Would you love to run a flexible business from home? Or how about a business you could pop into your handbag and operate from your coffee shop of choice? It’s possible. Lots of people have made it happen. All you need is a laptop and a reliable internet service in place. This article, and the infographic below, will help you to think about which business ideas you can use and what you can learn from women who’ve made it with their own successful internet business.
Online Business Ideas
There are a number of business ideas you could consider – for starters there is online sales of products or services, copywriting, online tutoring, subscription, affiliate marketing and advertising. Other growing trends include: drop shipping, subscription box services and online dating or friendship sites and apps. Most successful online businesses combine more than one income stream.
With the rise and rise of ‘fremium’ it’s not always straightforward! Fremium is where you provide a basic service for free. Sometimes everything is free and revenue comes from advertising or affiliate marketing – moneysavingexpert.com and most news and information based sites and blogs are funded that way. Alternatively, you could provide a basic product for free and charge for the premium version – hubspot, skype and mailchimp do this. The advantage of fremium models is that they allow you to engage a much larger audience.
How they Made it…
Let’s look at a few women who started from an online home business and have made it big. How did they get started and what can we learn from them?
Single mum Lauren Luke gave up her dead-end job to sell make-up on eBay in 2006. The business quickly took off and Lauren started making home-made YouTube videos to show customers how to apply her products. The videos become a YouTube phenomenon – they’ve now had over 75 million views. Lauren’s personality is a large part of her success – she’s incredibly down-to-earth, nice and unaffected. She builds real relationships with customers and social media followers and has a natural marketing and customer service instinct. The business continues to boom: Lauren has launched her own make-up range which is on sale in 135 shops in the U.S. See here for a video of Lauren explaining the secrets of her success.
Business model: eBay shop, YouTube advertising and now direct production and high street sales.
Justine Roberts & Carrie Longton, Co-Founders Mumsnet
For Carrie and Justine, having young children was the perfect time to start a business. Justine couldn’t face going back to work after maternity leave. She met Carrie at antenatal classes and together they developed the idea of an online guide for parents. Mumsnet was born.
But it got off to a tricky start. They were starting in 2000, at the height of the dotcom bubble. Overnight the bubble burst and the advertising-based business model they hoped to entice investors with, fell apart. Instead they began with a small loan from a friend and worked out of a bedroom with no salary for the first few years. The site is now a thriving community of over 6 million parents, with a multi-million pounds turnover.
Business model: Advertising is the largest contributor of income, other growing streams include: surveys and consumer testing, books and events.
Holly Tucker and Sophie Cornish, Notonthehighstreet.com
Holly and Sophie were also mums who decided to start a business together. It started in 2005 around the kitchen table, with Holly’s baby there in a playpen. Notonthehighstreet is an online shop front for around 1,800 independent creative businesses. Each partner is carefully selected for quality and originality. Partners pay a fee to be listed on the site and around 20% of each sale. For the first few years the pair poured all of their savings into the business. Since then they have had three successful rounds of venture capital investment. It’s a high-growth route that resulted in a turnover of over £15 million in 2010 and 60 staff. VC is a hard-driving growth route, not for the faint hearted and Sophie and Holly have been open and honest about some of the negative impacts on themselves and their family. They have also written two great books sharing their business advice and experience:
Business Model: Online sales, membership, revenue sharing, printed catalogue.
Where does your business model fit?
Fast Company have created a great infographic of the online business environment. It shows how all of those online business models fit together and how each of them can make money. It’s worth bearing in mind though, that while all of the businesses we’ve featured started online, all of them now also have growing off-line income streams.
As the first two case studies show, it is possible to grow a successful online business without external investment. But if you need some funds to get started, a good place to start is the Government-backed Start Up Loans scheme.
The infographic can help you to decide where your online business best fits for now. But it continues to be a fast changing business environment. A change in the Google algorithm can make or break business models overnight. When Google brought in ‘Panda’ – a significant change to their search rankings, overnight, several commercial sites dependent on affiliate links found themselves downgraded. So if your online business is dependent on Google search – and I can think of few that aren’t – make sure that you keep abreast of their quality guidelines. Quality content is key. Above all, get to know your customers or visitors, provide a quality service and meet their needs.