05 Jan 2021 21:17 IST

Starting an online small business is so much easier today

All you need is a killer product that customers are willing to buy from you; but you need to create one

As companies worldwide continue to lay workers off or restrict hiring, there has never been a better time to call it quits and start your own small business.

No, not brick and mortar small businesses, which continue to fall under local laws for curfews and lockdowns. Millions of small businesses worldwide in the hospitality and transportation sectors have closed forever.

Even ancillary businesses in education and sports have suffered enormously. A friend built a successful Kumon franchise into a powerhouse that traditionally brought hundreds of students each month to her centre for math and reading practice after school, generating tens of thousands of dollars in revenue. Since Covid hit last March, local regulations have severely tightened rules for children to be together and wary parents just stopped sending their wards, resulting in a precipitous drop in her revenue. But her three-year lease with her landlord remains in force, and she has to pay $9,000 a month in rent for a building that is unoccupied and unused.

But online businesses that you can operate out of your home are not subject to any such restrictions or fixed costs. If you have a product or service that is attractive to your customers, you can use low-cost technology to start an online company and flourish.

What about start-up costs? They always act as a wet blanket and discourage business launches. But think again. As a budding online entrepreneur, you probably already have a computer, high-speed internet access, and a home in which to live. Infrastructure start-up costs are practically zero. And there are numerous low-cost and free tools that can help you launch your small business and make it look just like the big business that you used to work for a month ago.

Canva (free)

If you want to create a poster or flyer to display in your home’s front window — or to mail out to customers — there is no better tool than Canva. The site has numerous professionally designed templates that you can quickly convert to get the messaging you wish. Get your materials professionally printed — it’s an expense well worth it.

Blogger or Wordpress (free)

If your website is largely-text based with few demands on excessive video or digital media, you can re-purpose a traditional blogging platform as your gateway to the worldwide web. Both tools come with numerous templates to get you started. If you know basic HTML5, you can begin embedding various links, such as Google forms (for orders and surveys) and YouTube or Twitter or Facebook videos to give your website a professional look.

BigDaddy for hosting (very low cost)

Nothing turns a prospective customer off more than if the contact email address of a small business owner has a Yahoo or Gmail address. Even a "Gmailised" version, such as newsmallbusiness@gmail.com, shows that you’re not a serious-enough entrepreneur. Your company has a name, so invest $10 a year to get your own domain name and build a brand. Plus, invest about $50 a year to get a Google Small Business account. This will get you five email addresses with your company’s name, such as President@newsmallbusiness.com. Google Small Business also gives you access to cloud tools such as Drive and productivity tools like Docs, Sheets, and Slides.

Facebook (free)

 

Establishing a presence on the world’s largest social networking platform is essential to connecting with customers and growing your business. Many people don’t realise that Facebook offers two big products that are often confusing: Facebook Profile and Facebook Page. The first, Profile, is what you already have when you created a Facebook personal account. The second, Page, is exclusively for businesses and organisations. You can’t have or operate a Business Page without a Profile. The main advantage of operating a Page is that you can post business updates, hold live events, and integrate with Facebook Messenger which offers free texting and video calling.

 

 

 

WhatsApp for Business (free)

This tool is so valuable that no small business should be without it. I wrote an entire column extolling its virtue.

Feedburner (free)

If you can get your customers to sign up on your web site with their email addresses, Feedburner will automatically alert them each time you make a web site update. If you create a podcast, you can use RSS or Atom feeds to automatically send personalised updates to their inboxes.

Zoom (free or low-cost)

 

 

If your business involves talking to customers regularly, such as holding online classes, a $12/month Zoom subscription can work wonders. You can host up to 100 participants and stream events to Facebook Live. If you have an iPhone, you can share its screen on your desktop or laptop, or add a second camera to give another angle for your customers to view as you conduct your session. If your business involves only talking to customers one-on-one, you don’t even need to spend on a Zoom subscription.

Calendly (free)

If you want customers to schedule a time with you to talk, set up a free Calendly account and direct your customers to it. They will find an empty spot on your calendar and book an appointment, details of which will be emailed to you instantly. You can design your Calendly event to offer your available spots each day of the week, give it a professional look, and even include standard legal terms, a copy of which will be sent to your customer when the booking is complete.

PayPal (free or low-cost)

 

 

You have done all the hard work and sold your first product or service online. Get a free PayPal business account to send your customer a professional-looking invoice. Or add a shopping cart utility on your website with convenient drop downs with PayPal pre-designed templates. PayPal lets you collect using all the major credit cards, so your small business gives your customer the look and feel of dealing with a big company.

You will pay PayPal a three per cent commission on the sale but the money will directly go to your bank account. And you don’t pay PayPal anything upfront to offer this service. If you decide not to use PayPal’s credit cards for payment — have your customers privately send money to your bank account via a digital payments network and you pay PayPal nothing. But you can still get to use all of the tool’s powerful business features to maintain your accounts, for free.

Starting a small business today is so easy. All you need is a killer product or service that customers are willing to buy from you. Creating such a product, of course, is a different matter altogether.

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