Want to start an online business?
Today, you learn how to start a successful small business.
We’ll cover all the steps to starting an online business:
- The best online business ideas
- What simple online business can you start?
- How can you legally sell things online?
- How to build a successful online business
- And much more!
Ready to learn more? Read on!
What is an online business?
First things first: what is an online business?
An online business is a business that you operate fully online. You can sell products or services or even sell other people’s products or services (also known as affiliate marketing).
People even sell intangible products, such as pixel art.
The benefits of an online business
You’re not alone with your dream of starting an online business. Online businesses are more popular than ever. In fact, Intuit estimates that within the next few years, almost half of the workforce will be self-employed.
The beauty of online business is that it doesn’t cost much to get started and you can scale your business much faster than a brick-and-mortar. And because you ultimately just need your laptop to work, you have the freedom to work from anywhere and be your own boss.
What’s more, you can start an online business that truly works for YOU so that you get to have a bigger impact in the world.
Why I started my own online business
Those were the reasons I started my own online business.
In my mid-20s, I found myself in the corporate world, leading a team at an ads tech startup and overseeing a budget worth millions.
While I had “made it,” I didn’t feel fulfilled.
I desperately wanted to find a way out. But the thought of giving up my secure paycheck? I’m MASSIVELY risk-averse, so you can guess how uncomfortable that felt to me.
Things took a turn for the worse when my family had to deal with several life-threatening emergencies. (My dad had an emergency heart surgery, my mom was diagnosed with cancer, and my sister almost lost her eyesight.)
And suddenly, I had my “WHY” for starting a business. I wanted to have the freedom to spend as much time as I wanted with my family without having to depend on vacation days.
I’m glad I did take the leap. Today, I run a multiple 7-figure online business and have helped hundreds of people start their own online businesses.
In the same way, my students start their businesses because they want more freedom, income or fulfillment. Here are four students and their stories:
So, now that you know what an online business is, let’s look at two important parts of starting an online business — how to find your niche and business idea.
How to find your niche and business idea (+ examples)
You might think that starting an online business requires you to have unique online business ideas. You know, the “next” Amazon or Facebook.
Not true. You can start a business with a far easier business idea. And this business will allow you to quit your 9-5 in months instead of years.
In fact, while 50% of businesses fail within the first five years, you can significantly minimize this risk with the right business model.
First, let’s take a look at some of the best online business ideas out there. Then, how you can find YOUR business niche and idea.
The 6 best online business ideas in 2022
What business should you start? Here are the best online business ideas for you — and the business I recommend that you start. Learn what product or service you should sell:
#1: E-commerce store
If you run an online store, you sell physical products to people online. Or you run a dropshipping business and act as the middleman.
The problem with an online store is that it often requires a lot of time to find products to sell, as well as high startup costs (you need an inventory). Plus, it takes time to get enough clients to make your online store profitable. If you factor in things like shipping and taxes, your profit margins aren’t that high.
Let’s say your product costs $50 and your profit margin is $20. You need to make 50 sales to get to $1,000. And that’s JUST to make $1,000. If you factor in costs like Facebook ads (to market your business), you need really big volumes to make your business profitable.
Oh, and dropshipping? They have something of a scammy reputation.
Pros of an e-commerce business
An online store can be a scalable business model for more seasoned entrepreneurs. (Read: You’ve built a business before.)
Cons of an e-commerce business
A difficult online business idea for new entrepreneurs, if you plan on replacing your salary with your business profits. You need *huge* volumes to make an e-commerce business work. An online store also requires a lot of upkeep (shipping, returns, and so on).
#2: Affiliate marketing
Affiliate marketing is another option. With this business idea, you refer people to other businesses and get a commission on your referrals.
Sounds great, right? An easy way to earn money online.
Not so fast! To make affiliate marketing sustainable (you only get a few percentages of each sale), you’ll need a lot of traffic. And that takes time to build.
Pros of an affiliate business
“Passive income” when it works.
Cons of an affiliate business
Really hard to build up the traffic you need. Not a great business idea if you’re looking to replace your 9-5 salary.
Next up? Blogging. As a blogger, you usually make money from ads, sponsored content, or affiliate deals. You build traffic to your blog and blog posts.
But as with affiliates, you’ll need a lot of traffic before you ever see even the slightest profit, even with profitable blogging niches. Both blogging and affiliates are business models that could take you years to build.
Pros of a blog
“Passive income” and easy to manage when it works.
Cons of a blog
It takes years to build up the traffic. If you want to quit your 9-5, this isn’t the business idea for you.
Freelancing, selling a service, is a way better option. Why? Because you can get started right away by selling a skill you already have. For example, graphic design, writing, or admin.
But there’s one problem: As a freelancer, you sell your time. You’re like an employee, but with a lot of different bosses. Still, it can be a good place to start if you want to start earning money from your business as fast as possible.
Pros of a freelancing business
This business model can help you quit your 9-5 fast.
Cons of a freelancing business
Freelancing is an independent form of employment. If you want to start a business, you need a different business idea.
#5: Coaching and consulting
I’m a huge fan of coaching and consulting. It’s how I got started and was able to quit my job within months.
You can get started right away with a skill you already have. And because coaches and consultants have a higher perceived value than freelancers, you can get paid more on an hourly basis. A new freelancer might charge $50/hour for their time, while a coach or a consultant can ask for $100 or more.
Plus, because your rates are high (we’re talking four figures for one package), you only need a few clients to become profitable.
Pros of a coaching or consulting business
A profitable business idea that works for new entrepreneurs. You can relatively quickly replace your 9-5 salary.
Cons of a coaching or consulting business
You do need to have a skill that you sell as a coach/consultant. (However, if you’re in a 9-5, you probably already have skills people are willing to pay for.)
#6: Digital courses
Products and services have one problem: they both require you to spend money and time on creating new value. Digital products are quite different.
Digital courses are a great way to scale your coaching or consulting business. Again, you’re selling something you already know, but you’re doing it in a more hands-off, automated way. And if you do this as a continuation of your coaching offer, you know you have a target audience who is happy to pay higher prices for your self-study courses.
However, to sell digital courses, you need an audience, which can take time to build.
Pros of a course business
A profitable and scalable business model.
Cons of a course business
It takes time to build up the traffic you need for selling online courses.
If you want to learn more, watch this quick video:
There you have it! Those are the best online business ideas. But how do you find YOUR idea?
How to research your market
The easiest business to start is a coaching or consulting business, so I recommend you start there.
If you start at a price like $1,500 for a 3-month package, you can quickly replace your salary. (And that price point is reserved for your first few clients. Once you have some testimonials, you can increase it.)
Now, let’s look at how you choose a profitable online business idea, how you do market research, choose your niche, target audience, and so much more.
Choose an online business idea to research
Think you need special skills to get started as a coach or consultant?
Instead of learning a new skill (which could take you years), you can start with the skills you have.
Just like I did, when I first started my digital advertising business.
(And my Excel and career coaching businesses.)
Need a few examples?
Some online business ideas my clients have come up with are:
- Relationship coaching
- Career coaching
- Marketing and sales consulting
- Mindset coaching
- Health coaching
- Brand consulting
- Spiritual coaching
- Video coaching
- Stress/productivity coaching
How to find your niche
How did I come up with my online business ideas, when I started my business? I looked at a few things:
What skills had I learned in my 9-5? And what did people frequently ask me about?
You can use this to figure out your own skills.
Make a list of all the skills you’ve learned in your career.
Then, look at things you get questions about all the time.
Maybe it’s your nutrition, your amazing singing voice, or your public speaking skills.
And finally, look at your hobbies and interests. What skills have you learned on the side?
Then, think about people who might want this, aka. your target audience. Relationship coaching for men? Career coaching for executives? Brand consulting for creative businesses?
That’s how you find your niche.
And if you want more online business ideas for inspiration, you can find 121 of them here.
Don’t start a business based on your ‘passion’
I recommend you start with something you know instead of something you’re passionate about.
Why? Because if you go for something you’re passionate about but don’t have experience in, it’ll take you a long time to get to a point where your clients will trust you with their business.
Instead, start with something you know. You’ll be able to build your business much faster.
Conduct market research to know if your idea is profitable
How do you know if your business ideas, skills, and niche will be profitable?
With market research.
Market research helps you build your business faster
I strongly recommend you do this. My first online consulting business (and Excel consulting business) partly failed because of this:
I hadn’t taken the time to figure out who my customers were and so I didn’t know how to talk to them or what to offer them.
Market research essentially means that you research your target audience to understand what they want.
People have to be WILLING to pay for what you’re selling.
Not only that, but your client’s ability to pay is equally important.
If your potential customers don’t have the money to pay for your services, you won’t get far.
Interview your target audience
But how do you figure out if your audience is able and willing to pay for your coaching or consulting?
Get them on the phone and ask them.
To find people to interview, you can connect with them in online groups. For example, my potential customers use platforms like Facebook groups and Reddit to find people who are interested in their services.
And that’s how you come up with your idea.
- Use a skill you already have.
- See if it’s something people want to and can pay for.
How to set up your business.
How can you start a small business online?
Now you have an idea and a niche.
But how do you set up your business?
Here’s how to choose a business name (hint: it’s simpler than you might think) and the legal structure for your business.
Choose your business name
My best tip here is: Don’t spend too much time choosing the “perfect” business name.
If you’re starting a coaching or consulting business, you actually don’t need a creative name.
Instead, you can just use your own name and move on. (If you buy a domain name, you’d buy a domain like www.janesmith.com. If your name is so common that the domain name is already taken, you can add a word that describes your business. For example: www.janesmith-consulting.com.)
If you want a different name, though, you can use the Shopify Business Name Generator to find ideas.
Set up your legal structure
Before we talk more about any legal requirements, a quick disclaimer:
This article is not meant as legal advice. I actually recommend that you consult a legal expert for tailored legal information that applies to your specific situation.
Now that we have that out of the way, what should your legal structure look like?
This depends on the business you’re building. I recommend that you go with the easiest option because you can change your legal structure later on.
If you’re starting a business by yourself, that legal structure might be a sole proprietorship or a limited liability company or LLC (the main way they differ is the liability you as a small business owner have for your business assets). You can read more about the different business structures here.
And to register your business, take a look at this guide.
Something I get questions about now and again is:
“Do you need a license to run an online business?”
The answer is no, not for most businesses. You will need a license in some areas (mainly in industries like law, health, and mental health).
Once you have your business set up, it’s time for the *really* exciting part. Getting your first paying clients!
How to develop a brand for your online business
How do you create a stand-out brand? After all, a brand will help you stand out on social media among a sea of other online businesses.
My 5-step branding methodology helps you do just that.
Answer these questions:
- How are YOU different? How are you/your business different from your competitors? Think: personality, voice, all those things that make you unique.
- How is your “secret sauce” different? How do you help your customers get results and how does that differ from your competitors? Alternatively, if you sell products, think about what makes your products special.
- How are your values and beliefs different? Does your business stand for something? Make it clear.
- How is your audience different? Do you serve a specific target market? That’s what you’ll want to highlight.
- How is your product different? Do you offer a better service than others? Do you make things easier for clients? Think about how your product features are different.
Once you’re clear on your branding, it’s time to market your business.
And here’s how you do it!
How to market your online business
Now you have your idea and the answer to the question “Should I start an online business?” is hopefully yes. But how do you turn your idea into a business?
Choose a pricing structure
The first thing you need to figure out is your coaching pricing.
One of the reasons I’m such a big fan of starting an online coaching or consulting business is because you can charge higher prices and a big chunk of that money is profit.
That’s why I prefer this business model to, say, e-commerce.
As a coach, you only need to sell 5 packages at $2,000 to earn $10,000. With an e-commerce store (assuming you sell a product that costs $200), you would need to sell 50 products to hit that same revenue. And your profit margins would be considerably lower because you have to pay for your products, shipping, and more.
But what will your pricing look like as a coach?
Example: My first offer
Take me as an example.
When I first started my digital advertising business, I didn’t know how to price my services.
My first client ended up paying me $5,000 for a 6-month package (I based this price on my salary at the time).
She was willing to do so because I had already shown her my value by helping her for free.
But then I hit a wall. People repeatedly said I was too expensive.
And so I had to go back to the drawing board.
Get some social proof
What did I realize? In order to scale my business faster (and not be stuck in giving every person the same level of attention I had given my first client), I needed to get more social proof.
And that was best done by lowering my prices for the first few clients.
So I went down to $1500 for a 3-month package. As a result, I quickly picked up a few more clients, went back to my normal rates, and grew it from there.
I frequently recommend my clients to start at this price point, $1,500 for a 3-month package, for the same reason.
You’ll pick up clients faster and that way, you’re able to raise your rates faster.
Use the most effective marketing strategies
While one marketing strategy can work for someone, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’ll work for you. Choose the strategy that works for YOU. Here’s what I mean:
How I found my target audience online
When I first started my career coaching business, I was working with a copywriter.
I happened to ask her where she got her clients. She said: Facebook because that’s where the small business owners were hanging out at the time.
That stuck with me. And after I joined a Facebook group for entrepreneurs, I quickly realized that I could grow my Facebook ads business with the help of that group.
In fact, thanks to the relationships I built in Facebook groups, I eventually sold $106,000 worth of coaching in four months.
Does it mean YOU should market your business in Facebook groups?
Not necessarily. Instead, think about where your clients hang out online and on social media. Use that channel in your marketing.
Are they on platforms like LinkedIn? Or Reddit? Or Instagram?
For example, my clients Cristina, a stress coach, and Anna, a career coach, found their first clients on LinkedIn.
Renée, who is a brand consultant, used Facebook as her business marketing channel.
Emily, a career coach, found her first clients on Linkedin, and later, she started getting clients from Pinterest.
Ruby, a relationship coach, got her first client on Reddit.
And Cristina, a naturopathic doctor, got one of her first clients on Instagram.
Use social media marketing in the right way
The reason social media works is that it’s all about connecting with other people.
It’s a lesson I learned early on:
Instead of going on social media with the intention to get clients, you’ll want to use it to give value.
And not just facts and figures, but to show yourself as a human.
Entertain people by telling them stories and share fun content because that’s how you’ll catch their attention.
And in order to build those relationships on social media, you need to be consistent.
Show up for even 30 minutes a day to give value, answer questions, and be helpful. This will keep you top of mind for your clients.
Want to learn more about building your coaching or consulting business? Read my step-by-step guide on starting a coaching business here.
Create a website
Notice anything specific?
That’s right. We haven’t looked at building a website just yet.
The reason is simple:
I don’t recommend small business owners to set up a website before they have a few clients.
Instead, start lean and focus on what will bring in most clients right now (social media).
Once you have your clients you can start thinking about your website, web design and all that goes with it.
In fact, I made my first $5K after launching my coaching business without a website or even a sales page.
And even up until I had made $20K in my business, I used a standard WordPress theme that cost me $150.
So if you haven’t gotten your first clients yet, focus on your sales first.
And once you are at a stage where you have clients, I recommend building a simple site with a WordPress theme. You can read my guide on creating a website here.
Set up your email marketing
As with your website, focus first on your online business idea and getting those first clients.
In the long run, you do want to build an email list, though. That’s because with email marketing, you build your own audience.
My go-to email list builder for new entrepreneurs is Aweber.
And remember: Because you’ve already built relationships on social media, you’ll have a much easier time building your list than if you’re starting from scratch.
Other online marketing strategies
Now you might be thinking:
“But, Luisa, wait! What do I do with all the other marketing strategies out there? You know, search engine optimization, blog posts, pay per click ads, growing a YouTube channel, Instagram, webinars, sales funnels…”
Everything has a time and place.
Your FIRST job is to get your first few clients. And that’s easiest with social media marketing.
Then you’ll want to use what’s already working to build your business to quit your job.
THAT’s when you can start thinking about other marketing strategies, such as search engines, your blog, your website and so on.
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How to grow your online business
The last step? Scaling your business with online courses.
Service businesses are great for getting started, but at some point, you’ll hit an income or money wall. That’s because you can only offer so much of your time.
Fortunately, online courses help you take your coaching program and sell it to more people without having to work more hours.
Here’s how to create and sell your course.
How I scaled my business to over $1M in 11 months
In 11 months from having started my business, I was able to scale it to over $1 million. How? Thanks to online courses.
You see, after my schedule filled up with coaching clients, I knew I had to find a way to grow my business without adding on more hours.
And that’s what I did. At this point, I had switched from selling Facebook ads coaching to helping entrepreneurs grow their online businesses (due to all the messages I received from people asking for my advice).
My first course
My first course, “Your First Paying Clients,” was a short, seven-week course that helped coaches and consultants find their first clients.
After I googled different price points, I noticed that most courses were priced at: $500 or less, $1000, $2000, and more than $2000. I decided to price my course at $497 to make it as easy to sell as possible.
Thanks to a combination of my email list that consisted of 300 subscribers, a Facebook group I started around that time, a 5-day live challenge, and Facebook ads, I sold 16 spots.
But not only that. Because I overdelivered during the 7-week course, I was ultimately able to upsell many of my course participants and add $20,000 to my business.
My second course
For my second launch, I wanted to aim higher – $100,000.
And so I decided to create my signature course, Employee to Entrepreneur, which still today is a comprehensive course where I teach employees how to quickly grow their businesses.
This time, I priced my course at $3000. Again, I overdelivered both during my course launch and during the program, and as a result, I hit that $100,000 launch goal.
Using all the principles I had learned from my two previous launches, I set a very ambitious goal for my third launch. $1 million.
This time, I used a significant amount of money on Facebook ads ($80,000), strategized a three-level launch (which consisted of a pre-launch, live challenge, and launch), and added webinars to the mix.
The result? An $800,000 launch.
As you can see, online courses can be a great way to scale your business without having to take on more coaching or consulting work.
Now, let’s look at how you can use this in your business.
What course should you create?
Yet another reason to love coaching! When you’ve worked with even 1-2 people on a one-on-one basis, you know exactly what type of help they need. And that will help you turn your coaching program into a course.
Plus, by working closely with someone, you quickly help them get results. And those results will act as social proof for people who are thinking about joining your online course.
Can your services be turned into a course?
Now, if you’re unsure if your coaching or consulting service can be turned into a course, there’s an easy answer:
It can. People have already paid you for your coaching, so you know they want the results your help will get them.
Take my client Estelle. She was able to turn a highly personalized service, energy healing, and create a course that people love.
And she’s not the only one.
There are tons of niche courses that sell very well.
For example, one of my clients sells a course that helps people use herbs to lose weight.
Other online courses out there include courses that teach you how to build and live in tiny homes, brush lettering with watercolor, how to find dream orchestra jobs, astrology, how to learn a language in three months, and how to travel with flight points. And these are just a few examples.
Your online course strategy
You don’t need a lot to get started selling your online course.
I recommend that you start an email list so that you have your own audience of people who follow you closely.
But contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a massive email list to get started.
In fact, with even 500 subscribers and normal email list conversion rates (1-3% of your subscribers), you can get your first 5-15 course participants.
Just like with my first course, I recommend that you get started with a lower priced course ($500 or less) and grow it from there.
How to grow your course sales
Once you’ve sold your first course and you know it works, you can take that, the results your course participants have gotten, and turn it into a signature course.
Selling your signature course
To start out, I always recommend my clients to use live webinars to sell their courses.
Why live webinars? Because at this point, you don’t want to sell your course one-by-one. Instead, you want to have a system in place that allows you to sell to more people at once.
And that’s exactly what a webinar helps you do.
As mentioned, I used these in my early days. And even today, I use webinars to sell my course.
How to go evergreen
When you have a tried and tested course you KNOW will sell, it’s time to go evergreen.
What this means is that you sell your course on automation. You could have Facebook ads leading traffic to it or other traffic sources coming in (read my 24 best coaching marketing strategies here to learn how to get that traffic).
And these systems will eventually allow you to create an online business with all the flexibility and freedom you want.
Bonus: How to make time for growing your online business
Now you know how to grow an online business.
It’s time to execute your strategy!
But what a lot of people ask me is this:
“How do I make time for growing my online business?”
And I get it. You have a busy 9-5, maybe a family, and not that much time to build your business.
No problem. You can tailor the strategies above to fit your busy schedule (more on it below).
But my strong advice is that you don’t hand in your notice before you’re ready.
Double your salary first
You see, a mistake I see a lot of new entrepreneurs make is to quit their day job too fast.
Here’s the thing:
Running an online business from a place of stress and frustration won’t get you anywhere great.
Instead, start your online business from home but don’t hand in your resignation until you’ve doubled your salary. Why? Because you don’t want to take on the wrong clients or make bad decisions out of desperation.
If you double your salary, you’ll have money to spend on online business costs and your taxes.
Schedule your tasks
Wonder how to make your side business and 9-5 work at the same time?
Here’s what I did to work on my online business while in a demanding managerial job:
I scheduled everything.
My schedule when I was still in my 9-5.
You don’t need hours and hours every day to work on your business.
But you do need to be strategic about your time. That’s what will help you quit your job faster without staying up until 2 AM every day.
And that’s what scheduling will help you with. I used my lunch breaks, evenings… And thanks to having pre-scheduled all my tasks, I never had to put any energy on figuring out what task I needed to be working on next.
Adjust your mindset
Finally, a mistake I see too many new business owners make is to think:
“I have to succeed in this and that amount of time.”
That kind of thinking will only set you up for failure. Because you’ll get discouraged every time you get rejected or “fail” (and believe me, it will happen! I got 30 no’s in a row when I first started selling my offers.)
So switch your mindset to, “what can I do to make this work for me?”
See your business as something FUN that you get to enjoy.
That’s how you eventually build an online business.
Want to start an online business, grow it, and quit your 9-5?
Want to take what you’ve learned and launch your online business?
I want to make this as easy as possible for you. That’s why I’m showing you my entire system for how to go from your 9-5 to a successful online business.
Here’s what you’ll learn:
- My exact system for building an online business and replacing your salary BEFORE leaving your 9-5.
- The exact content you should share on social media that will make people crave your offer and land your first clients. (And the exact content I used to get my first clients!)
- How to grow your hugely profitable and meaningful business in the most strategic way.
Get my free Ultimate Guide and learn how to grow a 6-figure coaching business from scratch:
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