My sister Stephanie Storm-Robertson may have been fired due to the recession, but she’s definitely not a victim of the economy. In 2009, her 22-year climb up the corporate ladder came to a stop when she was laid off from her position as an executive at Eddie Bauer.
She oversaw $250 million worth of women’s apparel inventory in more than 500 Eddie Bauer retail stores. But when the economy tanked, the company needed to cut costs. Getting rid of Stephanie and her six-figure salary was one way to do that.
Stephanie could have sulked. She could have rested on her savings account. Instead, she decided to start an Internet-based company. There are many great reasons to start a business, and getting laid off is one of them.
A couple of years earlier while shopping for my bachelorette party, Stephanie felt she could do a better job than the majority of online party supply retailers. So when she suddenly found herself with time on her hands and an income to replace, she decided the moment had come to launch TheHouseofBachelorette.com.
Two years after launching, The House of Bachelorette has four employees and earns $500,000 in annual sales. If you find yourself in a similar situation – either unemployed or underemployed – here are some step-by-step tips to start your online business and make money from home.
Develop a Concept You Love
More people than ever are now starting their own business, and the secret to success is making it all about what you love. All business owners know that getting a company going initially requires long hours with little pay. So if a paycheck is your primary motivation, chances are you won’t last long enough to reap the benefits of all your hard work.
You have to love what you’re doing in order to survive the first few “dry” months, or even years. Plus, if you choose something you’re passionate about, your dedication will shine through to customers, who will see you and your brand as trustworthy and reliable.
Ask Those You Trust for Feedback
Storm-Robertson suggests running your business idea by friends and family members: “Listen to their honest feedback, and don’t be afraid to tweak your idea.” But on the flip side, if you truly believe you’re onto something big, don’t let naysayers talk you out of it. Not everyone is wired like an entrepreneur.
Research the Competition
If you’re trying to jump into a market that’s already flooded with competition, make sure you can stand out. Look for at least 10 ways to beat the competition. For instance, can you sell a product at a lower price? Can you charge less for shipping? Can you offer enhanced customer service?
Better yet, find a niche that is being overlooked or under-marketed, and tailor your product or services accordingly. Saturated markets and the burden of too much competition are primary among the reasons why business startups fail.
Choose and Buy Your Domain Name
Choosing your online business’s web address is one of the most important decisions you’ll make when launching. Ideally, your new web address should:
- End in “.com,” which is the most popular choice
- Be easy to remember
- Be easy to spell
- Contain keywords that someone might use when searching for your product or service
If your first choice is already taken (and there’s a very good chance that it is), don’t be discouraged – be creative! Do not give in to the demands of a domain reseller or a URL squatter. Instead, focus on purchasing multiple addresses and saving money:
Buy Related URLs
For her first website, Storm-Robertson purchased five domain names, all of which direct traffic to her main site. Consider that your web address may be misspelled – if you buy the misspelled URL and redirect it accordingly, you won’t miss out on any traffic.
Use Coupons to Save Money
Domain names are not typically expensive, but you can save even more money by searching for coupons. For instance, Go Daddy coupons are readily available, and they can save you 50% or more off the cost of your domain name registration. Purchasing your domain for multiple years can also result in an annual discount. Furthermore, some search engine optimization experts suggest that search engines like Google consider the amount of time for which a domain name is owned when ranking their results.
Become Your Biggest Asset
Storm-Robertson says one of the best things she did was educate herself to run a successful, efficient online business. She took community college courses in web design and Photoshop, and also took classes to learn how to utilize QuickBooks, a popular accounting software program for small businesses. Plus, she was able to write off all the costs as business expenses!
The more skills you can acquire, the more tasks you’ll be able to accomplish – and the less you’ll need to pay others. By educating herself, Storm-Robertson saved tens of thousands of dollars in just her first couple of years in business.
When your business starts to gain traction and profit, you can then hire employees or contractors to do certain tasks. This can streamline operations and it frees you up to focus more on growing your business. Moreover, if you hire someone proficient in QuickBooks to handle accounting and have experience in that program yourself, you can better evaluate whether or not the job is being done properly.
Prepare for Launch
Starting an online business can be done with just a small investment, as there are many affordable online resources for small businesses. Research all-in-one e-commerce solutions like Volusion. For as little as $19 a month, you can have a customizable site that includes hosting fees. They’ll also help you along the way by providing customer support and video instruction.
Utilize Free Trials
Many of these e-commerce solutions offer customers a free trial period. Sign up and familiarize yourself with the product to ensure that it suits your new online business idea. This is a great way to avoid the costly mistake of choosing a service that you later deem to be unfit.
Set up Social Media Pages
Social media marketing is key. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+ are all great, free ways for businesses to advertise and interact directly with consumers and clients. Invite everyone from your personal Facebook account to “like” your new business page. Update daily, and be creative with contests, coupon codes, and giveaways. Integrate your social media pages on your website so you have ample opportunities to interact with your customer base.
Use Low-Cost Marketing Methods
There are other low-cost ways to market your website beyond social media. Storm-Robertson’s secret to success was using Google AdWords to direct traffic to her site when she was first starting out. When starting out, your website will rarely show up at (or anywhere near) the top of the search results. Often, you’ll have to pay for a top position via advertising programs, such as Google AdWords. This can be a great way to boost traffic, and by increasing visitors to your site, you are likely to increase sales.
“Also, look for free listing and directory sites in your industry and create every free listing possible,” says Storm-Robertson. Don’t forget about free listing opportunities in online phone books either.
The House of Bachelorette also supplies bloggers with free products to review or give away in return for a link. This is an effective method to put your company’s products in front of fresh eyes without spending much money.
Think Towards the Future
When you are fired from your job, you realize that very few things in life are guaranteed – including a paycheck. Operating a small business is similar. Experiencing success at one point does not guarantee it for the future; similarly, just because business may be slow at first doesn’t mean it will always be slow. It’s important to be prepared for ups and downs, and to continue working to improve yourself and your business through thick and thin.
Have a Cushion
Many entrepreneurs say that when they start their online business, much of the initial income is put right back into the business to aid growth. Paychecks can be small or unpredictable, something that people working a nine-to-five job do not have to worry about.
My sister has always had a saver’s mentality – she had money in the bank that helped her pay the bills while growing her company. If your savings are not substantial, working a part-time job with health insurance benefits is an option to avoid taking on too much risk during the start-up phase. Run your online endeavor as a side business until the income it generates is substantial enough to support you full-time.
Rely on a Business Mentor
A business mentor is a great asset to anyone just starting out. It’s wonderful to have a trusted guide to help you through the process of starting your online business. Your mentor could be a family member or a friend who’s savvy in business, or it could be a stranger you’ve admired from afar. If no one comes to mind, you could even hire a business coach to serve as your mentor.
Recession-proof jobs may be few and far between, but Stephanie Storm-Robertson’s story shows that there actually can be an upside to being the victim of corporate layoffs in a down economy. It may be a horrible feeling initially, but a layoff can be the source of motivation and inspiration that pushes you toward your dreams.
There are a number of affordable ways to start your online business, and so long as you remain motivated to learn more, improve your skills, and grow your company, you’re very likely to find success.
What additional tips can you offer to start and develop an online business?