How to start your online business and work from home: Team UE
A complete guide that will teach you all you need to know about successfully starting your online business from home and find the flexibility and freedom you desire
If you’ve dreamed of one day starting your own online business from home, then you’re not alone. In fact, there are 38 million home-based businesses in the United States. Many of these business owners cite reasons such as wanting to be their own boss, wanting to pursue their passion, and dealing with the loss of their job due to unexpected life events, such as the coronavirus, as the main driving forces which push them to get creative and look to online methods of earning their income.
But there’s a reason why many of us don’t go in the direction of our own online business dreams. Starting an online business from home isn’t an easy feat. You might be stuck wondering what you can offer potential customers, or where to begin in figuring out how to start an online business.
To help you get started, we’ve written an in-depth guide that will tell you everything you need to know about successfully starting an online business. We teach you how to find your perfect niche and develop a business idea, as well as the necessary steps to take when setting up your venture – whether you’re selling a product, service, or know-how. With this guide, you’ll be able to launch your online business and find the flexibility and freedom you desire.
1. Find a business idea
All great home-based, online businesses start with an idea. This can be one of the most daunting parts of starting an online business: where do you even begin?
The following strategies will have you overflowing with business ideas in no time.
What skills do you have?
The best place to start is by looking at your own skills, expertise, and knowledge. Generate ideas by asking yourself:
- What areas have I studied, whether at university, college, through an online course, at a workshop, etc.?
- What subjects have I taught to others before? For example, are you the go-to person in your current workplace when it comes to training new employees about certain systems, software, or skills?
- What topics have you researched the most, whether for work, education, or your own curiosity?
- What class did you perform the best in during school or college?
What do your friends and family say you’re good at?
Sometimes, we fail to see our own talents, so this is where our friends and family can help us out.
- What do your loved ones compliment you about the most?
- Growing up, were you often told you were particularly good at something?
Reach out to your friends and family and ask them where they think your talents and skill set lie.
Ask your former employees what they best remember you for
If you’re still in contact with any former coworkers or employees, get in touch with them to find out what they best remember about you.
Was it your patience when they needed your help? Or perhaps your excellent, easy-to-understand way of explaining more complex subjects? The answers to these questions may help you identify where you shine in a business context.
Create a “skills map”
This is like a topic map, but will be used to map out all the skills you know are good at. Putting your skills down on paper will allow you to see them all at a glance, helping you form connections between skills or choose the one that stands out the most to you.
Here’s how to create a skills map:
- Start by writing “skills” in the center of your map.
- Branch out from the center to write your main skills as words or phrases.
- Explore or break up each of these main skills further by drawing smaller “branches” off of each and writing more words or phrases relating to that idea.
You can complete your skills map using pens and paper, or use a free tool like Mindmaps App.
See what new insights you find by arranging your skills in this way. Finding a fresh take on a common skill or subject is a great way to develop a business idea.
2. Find what to sell online
Once you’ve brainstormed ideas for what type of business you can start, the next step is to work out what your business should sell online, which will be either products, services, or your know-how.
These are physical objects made available for consumer use. Unlike services or know-how, products are tangible. That is, they can be picked up, touched, and interacted with.
Examples of products being sold online include:
- Pet beds
You might make your own products or source them from a wholesaler or dropshipper—we’ll talk about sourcing products later in the guide.
Services can be defined as tasks performed in a professional and knowledgeable manner by an individual or team for the benefit of its customers.
Examples of services that can be sold online are:
- Teaching a language online
- Virtual assistance
- Online architectural services
- Fitness and nutrition consultation
- Online relationship coaching
If you’re knowledgeable about a particular topic that is of interest to your target audience, you can sell your knowledge in one of these forms:
- White paper
- Online course or workshop
When selling your know-how online, you’ll want to focus on four important factors to ensure its success:
- Provide your target audience with an answer to their biggest problems. What are they trying to achieve or overcome? Based on your knowledge, what are the necessary steps to do so?
- Offer your know-how at various price points to make it accessible for a wide range of your target audience. For example, you might have an eBook priced at $14.95, a 7-day email course priced at $49, and an in-depth video course with printable workbooks priced at $799.
- Set up necessary online channels to market what you’re selling, including a website, blog, email newsletter, and social media accounts.
- Make it easy for the buyer to purchase with a simple checkout process and the option to accept payment using PayPal, credit card, or weekly/monthly payment installments.
Whatever you are going to sell, it must have the following:
- Great market viability
A market that is “viable” is one that will continue being profitable for a long time, therefore helping your business to remain successful. Will there be a need for your product or service in many years to come?
- Competitive advantage
What does your product or service have that will allow you to outperform your competitors? What will you do better than them and how?
- Active target audience
Are there people currently searching for what your product or service offers? Does your product or service target a niche, yet large enough audience to generate plenty of sales?
- Fits within legal requirements
Do you have the licenses, permits, or certification required to run your business and sell your product or service? This brings us to our next section…
3. Be legally compliant
Before you start your online business from home, you’ll need to make sure you’re legally compliant to avoid any fines or legal issues.
The information below applies to US-based businesses only, so it’s vital that you check your own country’s legal requirements for starting a business, as laws vary.
Additionally, the licenses, permits, or certificates you require to stay legally compliant vary based on your industry and state/country, so always check with local authorities first to ensure you know exactly what is required of you legally before you start your business.
US-based businesses are required to apply for a business license, as this provides the government with a way of tracking enterprises operating within the area, as well as tax revenue generated.
To obtain a business license, you’ll need:
- A detailed description of your business’s activities
- A legal structure. Will you be operating as a sole proprietorship, limited liability company, or corporation?
- Any required inspections or permits, based on your region’s rules and regulations
- A sales tax license, if required, from your state agency
You’ll also need to maintain relevant licenses, permits, or certificates and prevent them from expiring.
4. Conduct online market research
When you conduct online market research, you are simply gathering information about the market you will be entering into, as well as your competitors and customers.
This is an essential step in starting your online business, as it helps you to determine if there’s a healthy demand for what you plan to sell.
When we talk about demand, it refers to:
- The need for your product/service/know-how
- Who wants to purchase what you’re selling
- How much customers are willing to spend
To understand these things, you’ll want to understand where your customers spend time online. Do they use forums? Spend time on Facebook? Or do they prefer to read blog articles? Knowing this will help you get the best information to understand your customers.
To begin conducting your online market research, you’ll want to use the following tactics and tools.
Find a market research specialist
SERPs (Search engine results pages)
SERPs refers to Search Engine Results Pages, which are the pages displayed by search engines like Google when you type in a search term.
You can analyze the top ranking websites to see what type of websites are in the first page of results. Are they:
- Informational blogs?
- E-commerce sites?
- Educational websites?
This helps you understand if your chosen keywords have the correct intent for what your business will offer.
Analyzing the SERPs requires practice and knowledge, as well as a certain understanding of SEO to understand the SERP’s main intent. You can hire the help of a freelancer if you need more specialized knowledge for this task.
Researching your competitors (those who offer a similar product or service to you) helps you to collect important information regarding their website and online business in general. By using a free tool such as SimilarWeb, you can easily see how much traffic the competitor website brings, what type of keywords they are ranking for, and more.
Here are some of the things you should understand about your competitors when doing this research:
- How they carry out business
This competitor research then allows you to spot any potential gaps in the market that your business can fill.
If you use a tool like SimilarWeb, you’ll also be able to get information such as:
- Where the competitor’s main traffic is coming from (organic, paid, or social)
- Who other niche related competitors are
- The types of other niches people are interested in
If you don’t have the knowledge or time to do this, you can look on Fiverr to hire a competitor analyst to help.
Performing keyword research helps you understand the search volume and competition behind certain keywords.
There are three tools you’ll want to use when doing keyword research:
Since keyword research can be a time-consuming process and require special knowledge, you can always hire a keyword research specialist on Fiverr to do the job for you.
5. Find a profitable niche
A niche is a very focused business area of a broader market. A business that only sells clothing for newborn babies, for example, is a specialized niche within the broader fashion market.
Important benefits of having a niche business include:
- Less competition in a smaller, more specialized market, giving you a better opportunity to stand out
- The ability to offer niche market expertise, as well as a specialized skillset and knowledge base
- The potential to price your products or services higher as you have less competition, yet healthy demand
- Greater customer loyalty, retention, and satisfaction, as you’re meeting a very specific need in a smaller market
- Differentiation from competitors serving a more general market
You also need your niche to be profitable to guarantee the success of your home-based, online business.
To find your profitable niche:
- Focus on an area you are knowledgeable and passionate about (think back to your “skills map”)
- Identify subtopics within this area and research each one
- Analyze the target audiences within these areas and think about their needs and wants to identify potential gaps in the marketplace
- Research if this sector is evergreen, or has consistent interest over time. To determine this, perform a Google search for the fastest growing industries by revenue growth in your country or use Google Trends.
6. Define your target audience
Your target audience is a group of individuals sharing similar characteristics or needs that your online business is aiming to serve. Therefore, they are most likely to purchase your products or services.
The easiest way to define your target audience is to segment them based on demographics. Going back to SimilarWeb, you can have a general overview of your competitor’s target audience and start to gather information such as:
- How old are they?
- What generation are they part of?
- Are they predominantly male or female?
- How much money do they make per year?
- Within what income class do they belong?
- How do they consume content?
7. Source products to sell online
Your products are the foundation of your online business, so you’ll want to put a lot of thought into the way you source them. There are three main ways to source products:
- to make them yourself
- to work with a manufacturer or wholesaler
- to work with a dropshipper
If you’re making DIY products, such as handcrafted necklaces, wall art, or knitted scarves, your first task will be sourcing the materials required to make your products. Identify what materials are needed to create your desired product, then research their costs online or by visiting a store.
Popular places for sourcing materials for DIY products include:
- Local flea markets
- Craft stores
- Estate sales
- An established retailer
- Friends and family
Work with a manufacturer or wholesaler
Working with a manufacturer or wholesaler allows you to hire a partner to develop the product on your behalf. This option may be useful if you:
- Can’t make the product yourself, due to a lack of skills, tools, or equipment necessary
- Are ready to scale your DIY product by hiring a team or other company to make it for you
- Are experiencing higher than planned sales and need additional products to be produced quickly
Working with a manufacturer or wholesaler offers benefits for your online business, including:
- The option to pursue a unique or complex product idea without having to make it yourself
- The ability to source products which have already proven to be popular
- Still having full control over your brand and the quality of your product
- Assistance with production from those with manufacturing experience
Sourcing your product from a manufacturer or wholesaler may require you to invest more heavily upfront than if you were to produce the product yourself, however.
So, where do you find the products, or ideas for products, that you want to make and sell?
- Partner with a friend or family member who makes a product you’d like to sell
- Source a product using wholesale websites such as Alibaba, Etsy Wholesale, or DHgate
- Partner with an existing business to take their products online or from B2B to B2C
- Build relationships with makers on social media
Find a dropshipper
Dropshipping is a partnership with a vendor that lets you list their products on your online store. You then make a commission for every sale you make, while the dropshipper is completely responsible for stocking and shipping products.
Not only is it an effective option for starting a new online business, but it also works in the vendor’s favor too, as you are helping them expand the product catalog of their existing store.
There are some downsides to dropshipping, however, including:
- Many of the products offered by dropshippers are readily available all over the internet, causing increased competition
- Dropshipping can give you a lower profit margin, so you’ll need to sell a large number of products before making a good profit
8. Questions for a wholesaler
The following important questions will help you determine if a wholesale company is right for your online business:
Production and shipping
- Where are the products made?
- What location are the products shipped from?
- What will the total cost of production and shipping be? Are there any potential hidden fees?
- How long will it take for them to create, fulfill, and ship the product?
Minimum order quantities
- Will you have to commit to a certain number of units or spend a minimum amount?
Terms and conditions
- What does the contract entail?
- Is there any wiggle room for things your business or customers need?
- Is there an evaluation period or terms for termination?
- What are the payment terms?
- What are your return or refund policies?
- Do you have liability insurance?
- Does the product have or require certifications?
- What support and communication are offered?
- How frequently will you be updated on information like inventory, product changes, or even discounts?
- How can orders be placed?
9. Evaluate product viability
We all know some products have greater potential to sell than others, but how can you determine if your own products will have that same success?
The best trending e-commerce products all have three important characteristics in common:
Unique, authentic and eye-catching
The product you’re selling should be one-of-a-kind so the demand for it is high. Ideally, customers shouldn’t be able to purchase your product anywhere else online.
Difficult to find
When a product is unique, it is also usually more difficult to find. This increases customer demand for your product, yet means you have little to no competition when it comes to selling it, setting you up for success.
The ideal product will be one that you can sell within a good profit margin, and this is where adopting a drop-shipping solution becomes challenging as you will have to increase your prices. Is it bad? That’s not ideal but if you don’t overdue you might actually increase the customer’s perceived value of the product
10. Factors to consider before you sell
How long do your products take to make?
If you are making DIY products, will you make your items to order or keep inventory on hand so the product can be shipped immediately?
If you’re working with a dropshipper or wholesaler, you will need to understand their policies and ensure they always have enough products on hand to keep up with your demand. If they need to order or make products to fulfill your requests, how long will it take to restock?
How will you ship orders?
If your product is a digital one, then delivering orders to your customers can be set up on autopilot through your e-commerce platform, allowing them to gain access to the files once payment has been made.
Physical products, on the other hand, will require shipping to buyers, so you need to determine which method is easier and more affordable.
For DIY products, will you visit the post office and send the parcels yourself?
If you’re working with a wholesaler, will you ship products yourself or work with a shipping and fulfillment company?
If you’re using a dropshipper, they will handle all the shipping and fulfillment for you.
Where will you store your inventory?
When you first start your online business from home, it’s understandable you may want to start small with inventory and keep your running costs low. As your business grows, however, you will need an inventory storage method that scales with it.
If you’re making products yourself, you can store them in your home or garage. Depending on how many you make in advance, you could also get a storage locker for extra inventory.
If you’re using a wholesaler, you’ll need to decide between storing products yourself at home, in a storage unit, or even a warehouse. Your other option is to use a fulfillment service that will store and ship the products for you.
If you’re using a dropshipper, they will take care of storing all the inventory for you.
How will you communicate timelines?
From the very beginning, establish a clear plan for how to communicate with your suppliers and make sure you’ve both set expectations for what information is required from each of your ends to allow things to run smoothly.
If you’re making products yourself, how long will it take for you to receive raw materials from your suppliers?
If you’re working with a manufacturer, how far in advance do you need to place orders before you will receive your products to sell?
If you’re working with a wholesaler or dropshipper, what are the expected time periods for processing the order, dispatching the order, and shipping the order?
Furthermore, how will the supplier communicate this process to you so you are being kept in the loop throughout?
Depending on your wholesaler or drop-shipper, they may prefer communication via email, phone, or through an integrated system, such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software, where both parties can update statuses and communicate back and forth.
Additionally, your customers won’t like to be kept in the dark about their order. Therefore, it’s important you set up a system for communicating with your customers throughout the sale and shipping timeline. The best way to do this is via email or text message updates, including:
- A “thank you for your purchase” or confirmation of sale message, which also mentions when they can expect their order to arrive
- An order dispatch message, notifying the customer that their order has now been shipped and is on its way to them
- A confirmation message that the order was delivered successfully
11. Define your brand identity
Implement design and UI/UX
When defining your brand identity, it’s important that you focus on design features such as your:
- Color scheme
- Graphics / photography
Your online business should have a brand style guide, which is your rule book for how your brand is represented visually. It helps maintain consistency with the look and feel of your brand, especially when working with a graphic designer.
Along with graphic design, other important elements of your visual identity include UX (user experience) and UI (user interface) design.
A UX designer considers the user’s entire journey to solve a particular problem. For example, what steps do they need to take in order to make a purchase? They focus on the overall feel of a user’s experience when interacting with your brand.
A UI designer, on the other hand, considers all the visual and interactive elements of a product interface, including buttons, icons, spacing, and responsive design. It’s also their job to make sure the design is consistent, coherent, and aesthetically pleasing.
Choose the right e-commerce platform for your business
An e-commerce platform can be thought of as the central hub for your online business.
When determining which e-commerce platform is right for your business, you’ll want to make sure it offers the following:
- The ability to sell an unlimited amount of products, including both physical and digital products
- Basic built-in e-commerce features including promotions and discounts, analytics, and catalog management.
- An e-commerce website builder that is cost-efficient, easy-to-use, and mobile-responsive
- Security features, such as secure payment processors
- SEO-friendly features, such as the ability to have a custom domain name, meta tags, meta descriptions, SEO optimized URL structures, and more
- Abandoned cart recovery tools
- An extensive app store with pre-built integrations and add-ons
While there are lots of e-commerce options available, we recommend WooCommerce as a strong solution for many online businesses.
Develop content guidelines
Your content is how you communicate with your customers, engage with your target audience, and portray your business professionally.
Therefore, it’s important you determine the following content-related elements for your brand:
This set of rules should outline what to do and what not to do when writing content associated with your online business. It should also focus on:
- Grammar rules
- How to format text
- What words should and shouldn’t be used in association with your brand
Copy guidelines are especially helpful when multiple writers oversee your business’ content, or even just to help you stay on track.
Tone of voice
This isn’t about what you say, but rather how you say it.
Think of your online business as having a certain personality, then determine how this can be communicated through your words and what sort of impression you want to have on your audience.
For example, will your tone of voice be formal and professional, young and trendy, or friendly and conversational?
This is a summary of the aims and values of your company. When writing your mission statement, you should think about:
- Why your online business exists
- What your overall goals are
- The products or services you provide
- Your target audience
- The geographical location in which you operate
12. Define marketing strategies to fuel business growth
Define your acquisition funnel
Next, you must understand how your target customer will move through the stages of the buyer’s cycle (sometimes called an acquisition funnel) until they make their first purchase. These are the four stages you will see.
Awareness is the first time potential customers interact with your products or services. It typically happens after they begin online research for a problem they are trying to solve.
- Lead generation
Next, potential customers want to have confirmation that you are an expert in your industry. They may think you are the right solution for their problem, and are looking for information to support that. At this point, they may have expressed interest in your company by providing an email address or following you on social media, but they haven’t made a purchase.
Once the potential customer has expressed interest, you must demonstrate that you are in fact an authority in your field and an expert in your niche. You can do this through blog posts and articles, case studies, or even offering a free trial of your services to convince them you are the right solution.
This is the final stage of the funnel where a prospect has made the decision to buy and turns into a customer.
Inbound marketing mediums/channels
An inbound marketing strategy can include several different channels and types of content to attract prospects and customers to your website.
The aim is then to continue to engage and delight them, even after they become customers. This allows you to grow a business that provides value and builds trust amongst your audience.
Inbound marketing strategies to consider include:
- Video content
- Paid advertising
- Content creation and marketing
- Social media marketing
- Email marketing
13. Launch your online store
Once your online store is open for business, there are some important steps you’ll need to take to ensure its continued success. You see, the actions you take after a sale, as well as how you measure and drive growth, are vital steps that can either make or break your online venture.
Next steps after the sale
- Process the order
- Ship the order, if handling in-house
- Manage and process returns, if required
- Contact customers to thank them for their order and provide a delivery timeframe
- Reach out to customers once their order has arrived to ensure they’re satisfied
- Encourage customers to provide a review or testimonial about your business or product
Build customer loyalty:
- Invite your customers to keep in touch through social media channels
- Invite customers to join a loyalty club where members are offered special discounts
- Offer rewards for new customer referrals
- Send personalized cards for special occasions such as birthdays, offering gift promotions
Generate repeat sales:
- Send updates via email and social media to advertise sales, offers, and promotions
- Offer product demonstrations that may be of interest to your customer
- Highlight related products that provide customers with additional benefits
There are three main areas, as well as several KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), to consider when measuring your online business’ success:
This includes the data from your online business’ website where customers can buy your products or services. Important KPIs to monitor include:
- Number of sales
- Conversion rate
- Average Order Value (AOV)
- Shopping Cart Abandonment Rate
- Product affinity (which products are often purchased together)
Online acquisition and marketing success
You’ll also need to analyze your website in terms of acquisition and audience behavior. Think about the following questions:
- How much traffic do you drive organically? How much comes through direct traffic, social media, or referrals from other sites?
- How long do visitors stay on your site?
- What percentage of visitors make a purchase or take another action, like signing up for email lists?
Additionally, you’ll want to focus on the profitability, growth, and overall progress of your business. Measure the following KPIs to ensure you’re achieving your desired goals:
- Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC)
- Cost of Goods Sold (How much you’re spending to sell a product)
- Gross profit
- Customer Lifetime Value (LTV)
- Average Margin
Focus on growth
You’ll want to stay engaged with your target audience and generate more buzz for your brand to drive growth and acquire new customers. This can be achieved through:
- Online marketing strategies, such as running competitions through social media, influencer outreach, hosting or appearing on a podcast, blogging, SEO efforts such as keyword research and targeting, and producing informative video content that addresses your target audience’s wants and needs
- Omnichannel strategies, including selling your products or services on other online channels, such as Amazon, Etsy, and eBay
- Email marketing, where you focus on growing your email subscriber list through offering opt-in freebies such as eBooks, event invitations, printable art, discount codes, and more in exchange for the user’s email address. You should continue to nurture your sales funnel through sending targeted emails offering value and in-depth content to turn leads into sales
Additionally, you should continuously monitor your KPIs to ensure your business is reaching its goals and achieving growth each quarter.
Regularly assess this information and ask yourself:
- What did we do well this quarter?
- What do we need to do better?
- How much growth or decline are we experiencing?
- What are our new goals or benchmarks for the next quarter?
14. Business trends to watch in 2020
Top trending niches
- Eco-friendly alternatives to everyday products, such as reusable food wraps or bamboo straws
- Preplanned meal delivery, where meal ingredients are delivered to a customer’s door, complete with recipes
- HIIT exercise equipment to assist with high-intensity exercise
- Handmade jewelry for a bespoke, minimalist style
- Organic pet products, such as organic food, shampoo, or pet beds made from organic materials
Most Popular eCommerce platforms
- Squarespace Online Stores
Start your online business
Starting your own online business from home might not be a quick process, but it’s certainly one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do. Rather than navigating the world of online business on your own, we’ve developed this in-depth guide to provide you with a simple, step-by-step roadmap to launching a successful online venture – whether you sell products, services, or know-how.
There is nothing as satisfying as working for yourself and focusing on your own passions, and all it takes is finding the right online business idea, niche, and target audience to jump-start your entrepreneurial dream.
Through following the process we outlined for finding or developing your products or services to sell, choosing the right e-commerce platform, defining your brand identity, and employing marketing strategies to fuel business growth, you’ll be on the road to online business success in no time.