no thanks.” You’ve made your presence known, and it’s possible you’ll hear back from them in the future.
Step 6: Maintain your business
At this point, you’ve learned how to start an online business and get it running. You’ve got customers, you’re making them happy, and things are good. This last step is about progressing forward and maybe even scaling your business.
As online business owners, we have some real-world advice to keep you going and growing:
- Find tools that make your business easier to run. From work-flow management software like Asana to an email service provider like ConvertKit, research tools that will make your business easier to run.
- Don’t wait to outsource. Outsourcing allows you to focus on higher-value tasks and makes you more efficient, but it doesn’t always make sense financially in the beginning. When the time is right, start by outsourcing basic business tasks to a virtual assistant or letting an accountant handle your taxes.
- Listen to your customers. If your customers are having a problem with your product or service, talk to them about it, and make it better. Pay attention to other needs they have and see if you can fill those too.
- Set goals. Coming up with some clear goals, like reaching a sales milestone, will help you create a path that grows your business.
- Take time off. The joy of running an online business is that you can do it anytime and anywhere, but that’s also a burden. Setting working hours for yourself can help, but at the very least, be willing to shut your laptop down for a few hours each day. Your brain needs a break, and you risk burn out if you push too hard without stopping.
Our #1 online business suggestion
You just learned how to start an online business, but now it’s time to talk about the one you need to start – running Facebook ads for local businesses.
This business idea really hits at some of the stuff we talked about in the first step – finding a need and filling it. See, Facebook is a massive, massive online platform. But you already knew that.
With over 2.6 billion users worldwide, Facebook has become one of the best places for business owners to advertise (which was mentioned in step #5). Big businesses have been successfully doing it for years, and they have marketing teams dedicated to developing ads and targeting the right people.
Small business owners lack that support, and most don’t have the time or energy it takes to learn an entirely new skill. This is the need!
And because many of these business owners realize the untapped potential of Facebook ads, they’re willing to hire people to run ads for them. You can make $1,000-$2,000/month running Facebook ads for one business, and it only takes a few hours each week.
Learning how to start an online marketing business might sound out of your wheelhouse, but you’d be surprised by how easy it is when you have a solid, step-by-step plan: the Facebook Side Hustle Course.
This course gives you a clear blueprint that teaches three important things:
- How to set up and run a Facebook ad system.
- How to find clients who want to pay you for this service.
- How to get those clients to say “yes” and start working with you.
The Facebook Side Hustle Course breaks those steps down into 9 modules that walk you through every aspect you need to know about starting an online marketing business. It’s basically everything covered in this article but written specifically for running Facebook ads.
It probably won’t surprise you to learn that this course was created because we set out to solve a problem: People want to learn how to make extra money.
There are lots of reasons why – pay off debt, invest for the future, save up for big purchases, relieve financial stress, etc. – but many people could use an extra $1,000-$2,000 or more each month.
Maybe that’s even why you want to learn how to start an online business.
That problem was solved in our own experience making extra money…
Bobby learned how to run Facebook ads for his blog, and then leveraged those skills to run ads for small business owners in his area. This is how he supplemented his income while his blog was growing.
Mike used Facebook ads to promote his online fitness coaching business, and realized similar businesses could use his help setting up their own ad systems – this is where Mike’s digital marketing agency was born.
Mike was then able to pay off his six-figure student loan debt, and he eventually left his job as a lawyer to run his agency full time. He now earns $30k/month running ads.
Realizing the potential in this super flexible side hustle, the Facebook Side Hustle Course was created to help other people make extra money. They had real experience and knew the system worked.
Whether you decide that digital marketing is the online business for you or not, the steps you’ve learned for starting a business work. This system has worked for Laptop Empires – there is now a second course, a third in the works, plus this blog, and there’s also a paid online support community that brings in steady income.
The final word on how to start an online business
There is a lot of room in the online world for new businesses, and that’s one reason we love being a part of it.
There’s also the potential for growth and tons of flexibility. And it’s a low-cost way to start a business. That means you can turn your investment (both time and money) into profit in much less time.
Speaking of time… Let’s wrap things up, because you have a business to start!