These 24 Hours

How to Start an Online Business: Why 2024 is The Best Year Ever to Start!

how to start an online business
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I get it. Everyone says, “This is the time to act, or it's too late!” Most of us ignore that false sense of urgency that marketers bombard us with.

Please understand that this page title is not merely clickbait; there is great significance to starting a small business at this particular time in history. The barrier to entry in starting a small business is lower than it ever has been.

Why “2024” is the Best Time to Start an Online Business

Allow me to throw some stats at you – we all love that!

  • The global e-commerce market is expected to reach $8.1 trillion by 2026.
  • Internet users worldwide have surpassed 5 billion.
  • Starting a business is cheaper than ever. Many businesses can be started for free!
  • COVID accelerated the shift to online shopping, and remote work has made it easier than ever to start and run a business from anywhere.
  • Social media platforms provide a free and effective way to connect with potential customers.

In contrast – I started my business in the Dark Ages

online business from home

I can tell you from experience that starting a business or side hustle is ten times easier than a decade ago!

For context, I began freelancing graphic and web design services right out of college in 2001. It was primarily just word-of-mouth business that eventually grew so that I could sustain our newly growing family (check out my full story here).

When I would tell people I owned my own business and worked from home, they would express their pity for my sad state and say the same old things:

  • Do you actually make money doing that?
  • I can't do that; I need a steady paycheck.
  • How do you get anything done at home? I could never stay focused!

10 years ago, being “self-employed” was code for “I have no job.”

It was an extremely uphill battle to make my business work starting when I did, but I stuck with it, and it was worth it!

In 2024, you have the greatest chance of succeeding with a small business than at any other point in history. A thriving online market, more accessible access to capital, and the ability to start small with remote work options make “now” a great time to launch your business idea.

jp morgan

“The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide you're not going to stay where you are.”
J.P. Morgan

After 20+ years of small business successes and failures, I hope to equip the next wave of entrepreneurs with the right strategies, tools, and tips to start your business quickly and make it stick!

The Steps Needed to Start an Online Business

One thing I should clarify from the start is that when referring to a “small business” or “online business” I am speaking to a variety of different types of small businesses you could operate. Here are some examples:

  • A small business where you provide a specialized service.
  • A small business that only sells products online.
  • A small business that has a physical location.

If you operate almost any type of small business, you'll benefit by working through the following 8 steps. This information aims to establish a solid foundation for starting your own business.

Remember: fail to plan, plan to fail (I've always found that to be true).

1. Establishing the Business Owner Mindset

business owner mindest

Let me start by saying not everyone is meant to own a business.

Entrepreneurship isn't for everyone. Ignoring this reality is a significant reason many businesses fail early on. Not everyone thrives working remotely, managing all the deadlines, and handling all the details of owning your own business.

I have encountered many people who were clearly not equipped to start their own business, even some who owned a business but really shouldn't have in the first place.

It's okay to be an employee!

Many need to hear that message. We often feel the grass looks greener on the other side, but that's not always true.

Being employed is a structure that works great for many people. If you have a good employer, are compensated well, and enjoy your work. That may be precisely where you are meant to be! Many people pursue starting a business, because they don't feel that way about their current work situation.

However, before you start your own business, I highly recommend assessing whether you have the right personality type to be a business owner. However, this is hard to assess honestly because of our confirmation bias.

Simple solution: Ask someone close to you if they could see you running your own business. If they laugh at that idea, you are likely not a great fit now. It is still doable, but it will take more intentional self-work.

What it takes to own and operate a small business

What personality and skillset do you need to own a business? Let's explore that.

It all begins with the right mindset to own and operate a business. I can't stress enough how essential it is to be persistent, flexible, and brutally honest with yourself.

steve jobs

“I'm convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.”
Steve Jobs

Perseverance and Persistence

There will be times when the path ahead seems impossible. Challenges will mount, competitors will emerge, and failures will occur. But the key is to keep pushing forward, to persevere even when the odds seem stacked against you.

Ask yourself: Am I wired to push through challenges? Owning your own business requires some grit.

Perseverance and persistence are the main reasons I could get through the “up in the middle of the night” stressful times and enjoy the rewards on the other side.

Flexibility and Adaptability

In the business world, change is the only constant.

From evolving market trends to shifts in consumer behavior, you must adapt to stay relevant. Being flexible doesn't mean compromising your core values; no, you will lose yourself that way. Instead, it means understanding the landscape and pivoting your strategies to align with the current wave.

Take my industry – web design has changed significantly since I began in 2001. As long as I kept learning and adapting to new technologies, the same foundational principles of design and human nature applied.

Beyond technology and the medium, you must be flexible with client or customer's needs. Those who only want to do it their way will struggle significantly with owning a business.

A great business owner won't just run away from a difficult person; they will learn ways to connect with that personality type. It will stretch you in good ways.

Don't flee challenging situations; embrace them as opportunities to grow.

Honesty with Yourself

Being brutally honest with yourself is critical to owning and operating a business.

Ask yourself questions like – how do I accept criticism from others? Just ask a few people who know you well: “How well do I hear and accept criticism?”. That's a fun activity for the dinner table 🙂

It's not always easy to admit when you're wrong or when your initial idea needs refining.

Assess your strengths and weaknesses, recognize when you need help, and most importantly, understand when to persevere and when to pivot.

If you're not brutally honest with yourself, you'll quickly discover the truth about your character while operating a small business.

2. Choosing The Right Business Niche

When exploring the idea of starting a business, you are typically in one of two places:

  1. Driven by Your Skills or Specialized Knowledge: Your expertise or a unique product idea propels you toward entrepreneurship.
  2. Seeking Direction: Many aspiring entrepreneurs find themselves in this position. They express their desire to start a business but are unsure about the niche.

In my personal experience, most people I interact with are in the latter of those two positions. Over the years, I have had similar conversations with many aspiring entrepreneurs. It usually starts like this: “I'm thinking about starting my own business, but I don't know what it should be.”

This is actually an excellent place to be!

This is because you are still open-minded about how your skills could be applied to meet people's needs. You are in a better position to thoughtfully select a business niche that is needed,

Avoid Business Niche pitfalls

Beware of YouTube Abominations: Don't choose your business niche by following one of these YouTube abominations ↓

results not expected

I created that banner with AI and Photoshop in less than 5 minutes, and if posted online, it could have sent people down the wrong business road for years. These are the traps to avoid.

While chasing the latest “get rich quick” trends might seem tempting, it's a recipe for disaster. Saturated markets are battlegrounds for established businesses with bigger budgets and marketing muscle.

The Temptation of Saturated Markets: Chasing the latest trends in saturated markets can be a recipe for disaster. Established businesses with larger budgets and marketing muscle dominate these battlegrounds, making it hard for newcomers to thrive.

Passion and Knowledge: The Winning Combination

The sweet spot for choosing a business niche lies where your knowledge and passion intersect. Think about it – you wouldn't try building a race car without knowing the difference between a carburetor and a spark plug, right? The same applies to your business niche. You need knowledge and enjoyment in that area; otherwise, no one will buy what you're selling.

Strategies for Finding Your Perfect Niche

The good news is you don't have to be a total expert in your field. You'll learn tons as you go; your existing knowledge base could be your goldmine.

  1. Mine Your Experience: Identify your strengths and expertise. What skills have you honed over the years? These could be the foundation for your online business.
  2. Research Extensively: Dive deep into potential niches using tools like Google Trends and SEMrush. Look for rising trends and communities with unmet needs.
  3. Feel the Customer Pulse: Customer reviews are invaluable sources of insight. Identify recurring problems in your chosen field and explore how you can provide solutions.
  4. Test the Waters: Start small by creating a mini-product or service to test the market. Experimentation allows you to refine your niche as you go.

Adapt and Conquer: Your business niche might evolve as you learn and grow. Embrace adaptation and stay attuned to market demands. By leveraging your skills, testing ideas, and remaining flexible, you'll discover the perfect niche to launch your online business and turn your passion into profit.

3. Creating A Small Business Plan

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Don't Wing It: Write a Business Plan to Increase Your Odds of Success

While urgency might sell products, statistics tell a different story. Small businesses with a plan are 30% more likely to succeed. Those are pretty good odds, wouldn't you say? So grab a pen because a well-crafted business plan is your roadmap to entrepreneurial success.

What goes into a small business plan? Here are the key ingredients:

  • Your Mission, Vision, and Financial Forecast: Think of these as your business's guiding star, its ultimate goal, and a realistic roadmap of how you'll get there financially.
  • Why Should Customers Care? This is your elevator pitch. In a nutshell, what problem do you solve and why are you the best solution?
  • A Living Document: Don't think of your business plan as set in stone. The business world is dynamic, so your plan should be too. Review it quarterly and adapt it as your business grows and evolves.

Remember, failing to plan is truly planning to fail. Taking the time to write a business plan is an investment in your success. It increases your odds, clarifies your vision, and keeps you on track.

I strongly recommend not taking too long to create the business plan, some people spin their wheels on this step rather than making progress on the business.

4. Understanding Permits, Licenses, and Taxes

I know how wretchedly mind-numbing this section is; hang with me!

Before you skip this section thinking it's all boring red tape, consider that many new business failures can be attributed to permit and licensing issues.

Avoiding the legal pitfalls from the start is key to a smooth launch.

I'm not offering any legal advice but giving you a list of things to consider as you start your business. I had to go through this same process. You must do the research and initial setup yourself or hire a professional to guide you.

Here's a quick rundown of some key legalities you must consider:

Check Local Business Laws

Before starting a business, ensure the laws around that particular type of business don't limit what you hope to achieve.

This doesn't take long to do some initial research. While every city, county, and state has its own small business regulations. Doing some online research or even a quick call with the following organizations will give you 90% of what you need to know:

  • Local chamber of commerce
  • Local small business association
  • Your city website
  • Your county website
  • Your state website

When I started my business, I spent a good half-day reviewing these websites. It was absolutely worth the time!

Establish Your Small Business Entity

Now, you must determine what business entity you will operate under. Choosing the right business entity is crucial, as it impacts everything from taxes to liability.

Here's how to sort through the legalese and pick the perfect structure for your dream business:

Liability Matters: Think of a business entity as a suit of armor. A sole proprietorship offers none – your personal assets are on the line if the business faces financial trouble. LLCs provide a shield, protecting your personal belongings.

Apply for an EIN

An Employer Identification Number (EIN) is like a social security number for your business. It's free to obtain from the IRS and is crucial for opening a business bank account and filing taxes.

You can use your Social Security Number when starting out, but an EIN is more professional, legally sound, and separate from your personal finances.

Hire an Accountant

Don't go it alone! A good accountant can be your secret weapon, helping you navigate tax laws, understand deductions, and ensure you're filing everything correctly.

Legal Consultation: Considering the legalities involved, a consultation with a business lawyer can be a wise investment. They can advise you on everything from business structure to contracts, giving you peace of mind and avoiding costly mistakes down the road.

Remember, a little planning now can save you a mountain of headaches (and potentially fines) later!

5. Crafting Your Marketing Strategy

In today's digital age, your business's online presence can make or break its success. Consider this: 53% of all website traffic stems from organic search alone (BrightEdge). That means potential customers are actively seeking out businesses like yours. The question is: are you showing up where it counts?

Mastering SEO: Your Key to Visibility

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) lies at the heart of online visibility. It's not just about peppering keywords throughout your website; it's a nuanced strategy that requires finesse. Whether you're diving into the world of SEO yourself or hiring an expert, understanding the fundamentals is crucial. Take the time to research relevant keywords for your niche, optimize your website's structure, and create high-quality content that resonates with your audience. Remember, climbing the search engine rankings takes time and effort, but the payoff is invaluable.

Leveraging the Power of Social Media

Social media isn't just for sharing memes and cat videos—it's a powerful tool for building brand loyalty and customer engagement. With billions of active users across various platforms, the potential reach is staggering. Develop a social media strategy that aligns with your brand identity and objectives. Consistent posting, meaningful interactions with your audience, and creative content can help you stand out in a crowded digital landscape. Remember, it's not just about amassing followers; it's about cultivating meaningful connections that drive results.

Implementing Email Marketing: An Oldie but Goodie

In the age of social media and influencer marketing, email may seem like a relic of the past. However, don't underestimate its effectiveness. Email marketing boasts an impressive ROI, with every $1 spent generating an average return of $42 (DMA). It's a direct line of communication to your audience, allowing you to deliver personalized messages, promotions, and updates straight to their inbox. Build an email list, craft compelling campaigns, and track your results to refine your approach over time. The key is to provide value and foster trust with your subscribers, turning them into loyal customers and brand advocates.

In conclusion, maximizing your online visibility requires a multi-faceted approach. By mastering SEO, leveraging social media, and implementing email marketing, you can position your business for success in today's competitive digital landscape. Remember, Rome wasn't built in a day—consistency and persistence are key. Stay focused on your goals, adapt to changes in the digital landscape, and watch your online presence flourish. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.” Decide to be visible, decide to be successful, and let your online presence reflect that determination.

6. Mastering Customer Service

“It takes months to find a customer… seconds to lose one.”

Vince Lombardi

In the fast-paced world of business, customer service reigns supreme. Every interaction, every touchpoint with your customers, is an opportunity to build trust and loyalty—or risk losing them forever. According to Harris Interactive, a staggering 89% of customers have switched companies because of a poor customer experience. That's a statistic no business owner can afford to ignore.

So, what can you do to ensure your customer service is top-notch and your clients keep coming back for more? Here are some actionable steps to take:

Set up a Customer Service System

Invest in tools like Zendesk or Freshdesk to streamline your customer support process. These platforms offer ticketing systems, live chat features, and knowledge bases to efficiently handle customer inquiries and issues. By centralizing your customer service efforts, you can provide timely and consistent support, enhancing the overall experience for your customers.

Train Your Team

Whether you're a one-person operation or have a team of employees, professionalism should be non-negotiable. Take the time to train yourself and your staff on effective communication skills, problem-solving techniques, and product knowledge. Empower your team to handle customer interactions with confidence and empathy, ensuring every interaction leaves a positive impression.

Collect Feedback

Feedback is a valuable tool for improvement. Make it easy for customers to share their thoughts and experiences by implementing feedback mechanisms such as surveys, comment cards, or online review platforms. But don't stop there—act on the feedback you receive. Use it to identify areas for improvement, address customer concerns, and refine your products or services to better meet their needs.

Remember, exceptional customer service is not just a nice-to-have—it's essential for the success and longevity of your business. By prioritizing customer satisfaction and implementing effective strategies for service excellence, you can build strong relationships with your customers and set your business up for long-term success.

7. Planning to Give Up

Starting a business is exhilarating, but the statistics paint a harsh reality. Did you know that only 50% of new businesses survive for five years (SBA)? It's not about being pessimistic; it's about being pragmatic.

Plan Ahead: Accept that there will be moments when you'll want to throw in the towel. What will keep you going during those tough times? How will you supplement your income if your business isn't generating as much as you hoped?

When You Want to Give Up

  • Take a Step Back: It's okay to take a breather. Sometimes, stepping away from your business for a short period can provide much-needed clarity.
  • Revisit Your Why: Remember why you started in the first place. What was your initial motivation? Reconnecting with your purpose can reignite your passion.
  • Seek Support: Don't be afraid to lean on your support system. Whether it's friends, family, or fellow entrepreneurs, talking about your struggles can alleviate some of the burdens.
  • Evaluate and Adjust: Take a hard look at your business model. Are there areas that can be improved? Are there new opportunities you haven't explored? Be open to making changes to keep your business afloat.

Remember, planning to give up doesn't mean you will. It means you're prepared for whatever challenges come your way. As Thomas Edison famously said, “Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”

The Next Steps