Starting An Online Business On A Shoe-String Budget

Choosing your own career path, working from the comfort of your own home and setting your own office-hours – it’s no wonder that more and more of us are picking entrepreneurship over employment.

In fact, 13% of Americans started running new businesses in 2012, which was the biggest spike in entrepreneurship rates in 13 years. This increase in innovation isn’t due to sagging employment levels as some of us may have expected – 75% of people setting up their own businesses are doing so because they believe they have identified an opportunity to exploit.

Entrepreneurs are taking advantage of the new opportunities offered by the internet, with 52% of all small businesses based at home.

So now that start-ups no longer have to be preceded by bank loans granted on the basis of a persuasive business plan, how do you set up your own online enterprise on a shoe-string budget?

Dip your toe in the water

Before diving head-first into a new online enterprise, you should monitor consumer interest in your products with a trial period - sites such as eBay and Etsy allow users to sell goods for minimal fees. If items are snapped up, this can warrant further investment into your start-up.

eBay was instrumental in the creation of online fashion retailer Nasty Gal – founder Sophia Amoruso began by selling thrift shop finds on eBay and soon found that each hand-picked item was subjected to a bidding war from buyers all over the world. This cult-status amongst the fashion-conscious soon converted into a business now worth $100 million and still growing. 

Amoruso claims that her “small-thinking” with her eBay store was instrumental to her success, as it made her dedicated to providing customer service rather than just taking people’s money. This in turn provided free marketing as buyers were keen to share their positive experience with the brand, referred to as the “best-dressed girl’s best kept secret”.

Make it official

Once you’ve honed your USP and know that there is enough consumer appetite for your products, you can move to a more professional standing with an e-commerce site for your business.

The type of website that you create will depend on the nature of your business. For example if you are planning to sell products online, then you will need an e-commerce site. Providers such as GoDaddy offer package deals to create an online store that includes a unique domain name of your choice, design templates and hosting for a little as $4.99 a month (correct as of 24/09/14).

However if your business is to offer services rather than sell products, you can create a completely free website via sites such as and Weebly that provide simple customizable templates.

When you are creating your website, consider the hosting that you use. Some cheaper hosting packages use shared servers where up to hundreds of websites share one server - although this is less expensive, a server can crash if several of the sites sharing it start to experience a significant increase in traffic. Therefore sharing server capacity can be ideal for a start-up but you may wish to invest in a dedicated server as the business attracts more customers.

Get yourself seen

With a website established for your business, the next thing to do is to get people to actually visit it. Implementing search engine optimization is the first step in getting yourself noticed.

Quite simply, SEO aims to increase a website’s position in search engine results pages. For example, if you sell silk scarves, you’ll want to be one of the first results that pop up when someone searches for silk scarves.

Now SEO strategies don’t have to be solely the domain of digital marketers, but can start as simply as using the free Google AdWords tool to define the terms which your target audience are searching for that relate to the product or service you are selling. You can then work the terms with healthy search volumes into the copy on your website to make a page more relevant to that specific search term, and therefore rank higher in search results. 

Start selling

When your online enterprise is set up, the only thing left to do is sell. If you’re selling a product rather than a service then you are faced with one final conundrum: where do you keep all of the stock? Renting a warehouse or storage unit can be expensive, but those on a budget can enlist the services of ShipWire, a third party logistics provider who will hold your inventory in their warehouses and ship customer orders via the best value courier service.

Those offering a service instead now have to get their name and area of expertise known in order to attract customers. The best way to achieve this is to have something physical to give to prospective customers, such as business cards or flyers. Printing service Moo offer professional business cards with original designs and prices start from as low as $14.99 for 50 cards (correct as of 24/09/14).

So there you have it – starting an online business is not only simpler than you may have thought, but it’s possible on a shoestring budget too. 


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