“Do you know a good builder?” Those six words dominated my life for nearly two years while my husband and I planned a major renovation. Substitute “builder” for plumber, electrician, cabinet maker and painter and I guess my conversation got a little predictable for a while.
In the end the renovation went pretty smoothly, but the question of how to find good advice on tradies continued to nag at me until I had to do something about it. What I was looking for was a forum where other renovators could share their opinions and experiences – the good, the bad and the ugly.
And since I couldn’t find one I decided to start it myself!
As a stay-at-home mum the idea of an online business I could run from my PC had immediate appeal. I had plenty of years of experience in the regular workforce and a whole range of skills I still wanted to use and grow. But what did I really want to achieve? Could I make any money out of this? How do you even start an online business? Not to mention my computer skills were limited to email, word processing, Google’ing and Skype.
I began where every good business should – with a plan. I bought a notebook and roughed out the idea before moving on to some of the great online resources available to help you create a comprehensive business plan. I worked my way through www.business.gov.au. Their step-by-step guide includes a template that was a bit daunting at first, but with a little customisation it soon had me considering the pros and cons, operations, market research and financial implications of starting up a home business. The planning helped me to set realistic expectations and focus on the commitment I would need to make if I was to take this seriously.
For general help and encouragement I found Flying Solo, a micro-business online community with lots of free resources and advice for sole traders like me.
Using the Australian Business Licence and Information Service also went a long way to simplifying the process of licences and registrations, although I still recommend tackling it with no distractions (that is, after the kids go to bed).
Developing the website was more time consuming but with lots of coaching from my web developer husband (yes, I got lucky there) I was soon considering domain names, navigation and page layouts.
Since I’m not technically minded and needed a high degree of customisation, I employed said hubby to do the behind-the-scenes work while I concentrated on building the businesses profile. If you do need to employ a web developer, I’d suggest you make sure they leave you room for expansion but don’t let them sell you a Swiss Army Knife if all you need to do is open a can. Do your research. Be clear about what your customers want and what you want them to do when they visit your pages. There are a lot of free modular systems out there that can save you money and can get you up and running fast.
After all that hard work to finally reach launch day was very exciting – and a great excuse for a celebration.
While it’s still early days, I’ve discovered that the very act of taking an idea and nurturing it to fulfilment has been tremendously satisfying. I’m not only using my old skills but I’m constantly learning new ones. I’m now immersing myself in the growing world of social networks and the new opportunities our digital lifestyles are offering for budding home-based entrepreneurs like me. What about you?
Tips for starting up an online business
- Don’t skip the business part. Online needs the same planning and attention as any other business. You have to keep working it.
- Get good technical advice. The technology supports the business, not the other way around.
- It’s all about the users. Find out what your users want and give it to them.
- Be mobile. Even if you don’t start out with a mobile site you need to have it in your business plan and work towards it. Half of all internet usage in Australia is now via mobile phones or tablets.
- Be social. 70% of Australian internet users are on Facebook. A social media presence is a must.
- Network with the like-minded. There are plenty of great online networks to help support small business and online entrepreneurs.
- Be patient. There are billions of sites on the World Wide Web. It can take a while to get noticed.
- Do it now! As LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman says, “If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late”.