Your guide to a successful online business!

There are thousands of people in the UK and around the world who are working on online side projects when they get home from work. Those extra hours in the evenings or in the weekends can help you to develop new skills, work on something you’re passionate about, and, above all, generate some extra income.

These days you can earn extra money from just about anything from selling jewellery on Etsy to writing or doing web design or consultancy work for other companies. Whatever your skills or hobbies, it has never been easier to set up an online side project.

So, whether you’re thinking of starting an online side project to earn a little extra cash or one that you hope could eventually become your full-time job, we’ve here to help. In this post you’ll find some useful tips and advice to help you get started with getting your online business on the side off the ground.

Getting an online presence

These days no business is in business until it has an online presence. You might choose to register your own domain and build your own online shop, or you might skip this step at first so you don’t have to worry about payment processing and other ecommerce stuff, and just go with an online marketplace like Etsy, eBay or Amazon.

Wondering where should you be selling your products? To make the best choice for you, ask yourself if you’d rather:

Drive traffic to you store or reach more consumers? When you’re selling products on your own online shop, your potential customers will only see the products your shop offers. This increases the chances of them buying your products. However, driving traffic to your shop takes time and effort on your side. On the other hand, when you sell your product in an online marketplace, you are confronted with a wide competition as other merchants are selling the same products to the same audience. This decreases your chances of customers seeing and buying your products. However, since marketplaces target customers from all over the world, you can increase your reach and get your products in front of millions of people.

Maximise your profit or your comfort? The costs of selling on your own online store are almost non-existent compared to the commission rates that marketplaces charge. While with your own store, you are responsible for selecting and adding a secure and reliable payment processing option, when dealing with a marketplace, this is all taken care of.  Another thing to consider is that while a marketplace’s role is to promote your products and make as many sales as possible, there is a cost.

In exchange for their marketing efforts, marketplaces charge high commission rates, which can dent your profits.

Focus on stronger branding or less effort? Owning your own online shop means you have complete control over how your site looks, giving you the ability to personalise it to reflect your brand. You can customise everything from the design to the copy so that it mirrors the image you want to project. But being in control also means more responsibility as you’ll need to manage everything that makes you eshop work, from hosting to web design, maintenance and support. Online marketplaces will save you the effort of building a site as you can use their ready-made platform to set up a shop and sell your products. But the downside is that a standard design also deprives you of any control over personalising and branding your store.

Have better visibility or higher chances of selling more products? Having your own online shop grants you visibility over the performance of your site and the shoppers. Having access to valuable data and statistics like the most viewed products, conversion rates and more can help you to work out strategies to sell more effectively and to acquire loyal customers. With online marketplaces, you won’t have access to much of this data as most platforms don’t provide many insights into the performance of your products. On the other hand, being exposed to a wide audience can increase the chances of making more sales, but at the expense of not gaining any valuable information about your buyers that can help you acquire returning customers.

As you can see, there are pros and cons for each option. So, why choose between the two when you can go with both options? Use your ecommerce site to build your brand and to get more returning customers and, at the same time, use your presence on marketplaces to indirectly promote your shop. You can use your shop on a marketplace to link to your ecommerce site and to entice prospects to visit your site by offering a discount when they buy from your own online shop. Even if you don’t want to launch a fully fledged ecommerce site straight away and are happy to sell via marketplaces when you start, it makes sense to set up your own website right from the beginning. Why? Well first you want to make sure you get the domain name you want so it matches the name of your business. Then there’s also the fact having your own website makes it more likely people will trust you.

What if you’re not selling physical products?

In this case marketplaces aren’t an option. This means that the main platform you need to rely on to sell your products is your own website. Later in this article we’ll explain how to go about building and promoting your site but there’s one key thing to keep in mind here. Since what you’re selling can be anything from consultancy work to translation services, you’ll need to build a site that matches your goal. And that is for potential customers to contact you. So make sure that when you’re creating your website you also include a contact form that allows prospects to easily get in touch with you so they can enquire about your services and availability.

Here is an example of a contact form from the website of a freelance marketing consultant:

contact form example

Building a site

If and when you decide to get your own business website, here’s another thing to consider: should you hire a professional to build your site or should you do it yourself using a website builder?

You can always have your site designed and implemented by a professional web designer. The chances are you’ll get a good-looking design with all the bells and whistles. However, this option can prove to be costly and time-consuming.

You can also use a service like our 123-reg Website Builder to easily create a website even if you have no technical skills. All you need to do is to choose a template, customise it to your liking, add content and finally click Publish to get your site online. We also provide several ecommerce packages that make it simple to build an eshop and start selling your products online.

Getting found

Once your  business website is up and running, you need to think about how you are going to advertise it and get customers on board.

Check out our in-depth guides to learn how to get your website found online by more potential customers:

Search engine optimisation (SEO)

Proper SEO can help you to rank well for the search terms that people are using to look for a business like yours.

Get started with SEO by reading these guides:

Simple yet vital SEO first steps for a new website

A beginner’s guide to SEO tools (and what to use them for)

Pay-per click advertising (PPC)

PPC is a great way to get more customers buying your products. If you’re not heard the words “pay per click” before, these guides will get you up and running:

Does your small business need a PPC service

Get started with AdWords and launch a campaign that works

Social media

Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter can be excellent places for finding potential customers. If you want to give these social platforms a try, make sure to check out our comprehensive guides on getting started with paid advertising on two of the biggest sites around.

Get started with Twitter advertising

Get started with Facebook advertising

If you’re not sure which social media platform to use to promote your small business, also give our guide a read as it walks you through all the major social networks so you can understand how each one works, which best match the needs of your business and how to use a network so it’s worthwhile for you.

Guest posting 

No matter what your online side project is about, whether you’re doing consultancy work or trying to sell online Yoga classes, give guest posting a try. Creating content on popular blogs that operate in a similar niche can be a fantastic way to reach more potential customers.

Learn how to guest post the right way, and get other tips, in this guide.

Making a profit

Pricing your products is tough, probably one of the toughest things there is to do when selling products online. In fact, pricing your products and services properly is one of the secrets to business success. Setting the correct price can enhance how much you sell and create a foundation for a business that will grow in time.

You might think that pricing your product for too low a cost can convince customers that your product is the cheapest and thus drive up sales. But you don’t want to sell a product that’ll end up being perceived as “cheap”. You want customers to feel that they are getting their money’s worth. You’re in it to offer a great product and to make some extra cash so don’t give away your product. You also need to make sure that you’ll turn a profit after commission and postage are taken into account.

On the flip side, overpricing a product can be just a detrimental since customers always look at several merchants and compare prices. So just put yourself in your customer’s shoes and ask yourself what would be a fair price to you.

While there’s no one sure-fire, formula-based approach that suits all types of products, services, businesses or markets, there are several types of pricing strategies that you can use to determine the best price for a product.

The following guides offer some great tips and advice into how to establish a selling price for a product:

How to price a product

Swift Six: How to show the true value of your product

How to set the right price for your handmade products

How to set the best price for your product

8 pricing strategies to use on your product, service or workshop

Wrapping up

There you have it: the key steps to follow to get started with an online side project. Once you get more visibility online and get more customers on board, you can even start thinking about the long-term plan for your side business. Do you want to grow it or sell out? Do you want to leave your current job to work on it full-time? The possibilities are endless…

Are you thinking about starting an online side project? What are you looking to sell? If you’ve already started, what’s the best advice you’d give to someone who’s just getting started?

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