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.
DISCLAIMER: 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
Website files need a place to live and the companies that provide this service are called web hosts.
Buy this today: 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. It’s relatively easy and painless to upgrade to a paid theme later when your site is paying for itself, so don’t sweat it.
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. WordPress a very flexible framework and there are solutions for everything you can imagine. Plus, it doesn’t require any coding or programming experience to work with it.
You’ll find the free themes inside the WordPress dashboard once you have installed WordPress on your domain. 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. (Again, WP Engine has in-depth walkthrough articles and a responsive support team if you get stuck.)
Step four: Put a payment option on your site
This step is also free. It will cost you nothing to create an account with Paypal or Stripe. Go do that now.
Paypal is super simple and you probably already have an account with them. The easiest way to add payment options to your site for whatever you’re selling is to add a Paypal button. You can following the simple instructions inside your Paypal account for installing the button on your site.
Paypal will charge you a small percentage of your sales you make through the use of the Paypal button. You should also know that Paypal will take a few days to transfer money to your bank account when you’re ready to collect your cash. It’s mildly annoying, but you’ll survive.
WARNING: Paypal has a nasty reputation if you make too many sales too fast. This is especially true if you have a new Paypal account and/or a new product you’re selling with your Paypal button. Weird, right? I agree. There are horror stories about people having their funds frozen for weeks or months with no way to fix the problem. It’s rare, but it happens. Paypal will probably work just fine forever for smaller projects, though. Consider yourself warned.
Another option that I migrated to a few years ago was Stripe. Stripe takes a little more sophistication, but it’s still on the easy end of technical skill. Like Paypal, they allow you to establish an account for free and they take a small percentage of your sales that are processed through them.
At the time of this writing, Paypal is the slightly easier and faster way to get started. Stripe isn’t far behind, so you’ll want to check out both. It never hurts to have options.
Step five: Find something to sell
You have a choice here. You can either find a product someone else has made and sell it on your site, or you can create a product of your own.
Creating your own product takes some time and energy, but the benefits of creating something people want can be significant. It also gives you a degree of control that you don’t have when you’re rely on someone else to create what you’re selling.
I highly recommend creating an informational product as your first foray into the world of online businesses. It’s easier to maintain a website than it is to manage physical inventory, production, shipping, returns, etc.
This is a great post on the types of informational products and how to get started.
Step six: Find customers
“If you build it, they will come.”
You’ll have to find a way to get customers to your site so they have a chance to buy your product. It’s great when customers find your product through channels that don’t cost you any money, like word-of-mouth, social media posts or search engine results. In the beginning, it’s unlikely that enough customers will find you through the free channels, so you’ll have to spend some money.
Google and Facebook are the big dogs when it comes to finding customers online. They both have advertising products that allow you to target people based on certain parameters. There are plenty of tutorials that will help you learn their systems.
I suggest setting a low budget and capping the daily amount of money you can spend on ads when you first start. If you don’t put a cap on it, Google and Facebook will definitely take all of your money. You can learn and see what works with a small budget, then increase your budget later once you know the math.
Step seven: Repeat as needed
There’s power in being focused. Pushing on only one product is the best approach until it’s reliably selling at a rate that is acceptable to you.
One of the benefits of informational products is that you should be able to automate most or all of the selling once you get the hang of it. Once that happens, you’ll have some time on your hands to create another product.
Creating an natural extension or “sequel” of your first product is usually a good way to do it. You already have customers, an email list and you know how the ads perform in your category. There’s no need to start over with something unfamiliar when you have so much leverage from your first product.
One of my favorite success stories from this approach is Robert Kiyosaki with his Rich Dad series of books, courses and games. He built a brand around personal finance and created multiple products around the same theme. Regardless of what you think about the guy as a person, he was a master at building a large brand with informational products.
That’s it! You should be good to go. 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.