Once you’ve decided it’s time for you to start an online business, then it’s just a matter of putting the pieces together. People have lived before you and there’s no need to reinvent the wheel.
I use all of the providers on this list. It doesn’t feel right to me to recommend something that I haven’t tried myself. These companies all get some of my money every month because I am a paying customer of theirs. I vote with my dollars.
Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. That means I may earn a small fee if you purchase the product by clicking through the link and signing-up. The links don’t change the cost for YOU–it’s simply a way for these companies to reward me for sending other customers to them. Also, I’d rather pay for the site expenses this way instead of running ads on the site because ads are yucky.
Step one: Buy a domain name
There are a bunch of places that will sell you a domain name. A domain name is the .com, .net, .info, etc. that people will use to find you and your website. The domain name for this site is thesterlingreport.com.
There are some important nuances to understand here. If at all possible, you want to find a domain with an extension that is a .com NOT a .net, .info, .news or any of the other dozens of options that have appeared over the past few years. Consumers are simply not ready for all the crazy extensions yet and you’ll create confusion (and also look like a newbie, which makes it harder to convince visitors to buy things from you).
Also, try to keep the name short, simple and easy to spell/pronounce. Assume that every visitor to your site will have no more than an eighth-grade education (this is the standard in the US).
I understand many of the “good” .com names are taken. You can get some creative ideas by using thesaurus.com if needed. A simple solution for many people is to buy your firstnamelastname.com, assuming you have a unique enough name that it’s not taken yet.
The domain registrar I recommend is GoDaddy. If you click that link you’ll get a domain name for $0.99 for the first year, which is a great deal. WARNING: GoDaddy will try to upsell you all sorts of things you don’t need, like hosting, email, privacy (privacy is a maybe for you), etc. Decline all of it. Just skip ahead to the checkout page. Also, you only have to register the domain for one year at a time, even though their default at check out will be five years. They’re tricky like that.
Step two: Get a quality hosting account
WP Engine is the best hosting provider I have found for the purpose of running an online business. They are the right combination of quality, price and AMAZING customer service. I’ve bothered them with so many random questions and they always find a way to help. This is especially important if you are not super technical. They have tutorials and live help for anything you’ll need to do with your website.
They also make it easy to handle things like unexpected surges in website traffic, DDOS attacks and making regular backups of your site in case something goes wrong. You can also make changes in your website in “developer” mode, so the world won’t see you experimenting with it. The customer support is top-notch as well (I like the Live Chat support function the best).
BONUS! WP Engine has offered a sweet discount for readers of The Sterling Report. If you start with the Personal Plan (recommended…it’s the cheapest and you can always upgrade later), you get 20% off if you sign up by clicking through this link:
Get 20% off all plans from WP Engine via The Sterling Report
Once you have your hosting account, follow their instructions to connect your domain name from GoDaddy to your hosting account at WP Engine. They have tutorials and they make it easy for you.
Step three: Install WordPress and get a proper WordPress theme
This is my favorite step because it doesn’t cost any money!
It could cost you money, but there’s no need to spend that money now. Save your dollars for a rainy day.
WordPress is the framework that powers about one third of the websites in the world. It’s FREE and easy to install through WP Engine. In fact, the “WP” in WP Engine is short for Wordpress. They have all the support you’ll need if you can’t figure out how to do it yourself, but it’s not hard. It should only take you a few minutes and a few clicks.
Once you’ve installed WordPress, you will want to install a theme. A theme is what makes your website pretty. There are a gazillion free themes out there and a bunch of paid options, too. I’d say it’s best to pick a free one for now and worry about updating to a paid one after you’re more comfortable with the specific needs of your online business. All the themes focus on different features and they can do different things. It’s a very flexible framework and there are solutions for everything you can imagine.
You’ll find the free themes inside the WordPress dashboard. You’ll be prompted to create a username and password when you install WordPress and they’ll email you login credentials. To install a theme, go to your WordPress dashboard, click on Appearance, then Themes. You’ll see a bunch of free theme options in there.
Step four: Automate your emails
Something that isn’t mentioned enough when we talk about how to start an online business is the value of your email list. An email list is the lifeblood of any good online business. When people subscribe to your website and ask to receive updates, they are raising their hands and saying they want to hear from you. Each one of those emails is a marketing opportunity and they could turn into customers who buy your stuff from now until forever. Building an email list should be one of your top priorities with your online business.
ConvertKit makes email capture and message automation very easy. You DO realize that when you receive marketing emails, they are almost always written and scheduled way ahead of time, right? Well, ConvertKit does all the heavy lifting for you so you can do the same thing. No need to get up at 4am to write the email that goes out at 5am. You can schedule that days or weeks ahead of time and enjoy your beauty rest.
I saw the conversion rates on my website SOAR as soon as I implemented an email marketing campaign for everyone who registered on my site through Convertkit. Many times, customers need to hear from you more than once before they’ll be convinced to make a purchase. That’s what ConvertKit is for.
That’s it! You should be good to go. Now you can focus on customizing your WordPress site and adding your personal touches to it. Starting an online business is a fun journey and we are always interested in hearing your success stories. Feel free to share them in the comments section below and we’ll help you promote your new business.