Starting a Free Online Business

1
Brainstorm Your Free Internet Business Idea

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Let the ideas flow in your home business!. David Jakle | Getty Images

Before you start any business, you need to decide what products or services you will provide. Starting a free online business is no different. Start by thinking about your interests, passions, and skills. Do you have a hobby you can turn into a business? Do you have knowledge or skills other may want or need? 

It's important to choose an idea that you can stick with as opposed to searching for the cheapest or most profitable option. Building a business you're passionate about increases the chances that it will succeed and that you'll enjoy it.

The most affordable online business ideas will incorporate skills or assets you already have. If you already know how to bookkeep and have bookkeeping software, that's less you need to invest time and money in learning and buying. 

As you make your list, don't filter out any ideas initially. You never know what obscure or odd idea could become a successful business. Later you'll do research to identify the most viable and affordable ideas. But at the brainstorming point, write them all down. 

Related topic: What Home Business Should I Start

2
Determine the Demand for Your Idea

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Search Engine Marketing is an effective marketing strategy. Alex Slobodkin | Getty Images

While interest and passion are important, you also need to choose an idea that has a market. If no one is interested in what you have to offer, it doesn't matter how good you are at it, you won't have a business. 

Keyword Research

Since you're business is online, one place to start your research is by looking into keywords related to your idea. While you won't want to rely solely on search engines to bring you business, you do want to check to make sure enough people are searching for your idea. 

Start by making a list of words and phrases people would use to find your business topic. If you're selling virtual support services, what keywords would people use to find that? Once you have your list, you want to use a keyword tool to tell you how often those terms are searched. There are many tools, some free and some paid you can use. SEO Book offers a free keyword tool. Enter your term, and the tool will tell you how many times its searched on the major search engines each month.It will also provide related keywords.

Once you have a list of good keywords, enter them into a search engine to see what results are returned. Are the top sites listed online stores, blogs, or service providers? It doesn't hurt to visit the sites, so you can see what they're offering and whether or not you can offer something different or better. 

Your goal in keyword search as part of choosing your online business idea is to find the keywords that best combine the highest volume (popularity) with the fewest results returned in a search (competitiveness). 

Market Research

Just because a term has a lot of searches, doesn't mean it's a viable business idea. Along with popularity, it has to have a market that is willing pay. The a keyword term like "free bookkeeping help,"  suggests people don't want to pay for services, and therefore wouldn't be a good indicator of whether or not you should start a bookkeeping service. 

So along with keyword research, you want to do a feasibility study to determine if there are enough people who are ready, willing, and able to pay for what you're offering. This research not only will tell you if you have a potentially profitable idea, but it will also help you identify your target market; the people most likely to buy.

Related topic: Using Google Trends for Keyword Research

3
Setting Up a Free Web Presence

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A number of free resources where you can set up a free online store or website. Before deciding what to use, there are a few things you need to consider.

  1. What are you selling? If you're offering tangible products, you need resources that are different from selling digital goods, or marketing other people's stuff through affiliate programs. If you're selling a service or freelancing, you may need fewer bells and whistles on your site.
  2. What offers the best value and service. While you want to get started for free, the adage "you get what you pay for," can be true. So along with the lowest cost, you want to make sure you're getting quality. Free isn't any good if your website is down and visitors can't buy. 

Free Online Options

Storefronts:

For free storefronts, consider using EBay, Etsy, or Amazon. Each offers a free option, and better still, they all have their own sources of traffic, to make it easier for you to find your customer. As your business grows, you can invest in their paid options that give you more perks and customization. For example, Fulfillment by Amazon will not only handle the sale of your products, but ship them as well.

Freelance or Service Business Sites, or Blogs

If you want to start a freelance, service business or a blog (making money with ads and affiliate marketing), you can use content management platforms such as WordPress (hosted) or Blogger. With that said, if you're wanting to make money blogging, the better free option is Blogger, as the free version of WordPress has some limitations that make it difficult to add monetization to its blogs. 

Another option for freelance or service-based business sites are the free website services. Weebly and Wix both offer free web hosting, as well as premium paid plans.

Related Topic: 10 Free or Affordable Small Business Website Design Tools

4
Build Your Website

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Once you know what platform you'll use to start your free online business, you need to sign up and start building. 

Building a Free Storefront

For sites such as Ebay, Etsy, and Amazon, you'll want to create a profile name that fits your business. Your next step is to add your products. For best results, use quality photo graphs and write accurate and enticing descriptions

Building a Freelance or Service Business Site

If you're building a freelance or service website, you'll want to include a professional photo of yourself, an interesting bio on your About Me page, and provide a portfolio and/or testimonials about your work. 

Building a Blog

If you're goal is to make money with a blog, you'll want to build the basics of the blog, including your About Me page, contact information, and FTC required disclosures. The next step is creating content for people to read. To appeal to a variety of readers, create different types of posts including text, video and curated content. The possibilities for blog content are endless, but you want to make sure you keep your blog content focused, clean and to the point. The more blog content you create that others might want to link to (serve as linkbait) the better.

Include links between your blog content using the keywords that apply to the post that's the target of the link.

For websites you build on your own (not Ebay etc), you should also start an email list. All the most successful online entrepreneurs have an email list, which allows them to stay in touch and make offers to subscribers.

Related topic: How to Create a Small Business Website that Works

5
Monetize Your Website

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The next step in starting a free online business is to create one or more revenue streams.

Monetizing Storefronts

If you have a storefront through Ebay, Etsy or Amazon, the only way to add more revenue streams is by adding more products or offering them in other places (i.e. eBay and Amazon). You can eventually build your own ecommerce site, which gives you more control and ability to better brand your business

Monetizing Freelance or Service Business Site

If you're a freelancer or offer a service, there are a variety of other options for adding income streams beyond the service you provide. These include:

  • DIY information resources: This allows people who don't want to pay for your service, to get information on how to do it themselves. For example, maybe someone doesn't want to hire you to do their bookkeeping, but would be willing to buy your information product or self-published book on how to bookkeep.
  • Teach. A great way to gain more clients and get paid is by offering seminars and courses online or off. 
  • Affiliate marketing. If your service involved products or serives you like and can recommend, see if they offer an affiliate program. For example, if you're a bookkeeper using a specific software, contact the software company to see if they offer a reseller or affiliate program whereby you'd get paid for referring new customers.

Monetizing a Blog

If you've started an information site or blog, there are many resources for making money. A quick, easy option is through Google AdSense. AdSense is Google's online advertising program in which AdWord advertisers agree to have their ads placed on websites and blogs that contain content that's relevant to the advertiser's business. For example, if you had a blog on cars, those who were advertising items related to cars, such as accessories and car parts would want to advertise on your blog.

With Google AdSense, Google does all the work for you. You simply indicate the size, type (i.e. text, video), and color of the ad, and Google gives you a code to place on your site where you want the ad to appear. If you don't like one or more advertisers whose ads are being placed on your blog, you can block that advertiser from having ads displayed on your blog.

Media.net is another good ad feed network similar to AdSense.

Along with ad streams, other options for income include:

  • Affiliate programs
  • eBooks
  • Information products
  • Offering a product or service of your creatiion
  • Selling ad space on your blog and/or email newsletters

Related topic: Making Money with Google AdSense

6
Market Your Online Business

Just because you have a web presence, doesn't mean you'll get customers or clients. Even if you're using eBay or Amazon, you're competing with thousands of other similar products. To be successful, you have to market your online business.

There are a ton of free marketing strategies you can use, but before you do any of them, you need to first:

  1. Identify your target market. How is the most likely buyer of what you're offering?
  2. Determine the best place to find your market. Where do they hang out? Ideally, you should find locations that a match for what you offer. For example, if your ideal bookkeeping customer is a small business owner, target places small business owners hangout for small business information.
  3. Create marketing materials that attract your market. Remember, people buy solutions. Don't simply tell people you're a bookkeeper. Instead, tell them how you can save them time and money with your bookkeeping service. 

Some ideal options for building traffic to your online business include:

 

Related topic: How to Get the Most Bang from Your Marketing Buck