Where to begin when starting an online business
I know how it starts. You have a passion for something, a passion for helping people, and just as much passion for the idea of working for yourself with all the flexibility and freedom that brings.
That was me 6 years ago when I was weighing up the decision to train as a health coach. I had been blogging for 2 years about health and wellbeing so I had the passion and ideas I just needed to make them into something solid – a business!
Over the last 6 years I’ve learned SO much about running an online business, plus I’m still learning new things every day. It’s an incredible journey to be on, but at the start it can be incredibly overwhelming just trying to figure out how to get started.
For me, it all started when I began my training with the Institute of Integrative Nutrition (IIN). While I still had a lot to learn after the course, it gave me a solid foundation to get started and helped give me direction.
IIN is a great option, but not right for everyone, so I wanted to share a few tips I’ve picked up on my own journey to help you if you’re thinking of starting some kind of online business. I didn’t plan for this to be such an in depth post when I sat down to write it but I really hope it helps!
Decide if you need additional qualifications
Depending on what you’re most passionate about helping people with, have a good think about whether or not you need to seek out additional qualifications and training to enable you to confidently work with people. There’s loads of options, and you’re not restricted to traditional brick and mortar colleges and universities – you can do a number of courses and training online which enables you to train while working full or part time or around your children if needed. Woo hoo to that!
Start creating some kind of online presence – do this now!
One of the biggest mistakes I see people make is putting off getting themselves out there online. Building an audience and community of people who know like and trust you is the bedrock of any online business. The sooner you get that started the better! You don’t need anything to sell right away, in fact I think it’s better to start without that at first, all you need is something you’re passionate about and a willingness to show up with some consistency.
You don’t even need a website, just start with an Instagram account and a Facebook business page and then cross post your Instagram content on to Facebook to save you time creating two lots of content.
One of the reasons it’s super useful to get yourself out there online at the start is that it enables you to have conversations with real people, potential clients and customers, about what they need support with. This can be invaluable research to help shape your programmes and packages while also growing your engagement.
At this stage it’s time to get serious and decide on a business legal framework – in the UK you can be a sole trader, partnership, limited company (which is what I am) or even something like a community interest company (CIC) if your work has a charitable or social purpose or aims. You might want to get some legal / professional advice about what the best set up is for you. Then you’ll need to look into informing HMRC that you’re trading (again, seek professional advice around this as it will look differently for different businesses and when you actually start trading). Plus you’ll want to set up a bank account for your business as well. As an online business I’d also recommend you look into setting up some kind of online payment processor like PayPal or Stripe.
Brand + website
Now the funnest part in my opinion – bringing it all to life! It’s totally possible to DIY this stage depending on your level of tech and design skills, but saying that, it can take you an age doing things this way too, plus a crap website can sometimes actually hurt your business and cost you more time and money further down the line. It really depends on your budget and time. I’d start off by thinking about your business message – what are you and your business here to change in the world? Pick 5 words that you’d want someone to feel when they come across you and your business and base your branding on this – create a Pinterest board of images and design references to help you get started.
Don’t skim on photography either, it’s worth getting some nice professional pics of yourself done as they can elevate a crap website to something that looks more professional.
For DIY website options, Squarespace can be a good place to start. I’d personally avoid sites like Wix and Weebly because they can’t grow with your business, especially if you see yourself running courses and programmes some day. WordPress is the best option in my opinion but can be more fiddly tech wise to set up if you aren’t familiar with it.
FYI – I offer affordable business set up coaching, website and branding packages for new coaches where all of the above (apart from the additional training) is done in 3 months. We go through a more detailed process for branding and design and at the end you’re literally ready to rock – check out the details here.
Create something to sell
Now you have a website, a beautiful brand, social media channels and all you need is something to sell! What this is will depend on your passion – but here’s an easy way to get focused. Always remember the problem you are solving for people. You might have one key main problem and some sub problems – but once you have that clear you’ll find everything so much easier. So whatever you sell will be a vehicle that helps people tackle that problem. It might be coaching 1-2-1, an online course, an ebook etc.
Here is where I’d recommend most people set up a way to capture people’s email addresses and start building an email list (my fave is ConvertKit, often using some kind of awesome free gift to offer people real value for becoming part of your community. And then emailing that list on the reg.
There’s a bunch more I could write here but this post is already mammoth!
So I’ve covered the steps I’d suggest someone setting up an online business take – and just a reminder that these can all happen concurrently if you have the time and energy to do that, for example you can be working on your brand and having conversations with people on social while also setting up a business bank account.
As I said, I take people through this process in 3 months in my Kickstarter programme, but it can take anywhere from 3 months to 1 year + depending on your own circumstances.
Either way, there’s a considerable amount of work to be done, often in excess of a full time job / kids etc which can make it feel like a real uphill battle, bur fear not, you can do it!
My tips for actually getting shit done would be to try and carve out a regular time slot each week to work on your business. From the start, I’d create a little list of your ‘ticking over tasks’ – the tasks you need to be doing consistently. For example, once you have social media accounts a ticking over task might be posting on those 4 times a week (you can use a scheduler like Planoly to do this in bulk once a week and then just check in as an when).
It can also be helpful to create a plan for yourself of each step you know you need to take to get where you need to go. I used to have a big sheet of paper with tasks written out on post it notes and then each time slot I’d have to work on my business I’d try and tackle at least one of the post it’s. This very old video of super skinny young Laura from 2012 was recorded when I was actually setting up this business. Some bits are out of date but the projects / post it’s thing was so helpful for me at the time!
Finally, a couple of places to check out for additional ideas if you’re getting started – Carrie Green’s book She Means Business is a fabulous one to read to help you out, and I love the blog content on her FEA site as well.
Also my friend Emma Cossey from the Freelance Lifestyle has some great blog posts and resources too. While there’s quite a few differences from freelancing and running an online business there’s also plenty of crossovers so do check out her site!
I do hope that has been helpful, I know it can look like a long list, but hopefully seeing it structured in those steps have helped.
I’d love to know, if you’re considering starting an online business what are you struggling with right now? If you’re already a entrepreneur what have I missed? Would you add anything to my list?