Most people think that starting an online business will be exactly like starting a business the conventional way: expensive. In reality, it’s not. Let’s face it; online businesses exist in the virtual space. You don’t even need to have a physical store if you don’t want to have one. In this sense, many traditional business expenses, such as rent and store employees, do not apply to online businesses. So, if you still think starting online businesses is complicated and costs a lot of money, you are
Buy a Hosting Plan and a Domain Name Cheap
Before you have your website, you need to get a hosting plan and a domain name. All sites are hosted on a server that handles incoming and outgoing traffic. If you have ever had a blog on Yahoo or WordPress for free, you may have noticed that the web address of your website came with the company’s name attached, like www.mysite.wordpress.com. That’s because your website was hosted by another company.
When you have your own business, you will need your unique web address or domain name. You can register and buy one for extremely cheap. Just remember when you come up with your domain name, it has to be original and not sound similar to the domain of another online business. If your target customer audience is local, as people in Canada, you may want to consider getting a domain country extension like .co.ca.
You can affordably purchase a domain name plus a good hosting plan from a service like NameCheap for around $20 per year. These services automatically register your domain name when you buy them, so you don’t have to worry about handling the process yourself (find more information regarding the process here). Then you should choose a shared or a dedicated hosting plan for the domain. Shared hosting means you will share server space with other domains, while dedicated hosting plans allow you to have your server. Initially, shared hosting will be suitable for your business, but as traffic increases, it’s smart to move on to dedicated hosting.
Install WordPress and Build Your Site for Free
Once you have your domain name and hosting plan, it’s time to build the website. This is something you can easily do yourself using a free content management system like WordPress or Joomla. WordPress is the most popular CMS, and it’s also very friendly to new users, so it’s a recommended platform to start with.
Using WordPress won’t cost you a cent. You have to download the client first. If you chose a host like Bluehost, you would be able to do it with one click. With most hosting sites, you just have to go to your account, and in the control panel, look for the WordPress icon to install the software. When you install, choose the domain name to build the website for. If your web host doesn’t have this option, you can also manually install WordPress using this official guide. The process is mostly pain-free. Once the software is installed, you need to choose a theme and start the actual building process.
Choose a Premium Theme for Budget Users
A theme is essentially a web layout where the code for most of the components is prewritten. In the past, people had to build websites from scratch by writing the HTML and CSS codes by hand. Obviously, not all entrepreneurs can write code. That’s why using a theme is very handy and convenient.
WordPress themes are pre-designed and are available for free or for a small fee like $10. There’s nothing wrong with using a free theme for your online business. However, you will run the risk of having your website look a lot like thousands of others online. It’s important to make your online business portal look unique. Therefore, it’s worthwhile to spend a small amount of money buying a premium WordPress theme. You will have the advantage of having more components and customer service being available to you.
You can also choose a theme that’s specifically designed for your industry. For example, if you are starting an online clothing business, you can find plenty of themes that are designed especially for e-retail businesses like yours. So, do spend some time browsing for themes before picking one.
Select your Plugins Wisely
Once you have built your website using a theme of your choice, you can improve it using plugins. These little gadgets can improve the functionality of your website so you can offer a better user experience. For example, you can use plugins to auto-respond to online queries, secure your website, add links to other sites, or to offer a contact form for all visitors. One of the most popular WordPress plugins in use is Google XML Sitemaps, which makes it easier for search engines to locate your website.
There are both free and paid plugins you can use. If you need a plugin for a special purpose, first exhaust the free options before moving on to the paid versions. You will have to spend some money for using certain plugins, but it will only rarely cost more than $20.
LaunchSocial Media Sites
The final step of launching your online business is launching social network profiles for your business. Facebook is a must, regardless of your industry. The social media platforms you use will depend on the nature of your business. Most B2C businesses find sites like Twitter and Instagram useful, while B2B businesses find the most success with professional social networks like LinkedIn.
Social media marketing is a serious business. Unless you directly advertise on a site like Facebook, promoting your company and brand will not cost anything. However, you should employ certain best practices that you will need to master along the way. Here are some of the best practices relevant to almost all social media sites:
- Use tags. For example, if on Instagram, use hashtags, and on a site like LinkedIn, don’t hesitate to use features like tagged grouping to increase visibility.
- Find the most opportune times to post new content. You will need to survey your target customer base and know which days and times they are most active. If for example, your customers tend to check their Facebook accounts on weekday evenings the most, then this is when you need to post new content.
- Try to make your content unique and appealing. See what the competition is doing regarding content. You can get inspiration from this, but don’t copy them.
- Create video content with the best potential to go viral. You can increase the views for videos by designing attention-grabbing thumbnails.
- Give away stuff for free. Launching these campaigns are great to get people buzzing around your company or brand.
- Don’t use too many social media sites. Find out which sites are most popular with your customers and specialize in mastering content on these few.
When you have multiple social media sites, you may also want to use a social media management tool like Hootsuite to control social accounts in one place and implement the tactics much better.
Many of the things mentioned above, such as building a website, can be done for free. However, keep in mind that you are building an online business. Therefore, you will have to be willing to spend some money on the things you need, but not too much. Building and maintaining a website should not cost you more than $50 per year. Of course, as your site grows to thousands and perhaps hundreds of thousands of users, you will have to spend a bit more to manage all the traffic.
Also keep in mind that it may take some elbow grease to get the job done. If you are new to the web business, doing some things might feel strange at first. However, as you become familiar with the process, things will seem simple and easy, because they are. In any case, if you need support, you can easily get help online on places like WordPress forums.
Image: Portrait of businessman using laptop and communicating with his team across the world. International communications concept