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How to Start an Online Business…for Free!

Updated on February 16, 2012

How to Start an Online Business…for Free!

Starting an online business for free isn’t a lie, and it isn’t that hard. Well, there is one caveat, you got me. It isn’t totally, 100% free. There is one upfront cost you will need, and that is an Internet connection. Of course, I don’t suppose you would be reading this if you didn’t already have that. And, in theory, if you have access to a public library, you might even get away with not paying for that either. I started my own online business without any capital, and I am going to share with you the way that I did it and some other ways in which it can be done.

Starting an Online Business Didn’t Happen Overnight

I didn’t know how to start an online business for free when I started on this long journey. It all came about three years ago. I had been out of work and the market had taken a turn for the worse. I was at a total loss. I didn’t know where to learn. I kept on seeing advertisements and websites talking about how to work from home and be your own boss. Most of them turned out to be scams. In the end, however, I did find my way to a few useful sites that showed me the way. Granted, if I had it to do all over again, I would probably do it a bit differently.

The harsh reality is--starting an online business of any sort takes lots of hard work and dedication.
The harsh reality is--starting an online business of any sort takes lots of hard work and dedication. | Source

Starting Small

The first piece of advice I can give anyone in regards to starting an online business is the same advice you would hear given for any business. Start small. Don’t overreach. You are not going to become an overnight sensation. Granted, there are those few exceptions to the rule who post a video or Internet meme and go viral, becoming one of the most popular oddities across the nation—for at least a few days, maybe longer. But, for the rest of us “normal” folk, it is going to take some time. So, don’t quit your day job.

Types of Work from Home Jobs

By now, all of us have some skill or knowledge that others will find value in. Whether you are a handyman, contractor, or stay at home mom or dad, there is something that you can do that others find value it. If you have been working in a field for years, you may even have a following you can bring over to your new online business, and that is going to help. Me? I write. That’s what I do, and you’ll find a lot of us so-called writers online. For years, we have tried to find a position in the writing field or get published, and we have fallen short. The Internet gives us a place to do what we love to do—write—and we don’t have to worry about pesky editors, annoying deadlines, or a myriad of other complaints that professional writers do. Of course, the downside is that we’re a dime a dozen. The upside is, there is lots of help available, there is very little training or experience required, and the jobs are plentiful. So, you can be an online writer.

You might have experience with fixing things. Perhaps you worked for a construction company or appliance repair firm that isn’t doing so well and has little work for you or has even laid you off. Not to fret, there’s ways to start a contractor/maintenance/handyman business online for free too.

If you’re a techno nerd, like a lot of my friends and like I try to be, you might be good with troubleshooting computers, building computers, or designing and developing websites.

If you’re a stay at home mom or dad, you probably know all sorts of ways to get stains out of things, prep meals, keep kids entertained, and enrich their learning.

If you enjoy crafts and more artistic endeavors, you could sell commissions or your original work through a variety of channels.

For those who handle finances, there are always people looking for accountants and financial managers online.

The possibilities really are endless.

The more you get out there, the more you'll get noticed.
The more you get out there, the more you'll get noticed. | Source

Starting a Business Online for Free: The First Steps

Before you can start your online business with absolutely no upfront cost, you are going to need to do a bit of soul searching and research. Make a list of things that you are willing to do. Figure out what your time is worth. You may not be after an hourly rate, but do the math anyhow. Then, write down some common tasks you would handle and how long it will take you. Now, you have some goal hourly rates and goal project rates. Will you make this amount of money right off the bat? Probably not. In the beginning, you most likely will need to drop the dollar amount to get at least a few, small jobs under your belt. With that, you can begin to build a portfolio and a reputation. Then, as you progress, you can start to ask for more money for your time.

Next, you need to find your revenue stream. Some people put all their effort forth into a single project. This can have some great payoff, but it does not always work. Remember that old saying about putting all your eggs in one basket? It holds true here as well. I recommend diversifying your revenue streams a bit. What do I mean? Well, some places you will find willing to hire you online will want an exclusivity agreement. Most, however, realize that you are not a full time employee and they are not paying enough or do not have enough work to entice you to enter such an agreement. So, if you find one place where you can sell your goods and services, you can probably find more. Sign up where you can. The more places you have a profile, the better chance someone has finding your needle in a haystack.


How I Started an Online Business for Free

Like I said, this is not an overnight success story. It took me three or so years to actually go into business full time on my own, and that included at least one false start. If I knew then what I know now….oh boy! This is the process I took.

I found sites that would hire me for things I knew I could do online. Predominantly, this was writing. Most of that was copy writing. So, I found sites like eWriter, eLance, Guru, and oDesk. I made up a profile. Where there were tests I could take, I took them to help show my value. Even just having my profile with a cover letter and decent test scores didn’t land me a job right off the bat.

I then found sites like HubPages, Associated Content, Squidoo, and Helium that would allow me to post things I wrote for free. This way, I didn’t have to spend any time setting up a WordPress or blog site. Everything was already set up for me. It was point and click for the most part—just add words. What I didn’t realize then, and I’m telling you now, is I was also setting myself up for the beginnings of a diversified, residual revenue stream. I knew all these sites had some sort of advertising profit sharing, but that wasn’t my goal. I also knew it took a lot and was even unlikely at the time to make any sort of money from these sites. Instead, these were my portfolio pages.

Once I had my portfolio pages set up, I started getting work. What do you know? I guess I wasn’t fooling myself and I could write after all. These jobs came in from those contract sites I mentioned earlier. I quickly began getting repeat work, even steady work. I got good scores and I would often find someone contacting me through one of those sites or directly, as someone had referred them to me. This is where quality work and dedication to getting a job done on time really helped out.

Still, the money was not really there. I needed something more. So, I quit doing the contract work and went back to a regular full time job after awhile. Man, did I hate that job. So, I kept in contact with people. When an opportunity for full time work did come through, I jumped at it. It didn’t require all of my time, but there was a bit of disorganization, and some recent changes in the online market caused this to fizzle out after six months or so. I had made a fateful error. I treated that full time contract work like I would a normal job. I didn’t prepare for it to go away anytime soon. As a result, I went back to work again. This time, I did something different. I kept doing contract work on the side. I was more cautious of what to look forth in terms of growth, stagnation, and shrinkage.

Meanwhile, I was also seeing how all the dots connected overtime. I had made connections. I had set up these revenue earning platforms. I also knew other people with different talents who were desperately looking for work or looking for something besides what they were doing. It ballooned from there. A well timed phone call or email, and I had enough projects that my contracts were paying me more than my regular day job. Worse yet, my day job was getting in the way of me taking on new projects. I came back home. This time, though, I had set it up right. I had a bit of a savings to fall back on. I minimized my expenses. And, I had diversified my revenue streams enough that I could stand for one or two to take a hit and still be okay.

Tools You will Need to Start a Business Online for Free

You need a decent computer. If you are trying to network and complete tasks with an iPhone or netbook, you will fail. Make sure you have a somewhat decent laptop or desktop machine with current software and a high speed connection. You really don’t want to surf the web these days on dial up. Your connection should be stable, too. If your wireless is constantly dropping, you’re going to be losing productivity and prospective employers and clients don’t like that. They want top performance and quality for bargain basement prices.

Next, you are going to need an email address. That just isn’t going to fly for the professional setting you are about to immerse yourself in. Get yourself a more professional email address such as your name or initials of a name. You can sign up at,, or There are others. This is what you are going to use as your “work” or “business” email address for now.

I would strongly recommend having a copy of MicroSoft Office. I know it’s price and the point of this article is how to start an online business for free. If you do not have MS Office, I would recommend going and downloading Sun MicroSystem’s OpenOffice. It’s totally free and even compatible with MS Office.

I would also recommend setting up a Skype account. You can set up the free one to chat with potential clients. The free version will also let you make and receive voice and video calls to other Skype members.

Set yourself up a free PayPal account, so you can accept payment from just about anywhere online. You can attach this to your bank account, for easier transfer of funds. You may be able to get away without a PayPal account, but many sites do not offer mailed check or bank direct deposits.


Benefits to Starting Your Own Online Business

Starting an online business for free does take patience, hard work, and dedication. Most likely, you are going to run into a lot of disappointment at first. Keep your head up and keep on going.

As you grow more comfortable with the concept, you will be able to take more time away from work to spend with your family or friends. You will be able to finish those projects you keep putting off, because you just don’t have the time. You won’t be afraid to say “no.” One of the biggest problems I see people run into with online work is that they are so hungry for it, they accept everything that comes their way. They don’t care if it doesn’t pay enough, the workload is too much, or even if the person hiring them is involved in some shady dealing. Hey, stand up for yourself. If you let them walk all over you once, it gets a lot hard to stop them the second, third, and thirtieth time. Plus, remember how there was always at least one customer at your old job where you just wanted to strangle your boss for taking on as a customer? Well, now you’re the boss. Sometimes, clients are too demanding, too much of a pain. The money might be good, but the time you are going to spend on their work and the aggravation you have in dealing with them is going to make that money not so important.

Also, one of the most rewarding things for me about having my own online business is when I don’t do anything, but I see I am making money. I walked away from HubPages for a long time, for example. I told you, my initial goal here was to put up some portfolio pieces to help me get contract work. I never got much traffic. When the Google Panda Update came along, I got NO traffic. Then, a few months later, I came back, and I was suddenly earning money. I didn’t expect it and it was nice. But, as I sift through the mess and make some adjustments, I watch that number continue to grow. It brings a smile to my face when I can login and see those little digits jump. Let’s see, all I did yesterday was go grocery shopping and watch a movie with the kids. I got paid for that?!? Just wait. You’ll know the smile I’m talking about when it happens to you.

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Submit a Comment

  • jpcmc profile image

    JP Carlos 

    6 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

    It pays to have an innovative mind. Moreover, having the courage to do different things will propel your success to greater heights. Thanks for sharing your exprience. Lots of useful tips here.

  • Cameron Corniuk profile imageAUTHOR

    Cameron Corniuk 

    6 years ago from Painesville, OH

    Hi, Hypersapien. I'm glad you enjoyed. This is the first in a series of articles I plan to do, but I wanted to just kind of touch on the basics real quick, drilling down more specifics in later articles.

  • Hypersapien profile image


    6 years ago

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I'm a big believer in starting your own business as well.


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