Wondering how to start an online business for free?
Looking for ways to scale your side-hustle into a full-time business?
There are tons of guides out there that claim to teach you how to start an online business.
They offer advice like “Follow your passion!” or “Grow your Instagram following!” or “Learn SEO!” and countless other generic business tips.
Problem is, these tips don’t account for the many different types of businesses, business owners, and marketing strategies. In reality, every business is different, so your path from side hustler to a full-time business owner is likely to look different as well.
Do you already have a side gig but aren’t sure how to make a full-time income?
In this guide, I’m walking you through how to start where you’re at and scale your existing hustle to new heights – a full-time online business where prospects are coming to you.
Why Start a Full-Time Online Business?
When you started your side-hustle, it was likely due to a desire for financial freedom and location independence.
But maybe it hasn’t been the right time to take it full-time, or you’ve been struggling to get it off the ground.
If you’re in that boat, just know, you’re not the only one. Every small business goes through growing pains – often, several times – before it runs like a well-oiled machine.
But starting an online business is your best bet for making a full-time income that isn’t tied to a particular location, boss, or pay grade.
You can be 100% independent when it comes to where you work, who you work with, and how much money you make.
And that’s a wonderful, empowering thing.
👉🏽 RELATED POST: 15 Real Ways to Make Money at Home
Got a Side-Hustle? Take it Full-Time in These 10 Steps
If you already know your passion and are making a little money on the side, you’re already over halfway there. Truly. Deciding what you want to do is often the hardest part. Scaling it, then, becomes rather easy.
It all comes down to how you organize your business and where you can provide the highest value to the greatest amount of people.
Even for small niches, there is much money to be made if you know how to market yourself effectively and keep your numbers in check.
Ready? Here are the 10 steps to follow if you want to start your online business and take it full-time.
10 Steps to Turning Your Side Hustle into a Full-Time Online Business
Step #1: Identify What’s Working
Make a list of what’s already working in your side-hustle. Let this be a complete brain dump of what’s working well, what you enjoy selling the most, and the feedback you have gotten from existing customers or clients.
Here are some examples:
- Maybe you recognize that Instagram is your strongest marketing platform. Take note of that.
- Maybe your customers absolutely LOVE one product, but aren’t so keen on another.
- Maybe your readers adore your travel guides, but you aren’t getting much traffic to your travel product review posts.
- Or perhaps you’re selling more of one package of services, but people aren’t really interested in your other packages.
Going forward, you’ll want to focus on what’s working and ditch the rest.
Your strongest offers will be your top sellers and will end up making up the majority of your income.
Step #2: Conduct Market Research
One of the biggest mistakes new business owners make is *assuming* that they know what their audience wants.
Tough love: Just because you like something doesn’t mean your audience will.
The best way to know what your audience wants – and what will sell – is to ASK THEM.
You can do this by conducting market research. This way, you’ll determine what your market wants, what they need, how they search for things online, and much more.
Create a Market Research Survey
You can use Google Forms to create a survey, to be shared with your target market.
Note: These should be people that you WISH were your customers, but have not yet bought from you.
👉🏽 RELATED POST: How to Find an Amazing Business Idea
On the survey, include these questions:
- What is your biggest struggle when it comes to [* what you offer them, e.g. “getting more customers”, “buying clothes online”, “finding travel information”, etc.]?
- What 3 things have you tried to overcome these struggles?
- What issues did you have with those solutions?
- What are your top 3 goals when it comes to [* “getting more customers”, “finding clothes online”, “traveling solo”, etc.]?
* What you include in the blank should have to do with your primary offer. Do you help other businesses get more customers? Do you have an online platform that makes buying clothes online easy? Do you publish helpful travel guides? Your questions should aim to uncover their biggest goals and struggles about those topics.
Apply the Answers to Your Offers
Your market’s answers to these questions will tell you what they want, what they struggle with, and what solutions they have tried already. And they will either confirm or refute what you already offer.
For example, if you offer marketing services to businesses, and their #1 goal is “To have more time in my business”, then your selling point should be “I help you make more time in your business so you can focus on what matters most”.
On the flip side, if their biggest struggle when it comes to getting clients is “I don’t have enough time”, then you won’t want to say “We’ll work together to market your business effectively”. Instead, you may want to say “I handle everything for you so you have more time to spend on your business”.
Conducting market research is crucially important because otherwise, you are just making educated guesses, at best. In reality, it will be most beneficial to know, for certain, what your audience wants and how you should help them.
👉🏽 RELATED POST: How to Start a Profitable Business You Love
Step #3: Fine-Tune Your Portfolio & Collect Social Proof
When you’re just getting started, you may have a mismatch of clients, products, or sales under your belt. And that’s okay! We all have to start somewhere.
Moving forward, though, you will want to fine-tune your portfolio so new prospects know exactly what you offer, who you have helped, and how you may be able to help them.
This is where you’ll spend a lot of time thinking about what you want your brand to represent and what your primary offers will be. It’s time to stop being a “jack of all trades” and really hone in.
👉🏽 RELATED POST: How to Find Your Superpower
Select your top 3-5 examples that highlight your best work, and that best represents how you want your business to move forward.
For example, if you are a writer that wants to focus on technical writing, you’ll collect examples in that niche. You won’t, for example, include that blog post you wrote for that life coach that one time.
Collecting Social Proof
If you haven’t done so already, reach out to these past clients or customers to request testimonials.
Have them post on the primary review platform (Facebook, Yelp, Google, etc.) of your choice. Screenshot these testimonials and add them to your existing portfolio, or simply within a file on your computer.
Stay Focused and Specialize
As new prospects come your way, you will pull from these examples time and time again.
It may be limiting at first, but remember, now is the time to niche down and create a cohesive brand. Being a jack of all trades is not as compelling – or specialized – as someone who really seems to know their sh*t.
Having a cohesive portfolio shows prospects that you are an absolute expert at this particular thing, rather than someone scrambling to do anything and everything.
Step #4: Launch an Online Portfolio or Website
Not every business needs a fancy website, but every business needs a platform where prospective customers or clients can find them online.
After you have fine-tuned your portfolio, choose a platform where you can showcase your work.
The obvious choice is creating a website. That’s because you own this platform, can generate traffic a variety of ways, brand it the way you want, and add to it over time. It doesn’t have to be expensive (my first website was about $500 ), but it will help you appear more professional.
Other platforms include Medium.com (for posting blog posts), LinkedIn, Facebook, or Instagram. Choose the platform that makes the most sense for your business and target market – preferably, where your audience spends a lot of time.
Every time you get a potential customer or client, you can send them here to see examples of your work.
Step #5: Get Your Business License and Bank Account
Do not save this step for “later”. You’ll be so glad you dotted your I’s and crossed your t’s from the very beginning.
Getting a business license is affordable and simple. Just Google “how to get a business license in [state/country]” and you’ll find guides on how to get set up.
Once established, you should go to the bank of your choice and set up a business account. All of your business revenue will go into this account.
Keeping your finances organized will be a life-saver come tax time. Also, having your business license will make you more credible with clients, making it easier for you to sign contracts and process payments.
It’s not worth it to cut corners here or wait until your business is more established. Do it now before you have a whole mess of finances, taxes, and paperwork on your hands.
Step #6: Hire an Accountant
Along that vein, hire an accountant.
This may seem like a burdensome expense, but it pales in comparison to what you might face if your numbers aren’t in order come tax time.
My accountant costs me about $90 per month. But she saved me over $10,000 in taxes last year. I literally owe my life to her, as I don’t think I would have been able to tackle all of that paperwork on my own.
Plus, your accountant will let you know how much you are making in profit after taxes and business expenses are taken out.
👉🏽 RELATED POST: How to Manage Your Side-Hustle Income
You may be making $100,000 per year in revenue, but that doesn’t mean you are living large.
You’ll need to know what your profit margins are and how much your income is so you can make informed business decisions.
You can find affordable accountants on Google, LinkedIn, or Facebook. Many of them will adjust their fees based on your income. It can be surprisingly affordable, and well worth the peace of mind you get knowing your taxes will be 100% taken care of.
Step #7: Establish Your Offers
Your best offers will be a combination of what’s already working well and what your audience told you they want (via market research).
This is the time to establish 1-5 core service offers or 1-3 collections of products that are selling particularly well.
Again, the goal here is to give your market what they want and need, rather than pushing offers or products they just aren’t interested in.
Then, you’ll need to set a competitive price by looking at what your competitors are charging, factoring in how much you personally want to make.
For example, if your competitor is charging $27 for one product, perhaps you can price yours at $31 if you market it effectively.
Step #8: Kill it on 1 or 2 Marketing Platforms
Believe it or not, you don’t have to be everywhere at once.
As with choosing your primary offers, you should select 1-2 marketing platforms that you can absolutely kill it on. And those won’t be the same for everyone.
If you have this data already, focus on the platforms that are generating the most traffic, leads, or sales for your business. Then nix the ones that aren’t helping your business grow.
👉🏽 RELATED POST: How to Create a Social Media Strategy
Once you have 1 or 2 platforms consistently generating traffic or sales for your business, you can move onto other platforms.
Step #9: Set Financial Goals
“Business growth” can seem like such an intangible thing. What does “growing your business” even mean? It looks different for everyone.
It’s important for you to define what business growth looks like for you, and then set realistic financial goals.
Getting 10,000 Instagram followers or 10,000 website visitors per month are valid goals, they often have little to do with how much revenue you are bringing in.
That’s why I highly suggest establishing financial goals and then calculating how many clients or sales you will need in order to achieve those goals. Your accountant will also be able to help you calculate this, subtracting business expenses and taxes in order to determine what your real income would be.
👉🏽 RELATED POST: Can I Afford to Quit My Job?
Know Your Numbers
For example, if you want to hit an income of $50,000 per year, you’ll need to make much more than that in real revenue. You may have to make $100,000 per year in sales, pay $28,000 in taxes, and subtract $22,000 in contractors and business expenses to make a $50,000 income.
Depending on how much your products or services sell for, $100,000 in revenue may equate to 8 clients per month, 300 products sold, etc.
You’ll need to know your numbers – really look at them – to know what financial goals are realistic for your business. Going in blind will only lead to financial stress when you realize you didn’t account for taxes owed or how much you actually spend on business expenses.
Set financial goals you can aim for every week, month, quarter, and year. These will be the primary driver for helping you take your online business full-time.
Step #10: Outsource and Scale
At some point, you’ll realize that you can’t do it all on your own. Being an online business owner requires that you wear many hats, and, sometimes, not all those hats will fit. Then it’s time to hire on help.
But simply outsourcing when you are stressed is not always the best financial decision. It will cut into your bottom line, impacting your end income.
It’s a smart choice to hire on help when the cost of you performing a task is higher than if you hired someone else to do it. If someone can do a task better than you can, for less, hire them.
This will allow you to spend more time on what you do best. You’ll have less stress, so you’ll be able to scale your business with clarity. You’ll also be making a smart financial choice that allows you to make more money while spending less.
The saying “It takes money to make money” is absolutely true. There’s no such thing as “starting an online business for free”. That’s because you will need to invest some of your earnings back into helping your business grow. And this is a great feeling.
Knowing your numbers will help you make these smart financial decisions. You’ll have a realistic view of how much you are making and how much you can afford to invest. Then, you can scale your business without the stress.
Ready to Start and Scale Your Online Business?
Turning your side hustle into a full-time online business is no “easy” feat, but it is made easier by taking actionable steps like the ones outlined above.
Bonus Step: Printable Strategic Planning Workbook
Need to be strategic about taking your side-hustle full time? Need to plan to help start an online business, full-time? Get your FREE Printable Strategic Planning Workbook with pages for outlining challenges, resources, opportunities and more.
It all starts with starting where you’re at, focusing on what’s already working, scaling up, and getting your financials under control.
Starting an online business will have you feeling empowered and financially free. You are your own boss and are 100% in control of where your business takes you. Stay focused and you will be sure to achieve success.
Are you ready to start an online business?
To take your side-hustle full-time?
More About Guest Contributor
Jessica is a full-time digital nomad and SEO content writer at her company, Keys&Copy. When she’s not writing, she’s typically jet setting across the world to Thailand, Spain, or her “home base” in Seattle, Washington.