If you’ve wanted to start up an online business, working from home, here are 20 tips that will make your life easier when first starting out. Whether you are planning on selling actual products on Etsy, Amazon, or eBay, or creating content for an online course, these will be invaluable during the planning stages. The best part of starting your own home business is the lack of overhead and commuting time. The tools available at your fingertips are many, but these are the foundational steps to take when setting up.
Decisions to Make Before you Launch
1. Business Name, Domain Name, and Trademark Research
Brainstorm some ideas for a business name and then go do your research. First, visit your state’s business resources to see whether that name is already taken. Double check on trademarks as well, as you can’t use the same name as someone else in your industry. Before you register that business name legally, find out if that domain name is available and snatch it up quickly. I use GoDaddy. You may want to purchase domains of common misspellings of your business, or consider purchasing the .org, .co, .net domains as well. NOW, go register that business.
2. Website Hosting
Now that your business is registered and you’re the proud owner of yourbusiness.com, you need a company to host your website. GoDaddy hosts websites, as does another I recommend called Bluehost. You can start with a small amount of space for your site and work your way up as you need to (this is usually called an upgraded plan). Not only will a host site, keep all of your data in one place, they’ll help you establish your first website. I use WordPress and highly suggest you do the same. Next, you’ll pick a theme for your website, which will dictate the essence of your brand, so don’t just pick a standard free template. Try a service like StudioPress or Elegant Themes to pick something that looks professionally designed. You can always customize your site, later on, to suit your brand and make your online presence JUST RIGHT.
3. Reserve and Set up Your Social Media Profiles
Social Media is how people find out about what you sell. Whether you don’t have anything to sell yet or have a ton of inventory to move or openings to fill, you need to be on social media. You don’t need to be active on every social media platform, but always open accounts with each one so that no one else can. You never know how your business will grow and evolve over time, so you want to have that profile name be ready to use when you are. Start with the basics like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. Then, set up a google+ account (this will help you be discovered on google) and finally you can add Snapchat, Periscope, and everything else you can find. Next, stay consistent with your website branding across all social media platforms. You want to be instantly recognizable, so save your fonts, pictures and color schemes, and use the same tone of voice throughout each platform. Then, focus on ONE social media site for one month. Get to know it well, establish your presence there, and figure out if it’s the best place to build your audience and customer base. After you’ve got one under your belt, move on to another for a month, and so on.
4. Create a Plan
You’ve probably heard the quote above before, but let it sink in for a moment. You need an actual PLAN to get your business off the ground. Who will buy your products or services? Define them! Market to them! Solve their problem(s)! How will you create revenue? Can you build upon your initial offerings to these same clients? Can these people afford what you have to offer? Where will you sell and market your products? I’m not trying to overwhelm you, but you can’t expect to be successful if you don’t write out a plan.
5. Desktop or Laptop
You’re going to need a fairly up to date computer to run your business with. You could go with a desktop, but then, you’re literally tied to your home. One of the many reasons I chose to purchase a MacBook Air was the portability that allows me to travel, even if it’s to a local park or my backyard. MacBook Pros are nice but pricier, and you may not want to invest that much starting out. Macs are known for their ease of use, reliability, and they also hold their value. You can usually get half of what you paid for it several years down the road if you decide to upgrade.
6. Phone and Other Tech Products
I’ve got to say, I love my iPhone 6s. Even if you chose a less expensive option, make sure you have a smartphone, a decent amount of memory, unlimited talk, text, & data, and some great apps. A few other options that are nice to have are listed below and I’ll go into more details on appropriate uses and how to determine if you really need a specific product.
7. WiFi Network
If you decide on a laptop over a desktop (please do, you’ll thank me later!) then you need to have a stable, fast, and reliable high-speed internet connection and wifi network. Not only will your laptop be portable, but your phone won’t use data if you’re connected, you can add wireless printers and other flexible items to your home office arsenal.
8. Internet Provider
This should be obvious, but you can’t run a home business with dial-up or other slow connection. I mean, you technically could, but why in the world would you want to waste so much time? Get the very best you can afford and go with unlimited plans that won’t throttle you. If you want to travel, it may be worth getting a portable broadband internet device and plan as well, as sometimes you can’t rely on a good connection with free public wifi areas, and your data isn’t secure.
9. Getting Paid
You’ll need to either invoice your clients directly, with an accounting system like Xero, or make use of a payment system like PayPal, Square, or Stripe. Service fees for these systems usually hover around 3% of your sale, so price accordingly.
10. Cloud or Harddrive Storage
Everyone should be saving their files in the cloud because it’s easy to share and access from another computer. I also recommend backing up your data with an external hard drive. Just in case. My favorite cloud storage providers are Google Drive, Dropbox ,and Box, because you can purchase enough space to backup practically everything, automatically.
11. Accounting System
If you’re running any kind of business, you need to have a budget and a way to track profits and loss. Having an invoicing system in place as well as being connected to your business bank account is just another piece of the puzzle to make sure you’re profitable. Xero is ideal if you’re just starting out, but other options include Wave (free, but not as many options as Xero), and Quickbooks (all the bells and whistles). These will allow you to store your financial data and sync your sales and expenses with your bank account, and credit cards.
12. Home Office Options – Printers, Webcams, Headsets?
Starting a business from home allows for much information to be shared without paper. There are times when you’re going to need to print something out. Think taxes, packing slips (if you ship products), hard copies of invoices or receipts when requested. A multifunction, wireless printer ought to fill that need. They aren’t expensive, and you don’t even NEED to get color, in fact, I run everything through a brother laser printer because it’s fast, and I don’t like to wait around for something to print, OR spend a fortune on replacement ink cartridges. One toner cartridge lasts me at least a year.
Webcams are helpful if you’re meeting online with clients and customers or creating YouTube or course videos. Most of the time, the webcam on your laptop (if you have one) should be sufficient for basic needs, but any video conferencing or creation should have an external webcam to ensure top quality video. This Logitech C310 has high reviews, boasts HD resolution, and is surprisingly affordable:
An external microphone or headset is another optional (but handy) addition to your home office. From phone calls to virtual meetings, this all in one headset would be sufficient for almost any application, and the noise canceling headphone feature is well worth it if you’re a work at home mom:
13. Online Scheduling and Calender
Scheduling meetings, work time, and personal time can book your calendar quickly. We all have many appointments and reminders, but when you’re running a business, being on top of your schedule is crucial to success. You need to script your days and keep everything in one place. Thankfully there are many options for keeping your mind free to focus on work instead of trying to remember what you need to do. Organizing tasks to sync with your email and smartphone will allow you to schedule at a glance no matter where you are. Google Calendar is my favorite because I use google apps for just about everything. Other options include Calendly and Todoist. Find one that resonates with you and put all of your regularly scheduled appointments on it as a recurring reminder so you don’t double book ever again.
14. Video Meetings & Conferencing Tools
Video conference software like Skype, Zoom, or GoToMeeting allows you to connect with anyone face to face all over the world. Your business may need to reach out to clients and freelancers and all of these systems are designed to keep you in touch and connected. Working at home gives you the option of throwing on a nice top over those yoga pants! No one will know but you!
15. Time Trackers
If you’re billing clients or customers for time spent on projects, you’ll need to track how much time you’re spending on their specific tasks. Even if you don’t send it to them as periodic updates, you should still track your time spent at work on almost everything. This will give you insight into how much time you spend on planning, communicating with customers, producing, checking emails, marketing, etc. My favorite is Toggl. There’s another option called Tick that works seamlessly if you have a team of people working with you. They keep track of their time for different clients and you can price your services and products more accurately and figure out if too much time is being spent in one area.
16. Email Marketing or CRM
Email lists are the main way you’ll keep in touch with clients. Not only will you be able to send out updates, you can send out coupons or sale notices to segmented customers, re-engage customers who haven’t purchased from you in awhile, and provide content to many people at the click of a button. Whether you go with something simple like Aweber or Mailchimp, or spring for a more robust CRM system like Infusionsoft or Base CRM (that allows you to send automated EVERYTHING), you’ll need something in place to send email marketing campaigns with.
17. Project Management Software
You can’t effectively move a project forward if you don’t have a system in place to manage all of the to-do’s related to completing it. This is where project management software proves invaluable for every business! I love Trello and it’s FREE for the basic version. Other options are Basecamp and Asana. The key is to find one you like, stick with it, and put it to use! Put EVERYTHING in there – from personal projects to house projects, business projects, marketing your own business, learning new skills, paperwork, you name it. Anything and everything should be assigned a name, due date, and appropriate smaller tasks to get there.
18. Marketing, Promotion, and Automated Social Media Systems
If you’re going to get business, people need to know you exist! This is where marketing, promotion, and automated social media postings are a huge time saver. Gone are the days when you’d make cold calls and mass mailings. Yes, some businesses still do that, but there are so many other ways to market your business effectively, in less time and with little to no money. At least to start. Once you’ve got your email marketing set up (see #16), you’ll want to focus in on where your customers look for your services. One way I previously mentioned is on social media sites. That’s great, but you can take it up a notch by tapping into facebook groups, whether they be local groups or niche related groups, in-person networking and conference events, and my favorite, automated social media posts. I use buffer to schedule my tweets and facebook posts in advance. This allows me to batch my posts for several days, in only five minutes, by sitting down and entering what I want to post. Buffer then posts on my behalf to my social media accounts at the most opportune times for engagement. I find relevant articles, my own articles, and memes or quotes that I think my audience will be interested in, load them up and then walk away. There are many other systems like this that integrate with other platforms as well, but buffer is easy to use and free for the basic plan.
19. Define Your USP & Ideal Customers
A USP is a “Unique Selling Point” and you need to figure out what makes your service or product unique. This will allow you to stand out and use this specific selling point to market to an exact customer. Once you’ve done that, define your ideal customer. Create an avatar of who it is you will sell to. Are they male or female? Lower, middle or upper income? Do they have babies, kids or teens? Do they have dogs or cats or reptiles or rats? What problem do they desperately need your help to solve? How will you make their life easier? What do they look like? What music do they listen to? What food do they eat? You literally should create a complex character of who would absolutely buy your product or service and then every time you market, think about how you are helping them. This will be crucial to growth in your business and will save you hours of time marketing to people who don’t want or need what you have to sell.
20. Tell your Friends and Find your Tribe
Finally, tell your family and friends about your new endeavor. Look to others to support you and get the word out about your business. Many people love to buy local, promote local business and support family and friends with their pursuits. They know other people and if you’re product or service is exceptional (which it should be), then word of mouth will be another key to your success. Then find your tribe. Search for groups and other people who are a little farther ahead in life and pick their brains. Then, find some others who are several years behind you and mentor them. Surround yourself with others in the same situation, but who are striving to better themselves, others, and their business. Lean on those with common interests when you have questions. Find a confidant and share your goals, fears, wins, and losses. Get together online and in person with people who want you to succeed and stick by them! You never know what the future may hold and who will play a critical role in improving your life. Then go for your goals, make your plan, dream big and strive for excellence. With this attitude and a lot of hard work, you can achieve great things.
Want more tools, tips, and book recommendations for starting a home business? Check out my resources page!