Starting An Online Business From Scratch

How To Go From Zero Ideas To A Successful And Profitable Site

While sitting in my car driving yesterday, I had the idea of documenting a new business idea I had, to show the steps I plan to take to (hopefully) have a successful business launch. Over the last 10 years, I have probably started between 40 to 60 different online business ideas. Some of these did well and some were complete flops. Both types of businesses taught me a lot of valuable lessons. Mostly what works and what does not.

My goal here is to show all of the steps I would take to start; starting with having absolutely no idea of what type of online business to launch, to finding a business I want to start, to setting it up and building it up, to promoting and marketing it. After that, I will do two article follow-ups, six months apart, to report back on the site’s success or failure.

With any business, there is a chance it won’t work out. There are tons of factors that can determine this and hopefully I can show you some tricks to minimize that risk and also show some shortcuts to getting this done quickly. I have very little spare time and want this bringing in income as soon as possible.

I will break this up into a few phases to keep it manageable and not overwhelming. Those phases will be:

  • Phase 1 – Get the idea and lay out the game plan
  • Phase 2 – Find ways to get content or get products
  • Phase 3 – Get a domain & hosting, set the site up, and
  • Phase 4 – Market, promote, and advertise the site to start making money
  • Follow up 1 (6 months later) – check on how things are going. Whats working and whats not. Do adjustments need to be made?
  • Follow up 2 (1 year after launch date) – What now? Keep the site? Ditch it? Sell it? Do it full-time?

Also I will be choosing one type of business but will try to explain similar steps for other type of businesses so it can apply to as many different ideas as possible. If at any time you need a clearer picture of what I’m talking about or general questions about the process, contact me by commenting below or on my contact me page.

Step 1 – Finding a great idea

A lot of times, this can be the hardest part. Coming up with an idea of something to sell or do online to make some extra cash. Luckily I have fond a great resource that has all of the facts and figures you could ever want, and that’s Flippa.com. If you are not already familiar with it, Flippa is like eBay for websites. People post sites they want to sell and people bid.

Whats great is that you can see whats selling and what’s not. You can also read through the description and read the provided documentation they provide to see how they are getting traffic and drawing revenue. In some cases, the site has no revenue and no traffic. Those sites are not what we want to look at though. We want to see facts and figures.

Flippa

Getting started on Flippa
Whats even better is you have a direct line to the seller to be able to ask them questions about their site. A seller may not always give you the answers you are looking for, but chances are, if they are eager to sell, they will tell you. So here is how I would start the process.

  1. Go to Flippa.com and register. You don’t have to register but to be able to ask the seller questions, you need to be logged in. That part is up to you.
  2. At the top left, click on Established Sites and choose Most Active

What that is going to do for us is find sites that are actually making money and/or getting traffic and also show sites that people are (for the most part) most interested in. Most Active means they have had a lot of recent bids. Neither option guarantees it’s a great site but it’s a good start.

Start scrolling through and see what catches your eye. See all of the stats that the site gives you for page views, domain age, domain authority, page rank and financial stats.

Now keep in mind a few things. Just link anything, you can get scammed here. Be sure to look for things like:

  • High volumes of traffic with a high bounce rate %. This could be an indication of spamming links or buying traffic. What?! You can buy traffic?? Guess what. Don’t. It’s not worth anything except trying to scam someone else into thinking you site is important.
  • Revenue may be good but take a look at the 3rd column – profit. What kinds of costs are involved in running a site like this? Is that cost for hosting? Advertising? People to run the site?

Site Revenue

Site Revenue
In this example, it looks like they made $925 in August but really only made $425 in profit. $500 was spent on something that they need to spend on a regular basis. Is that something you are willing to take on?

Scroll now close to the bottom of the page and you should see seller Attachments. These should be the analytics and proof of revenue. Download them and see where traffic coming from. Where revenue is coming from. Does it look legit?

Take a look at the comments and see what kinds of questions people are asking. Some people like to bust scammers here. Some people ask really good questions that could get you extra insight into what it takes to run a site like this.

Finally scroll all the way back to the top, just to see what the site is going for. A lot of times, the price will jump way up in the last few hours of the auction from bidders hoping to sneak in and get a good deal, so check back often to see what the value of the site seems to be going for. Their may also be a “Buy It Now” price. Typically these are over inflated but still gives you an idea of perceived value.

Step 2 – Make a decision

Now don’t freak out on me. I’m not suggesting we buy any of these sites. Just get an idea of what people are doing. Money making sites typically fall into one of two categories:

  • A blog or news site that makes money from ads or affiliates. These require articles on either a given topic (ex. MyTechBits.com) or general news articles (ex. Mashable.com). Choosing this route can be easier than selling something but you need good, fresh content. Are you willing to write? Or willing to pay someone or a team of people to write? This may require more time on a daily basis but can be more consistent revenue from ad clicks.
  • A product based site. Here you will be selling something like information, books, music, templates, flowers, etc. Traffic for these sites tend to be lower but you need less mass-traffic and more targeted traffic. One sale could make more than a weeks worth of ad clicks, but getting that one sale could be difficult.

Give this some thought. Both will require some time and money. Some will require more of one than the other. In either case, see what people are doing, find something that interests you and is selling, and get started!

For my online business, I have decided to create a site that sells custom-built WordPress themes. Here are the pros and cons:

Pro: WordPress is the biggest CMS platform on the web. Tons of sites are using WordPress
Con: This market is saturated with WordPress templates for free and for sale
Pro: I have found some great examples on Flippa that showed me a few tricks on how to sell that really encouraged me to give this a try
Pro: I know how to build WordPress sites and know a few people who can help
Struggle: I could do a less popular platform like Drupal or Magento themes. With a smaller niche could be less competition but also fewer people looking to buy.

It looks like the pros out weighed the cons so this is what I’m going with.
Regardless of your abilities to do anything on the web, fear not. I will show you how you can do any of these things without having the skills to design or code.
All you need is an idea, dedication to the idea, and some effort. Trust me. I will walk you through this process and if you get stuck, contact me personally.

Okay, so whats next? Well, once you have your idea, we need to set it into motion. An idea is just an idea until you do something with it, so we need to take that next step.

In the next article,  I’m going to show you how to buy a domain (should we do new or used?) and set up hosting (I have videos and other options if you are starting to sweat thinking about this kind of work). Then we will set the site up, all in just a few hours. Remember, I don’t have a lot of time to invest in the initial phases of this so I need to be quick and resourceful. It’s simple. Trust me.

Also depending on what type of site you decide to build – News/Blog or Product based, I will show you options for both so don’t feel you need to do what I do to be able to follow along.

So go look around and find an idea. Dream big! Don’t let the scope of the project hold you back. Think big no matter your comfort level. There are always other people who can make your dream work for you so don’t hold out on me. Come up with something exciting, otherwise you might jump ship after some time from boredom. Otherwise this will be a waste of time and money if you don’t make it to the end. If you do make it, chances are you will be thankful you did.

Phase 2

One listing that I really liked was one for a site called ThemeFasion . I’m going to use this for my inspiration and follow some of the things they did to get to the level they were operating at.

There are tons of WordPress theme development sites but this one stood out to me because of a few things:

  • They only had a few themes to choose from so it was encouraging to see success can come even when you don’t have a huge supply.
  • The site was earning a really nice regular income.
  • The site was relatively new – less than a year old.
  • They were using other outlets to sell their themes from.
  • Revenue to profit comparisons showed that this idea allows for a significant markup.
  • I also see that there were bidders for the site that went as high as $9,900 to buy this business, although the seller must have had a bigger number they were after.

With this in mind, I’m going to get started gathering ideas to start building themes from and think through my game plan. Now don’t lost me just because I’m going to be going down the path of building templates. I will giving ideas on how to get content for other types of sites too. Just scroll down to that part if you are not interested in this type of business.

Getting started building WordPress themes

My goal here is to get a few basic themes built so I can start selling quickly. I don’t have time to start the next TemplateMonster.com or ThemeForest.net. I want to start small and start making an income from my work.

To do this, Im going to start by doing some research on what is currently selling well on other sites, then design and program up a few templates. Once I have a few built, I can start selling while I build more. If my goal was to build 50 themes and then start selling, chances are I would burn out and nothing would ever get started. The goal is to just get something up for sale.

The two examples I listed above are great resources for WordPress themes. What I’m going to do is see what is selling well to get an idea of what I need to do. Design styles are always changing and themes offer new things so I want to make sure my themes are relevant.

Using ThemeForest.net as the example, I clicked on their WordPress link and chose “Popular”. From here I can see what the latest best sellers are. I take some screen shots of sites I like and get started designing. Again, I don’t want to turn this into a 6 month process. I want to get a few ideas and go.

I have built a few WordPress themes before so Im going to use their frameworks to build my themes. Once I have 3 different looks done, I am going to modify them, making them different enough to sell separately, but similar enough so that I don’t have to reinvent the wheel for each. This will save me a ton of time and let me build up a reasonably decent size store in the shortest amount of time.

Don’t think this is cheating. I have looked around at some other small WordPress theme sites and it seems to be a common practice. I don’t really think down on it because your average user will not be able to make major design changes to the theme. Simply changing things like fonts and styles can give it a whole new look while not being a simple fix for the average user.

Getting started with a news site

News sites are an interesting beast. While they do not require tangible or digital
content, they do require fresh content on a regular basis. This means all you need is the ability to write. No other skills are necessary.

With news sites, you typically rely on lots of traffic and clicks on ads or paid advertisers to increase your revenue as opposed to products. In news, it’s all about the numbers of traffic viewing and returning to your site.

There are two basic categories I would list a news site under. One is training or educational and the other is current, breaking news type news.

With educational news sites, you are writing about a subject that you want to teach people about, like programming. Articles on sites like this can be considered “evergreen” articles because they could be relevant for a long time.

With current news sites, you need to have access to the latest news on a topic. If you are just copying and rewriting other peoples news, you might get some traffic but chances are you will not be considered a leader and will not get as many followers. If your content is topical and you write about it in a reasonable about of time (within 18 hours of the event I believe) you can be considered for Google News. This can be the Holy Grail for news sites because if Google picks your site up, you could get an avalanche of traffic from it.

Even if you are not a good writer or need additional hands writing for your site, there are tons of great resources for hiring writers for your site. Sites like upwork.com and elance.com have some really affordable writers looking for this exact type of work.

I have hired writers from all of these sites and had great results. Some will do just article writing on topics you provide, while others go as far as finding trending topics to write on and do this on a daily basis. This is a great option if you can afford it, so you can focus on your writing while providing more content for your site then you could ever do alone. If your plan is Google News, having multiple writers is a prerequisite.

Getting started with a product based site

If you have items for sale, then a shopping cart site can be an easy platform to start a business from. You can have your own stand-alone site or build one on a site like Shopify.com or Etsy.com or go old-school with a site like Ebay.com or Amazon.com. Any of these sites make selling your products really easy, but the bigger bonus is you are a part of a bigger network. Etsy, for example, claims to have 30 million registered members selling items. This can be a huge benefit because if someone goes to the site and does a search for something, chances are you will be a part of the results, where as a stand-alone site might need some SEO work done to show up in a search engine search result, requiring more time and money.

Product based sites are possible even if you don’t have a product to sell. Sites like Alibaba.com let anyone buy bulk products that they can turn around and sell on their own site. Other big-name companies sometimes offer affiliate options where you can buy bulk products from them to resell, but you would have to take this on a case-by-case basis in tracking one of these companies down.

Other product based options include reselling things you find on Craigslist or at garage sales. In a case like this, you might want to post your products on a site like Etsy or Ebay.

Wrapping up Phase 2

This was a somewhat general look at the different ways you can find content for your new online business. All are great options and all are ones I’ve tried. Each has their own pro’s and con’s so there is no “right way” to do it. If you want more details on any of these options, there are tons of resources out there and tons more sites you can use to get content from or sell your content on. To prevent this article from turning into a phone book, I’ve just touched on some of these, but feel free to comment below or email me direct if you have questions or have questions regarding any of this.

Next week we will get into setting the site up depending on what platform is right for your business. Also some creative ways to find the perfect domain name and final things to consider before launch day. My personal goal is to have at least one, if not two themes built.

I personally need to keep setting short-term goals to try and stay on track. This is something you will want to consider throughout the process to make sure you stay focused on the end goal.

If you have questions about anything discussed so far, please comment below and I’ll be sure to reply with any advice I can.

Photo by Carlos Muza on Unsplash

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