Introduction: Start an Online Microbusiness
Recently I wanted to have a little more cash in my pocket, so I started a microbusiness – smaller than a small business! I hope that this instructable will help you start your own micro online business.
Currently my microbusiness – www.TheJouleThief.com – is making some money selling small electronic kits I designed and constructed. I started it back in November of 2009, and by January I recouped my small $200 investment and began making a profit. But more on that later, let’s get started.
A microbusiness may not yield huge cash flows, but it’s a good way to get a taste of running your own business, and pocketing a little cash at the same time!
Step 1: Professionalism Vs. Homeliness
One thing to keep in mind that affects ALL aspects of this microbusiness is the balance between professionalism and homeliness. You want your business to appear professional, as if you just didn’t slap it together in 5 minutes to get some cash. At the same time, you want it to look homely, like you aren’t some huge corporation monopolizing the business. This is extremely important as this will determine how your customers will view your business! Always keep this in mind. Throughout this ‘ible I will make little notes about how to maintain this balance.
Step 2: Are You Ready to Start Your Business?
Before you jump into making your business, make sure that you are willing to spend the time and resources. Here’s just a short list of what you need:
· Time – depending on what you already know, you can spend as little as 2 hours, or as much as a few weekends worth of time to start your business.
· Money – the initial investment can be around from $20-$500, depending on how serious you are at it. Generally, the more money you put into it at first, the greater chances of getting more profits in the future. My business selling Joule Thief kits started out as a $200 investment.
· Skills – experience with paypal, websites, and general business will help!
This may seem daunting at first; however running your own microbusiness is FUN! I love doing it, while the money is decent, the feeling when my stuff sells is great.
Step 3: Ideas for What to Sell
The first step before you do anything is to think of some product or service that is desirable. I decided on Joule Thief kits because people liked them (DIY versions on popular websites got great enthusiasm), and because nobody else was selling them. Perfect!
Also, you can look for areas in which you can stand out. Why not personalized, hand-painted mailboxes? Sure beats the normal, plain jane mailboxes you see every day.
Your product/services idea is another huge factor, so spend some time thinking about it. No matter how well you run your business, if there is no demand, it’s all pointless!
Step 4: Web Site Startup
Now that you have some kind of idea in your head, it’s time to start creating your website for your online microbusiness.
First, get a domain name – for example, google.com is a domain name. I recommend going to godaddy.com to get a domain name – dot com domains are less than $10 per year – that’s pretty reasonable! Pick a domain that is relevant and rememberable to your customers – this is actually one huge reason google became popular!
Next, you need hosting – the domain name is just the name, you need some hosting for your website to run on! Web sites run on servers – basically computers only designed to host web sites. Since your microbusiness is just starting out, you can start with a free hosting service – I personally use 000webhost.com. Completely free hosting, and decent amounts of space. If your business starts to really take off, it may be time to switch to a reliable paid hosting site.
Tips – don’t get a free domain name! A popular place to get free domain and hosting is webs.com, but it is very limited and very unprofessional! What will your customers think when they see that you didn’t bother to spend the $10 for a real web site?
Step 5: Web Site Creation
So now you have a domain name, and a hosting plan. Now is the difficult part – actually creating a web site. Coding from scratch in HTML is tedious and takes a long time to learn. If you want something you can use instantly, there is a plethora of online website creators that will automatically generate the HTML code for your website. Additionally, you can find many HTML templates online.
I had experience in using HTML, so I went ahead with the slightly more complicated route of using HTML templates on my microbusiness. I picked a simple looking blue design, edited the text, and added a few additional pages to the site.
If you want a blog-style website, Wordpress is an extremely popular and well designed blogging system.
Your web site is the core of your small business, so do it well!
Tips: pick a simple but pleasing design for your web site. Do not pick a design that looks “big” and too professional. Web sites like those can look like scam sites, and you don’t want to do that!
Also, add an “about” section, where you put a small bio about yourself. If you look pleasant, put a picture up, too. Your customers want to know who they are buying from, and if they are trustable.
Step 6: Payments and Products
Well, you may be wondering how you will get paid. The simple answer is, PayPal! PayPal is currently the most popular form of sending and receiving online payments. Imagine it as a bank, but completely online.
Setting up a PayPal account is a little complicated – to start up, you will need to enter in some sensitive details like your bank information and general name/address kind of stuff. Don’t worry, PayPal is completely safe – they won’t steal your money.
Once you have a PayPal account up and running, you can create PayPal shopping buttons that you can add to your web site. Your customers will simply click the “add to cart” button, and they will be taken to a PayPal checkout page. Easy!
I would heavily avoid a credit card system – with a small business like this, the system could be easily hacked.
Finally, accepting money orders is another option, however it is a slow process.
Step 7: Shipping
If you are selling a product, you will need to ship it! The great thing about PayPal is that there is an online shipping label creator, where you can use your PayPal balance to generate a USPS or UPS shipping label. Print it out, slap it on your package, and off it goes!
If the package is large and cannot fit in the mailbox, USPS has a free carrier pickup system, where they will pick up any packages (as long as one is sent by priority or express mail) right from your front door. This way, you can avoid any hassle in actually driving to the post office!
Step 8: Tracking Your Progress
To be organized is key. Keep a spreadsheet of your sales and expenditures to see how you are doing.
Google Analytics is a free system by Google that allows the tracking of your web site – it will give you details on how many hits you get a day, how long people stay at your site, when they visit, etc etc.
Use all of this data to improve! If the statistics show that people spend an average of 10 seconds on your web site, that is a clue that they don’t like the layout, or it appears to be a scam site.
Step 9: Adverstising
You can’t create a website and expect people to find it – you have to advertise!
Google Ads is very popular and a good way to start off.
If there are online forums about your product, join the forum and participate, but don’t actively advertise by posting about your product. Put a link in your signature and just become a member of the community and help others – this will give you a positive image.
Some web sites don’t use Google Ads, and instead use a custom system. On a forum I visit frequently, there is an ad section that runs for just $20 a month, and I tried that.
Tips: Do not do a bunch of different kinds of advertising at once! Take it one step at a time, and use your website statistics to find which form of advertising works best, and stick to it. For example, I found that advertising on the forum for $20 a month did actually increase my sales slightly; however it was not worth the $20, so I stopped using it.
Step 10: My Microbusiness
Here’s just the story about my business, www.thejoulethief.com, just to get you familiar with how it went.
Back in November, I wanted more money, so I started to look into ways to sell something. My hobby is electronic s and robotics, so I looked into a product in those areas. I remembered the Joule Thief, a small electronic circuit that lit up an LED using a single AA battery. From the response from many blogs, it was a hit. I looked online for stores selling kits, and I only found one other store selling them, but they were out of stock. So that was how I decided on selling these.
Next, I had to design the product. I built a prototype – it worked. I sent out an order for some circuit boards, $130 for about 300 of them – my first big investment. Later, after verifying that the final product was working, I started on the web site.
I first found a relevant domain – I am selling Joule Thief kits, so I chose the domain “TheJouleThief”. I set up a hosting account with 000webhost. Next, I found a decent free HTML template online, and created my web site.
The hard part was over, now it was time to sit back and watch the sales – hopefully. I created an instructable depicting how to assemble the kit, and that was my first form of advertisement. For the first 3 weeks I got decent sales, but then it started to die off – I realized that more advertising was necessary. I tried an online forum ad for a month, just $20. Sales picked up a bit, however I determined that it wasn’t worth the $20.
By January, after looking at my spreadsheets, I found that I had finally recouped my $200 investment! After that, I would now be making profits. Nice!
I hope that this instructable helped you in getting around to starting a microbusiness.