If you've always dreamed of starting an online business--I've got news for you. It's easy for an online business to be minimalist! In this post, I'm going to discuss several topics related to how to start an online business and why it's one of the most minimalist ways to earn money.
- How is an online business minimalist?
- What do you need to start an online business?
- How I started my online business
- Ideas for starting an online business that's also minimalist
How is an online business minimalist?
How much stuff do you need to go to a job? Do you have clothes and shoes you wear just for work? There are commuting expenses, meals, and drinks while you’re away from home. Probably a bunch of other little things you end up buying, like an extra phone charger and cup for your drinks, because it’s easier to leave them at work than drag what you have at home to and from your job.
Then there’s owning a business that isn’t online. You’ll need a building, furniture, decorations, and probably physical products. Maybe employees. Maintenance and cleaning costs. Office supplies, utility bills for your building, property insurance, and possibly a vehicle just for business transportation. Plus you probably need a lot of the same things an employee needs: coffee mugs, phone chargers, work clothes, etc.
Then there’s an online business. Typically, the product is you and what you create, including digital content and products. I run my entire business with a laptop (that I already owned) and my cell phone (already had that, too). Anywhere I have access to the internet, I can run my business.
What do you need to start an online business?
There are a few basic things you need to figure out to start your own online business:
- Concept/brand (what your business is all about)
- Web presence (website, social media accounts, etc.)
- Audience (people find your brand, you establish a rapport and they trust you enough to give you their money)
Easy, right? Here’s the problem. It seems like everybody and their mom is trying to start a business these days. And about 50% of small businesses fail in the first 4 years, with about 46% of failures from incompetence. So how do you get it right?
Honestly, no matter what there is a huge learning curve for a new business owner. I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy. And anybody who tells you that you can start a business for no money, work 5 hours per week and make tons of money within a month?? If you seriously believe that, I have a bridge in the desert I’d love to sell you! Not to say it can’t happen that way, but it’s very, very rare.
So no matter what you do, do your homework. Be realistic, and expect it to take time and effort. Mistakes will be made along the way. But with good knowledge and patience, you CAN start your own online business. See how I did it below…
How I started my online business
I had a few requirements for starting my own business:
- Being disabled, it was hard enough for me to do my full-time job, let alone adding a time-intensive business. I needed to be able to keep my job while I got my brand off the ground. That meant I couldn’t do any business that needed me to work on it tons of hours per week.
- I’m very selective about what I spend my money on. I didn’t want to sell any products or services I wouldn’t use myself. I don’t want to feel like I’m tricking people to buy things just so I can make money.
- No reinventing the wheel. I’ve tried to start my own business in the past, and I recognize I was unsuccessful because I was clueless about marketing and social media. So I knew I needed to learn more about skills I was lacking in those areas.
- As much automation as possible. I want a business so I have more freedom and spend less time working, while still having plenty of money to live.
I've done several training courses, both paid and free, and read several books, on how to start a small business. Blogging is a great, relatively low-cost way to start a small business. How quickly you make money, and how much, will vary greatly. But since there is so much competition out there in the blogging world, I think it's really important to get some training. Otherwise, you will probably get frustrated and give up before you make any progress.
Even though I’m still growing, a lot of the stuff I do with my business is “set it and forget it.” That’s the automation I wanted. I get to create content that I’m interested in myself, so it doesn’t feel like a chore. Using techniques I learned from others, I send my thoughts out into the world and people come to me. I don’t have to go hunting them down and begging them to listen to me. No bugging my friends and family and try to convince them to buy things from me. And NO selling things I don’t actually use myself.
Don't get me wrong, it's not easy to be self-employed. You may end up working more than you did at a regular job, especially in the beginning when you're getting up and running. And there's a steep learning curve if you've never done anything with websites, or self-employment taxes, or any of the other accounting things you will need to know about. Even if you outsource those tasks, you still need a working knowledge so you don't get swindled by someone.
It's also important to be yourself. Pretending to be something you're not won't get you very far in the long-term, and I can imagine it's exhausting. There are enough people in this world with varied interests that you can find your people--the ones who want you just as you are, and find benefit from the knowledge and skills you have to offer. Not only that but if you're going to behave the way others want you to and follow their rules, why not just stick to being an employee?
My last piece of advice is to be willing to go outside your comfort zone a little. You can't reach the heights of success without going outside of your comfort zone.
Ideas for starting an online business that's also minimalist
There are some not-minimalist ways to have an online business. Anything that requires you to hold large amounts of inventory, or uses a lot of supplies, will be less minimalist. If you want to be as minimalist as possible, ideally you would focus on a very specialized niche, and offer digital products. Blogging is one option, but as I said, it isn't for everybody.
Alternatively, have someone else house and ship your products for you. So instead of running a T-shirt business where you design, print, and ship T-shirts from your home or other business location, a more minimalist approach would be working with a third-party company that allows you to email your designs; the company then prints and ships T-shirts on demand when orders are received.
My husband has a semi-minimalist small business selling books online. He needs very little equipment. It gets a little crowded because he obtains the inventory himself, and sometimes it's several hundred books at a time. Then he has to prepare them for sale, including creating an inventory list, cleaning them, pricing, writing descriptions, and packing them up to be shipped.
The minimalist part is that a large portion of our sales are through Amazon (link to our storefront), and they house our inventory. Once it's shipped to them, they handle sales, customer service, and shipping. Not to mention, they have way more exposure and marketing than we could ever afford. It cuts into profits but gives him more time to focus on acquiring inventory. That's the part that he enjoys the most.
There are lots of digital products and services out there: virtual assistant, e-books, templates and forms, coaching...the list is endless. You can do something really specialized based on your skills. If you're a whiz at sewing, cooking, or tennis, you could create video instructional courses. If you're an artist, you could sell licensed digital versions of your products for commercial use.
Digital products are relatively inexpensive to create compared to physical products. Priced right, you can re-sell the same product to hundreds or thousands of people. Digital services, like coaching or being a virtual assistant, are less minimalist in my opinion because they require more hands-on work. If you don't work those hours, you don't get paid. But, it can be a great way to start in a niche and build your reputation, then branch out into a product that is accessible to a larger audience.
There are so many options for online businesses that with some creativity, you can come up with an idea that would suit just about any interest or skill set.