The internet has created a whole new generation of entrepreneurs. You can virtually run any online business from the every corner of the earth. Starting an online business can be as simple as setting up a basic shop on eBay to sell a few wholesale items, to coming up with a completely new online business concept with a novel way of monetizing it. You don’t need a fancy qualification to be successful online.

You can start your operation from anywhere, as long as you’ve got access to an internet connection and know what you want to do to make a business out of it. As simple as that may sound, you need a viable business idea like with any business that succeeds and at least a plan of what action to take.

Proven steps to get you started:

1. What should I sell online?
2. Which business models will work for me
3. Registering the right domain
4. Your hosting needs
5. Building the perfect website
6. Getting to market
7. Must-have online tools we use
8. Mistakes you should avoid when starting an online business

1. What should I sell online?

One of the most important elements of setting up an online business is finding out if there is a market for your idea. Most people who are just starting out make the mistake of looking for a product first, and a market second. To boost your chances of success, start with a market. The trick is to find a group of people who are searching for a solution to a problem, but not finding many results. The internet makes this kind of market research easy:

1. Visit online forums, Quora, groups to see what questions people ask and what problems they’re trying to solve.

2. Do keyword research to find keywords that a lot of people are searching, but for which not many sites are competing.

3. Check out your potential competitors by visiting their sites and taking note of what they’re doing to fill the demand. Then you can use what you’ve learned and create a product for a market that already exists–and do it better than the competition.

RecommendedThis Will Help You Monetise Who You Are and What You Know Online

What do your prospective customers need?

Websites are too often built with the needs of the business owner in mind rather than the needs of the customer. Talk to some prospects and customers to find out if there are any health and fitness problems that a website can solve for them. Then, build your website with your customer needs at the center of the strategy.

Start small and have patience.

Don’t give up your day job too soon (but if you really want to start and a successful business you have to be fully committed to it), as it will take time for your internet venture to grow – and in the meantime there may not be much incoming revenue. As a budding online entrepreneur, you’ll need lots of energy, enthusiasm, determination and passion; but you also need to be realistic. Success on the web take time but demands commitment.

Consistency pays. While many businesses are launched, few make a profit, and most will never see a return on investment. That said, while starting up an internet business can be one of the toughest things you ever do, it can also be the most rewarding. If you do it right, you reap the benefits of your efforts.

Recommended: The Entrepreneur Handbook: 120 Awesome Resources for Every Entrepreneur

2. Online business models you can consider

Having established how much time, money and resources you plan to put into your online business, there are four basic online business models you can show from. Most online businesses are a combination of these models. Choose and use what works for you or works best in your industry.

1. Freemium – This is probably the most popular model out there. You offer a basic service for free but customers can pay for premium features.

2. Selling products – The most closely aligned to the traditional business model of selling. With an e-commerce site you sell a product or service. Customers buy directly from your site, and the products are then either delivered to them or downloaded.

3. Advertising – You need lots of traffic for this model to work. The aim is to get as many visitors as possible, increasing the amount of customers your advertisers reach. Content on this kind of site is usually completely free for the site user, providing them either with information or entertainment.

4. Subscription – similar to the advertising model subscription sites generally provide information or entertainment, but the difference is the user pays to access all or part of that content.

RecommendedThe 3 Most Popular Revenue Models (And Why Businesses Like Them)

 3. Registering the right domain

Think of a domain name as your business address online. Everything about starting an online business revolves around your domain name. It’s the gateway for your customers to enter your business and use, subscribe, or buy from you. It’s your brand, your business identity and your most important marketing tool. Don’t get it wrong.

The process of securing a decent domain name is getting increasingly difficult. But don’t settle for just any name. Check out what domains are available before doing anything as drastic as registering your business’ name with the state. There are even some domain name registration companies that will give you a free domain name as part of their package of services. Get the basics right before you make your business legal.

Although short domain names may appear more desirable and easy to remember, longer ones often work better especially when people are searching for your business online via search engines. Longer names can include keywords that will come up more often in search results.  Keyword-rich domain names attract higher click-through rates.

If you intend to use short names, it should be minimally confusing and avoid conflicts with existing and new domains. Always choose a domain name that people find easy to spell and memorize. Difficult names that are difficult to pronounce and spell might be of no use for your website.

4. Your hosting needs

When you are done registering a domain, the next step is to find a hosting provider. Be careful with where you host your online business. Go ahead and educate yourself about existing customers find their service. You don’t want to have the trouble of running an online business with terrible hosting support. This is crucial because when you run an online business, everything depends on your live website. If it’s down, you don’t have a business.

Check the packages and know what you are buying. You can never know if you will go over your bandwidth because sometimes traffic can spike. Some companies could take down your website if you go over your storage quota, and effectively shut down your business. You should be very careful who you entrust your online business to.

There are lots of free hosting services, but if you’re serious about running an online business long-term, consider paying for one that offers all the services you need. You’ll be less likely to run into problems when your business starts to take off.

Some hosting services are highly structured, allowing you to choose from among different templates to create a website quite easily. Others allow you to do your own programming, giving you greater flexibility. Whatever you choose, make sure you will be guaranteed the best support going forward.

5. Building the perfect website

Once you’ve got your market and product, and you’ve nailed down the online business you want to start, you’re ready for your online business website. It’s not enough to have a just a great domain name and some epic content. People need to be instantly engaged when they land on your business site, and much of that will stem from design, layout and how easy it is to navigate between, and find, different content. What you sell should be obvious to your audience.

Try as much as possible to keep everything simplistic or even minimal with only your most important content spotlighted for your customers. It’s difficult to do away with all the buttons that convert to real customers but maintain them only at places that will covert the most. Whatever you find appealing, make sure it doesn’t contribute to the noise and clutter. Make it clear where to start on your website. This means that one brief block of text needs to be larger than anything else on the screen.

You want to talk about the benefits of what you’re selling, not just the features. What does this mean? Jason Fried sums this up nicely: a feature is what your product/service does, and a benefit is what a visitor can do with what you’re selling. Speak to the latter, to the actual results, it’s always more powerful.

If building your own website is not an option, try searching for web designers online or seeking the help of a professional web designer. This is the more expensive option since more web builders are free, but you will be able to get the best for your website.

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What is the financial logic behind your website?

If you are selling products or services, you’ll probably need a website that can handle e-commerce transactions and order fulfillment. You may also want to consider making more money through advertising, membership fees or offline sales. No matter what your financial model is, your revenue is going to be dependent on the number of qualified visitors you can drive to your site.

Never stop in the process of improving your website, monitoring statistics and making necessary changes and you will convert better.

Some important tips to keep in mind:

1. Choose one or two plain fonts on a white background.

2. Make your navigation clear and simple, and the same on every page.

3. Only use graphics, audio or video if they enhance your message.

4. Include an opt-in offer so you can collect e-mail addresses. Use this only if you have to. Don’t overuse intrusive opt-in emails forms. Nobody likes that.

5. Make it easy to buy–no more than two clicks between potential customer and checkout.

6. Your website is your online storefront, so make it customer-friendly.

6. Getting to market

Marketing is perhaps the most critical element to the long-term success for any entrepreneur. Too many people fall into the trap of creating an online business and then expecting orders to come racing in. If the product is great and you have early buyers, well that is a good start. But long-term sustainability demands strategy and focus.

Regardless of the industry of your online business, or the experience of the entrepreneur, success in any entrepreneurial effort is predicated on an intersection of two of three key factors.

(1) Product or service excellence

(2) An existing network of potential clients/customers (i.e. the entrepreneur already has customers lined up)

(3) A well developed and executed go to market strategy.

Regardless of the product or service, no one parts with their money unless they see value.  The entrepreneur must take time to develop not just a value proposition, a good practice to be sure, but create a story that paints a picture that naturally underscores exactly where this value lies. The value of your product must be clearly stated in any campaign. The buyer is always the focus and every story you intend to run must be geared towards presenting the best value possible.

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Generating traffic for your online business.

Even the most cutting edge design and amazing new product is worthless if it’s buried under millions of other websites. Consider these basic methods of promoting your new site:

1. Give away free, expert content. Create articles, videos or any other content that your audience will find useful. Make time for content distribution, its as equally important as its creation. You’ll reach new readers. But even better, every site that posts your content will link back to yours.

2. By all means necessary, be social. People love social media and it gets better every year. According to a McKinsey & Nielsen survey, 76% of people feel good when they network using social media.

If you can add value, serve others and give freely, then you can connect with your target audience, power your business and get whatever you want faster. Focus on sharing with your audience, don’t push your product, highlight your valuable content.

3. Don’t feel like you have to do everything at once. Focus on one channel or activity at a time, rather than spreading yourself too thinly.

4. Don’t even think about paying for advertising unless you’ve got a way to track the results and follow-up. We love Google Analytics, not least because it’s free!

5.  Do optimise your online business to take advantage of free search engine traffic – use keywords in your product titles and descriptions, and research what people are searching for. Write blog posts based on what people search for in your industry.

Your business blog can significantly increase your organic search traffic if you focus on epic content instead of writing for search engines. Experiment with content to see what resonates – don’t just keep doing the same thing that’s not working over and over again. Vary content and do more of what converts.

6. Don’t spend money on sponsored listings or AdWords unless you’re confident you know what you’re doing – they can be expensive and ineffective for the in-experienced marketer.

–Recommended tools/apps/resources

1. The Startup Marketing Handbook (Actionable Strategies for Rapid Startup Growth)

2. 19 of The Best Tools To Help You Overcome Your Content Distribution Hurdle

3. 30 Most Important Tools for Content Discovery, Curation and Marketing

7. Must-have online tools/apps/resources for success

The following recommended tools are particularly useful if you’re want to sell online products or are already selling products online. Setting yourself up with these key tools (or similar versions of them) should allow you to save yourself time and effort while strengthening the foundation of your business. You can work better, faster and smarter in the process.

–Recommended:

1. Cloud Storage and sharing apps. Almost every popular could storage app out there offer free space for basic use. Cloud-based storage apps are becoming must-have apps for most business professionals. Any worthwhile service should include a mobile app to allow you access documents while away from the nest. These four some of the most popular; DropboxOneDriveGoogle Drive and Box.

2. Here Are 12 Work-Related Apps To Dominate Your Work Week

3. 3000+ Amazing Business, Productivity, Blogging and Life Hack Resources

4. 15 Of The Best Tools Your Business Should Be Using

5. These 21 Sites Can Improve The Odds of Success for Your Startup

6. The Most Comprehensive List of Ways to Make Money Online (200+ Resources)

8. Mistakes you should avoid when starting an online business

1. Waiting for too long to start an online business (if you have been thinking about it)

When you want to start a business online, it’s easy to get stuck on the content “hamster wheel” for months or years without ever offering something for sale.There are a few reasons this happens: You think you are not ready.

You don’t know how to balance it with your present job. Some people just can’t find the time to do it even though they want to. Others simply talk themselves out of creating an online business because they’re afraid no one will buy from them. They don’t want to fail after putting in so much time creating it.

Whatever the reason, this is a fatal trap. If you’re building a business, you need to address the biggest risk head-on. The biggest risk you’ll face as a business is in creating something no one will pay for.

2. Solving an unimportant problem

If the problem your business solves is important enough, you won’t struggle have to look for customers or users. Imagine if you had a cure for cancer, for example. Online businesses fail all the time because they try to solve a problem nobody really cares about. If you put your idea out there and nobody buys from you, there’s a good chance you should look for a more important problem, not a bigger audience.

3.  Choosing a topic you don’t care about

Whatever you choose to focus your business on, you’re going to need deep subject knowledge, fresh creativity, and unwavering stamina. If you love your topic, stamina won’t be an issue. If you love your topic, creativity will flow, and influence will be easier to build.

4. Not being different

In most markets, customers have different options to choose from. If your business has competition, you have to give your potential customers a reason to choose your offering over another.

Instead of simply trying to be better, you need to be different. Then, when someone asks why your site or product is worth her attention, your answer will be objective and easy to understand.

5.  Starting with vastly wrong expectations

This won’t be easy, and it won’t be quick. Building a successful business is a massive undertaking. You probably can’t do it while traveling the world. If you have a full-time job, it will be much, much harder.

If your plan involves four-hour workweeks, or if your timeline is measured in weeks or months, you will probably fail. These are the hard truths that people rarely talk about. Overnight successes don’t exist. Your original plan will probably have to be completely re-written, maybe multiple times.

Ask yourself: will building this business still be worth it if it takes years to get there? What if building the business is harder and more stressful than your current job?

6.  Not really listening to customers

How do you know if the problem you solve is important enough? Listen to your customers. Really listen to them. Don’t just pay lip service to your customers. You don’t have all the answers, they do. There’s a reason why “the customer is always right,” because without customers you don’t have a business.

~~Don’t expect to be an online millionaire overnight but it pays to be an online business entrepreneur if you get it right. GET STARTED TODAY!

Founding Editor @Alltopstartups, Contributor @Entrepreneur, Columnist @Inc. Magazine and Curator at Postanly (his free weekly digest of the best life and career improvement posts on the web. Subscribe for free.