How to Start an Online Business: A Blueprint For Digital Start Ups

by Josh Barney

In this article, I’m going to answer a question that I’m asked A LOT…

…’how can I start my own online business?’

If this is something you’ve asked yourself or you’ve already set-up an online business and haven’t quite made it work, stick around. I’m going to give you a solid blueprint that will help you get started.

We live in an age where there are (almost) limitless digital opportunities for entrepreneurs, so whether you want to earn some extra money on the side, build your own brand or break away into an industry that you’ve always dreamt of being part of, this article is the perfect place to start your journey.

BTW: The following is a process that will work for anybody starting their own business. There are tons of different industry-relevant hints and tips that I can share, but if I cover every industry, this will turn into a 100,000 word article. So, for the purposes of this blog, I’m going to stay fairly broad.

In the last 10 years I’ve set-up (and helped build) blogs (that earn money via ad space and affiliate links), eCommerce stores, dropshipped products, lead-gen and funnels…

…on top of all that, I’m also Director and Shareholder of Einstein Marketer (and we’re not doing too badly).

Everyone happy? Let’s go…

facebook audiences ebook

How to Start an Online Business

Step 1: Research and Find Your Niche

A solid house needs solid foundations, the same applies to an online business. Before you can build anything, you must perform (thorough) research.

If you skip the research stage, it will cost you time and money later.

Trust me, I’ve made this mistake before and it’s cost me money in website subs, plugins and ad spend, as well as consuming tons of time (performing tests).

My best piece of (research) advice is to stick to an industry that you have some kind of interest or knowledge in. When you know more about an industry, you are much more likely to make better decisions…

…and you’ll already have some understanding of your target market.

market research target audience

Your research should include:

  • Competitor analysis: Check out competitors in your niche. If you only know a few, search for them on SimilarSites. This will bring up lots more websites in the same niche. What are they advertising? What is their pricing strategy? What products are they pushing? How are they marketing?
  • Trends: Check the latest trends in your industry. Use a tool like Google Trends to check for search popularity, and use BuzzSumo to see what people are sharing around a specific Keyword in your industry. Analyse Social Media’s trending hashtags.
  • Audience Insights: More than anything, you must know everything you can about the people you’d like to sell to. Start by creating a Customer Avatar, use your knowledge to find what questions (and problems) they’re asking in your industry (using a tool like Answer The Public), find out where they’re hanging out (by looking at Referral Sources in a SimilarWeb analysis of your competitors).

When you perform thorough research, you set yourself up to succeed. Before making any decisions, make sure you go through those three research steps.

BTW: I’ve included a few of my favourite tools for research (above). Make sure you use them! And if you’d like to discover more tools, keep reading!

Step 2: Sourcing

Before you reach this step, you must have a firm understanding of your niche, your competitors and target audience. If you DON’T you WILL make (more) mistakes.

Remember, just because YOU like something, that doesn’t mean it will make a viable business proposition.Click To Tweet

I’ve heard (and seen) so many people fail at building an online business, because they skipped straight to STEP 2 and totally ignored STEP 1.

Don’t be one of those people!

…OK, rant over…

The decision you make at the sourcing step will depend on your research.

If you’re planning to set-up a store selling physical products, your quickest option is Oberlo (I’d advice importing products from AliExpress). You can also create custom clothes and merch using P.O.D (print on demand) services like Printify, Printful (there are tons of options).

If you’re planning to start in affiliate marketing, ClickBank is generally regarded as the best place to find products. Amazon Affiliates is another (potentially) lucrative option.

Lead generation and selling ad-space will largely depend on your ability to produce high-quality content, putting the product sourcing in your own hands. I’d advise providing high-quality free content, in addition to gated content that requires a contact detail exchange (downloadable PDF’s are the easiest way to do this).

facebook audiences ebook

If you’ve got your own physical products to sell, you may want to hire a distribution company, who pick, pack and send individual orders. However, if you’ve built an information or software product, all you’ll need to do is find a place to host it.

Whatever you do, I’d strongly advice getting a sample of the product you’re going to sell. If the product doesn’t meet the description (especially for Dropshippers), it will negatively affect your brand…

…and you’ll receive very few (if any) repeat buyers, or social sharers (word-of-mouth is an incredibly powerful form of free marketing).

Your product quality must match your desired brand standards! Don’t ruin your hard work in the research stage by neglecting this! If you can’t get a sample in time, only use a supplier with A LOT of positive reviews. 

Step 3: Branding and Building

When you’ve got good knowledge of your industry, target market and competitors and you know you can source good products, it’s time to start building a recognisable brand.

This will begin by picking a brand name. Try to pick something that represents what your business stands for, speaks in your target market’s language and is memorable (stick to 2 words or less if possible).

There are tons of tools that will help you choose a brand name. I’d suggest using a word counter tool that reveals the most used words by your target market (find a thread or website that they congregate from your research).

word counter tool

You can then add to that word or use a brand name generator tool (Shopify have a good one!) to finish the job.

Make a short list of your best brand name ideas and go to a website domain seller (e.g. GoDaddy) and see if they are available. I have never started an online business that I couldn’t buy the .com for. There are a lot of reasons for this, but in general they are more memorable and seen as a digital standard.

When you have a name and the .com domain, it’s time to think about colour, language and logo. These are three imperative parts of your branding.

Everything you do must hold some kind of congruency (your social media, website, ads and logo must be consistent). This means colour and language mustn’t deviate.

Think about the colours that best align with your industry and brand ideals. If you’re unsure, check out our Psychology of Colour article.

The language you use should speak directly to your customer, this means communicating with phrases and words they understand and use themselves.Click To Tweet

(HINT: use the word counter tool I mentioned earlier).

Finally, you’ll need to design a logo. You have several options here:

  • Pay a professional designer: Use an online service like 99Designs or DesignPickle
  • Pay a remote freelancer (this will be cheaper than a pro): Check out UpWork or Fiverr
  • Design a logo yourself with a free logo maker: Looka and Canva offer really easy to use tools that take moments to master.

online business branding

Remember, whatever you choose it must be consistent with your chosen colour palette, language and it has to appeal to your audience.

If you can, collect a few different designs and ask for the opinion of friends who are in the same demographic as your target market. 

Step 4: Set-Up

Only when you’ve performed research, sourced a supplier (or distributor) and have a clear and complete branding strategy, should you start to build anything!

It will be a waste of time and energy if you do this first. You should have everything mapped out before you begin to build, and always keep your brand strategy in mind when building anything!

Begin by creating social media profiles on just two social networks. This will be much easier to manage and allow you to build ENGAGED followings. Many people start out trying to maintain 4-5 social profiles, this results in a host of poor profiles. Stick to two and make them great.

One of your chosen networks should be Facebook. They own the most powerful social media advertising platform of all the networks, have over 2.2. Billion monthly active users and act as social proof to people who will research your business.

 social media business

Your other network completely depends on who your target market are, and where they choose to hang-out. If you’re unsure, I have already created an Ultimate Guide to Social Networks for Business, check it out if you need to.

BTW: When you create social profiles, make sure you use your brand name without any deviation. This will make you much easier to find for customers and keep you congruent across all channels.

When you have created and completed your social profiles, it’s time to build out the website (if your business needs one).

Again, there are tons of options available, however, there are only 3 that I would strongly recommend (from my experience).

  1. WordPress: This CMS is perfect for anybody who wants to generate leads and affiliate clicks through content. It’s a great place for bloggers to run ads and is incredibly easy to use.
  2. Shopify: If you are dropshipping or selling your own products online, a Shopify store is a must-have. They come with tons of amazing plugins that were built to boost your conversion rates.
  3. Clickfunnels: This is awesome for anybody generating leads, hosting gated content, upselling with a value ladder and optimising landing pages. It’s a great option for affiliate marketers.

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to walk you through the setting process for each website type here (it will just take too long). Pick out the website builder that makes the most sense to your business and go from there. They are all very easy to use!

When you’ve got your social media profiles and your website, it’s time to place a Pixel on your website.

facebook pixel

A pixel is a piece of tracking code that is placed on a website. It tracks and records the actions of everybody who visits your website. The more data it collects, the more valuable it becomes, so make sure you set it up as soon as your website is ready.

If you’d like to learn more about the Pixels, check out our Guide.

Step 5: Create Content

When newbies hear the word ‘content’, the first thing they think of are blogs, videos and podcasts, however, that isn’t the case.

Content is just about everything that will fill your website and social media profiles. In order to win on social you must post consistent quality content. This means using the research you’ve performed (at the beginning).

I’d advise spending a few hours filling up a social media posting schedule tool like Hootsuite or Buffer, once a week. This will save you time and effort, and allow you to focus on your paying customers.

In addition to website and social content, email marketing also counts as content. A marketing list can be an insanely valuable resource, especially when contact details are collected effectively.

content creation

I’d suggest offering an incentive to anybody who signs up to receive a ‘newsletter’ from your brand. This can be as simple as a discount, entry into a competition or first dibs on any future promotions. Whatever you choose, make sure you feature this prominently on your website.

You should also use email marketing to create a cart-abandon sequence (a series of emails that are sent to anybody who abandons their digital shopping cart), another to encourage customers to leave a review (and purchase again) and a sequence that welcomes new subscribers to your brand.

If you’d like to go down the information product, ad space, blogging or affiliate marketing route, long form content is going to be crucial to your success. You’ll need to create blogs, videos or podcasts regularly.

You’ll also really need to think about landing page content. Try to get as many reviews and testimonials as soon as you start trading. This creates trust in prospects and will make a massive difference to your conversion rates.

Step 6: Promotion

Just because you’ve already done all that hard work, it doesn’t mean anybody will actually visit your website or social profiles, let alone think about spending their hard-earned money with you.

It’s finally time to do some serious marketing (my favourite part).

Anybody who’s launched anything online (be it a blog, store or business) will understand how exciting (and nerve-wracking) the launch is. Trust me, there are few things that beat this feeling.Click To Tweet

Again, this is another moment when you’re faced with a thousand different roads. And remember, you have to invest money to make money. It’s time to back yourself.

Personally, I always like to start out by split-testing low budget Facebook ad campaigns. This gives you the opportunity to test different formulas and scale up your spending (when you find a winner).

The type of Facebook ad campaign objective you choose will depend on your business and offer.

facebook ad campaign objectives

If you’re selling low cost eCom products, you might want to go straight in with a conversion campaign, or set-up a Traffic or Engagement campaign and retarget these users with a conversion campaign.

However, if you’re running a content based marketing campaign you’re probably best of with ‘Engagement’ or ‘Video Views’.

There are so many different Facebook strategies that I’m not going to be able to list them all here. Fortunately, we’ve created an Ultimate Guide to Facebook Audiences eBook, with tons of ideas and strategies (including detailed walk-throughs).

In addition to this, Facebook also own Instagram and by using Facebook Business Manager, you’ll be able to run highly-targeted Instagram ads. Insta is becoming an increasingly platform for advertisers. If you’re selling products that photograph well and suit the Insta demographic, ads are definitely worth a test.

BTW: Remember, every time somebody enters your website, your pixel will track their behaviour and this will help you build targeted custom audiences. You’ll probably lose money on marketing to start with, but this is a necessary spend to help optimise your pixel and future marketing performance.

Another great marketing tactic that can kick-start your business is Influencer Marketing. This involves reaching out to users who have a large and engaged audience (usually measured by their social following and engagement levels).

influencer marketing

These ‘influencers’ can recommend, review or use your product in a series of posts, to market it to their audience. Influencer marketing really works when you find the right people, with the right audiences.

Use tools like BuzzSumo, Followerwonk or Klear to help find influencers in your niche.

Whilst you’re running ads and using Influencers, you will gain website traffic, followers, feed your pixel more data and (hopefully) generate sales. This will give you a list of people to remarket to…

…those who visited your site can be tracked and retargeted for FB (or Insta) ads and those who bought (or almost did) can be remarketed to with emails.

BTW: If you’ve got a slightly higher budget and it suits your business, you could also try running Google Ads. These can be very high converting (as users are usually searching for a product like yours, or trying to solve a problem)..but also very expensive when not set-up correctly.

facebook audiences ebook


So, that’s the 6 step blueprint I’d recommend to anybody starting a new business.

Of course, there are tons more I could tell you about every stage (especially marketing), but this article is already 1,000 words longer than my average (and I don’t want to bore you all to death).

If you’d like to learn more or get some free advice, sign up to our free newsletter, email us directly ([email protected]) or check out our Facebook Audiences eBook

…they’re all free and could make a massive difference to your business!

Good luck and speak soon.

Josh is the Founder of We Imagine Media, an award-winning content marketer, best selling author and creator of the He creates and strategises content, sharing the most successful tactics with his lovely audience. He hates writing in the third person, follow him on the social links so he can get back to writing as himself.

One Response

  1. Hello Josh
    Thanks for the article and the tips you talked about. It will help many upcoming entrepreneurs to form their decision.

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