Thousands of people are now making a living online and the opportunities are abundant as the Internet continues its growth. An added benefit of running an Internet business is that you can usually start one part-time while you maintain your job and steady income. An internet business can also be an extension of a regular brick-and-mortar business, adding credibility to your company and your offerings.
How Do You Get Started?
First you need to know what kind of business you want to run. Your venture should be something you can be passionate about and more importantly, something that can make money. Here are some options for generating online revenues:
Sell a Product - This can be the most costly option since you have to acquire inventory and determine how you are going to sell your merchandise whether it's through your own site, eBay or other online reseller. If you are a collector, this could be a fun way to turn your hobby into a business.
Sell a Service ? If you want to provide a service such as writing business plans, website design, pet sitting, etc, you can use your website to market your business. A service business is typically inexpensive to start, however you need to calculate how much you will charge and how many clients you will need to service to generate income.
Sell Information ? People are hungry for information so if you have information that people want, you can potentially make a profit with your knowledge. You could sell reports, articles, classes and other learning materials Ebooks are growing in popularity and are fairly easy to create if you have Adobe software or use an eBook service.
Affiliate Programs ? Many companies, large and small, are offering affiliate programs including eBay, Buy.com and Amazon.com. When you sign up to be an affiliate, you set up custom links to products from your website. If the customer clicks through and makes a purchase, you get a small percentage of the transaction. To be successful with affiliate programs, you need to generate a lot of website traffic with a target market that is interested in the product links you are providing.
Setting Up Your Website
It's relatively inexpensive to start a website and often the biggest investment will be in your time. You can hire someone to help you get your site up and running, or you can take this on yourself.
If you want to have the flexibility to manage your site and change the contents frequently, it would be worth it to learn how to do it yourself. Microsoft Frontpage and Dreamweaver are two of the most popular software programs for website design. If you don't want to design it from the ground up, many companies offer templates that you can purchase for as little as $15. You can then customize the template to meet your needs.
If you decide to hire a website designer, there are many to choose from. The best way to find one near you is to ask business owners in your community for a referral. You can also ask someone whose site you admire to share their designer with you.
Website hosting can cost as little as $12 per month through providers such as Yahoo. Yahoo also offers free tools for website design, so if you want to create a simple site with just a few pages, their tools may be enough to get you started.
Merchant Card Services
If you are going to accept credit card payments online, you can attempt to get a merchant services account. Unfortunately, these are difficult for new businesses to obtain from the big banks due to the amount of fraud in the small business arena. There are many merchant brokers that provide credit card services, but keep in mind that you will have to pay a monthly fee in addition to the percentage per transaction. Luckily, PayPal has come to the rescue and now offers affordable credit card payment services. They also offer free shopping cart software if you decide to add some products to your website. This is a great solution if you want to offer a few products for sale.
For a more advanced website, one that generates revenues around the clock, you should consider setting up website automation. Auto-responders can be configured to answer your incoming email messages automatically. You can use them to manage orders, newsletter subscriptions and most of your correspondence. You can schedule messages to go out at set intervals. For example, you can use auto-responders to send a weekly email to your customer database.
There are virtually endless possibilities for automating your site and making your business as efficient as possible and there are just as many vendors who offer these services. Keep in mind that if you add different services to your website such as auto-responders, shopping cart and merchant services, you are going to have to make sure each software package is compatible.
Business license requirements vary by state, county and sometimes even by city. Be sure to make your business legal and talk to your accountant about whether you should set it up as a sole-proprietorship or a corporation. There are also some great home business deductions available. To locate licensing requirements for your area, visit the regional page set up by the IRS.
While a great idea is a good start, it's the execution of an idea that makes a business successful. You can't set up a website and hope it will be visited, you must let people know you're there. To access a free list of places where you can submit your website to search engines for free, visit www.BusinessInfoGuide.com.
There are endless opportunities for marketing your site. Here are a few possibilities:
? Trade links with other websites.
? Set up an affiliate program and join other affiliate programs.
? Advertise your site with pay-per-click programs.
? Write articles for publications that reference your site.
The best insurance for developing a successful business is education. You don't need a master's degree to run an online business, but you do need some tools and background. You can self-educate with the help of books, magazines and websites. Study your industry carefully and seek business start-up advice from fellow entrepreneurs. The more prepared you are, the more likely your business will be a success.
Stephanie Chandler is the author of "The Business Startup Checklist and Planning Guide: Seize Your Entrepreneurial Dreams!" and the founder of http://www.BusinessInfoGuide.com, a directory of free resources for entrepreneurs. Sign up for the BusinessInfoGuide newsletter to receive hot resources and tips every month.