Running an online business from home sounds idyllic for many; your time’s your own, you can work when you like, even take your laptop to the coffee shop or the beach and work from there. There are those living this dream, but it’s likely that they’ve put in the ‘hard yards’ first and built a business that serves a need.

While there’s a lot of hype surrounding people ‘living the laptop lifestyle’ and running a successful business in their pyjamas or beach wear, starting an online business is, like any other business, demanding. That’s not to put you off – online businesses do give people with not a lot more than a computer and Internet connection a chance to develop a business and earn a living online. Heavy investment may not be required and it’s definitely an opportunity, but don’t be falsely seduced.

1. Solve A Problem

Most businesses meet a need or solve a problem and an online business is no different. Plenty of people wish to learn to drive – a ‘problem’ – but how could you provide an online product of service to help? For example, a website like this one helps learners pass their driving theory test and meets a need. What need could you fill? Be prepared to properly research what the ‘problem’ is – don’t just assume there would be a market for it. A good idea for a product or service that has been covered by someone else won’t make you much money.

2. Business Type

Some online businesses are an online version of a ‘bricks and mortar’ concept, such as online golf shops selling equipment available from golf stores and on course shops. Other businesses add an online element to existing activities. So, for example, a guitar shop in Cornwall that sells guitars and accessories through an online store alongside its actual shop premises.  A compromise here is eBay. You may decide your offering – or products you source elsewhere – could be sold via this popular route.

This gives people a shop without them having to set up a shop for themselves. You may offer your skills online; for example, some teachers of musical instruments give online lessons via video or eBook. Other business could only have been launched with an online business model. Identifying a problem, developing a solution, such as a downloadable digital product, and then finding customers for it.

3. Administrative & Accounting

HM Revenue and Customs has turned its attention to those running online businesses so, even if you’re running something part time alongside your regular job, get set up properly from the start. Using a bookkeeper or even an accountant is sensible and needn’t be expensive for a simple fledgling enterprise. They’ll help you keep on the right side of HMRC.

4. Get Started

This might sound ridiculous, but so many simply never get beyond thinking about an online business. Because of the relatively low barriers to entry, you can make a start and learn and adapt it as you go. It doesn’t have to be ‘perfect’ from the start and it’s likely you’ll have to change things, but you’re not necessarily taking huge risks by dipping your toe into the water. You can easily outsource aspects you’re not strong on such as, for example, web design and graphics.

5. Realistic Expectations

Accept that it will take time to develop and get established, and maybe you’ll have to revise your business model and possibly change direction before gaining traction. Be honest with yourself; if you’re a self-starter and can keep working at it when there’s no-one placing expectations on you then an online business could be a good move.


Benjamin Campbell

Benjamin Campbell is an accomplished and experienced freelance writer who has featured in a number of high profile publications and Web sites. If he’s not reading the financial times you’ll find him listening to live music or at the coast surfing.