In this article I am going to provide step-by-step information on how to start your own online business with hardly any money.
I am currently the owner of Deen Inspired, an online store specialising in hijabs established in September 2014, and I am hoping to expand in future inshaAllah.
Prior to launching Deen Inspired, my husband and I owned a successful online retail store selling urban and hip hop clothing, so it is fair to say that I have acquired knowledge and a few skills over the years, and I am excited to share that knowledge and skills with you.
Before I begin, I would like to make two points:
- As we are dealing with the online world, it of course entails the use of technology and computers. I would like to make it clear that I have no specialist knowledge in IT and technology, apart from studying it at GCSE over 16 years ago. I have managed to set up fully working websites and online stores, and if I can do this, I am pretty sure anyone can.
- Establishing a new business in the online world takes time, patience and dedication. If you are looking for overnight success, then unfortunately this article is not for you. If you are willing to work hard and use the tools described in this article, inshaAllah (God willing) you will succeed.
10 Steps To Starting An Online Business With Little Money
- 1. Register as self-employed
Once you decide that you would like to run your own online business which will hopefully generate an income, the first thing that you need to do is to inform the tax man. In the UK this means that you need to register as self-employed, which is a fairly straightforward process and involves a phone call or filling in of a form. If you are in the UK, you can find details on how to become self-employed from the HMRC website.
- 2. Decide what you will sell or provide on your online business
You will need to make a decision about what it is that your online business will be selling or providing. Are you planning on buying items at bulk and selling them for a profit? Are you hoping to make items yourself and sell them to customers who are looking for handcrafted items? Do you wish to sell eBooks containing specialist knowledge? Whatever it is that you wish to provide or sell, you need to ensure that you have it ready to add to your online business. I would advise that you start off with a little stock; just enough to get your business started.
- 3. Choose a name for your online business
You will need to think of a name for your online business. Choose a name that you like, but my advice is not to overthink it. Consider the following when choosing a suitable name for your online business:
- The name should not be too long, as visitors to your website may have difficulty remembering it or typing it in.
- The name should not contain too many words, as again it would be difficult to remember or type in.
- A unique name will help your website to stand out and make it easier to recall.
- Do not allow the name of your business to limit your business. For example, a business with the name ‘Hijabs Online’ is limited to selling hijabs online, and venturing into other product categories in future will make your business appear unprofessional. However, if you are sure that you will be selling or providing one particular product or service, then it is a good idea to include it in the name of the business.
- 4. Purchase a domain name
Now we are moving onto the more technical stuff, so pay attention 🙂
To get your business online, the first thing that you need to do is purchase a domain name. This is basically what visitors will type into the address or URL bar of a webpage to land at your online business.
Domain names are extremely cheap to purchase, and can usually be purchased for a year to two years and above. An example cost for domain names is a .co.uk domain name for £8 for 2 years. There are numerous domain name providers and it is probably best to go with the more popular providers. I generally purchase domain names from UK2.net, and they provide a straightforward, professional service.
- 5. Purchase a hosting account
Once you have your domain name, you will need to purchase a hosting account. You need a hosting account in order to provide your online business with all that it needs to run as an actual website. If your online business requires a store or shop, which is what I am focusing on in this article, then it is important that your hosting account includes the following:
- At least one PHP database (which will be required to set up the shopping cart/store).
- Ideally, an SSL certificate, so that your customers’ details remain safe and secure.
- Unlimited disk space and data transfer (optional)
You should be able to purchase a basic hosting account with the above for approximately £5 a month (or you can pay a larger sum for a year or more). Again, there are many hosting account providers. I am currently using HostGator to host my websites.
Once you have purchased your hosting account, you will need to set up your domain name to be hosted on your hosting account. Your domain name provider or hosting account provider should have easy-to-follow guides on how to do this.
- 6. Choose and download your shopping cart or store software
If you wish to make sales on your online business then you will certainly require some form of a shopping cart or store. This can be done completely free, but will require a little time and work. You can find a number of free (or open source) shopping cart software products that are excellent and easy to install and use. These include OpenCart, PrestaShop, Magento, Zen Cart and Drupal Commerce.
The Deen Inspired shop is powered by OpenCart software, which I have found to be easy and straightforward to install and modify as required. In the past, I have used Magento and Drupal Commerce, which have their advantages and disadvantages. Magento can be quite complicated to install but looks great, and Drupal is easy to set up but requires additional modules for different functions.
Once you have chosen the shopping cart software that you will use for your online business, you will need to download it and transfer the files to your website. I use FileZilla to transfer files to my websites, which is also free.
You will need a few days (or weeks!) to familiarise yourself with uploading your shopping cart, modifying and using it. Each shopping cart software has easy-to-follow guides for installing it, as well as wonderful communities and forums to get help if stuck with anything. Setting up a shopping cart yourself can seem daunting, but if you are on a tight budget, it is a wonderful resource to use. If it sounds too scary, you can always pay for shopping cart systems with one-click installation, or get someone to set it up for you, which will of course cost.
Once you have set up your default store, you can find alternative themes for your store in order to make it more unique or personalised.
- 7. Decide how you will accept payments
Now we’re talking, right? 😉 Once you’ve set up your wonderful online business, you will need to think about how you will accept payments on your website. My motto is, stay simple. I use PayPal to accept payments for purchases at Deen Inspired, and this has been sufficient as I am currently not making a huge amount of sales. Although PayPal takes a small percentage whenever a customer makes a purchase from you, there are no overheads involved, which is ideal for a new business just starting up.
There are many additional payment gateways, for example, with our previous online business we also used Nochex to accept payments. A quick search for ‘online payment gateways’ on google should get you on the right tracks 🙂
- 8. Add and edit fabulous photos for your website
High quality photos are key to a professional website, particularly one which operates as an online business or store. Nowadays, there is no excuse for taking bad photos as almost everybody owns a smartphone with the ability of taking photos with a good resolution.
Photos should be taken against a plain, light background, or you can use Open source photo editing software to crop and edit your photos to give them a professional finish. Paint.net and GIMP are two good examples.
- 9. Promote your online business
There are multiple social media platforms available to promote your online business, and most if not all of these platforms were non-existent when my husband and I ran our previous online store.
Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube…all of these fabulous social places and more are completely free to use and utilise. Create a Facebook page to showcase your online business, use Instagram to share photos of your products or items, create YouTube videos to show your products and how to use them. Paid advertising is available on social media platforms, but if you are on a low budget then it is best to make use of as many free resources as possible.
Another excellent way to promote your business is to create a blog, which again is completely free. WordPress and Tumblr are easy to use and it takes a matter of minutes to set up your blog. Posting regularly on your blog, particularly to advertise your products, will help to generate new business for you.
- 10. Sell your stuff on other platforms
As a new online business, you will not be able to sell stock as fast as more established businesses. While you are promoting your business and ensuring that people are becoming aware of it’s existence, you may want to sell some of your stock on other platforms. These could include:
- Online websites like eBay, Etsy (for handmade and vintage items) and Amazon, or similar Auction/Buy and Sell websites.
- Offline at event stalls or market stalls.
If you decide to sell your stuff on other platforms, you must ensure that you price your products correctly so that you do not make a loss.
And there you have it! Follow these steps and you’ll have your new online business up and running in no time 🙂