I recently launched an online golf site targeted at senior executives and business owners. This target audience is essentially the same as the Vistage community.. This was not a coincidence as I spent seven very happy and fruitful years as a Vistage member and I saw the value in appealing to this audience.
I had never run an online business before but that didn’t faze me. If anything it motivated me as I was learning so many new things which I enjoyed.
One key lesson I took from my time at Vistage was to work on the business and not in the business. In starting my new venture I determined from the outset that I didn’t want a full-time job in the business. I would set it up so that it could operate without my full-time involvement. Apart from anything else I still had a full-time role as a CEO of a software company.
I know from my time at Vistage and from conversations with friends, colleagues and other contacts I meet in my daily life that there are many people out there with incredible ideas for online businesses. However, many wither on the vine of procrastination.
So here are my 7 tips to enable you to launch your own online business. (Many of these tips could apply to traditional businesses also).
1. Just Do It
If you have a good idea for a business then just do it. Nobody else is going to start the business for you. Take charge of your own destiny and go for it
Too many people talk themselves out of going into business because they imagine the worst that can happen. Why do they assume the worst will happen? If they truly believe in their idea and are prepared to work hard for it they will surely never let that happen.
So start by imagining what the best that can happen is and using that to drive yourself forward. In nearly all cases the potential upside of a new venture will vastly outweigh the potential downside. It’s much more motivating to focus on the positive than on the negative.
2. You don’t need a lot of money to start an online business
There are many successful multi-million dollar online businesses that are being run from people’s homes with very low overheads. I know of one guy who provides free podcasts and is turning over $3million dollars p.a. working from home.
You don’t need expensive offices or expensive equipment to run an online business. It can be started from your home office or a spare bedroom and nobody need ever know.
You don’t need to invest any money in software to get started. You can start by using free office tools such as Google Docs, free Google email and calendaring, freemium CRM software such as ZohoCRM, freemium marketing software such as MailChimp and many more tools.
You can manage virtual teams with free project planning tools such as Asana, Trello and Freedcamp. You can collaborate online using free tools such as Skype, Google Hangouts etc. You can now find free software for pretty much all major activities in your business.
So no more excuses that you haven’t got the funds to start your business.
3. You don’t have to know anything about technology to be able to start
Many of the most successful online businesses are being run by business people who know very little about technology. Many of them started with little or no idea how to even build a website, never mind know anything about coding.
The aforementioned podcaster came out of the army with no knowledge of podcasting. He learned quickly how to do it and got help from people for things he couldn’t do.
The world is full of people with technology skills willing to work for you. Don’t let the lack of technical know-how kill your idea. Hire people to do the jobs you can’t do and just get going.
Remember that the technology is only a means to an end. The real value lies in the business idea. There are plenty of people who can do the technical stuff. There are far less people with good business ideas.
4. Use the power of cloud computing to compete with the big boys
These days you can run your whole business in the cloud. You can have access to huge scale at little or no cost enabling you to match the bigger companies.
Companies like Amazon, Google and Microsoft offer huge processing and storage capabilities that many large companies pay millions for.
In June 2014, Google announced that they were offering unlimited storage if you signed up to Google Apps at $10 per month. This is just incredible and means that you can store everything you need for your business online where it can be accessible 24x7x365 from any location in the world.
5. Bootstrap your business by outsourcing work to a low-cost location
There is a lot of negativity around using low-cost offshore people in business. Much of it is to do with the impact it has on local employment at home. But history shows that this has been happening for centuries.
Britain lost its woollen mills to cheaper imports from the far east and elsewhere. We lost our car industry to cheaper imports from Japan, Korea and others. But through all of this we’ve adapted and continue to move forward as a modern, successful economy.
There is a positive side to off-shoring that many people don’t realise. There are many online businesses that wouldn’t exist today if it wasn’t for the access to these low-cost, highly skilled resources. And I include my Golfing Executives business in this.
The investment required to launch many online businesses would have been harder to raise for most people if they had to pay for skills at British or American rates. But by accessing these skills at much lower rates in other markets they have been able to launch their business with much reduced capital requirements.
What these businesses are doing is that they are helping to build a new economy where the costs may lie offshore but where the revenue comes back into their own country where the taxes are paid. Eventually as these companies become successful they hire local talent as well. This all has to be a good thing.
One further point. Don’t associate low-cost with exploitation. All the offshore resources that I have worked with are delighted to be employed by a western company. For many of them it is a prestigious thing in their country. I always make sure that I pay them well by their standards so that they have a good reason to want to work with me. Look after them and they will look after you.
6. You can hire any skill you need at low cost
Following on from the previous point, you would be amazed at what you skills you can have access to at the click of a button.
One of the most amazing sites is Fiverr. Here you can hire people to do almost anything that is legal. And the basic price for everything is $5. Now, you’ll often spend a bit more than $5 but you’ll still get an amazing amount of things done for less than $20.
Nearly every online marketing business that I know operates with at least one, but often multiple, virtual assistants (VA). These are offshore people who are employed full time, usually 40 hours per week, who handle a huge range of tasks that free up the business owner to concentrate on growing the business.
The typical cost of these VAs is in the region of $500-$600 per month. Yes, per month! A very popular location for hiring VAs is the Philippines where they have access to a large talent pool who all speak good English and who are conscientious and hard working.
For one-off technical jobs and contract work you can post jobs on many sites and get bids from all around the world. One of the most popular sites is https://www.odesk.com. Here you will find programmers, website designers, mobile app developers, database experts, translators, article writers, researchers and many more skills that can help you launch a business at low cost.
7. There is a whole university of FREE knowledge out there
You would be staggered to discover the amount of free education that is available to you if you looked. The amount of free resources available to help you learn any new skill is absolutely amazing.
Over the last 24 months I have become a podcast junkie. I spend my journey to work every day listening to the most amazing podcasts. In that time I have educated myself on all sorts of topics including building websites with Wordpress, Search Engine Marketing & Optimisation, Google Analytics, Google Adwords, Podcasting, Content Marketing and numerous other topics.
I’ve learned how other people succeeded, and failed, with their business ideas. I’ve learned that the most successful people have failed many times on the way to the top and that failure is an education in itself. As the Japanese proverb says; “Fall down eight times. Get up nine times”.
I’ve also learned about using the Lean Startup Model to get a business launched quickly. The focus is on getting the minimum viable product (MVP) to the market as soon as possible and then letting the market tell you which direction you should go with your product/website/service.
So if you don’t understand anything about running a particular type of business (be it online or offline) then if you do some research you will find that there are literally thousands of people posting free audio and video content for you to educate yourself with and fill in the gaps in your knowledge.
If you want to learn how to build websites or how to program or develop mobile apps then there are great free resources like YouTube and iTunesU. Here you can even find a whole class from Stanford University on developing apps for the iPhone & iPad. And it’s all free.
Hopefully after reading this article you will have the confidence to bring your new idea to fruition. You should by now realise that you don’t have to know every aspect of the business and be able to do everything.
In his seminal book “The E-Myth” (my #1 business book and essential reading for any business owner) Michael Gerber says that most people who start businesses are “technicians who’ve had an entrepreneurial seizure”!
By this he means that many people start a business because they are good at something – accounting, programming, dry cleaning, carpentry etc etc. But they don’t know the first thing about running a business and as a result many fail. He suggests that most people would be better off running a business where they know nothing about the delivery side because this would enable them to focus on working on the business and not in the business.
So taking that advice you should worry less about how you can execute your idea and just focus on launching and growing the business. Good luck!
Note: During the launch period of my new online venture I was very fortunate to get some input from a person who had been through it all before and who had some scars. His advice was very valuable to me so I would like to do the same for anybody who’s thinking of launching a business online. Feel free to contact me and I’ll do my best to help.
More from Vistage: