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Select an !dea for your online business
The hard part of the business is finding a profitable business idea. In most of the cases, you never know if your business will be profitable unless you start something.
That’s what I recommend people. Take your first step and you will learn more about doing business (online or offline).
If you have already figured out some idea for your business then quickly move to the next step. If you are still confused, read my 100 online business ideas in India article which I prepared after a lot of research.
What I have learned so far about online businesses is that you will definitely make money if you keep trying.
#1. Promotion and Marketing Strategy
Don’t get too deep into business planning. Think big but act small in initial days of your business.
Make a plan for just 6 months with a goal of getting your first paying customer. I don’t know what kind of business you are planning, but my advice will work for any kind of online business.
Your success will depend on how well you are executing a small plan rather than making big plans with a little execution.
As I said, make plans but don’t spend too much time in planning.
Do something, fail/success, learn from failure/success, make better plans, execute more.
There is no business in the world that works without marketing. You can not afford to hire a great marketer if you are on a tight budget.
Even if you have a good budget (from you hard earned money), a good marketer will not join you just for the money. He will need a security of the job, a good team to work with, and other resources that you may not be able to offer.
It will be better if you can learn basics of digital marketing and slowly build your business.
You have to think about getting customers online. You can get customers who are searching on google (through SEO), discussing on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest) and in discussion groups (Reddit, Quora, Facebook Groups)
Who are reading your articles?
Probably your mom and friends who care about you.
The difficult thing in any online business is to get users to your website.
Make a solid promotion strategy. Start promoting your articles as you publish your article.
As I explained in my previous article on content strategy, there are only two ways of getting traffic to your website.
Google Search Engine Optimization will take few months but social media can start sending you traffic immediately. You have to divide your time between writing articles and promoting on social media.
You might have created accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn and Instagram but there are 100+ social media that help you bring free traffic to your website.
Social media is also tricky. You will not start getting traffic from social media from the first day.
You should follow my community participation strategy to build your social media.
There are many forums and discussion groups on the internet. You should start participating in group discussions. Don’t spam in the groups but add genuine value even without mentioning about your articles. You can put link of your work only when relevant to the discussion.
Here are some resources for your reference.
- Facebook Groups
- LinkedIn Groups
- Niche forums in your industry
You can find more discussion groups related to your industry. If you don’t find, let me know, I can try finding something for you.
As I said earlier, groups are not meant for spamming (unfortunately, most of the people do spam in the name of promotion).
You have to participate in discussion forums with intention of helping people. You will find opportunities by default to promote your articles.
Don’t just share your article links and disappear from the discussion. You know what happens in that case? The admin of high engagement groups will ban you from the group. After few days you will remain part of spammy groups only. Then you will complain that my strategy is not working for you.
It worked for me, and it will work for you only if you participate in groups with good intentions of adding value to the discussions.
Google Search Engine
There is a lot to learn about getting ranked in google but let’s touch the base, the basics of SEO.
Trust me, anyone can do basics of SEO even when you never heard of search engine optimization. I know you hate to do technical work but you don’t even have money to hire an SEO expert at the initial stage of your business.
You have to start getting some revenue before thinking about outsourcing your SEO work.
There are hundreds of websites and guides on SEO but you don’t have time to read’em all. Just follow the basics in my next two articles, that should be sufficient for your next 2-3 month’s SEO if you are just starting up.
Onpage SEO is very easy and you can do yourself at no cost at all. There are certain basic things that you need to be careful about making your articles search engine friendly.
You will have to figure out some keywords on which you want to rank, then make your article aligned with keywords.
Don’t stuff your articles with keywords, that used to be the practice earlier but now google penalizes website ranking if someone stuff articles with keywords.
I will tell you the precise techniques that you should implement in your articles for better SEO results.
Offpage SEO is tough and you may have to spend some money to get ranking. Google gives higher points to websites that gets references from other websites (links back to your website).
You get a link-backs when someone mentions your website’s url in their article. More link backs mean more authority of your website in the eyes of google. The more you get links from big authority website, the more you get benefits of offpage SEO.
That’s it for the basics of promotion of your business.
Start getting traffic from social media & communities.
#2. Make money from your online business
Let’s jump straight to money talk without much introduction.
There are several ways to monetize your online business once you have some audience.
Adsense (Display Advertisements)
People frequently asked me this question, “when should I start putting ads on my website”?
I experimented with Ads on my website and earned 5 rupees per click but I felt that Ads were annoying for my audience. I did not want to spoil the reading experience of my readers so I removed the ads from my website. You can still make good money by displaying Ads on your website.
The number of clicks will depend on your audience and what you are writing. There is no minimum audience required to start advertising on your website but I suggest you to wait till you start hitting 10,000 per month traffic on your website.
A little better way of making money through your online business is by promoting products through affiliate marketing.
You signup with affiliate programs from a marketplace like vCommision & AdmitAd where you can find companies in your niche which want to promote their products. You will get a unique link to put on your website. When someone clicks on that link and buy any product, you make some money as commission.
Recently I have seen people abusing affiliate marketing by promoting any product that makes them money. Personally, I prefer to recommend products that I trust and use myself.
Basically, I do not over-promote anything, I just share my personal experience with products that I trust. My readers decide what is good for them by reading my honest reviews.
Sell physical products
You can start selling your own products on your website when you make a brand in the market. Don’t just start selling something, online buying habits of people have been changed over time.
For buying anything online, people search products on Amazon and Flipkart (Both my favorite e-stores because of their customer service).
If you want to sell your own branded products online then you have to gain the trust of your audience. You should not directly sell products that people can easily buy from e-com marketplaces at a discounted price.
Rather, you can start selling products that are difficult to find online. For example, a mom blogger Hema started a parenting blog ‘My Little Moppet” to share her parenting experience with moms but now she started selling organic products for children. A lot of moms prefer to buy from Hema not because the products are cheap but because they can trust Hema than an unknown seller/brand on Amazon.
Sell digital products
Trust me, people have started buying digital products online. Americans are buying digital products like ebooks, songs, templates and guides for so many years, but recently Indians also started buying products online.
On my second online business startupkarma.co, I have sold email templates for writing better emails to influencers and mentors. I am also writing an ebook on content marketing that I am planning to sell online.
You can sell anything that helps people. Digital products are going to be very successful business models in India.
Sell online courses
You will get a lot of confidence when someone buys your little ebook and then write back a thank you note.
You can write more e-books to share your expertise with your audience. Slowly your content will become an end-to-end online course.
For example, I can write my first e-book on ‘validating startup idea’, the second e-book on ‘growth hacking’, next book on ‘raising funding’ and so on.
Then I can compile my e-books into an online course for startup founders. I can distribute a basic course for free and charge genuine amount for an advanced course.
We can record good videos to compose a video course.
You don’t have to be a teacher to teach online. You can make a good income by selling online courses through your website when you have established an authority in your domain.
Don’t worry about technicalities of making online courses. A lot of platforms can help you make courses in an easy way (like GumRoad and Teachable)
Make Money through Consulting
My consulting charges are 5000 rupees per hour and people pay for it.
It’s another way of helping people and earning money through your online consulting business.
I am a software engineer by education and worked in IT industry for more than 7 years. I have less than 3 years of experience in online marketing but I am still able to help people in my new field.(and they pay gladly for my consulting services)
If I can do it, you can also do it.
You have to invest time in improving your skills by reading books & relevant blogs in your new domain. You have to build credibility among your audience. You have to win the trust of your audience.
Nothing is impossible. The difficult thing is taking the first step. The next difficult step is to stick with your decision and building a business out of your passion.
Make a software product
The monetization methods can not end without mentioning my favorite and most recommended way of making money through a product startup.
I failed at my first startup because we created a product without involving our customers into the product development.
Yeah, your customers are the best people to design and develop your software product. That’s a secret of validating your product idea even before actually making your product.
Don’t repeat my mistakes.
Start a website/blog/forum much before your launch a product.
Seed your audience through online promotions and search engine optimization.
Build your product and make money from your online business. If your product is not monetizable in the initial days, then you have to raise money from the venture capitalist. A lot of startups are raising money from investors these days.
Don’t worry about the investor’s money. Just focus on your customers and build an awesome product.
#3. Managing Your Company in a Smart Way
I shared my experience about running my own business as a legal entity. You can decide how you want to run your business.
Since I love financial hacks, you can expect some money saving tips on managing your company in this article.
I lost a hell lot of money in my first startup. I learned that the real startup is inside you, not in the papers.
You don’t have to incorporate private limited company until absolutely necessary. It’s a costly affair to manage a private limited company, starting from incorporation to dissolution. You have to pay around 30,000 rupees for incorporation and minimum 10,000 rupees per year for maintenance.
Read my interview in Economic Times on the painful process of managing a private limited company.
Private Limited Company is advisable in following scenarios
- When you have to raise money from venture capitalists
- When you have more than 2 partners with unequal ownership in company
- When you have a lot of money to waste and don’t worry about saving bucks (we were in this category)
For a single founder, the most cost effective way of running a business is Proprietorship Company.
For two co-founders, incorporate a partnership company. Legally, the same can work with more than two partner founders but conflicts happen quite often in startups. Founders leave companies in between and it becomes difficult to manage ownership of the company in those scenarios.
Write everything on paper in terms of percentage of ownership, who owns the right of final decision, what will happen if one co-founder left the company in between.