Online business doesn’t have to be scary or overwhelming.
In fact, there are tons of businesses you could start right away, using only a simple website and your existing skills.
In this post, I’m going to walk you through the 9 things I’d do right now if I had to quickly start an online business from scratch.
Why start an online business anyway?
Chances are, you’re reading this because you want to escape from your home country. Starting an online business is the ultimate way to do that.
In the past, people who wanted to relocate had to find a job on the ground in their target country, which could be challenging because of issues such as visas, language skills and cultural fit.
That made it difficult to get out in a hurry, leaving wannabe émigrés vulnerable to sudden political shifts that risked putting them in difficult positions. Fortunately for us, we live in the internet age.
Now is the perfect time to start an online business
One positive outcome from the 2020 pandemic is that it’s legitimised online work in a massive way. People who always thought they were inextricably tied to the office have been forced to discover new ways to perform their jobs from home.
In most cases they’ve done so with only a laptop and perhaps a phone (but more likely, Zoom). Perhaps this shift has already shown you just how easy it would be to convert your existing job into an online business.
Why should you take my advice?
I’ve been self-employed, working online and living abroad since 2012. I’ve started several lean online businesses.
I’ve been a nation branding consultant and a premium copywriter for fin-tech, SaaS and data science companies. Now, I’m a threat intelligence consultant, helping companies track harmful disinformation on social media.
All these businesses required nothing more than a laptop and my skills. There’s no inventory to buy, no large upfront investments to make, and therefore very little risk.
The quickest and easiest online businesses to launch
Not all online businesses follow the same pattern. Some (e.g. e-commerce) require more upfront investment than others. Others (e.g. selling online courses) need you to master a lot of moving parts before you can get started. This can quickly lead to overwhelm, especially when you also want to plan an international relocation.
As a digital émigré, you need the simplest, leanest form of online business possible, one that you can get up and running without delay. The quickest way to get started is to sell your existing skills online.
Most kinds of work can now be delivered remotely. All you need to do is to package your offerings in a way that solves a problem for your target audience.
For example, this might look like consulting in your area of expertise: marketing, HR, management, business strategy, finance, and so on. Or, it might look like selling your services, such as in graphic design, coding, copywriting, editing, translation, accounting, etc.
So, what would I do right now if I had to launch an online business urgently?
I’d start by considering market demand
Business ventures will fail when they offer something that few people want. This happens when entrepreneurs start from a standpoint of what they want, rather than what the market wants. You need to identify a group of people who are searching for a solution to a certain problem. YOU can give them that solution.
You can get a good sense of demand simply by Googling key search terms for your business idea. What are other people searching for? Check out what the search volumes for your major keywords look like on Google Trends. Check out keyword volumes using a free SEO research tool like UberSuggest. See if people are publishing books about your idea on Amazon.
Also, can you find other businesses offering similar services? If so, don’t let this put you off; it’s a sign that your service is in high demand – which is great!
I’d narrow down my online business offering
To figure out exactly what you should do, it’s key to find a sweet spot between three things:
- Your skills and expertise
- What you actually enjoy doing
- What the market wants (and is willing to pay for)
Where these three overlap, you’ll find great online business ideas. For example, I’ve always enjoyed writing. I’ve trained as a journalist and gained some experience. Later down the line, I discovered that a lot of tech companies need a constant flow of interesting digital content, and have the means to pay well for it. Bingo – a solid online business idea!
I’d identify my target audience
What sort of people have the problems that your skills can solve? Perhaps your target audience is similar to your existing customers from your current or previous job. For example, let’s say you work in an accounting firm serving small businesses. Your target audience as a self-employed online accountant could be small business owners.
Once you know who your target audience is, it’s time to get into their heads. Learn more about their specific hopes, fears and daily problems. Spend time where they hang out online (e.g. Facebook or LinkedIn groups, forums, or blog comment sections) and strike up conversations with them.
I’d research the competition
It really helps to see what other business owners are doing, especially those who are more advanced than you. So the next thing I’d do would be to conduct a little research on my key competitors. It’s easy to find them with a quick Google search. Check their websites to find out:
- What services they offer
- How they talk about their services
- What sort of experience they have (LinkedIn is also great for this)
- How much they charge
I’d use these factors to assess where I fitted in relation to my competitors, and to gain useful inspiration for how to craft (and price) my own offering.
I’d buy my name as a domain name
You can waste time coming up with clever business names, but you can’t go wrong with a classic yourname dot com. It puts you at the forefront of your business brand. And if you decide to pivot later on, you don’t need to change the business name.
If your name’s not available, don’t bother with creating hyphenated versions. They’re tricky to handle. Instead, try yourname with other suffixes like .io (if you’re in tech), .biz, .net, .co, or (at a push) .co.uk (if your clients are mainly UK-based).
Just do whatever you can to secure your own name as a dot com domain. Even if that means buying it before you even launch your business.
I’d set up an ultra-simple website
Next, I’d head over to WordPress and get myself a free website. This is essential as it acts as the ‘shop window’ for your online business. I highly recommend using the .org version of WordPress instead of the .com. This gives you full control, access to far more features, and ultimate ownership of your entire site.
If you take the WordPress .org route, you’ll also need a hosting provider. Personally, I use a UK-based company called Unlimited Web Hosting. They have awesome customer service and you can host multiple websites on one of their affordable hosting plans (I pay 34 GBP per year). A lot of people recommend Bluehost, which is also a great choice.
With WordPress, you can create a professional site in a few hours. For starters, all you need to include is a page about you, another page about your services, and a page where potential clients can get in touch.
Social media is a powerful way to broadcast your brand, so I’d add info about my new business to all my social profiles, including my Twitter bio, my personal Facebook profile and my LinkedIn (assuming my business doesn’t conflict with any existing jobs).
Depending on whereabouts online most of my target audience are located, I’d also create a Facebook Page for my new business. I might also set up a LinkedIn business page if it made sense for reaching my audience.
I’d tell everyone I know about my online business
Once my website was ready and my social identities updated, I’d then message as many people in my network as I could. I’d start with my trusted friends and family members on Facebook, then expand to more distant connections, e.g. on LinkedIn.
This might look like a mass email (be sure to add a personal element even if you copy paste the rest), a Facebook announcement, or reaching out to them one by one on LinkedIn. Whatever you decide to do, just let them know what you’re offering. Ask them to spread the word to anyone in their network who might need your services. You’d be surprised at how well this can work.
I’d get comfortable doing cold outreach
Your networks can only take you so far. To really ramp up your chances of finding clients fast, you need to get comfortable with cold outreach. Yep, contacting complete strangers to offer your services.
First thing to do is to create a ‘hit list’, with names and emails of potential clients. These will normally be the decision-makers directly affected by the problem that your business solves. For example, if you’re a copywriter, you’d create a hit list of heads of content, content managers, and marketing managers.
LinkedIn is by far the best way to find this info, but manual Google searches are also useful. Once you’ve got their names, you can use a handy tool like Hunter.io to dig out their email address from across the web.
Then, you send a personalised short email to each one. Don’t copy paste the same email each time! You can reuse some of the text, but there should be at least one custom part. Here’s an example of how I typically reach out to potential copywriting clients. It’s simple, direct and lightweight.
Hi [First name],
My name is [Your name], and I’ve worked with [Brand names]. I help companies generate new business with creative content writing.
[Add custom compliment related to their business, or reference someone that you have in common]. Do you need any help writing content at the moment?
You could easily tailor this text for different industries, or make it a little more formal if you’d prefer. But generally, keep your outreach emails short and simple. If they don’t reply in a few days, I’d then send a brief followup.
So that’s a wrap. Those are the steps I’d take to get an online business off the ground in a hurry. It’s really not as tricky as you might think. Start by gaining a clear understanding of what the market wants and the problem you want to solve. The rest is about following a set of tried and tested steps.
What stage are you currently at in your digital émigré journey?
Tell me more in the comments section, or join the lively Digital Émigrés Facebook community.
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