How do you start a business online? Getting your business and your website live on the web is a big step in the right direction. But the whole process -- all the steps to start an online business -- can seem complicated and confusing. Here, you'll get detailed information about everything involved in getting your business website set up right. You'll get everything from which tools and web hosting are best, to a handful of approaches to how to start an online business for free. Whether you're brand new to this and want to know how to start online business from home, or if you've been at this a while and want to gain a deeper understanding, you'll get it all in this detailed guide! Let's jump into it!
Here, we'll cover a ton of important information for you to know about how to start a business online. First, we'll cover the two different ways that you can get your business website live on the web -- and one of these methods shows you how to start an online business for free (or at least, for very low cost). Then, you'll discover a variety of approaches to building your business website. Some of these are older and somewhat outdated (but are included so that you can steer clear of them) while others are very modern methods for starting your business online.
After that, you'll get the clear steps you'll need to take to get your business and your website built right online. Next, we'll cover an important question: You might be wondering, "Do I need a business license to sell online?" You'll find out what you need to know about needing a business license to sell online. And finally, you'll see how you can start an online business from home.
Let's start off with a look at the different ways you can build your business website.
In order to build your business website, there really are just two choices: You can hire someone to build your website for you, or you can build your business website yourself.
Here, we'll look at hiring someone to build your site for you. Here, you'd hire a freelance designer or web developer to build your site for you. This is often the go-to option for getting your business online, however there are some challenges with this appraoch.
First, this approach means that you and your business must rely on someone else (their schedule, their hourly rate, and so on) for your business.
And what about running your business website day to day once it's live on the web? What about things like ongoing changes, maintenance, and updates?
Again, you're beholden to often flakey freelance designers...their schedule, their timetables, and their hourly rates...for everything!
What's more, this is by far the most expensive approach. I have a post that details out how much it costs to have a business website built for you. Take a look at How Expensive Is It To Have Your Business Website Built?
So while this could be the most direct approach to getting your business online, going this route means you're out of control of your business online, and it means that your business relies on someone else in order to run.
So let's take a look at another approach to start a business online...
A second option for getting your business online is to build your business website yourself. And the good news is, this isn't nearly as complicated or hard as you might think.
Many easy to use, modern web tools make it possible for just about anyone to build a website these days. Many modern tools function more like word processors or visual, intuitive, drag 'n drop website builders. So if you have even basic computer skills, you can build a beautiful, modern business website that'll look great on computers, tablets, and smartphones...all in a relatively short period of time.
And here's even better news: You can build your business website for relatively little cost. All that's needed is a domain name, web hosting, to set up your business email address, and maybe a few other small expenses.
While not completely free, this approach helps you save a lot of money getting your business website online, and puts you in complete control.
If you took a little bit of time to learn web design, you'd no longer have to rely on an expensive, often flakey freelancers. Instead, you can handle it all yourself. You can make changes, updates, and fixes anytime you want, and you'd gain a set of powerful skills that you can use for future projects and online businesses.
So this is the approach that I recommend and what I teach here on Ten Ton Online.
So now that we know that the best approach to getting your business online is to learn to do it yourself, let's now take a look at the different methods that are available for building your website.
Let's start with some older approaches that you should definitely avoid...
There are tons and tons of different tools, software applications, and platforms you can use to build your business website with. And, I've been able to boil them all down to just a handful of different approaches. In this section, we'll address some older methods for building your business website that you should avoid.
In the next section, you'll learn about some much more modern methods. And really, just ONE of these approaches will be best for you.
Let's take a look...
The first way to build a website is directly with raw HTML and CSS code. And while it is useful for self-reliant business owners to know even just the basics of HTML and CSS, building an entire website by hand simply isn't feasible. There are much more modern, faster, more reliable approaches to building your business website.
Instead, HTML and CSS can be used to make small fixes, customizations, or to make minor adjustments to your website (or even to your email campaign templates, online advertising efforts, and so on). This is why knowing the basics of web code is very useful for business owners. And the great news is, it isn't hard to learn and HTML and CSS. And it won't take you very long to learn this stuff either. Just know that you won't be building entire web layouts from complete scratch using code.
An approach that's much better than hand-coding your business website is to use what's called a WYSIWYG editor -- that is, What You See Is What You Get. Years and years ago, WYSIWYG editors like Dreamweaver were the best approach to building websites quickly. Even non-technical users could build great looking websites using an editor's processor-like interface -- menus, dialog boxes, and so on.
And while WYSIWYG editors were a much better approach to building websites compared to hand coding, WYSIWYG editors like Dreamweaver are severely outdated when you put them beside the much more modern web platforms and publishing tools we have today.
These days, we have much faster, easier approaches to building websites.
And that's what we'll look at next...
I'm sure you've heard of web platforms like Shopify, Squarespace, Wix, and others. These visual website builders allow pretty much anyone to build modern, beautiful websites very quickly without knowing any background code. They're easy and intuitive to use, which takes most of the frustration and technical stuff out of building your website.
But unfortunately, these sorts of builders have a big problem...
Using a platform like Shopify or Wix means that your business website is entirely tied to their service. In other words, you have to keep your website with them -- your website is bound to the website builder service. There's no way to disconnect your website from the service, download it, or move it to a different hosting vendor.
This means that your business is essentially trapped. And I've heard some absolute horror stories about online business owners who worked hard for years to grow their business, only to find out they've outgrown the service, or they've unintentionally violated a Terms Of Service clause or the hosting vendor goes out of business, instantly shutting down the business.
And so while these website builders make building your website fast and easy, you really don't own or control your online business or your website.
But that said, it's a big step in the right direction. Being able to quickly build your website using visual, drag 'n drop builders and not needing to get tangled up in technical web stuff is huge.
So in a moment, I'll show you a perfect solution that allows you to do all of this, AND own and completely control your business website. But first, we have to cover the next approach to building your business website...
You've no doubt heard about WordPress. But do you know what it is?
WordPress is what's referred to as a Content Management System or CMS. Basically what this means is that WordPress doesn't function like a WYSIWYG editor like Dreamweaver (which really, works more like Microsoft Word, where you're opening and editing files). Instead WordPress runs directly on your web server.
In fact, WordPress very much IS your website!
How it works is, WordPress has an administrator back-end that you'll log into to run your site, make changes and updates, and so on. Then, when visitors come to your website, they come to the public side of your website, where they can interact with your content, purchase your products, and so on.
And what makes WordPress so incredible is that it's completely free to use, it's fully customizable, and you can use it to build pretty much any kind of business website (or other kind of website) that you'd like...from a small, simple one-page website, to a full retail e-commerce store, to a membership website and more.
WordPress is incredibly powerful and flexible. And, it's easy enough for beginners to use, and powerful enough for experienced users and developers to fully control and customize.
Without question, WordPress is the best web design platform to build your online business with.
But, WordPress isn't quite like those visual drag 'n drop website builders we talked about earlier -- Shopify, Squarespace, Wix, and so on. At least, WordPress isn't quite like those builders by default, unless we...
One of the things that makes WordPress so powerful is that we can extend it's capabilities via what are called "plugins." Think of plugins as add-on modules that give WordPress extra abilities.
And at last count, there are over 55,000 plugins currently available! This includes plugins that add visual, drag 'n drop page construction to WordPress -- no coding or technical skill required!
There are quite a few visual builder plugins to choose from, but the one I use and recommend is called Elementor. Elementor is one of the most popular builders available, and it makes building layouts via dragging and arranging layout blocks and containers a breeze!
So, pairing the power, flexibility, and freedom of WordPress with the ease of use and speed of Elementor, and you've got the best, most modern approach to building your online business website!
So, WordPress and Elementor are the two tools that'll make building your business website a breeze! And if you like, you can learn a little bit about HTML and CSS to deepen your skills, and give you the ability to customize, fix, and make minor updates as the need arises.
If you're ready to learn more about how to start a business online, enroll in my free, self-paced Business Website workshop.
And so now that you know the best tools to use to build your business website, next you'll need a clear set of steps to follow to get your business online...
So far, you've gotten a sense of the two options for building your business website (hire someone to build it for you, or build it yourself). And, you've discovered the best tools and approaches for building a website for your online business.
In this section, you'll get the exact 5 steps you'll need to take to get your business website set up and earning you revenue.
Let's get started...
Your business's domain name is the address to your website...like yourcompanyname.com or tentononline.com.
And while many web-based services (like web hosting companies, for instance), offer free domain names as a part of their service, I recommend you go with an independent vendor to register your domain name.
Using a separate, independent vendor for your domain name allows you to keep your business web services separate from one another...and gives you complete control.
These independent vendors are called "domain name registrars." There are plenty of registrars to choose from, but the one I've been using and recommending for years is one called NameCheap. They've got great pricing and an easy to use interface.
I register all my domains with them -- they're great.
Now, why not take advantage of a free domain name from your web hosting company? A few reasons.
First, the "free" domain name usually isn't free at all, but instead has it's costs buried elsewhere in the vendor fees. And these costs are often higher than what you'd pay at an independent registrar like NameCheap.
Second, registering your domain name separately from your other online services gives you much more control over your business and your website online. If you bundle all your services together with a single provider, and a problem comes up and you need to move to another vendor, it can be very difficult to get your hands on your business assets...like your domain name.
Imagine not being in control of your domain name...the address that your customers use to navigate to your website online!
To me, that's just too risky. Instead, separating everything keeps you in complete control, as I mentioned earlier.
Now, let's move on to the next step...
Web hosting is the space where you'll store your website online. Think of this as the empty space where you'll build your business website.
How it works is, your website's domain name -- again, yourcompanyname.com -- will point to this space. So, when someone types your domain name into their website, they're taken to your web hosting space, where your website is stored. That's how it works!
Now, there are many web hosting companies to choose from. Many are great. Others are terrible (take a look at my post Bad Web Hosting – Avoid The Worst Web Hosting Companies For Your Business for more).
Over the years, I've done a ton of research to find the best, most reliable and secure web hosting companies. And, I've been able to boil it all down to just three top web hosts that I confidently recommend.
Depending on your needs, one of these will be a perfect fit. These are hosts that I've been using myself for years and years for my various online projects and businesses, so I know they're among the best.
With your web hosting out of the way, we can move on to the next step to get your business online...
Recall that just a moment ago I said that your web hosting is the storage space for your website, and that your independently-registered domain name will simply point to that space, right?
Well that's what we need to do next.
Admittedly, this is the most technical part of the process. Thankfully, it's just a matter of finding some server information from your web host, and adding it to your domain name. This is called setting your domain's DNS info.
Again, it seems kinda technical, but really, it's just a matter of a few mouse clicks and some copying and pasting.
And, your web host is there to help.
And even better, so am I!
I've got tutorials that walk you through the exact steps to point your domain name to the three business web hosts I recommend. See How To Point Your Domain Name To Your Web Hosting Hub Account, Easy Steps To Point Your Domain To Your SiteGround Hosting, and Point Your Domain To Your WP Engine Hosted Website.
And here's the crux of the whole set-up...here's why we've gone to all the effort of separating your domain name and your web hosting...
Let's say there's a problem with your web hosting. Let's say they flake out on you, or maybe you simply outgrow their services. And by the way, I've NEVER had this happen with the hosts that I use and recommend...but let's just say something happens and you need to get your business hosted somewhere else.
Well, if the problem can't be resolved quickly with your web host, you'll need to rapidly move your business website to a different web hosting vendor. And if you have a recent back-up of your website (which you should), this will simply be a matter of signing up for new hosting, uploading your site to your new account, and pointing your domain name to your new host.
Simple as that!
In other words, since you set yourself up to be in complete control, should something bad happen, worst case you can get your business back up and running in a very short period of time.
I've heard some nightmare stories where people have lost their business website -- and their ability to earn an income for themselves and their families -- for weeks at a time because of some kind of problem with their web host.
They were locked out of their site, their site went down, or who knows what else.
My number one rule in business, whether it's an online business or a traditional offline business, is Control. That is, we have to own and control as many aspects of our business as possible. That way, if something bad happens, you can take immediate action to fix the problem and protect your business, your income, and your family.
This is why I suggest you set yourself up in this way. Yes, it takes a few extra steps. Yes it might be a bit more involved. But, these extra steps give you total control over your online business and peace of mind, too.
Now, with these steps complete, we can move on to...
We know from earlier that WordPress and Elementor are the web design tools that will give us all the power, customisability, and flexibility we'll need to build your business website exactly the way that you want it.
So the next step in the process of building your online business is to get these two tools installed on your web hosting account. The great news is, this is dead easy to do and only takes a few mouse clicks and less than 5 minutes! It's really that easy!
Most web hosts, including the ones I use and recommend, come with what are called "WordPress one-click installers." This is an automated script that will install WordPress for you with just a few clicks.
As for Elementor, remember, this is a WordPress plugin. And once again, it's just a matter of a few mouse clicks to get the free version of Elementor installed. Or, if you want to go with the paid version, installation is also very straightforward.
With WordPress and Elementor installed, there's only one thing left to do. And that's...
The last thing we'll need to do is set up your business's email accounts.
So, this could be "email@example.com," "firstname.lastname@example.org," or something similar.
Just like web hosting companies often offer free domain names, many hosts also offer free business email accounts. And I'll bet you're already one step ahead of me here...
I'm going to suggest that you use a separate vendor that specializes in email for your business. Once again, this relates back to our discussion about ownership and control.
Imagine if your email service is bundled together with your web hosting...and something bad happens: Your web host goes down, they get hacked, there's some kind of problem with your account...who knows!
Well, guess what happens to your business email?
It goes down too. Now, you have no way to communicate with your customers until the problem is resolved.
This is why I strongly suggest to use an external email service provider. And the good news is, there are some top vendors for you to choose from, and none of them are very expensive (usually about $5 per month per email account). And, all bring enterprise-grade security and reliability.
We've covered a lot so far, from the different tools and approaches to starting a business online, to the exact steps to getting a business website live on the web.
But you might be wondering, "Do I need a business license to sell online?"
This is something that a lot of people overlook as they're getting their business set up. And the short 'n sweet answer to this question is, "Yes!"
Even if you're running your business out of your home or apartment, you'll still need to ensure you have everything in order. Licensing and filings apply to all businesses, regardless as to where and how they're run.
And, depending on where you're located, you may need to have paperwork in order to be abel to accept payments online. This of course relates to taxes and accounting, so you may need to talk to a professional first. Nobody likes red tape, paperwork, or jumping through hoops. However, avoiding or ignoring this important step could put you in some hot water.
How it works is, you'll need to see what the requirements are in the geographic area where you'll be running your business -- both nationally on a more local (state or provincial) level. As I'm sure you can guess, requirements and regulations differ from region to region.
I get it...this isn't fun stuff. But getting yourself set up right ahead of time can save you some huge headaches (and even fines and penalties) later on down the road. Make sure you're set up (and you keep up) with whatever requirements need to be met in your geographic area.
So based on everything we've covered in this post, how can you start and run your online business from home?
Well hopefully that's pretty obvious! What's so great about setting up and running a business online is that you can run it from anywhere...on your phone while you're away, from rented office space, and of course from the comfort of a spare bedroom or your dining room table!
So, to start an online business from home, simply follow all of the above steps.
However, one area we didn't cover was physical products and inventory. If your business will be selling and shipping tangible products, then you may have to consider space for inventory in your home. There's nothing like product piled in your kitchen and hallways!
However, if you're running a service-based business or are selling digital goods, then of course you won't have to worry about inventory cramping your living space.
And if you can pull it off, what's so great about running an online business from home is the flexibility. The commute's fantastic and you can fit work around whatever else is happening. Most often, all you need is a laptop, your phone, and an internet connection.
I've been running my business from home for almost ten years and I love it! To get a change of scenery, I'll take my laptop to another room, onto the back deck, or I'll even head out to the local library for the afternoon.
So if you can, start an online business from your home, and you'll never look back!
To help get you started, I've put together a free Business Website workshop. It'll outline for you everything you need to know to get your business website started.
Alright, there's a look at what's involved in how to start a business online. I hope you enjoyed and learned lots here.
We talked about the two main approaches to building your business website (including how to start an online business for free...or at least, for very low cost). Then we took a look at the different methods for building your business website.
After that, you got the steps to start an online business (including registering your domain name with NameCheap, setting up your business website hosting -- either with Web Hosting Hub, SiteGround, or WP Engine -- and getting your business email set up (using either Office 365 or Google G Suite.
Finally, we covered what kind of business license you might need for an internet-based business and discussed how to start online business from home and some of the benefits.
So now you should have a solid grasp on everything that's involved in starting a business online.
See ya next time!