If you’re worried you’ll need an MBA and a team of lawyers to teach you how to set up your online business, relax! Learning to become a virtual entrepreneur might be simpler than you think.

With minimal overhead costs and the flexibility to work on your own schedule, online side hustles allow you to earn extra cash and pursue your passions. They may also provide a gateway into a new full-time career. 

In this guide, we break down the process into a series of small, foundational tasks.  It’s a marathon, not a sprint, but by following a clear process, you can make progress right away.

1. Define Your Business Idea

Your business idea turns your daydreaming into a solution to a customer’s problem. But before you race to your laptop to check for domain names, you’ll want to nail down your concept. 

  • Identify your niche: Having a niche helps your online business stand out from the competition. A freelance writer’s niche might be writing SEO blog articles for a fitness company, for example. Or maybe your handmade jewelry uses recycled materials, appealing to an Earth-conscious customer.
  • Do market research: Googling your business idea reveals what consumers are researching, buying, and wishing for. This helps you narrow down your market or audience.
  • Evaluate the competition: Scope out the playing field to see who’s doing what, how, and where you can do it better. Your goal is to offer a service or product that solves a problem no one else is solving quite like you do.

2. Identify Your Business Structure

Different business entities have different pros and cons. Choosing the one that’s best for your business depends on factors like how much separation you want between your business and personal finances. It also impacts how you handle taxes for your online business

You may want to consult with a lawyer to help you understand the benefits and risks, but here are the most common options:

  • Sole proprietorship: This is a solo act. Simple, straightforward, and you’re the boss in every sense. The downside? Your personal and business assets are combined, which could put your personal assets at risk.
  • Partnership: This is similar to a sole proprietorship but with more than one business owner. It splits the risk and the rewards but means you’ll need to agree on all business decisions.
  • Corporation: It’s a legal entity separate from its owners, offering liability protection but requiring more paperwork and playing by stricter rules.
  • LLC (Limited Liability Company): This can be a great option because it offers protection for your personal assets without the formality of a corporation. It’s like having your cake and eating it too, legally speaking.

3. Develop a Business Plan

Creating a business plan isn’t as overwhelming as it sounds. Think of it as your playbook that makes setting up your online business simpler. When you don’t know what to do next, you consult your plan.

The internet is full of business plan templates. Or, grab a notebook and pen and answer three basic questions to get your plan going.

  • What are your goals for success? What’s your digital version of planting a flag on the summit? Set specific goals so you know what you want to achieve. 
  • Who is your audience? It’s not just who you’re selling to, it’s who you’re talking to. Think of your customer avatar. What are they interested in? Where do they hang out online? What keeps them up at 2 a.m.? The more you understand customer behavior, the better you know how to meet their needs.
  • What’s your budget? By forecasting what you expect your expenses to be, you’ll know how much money you need to make to earn a profit. Even if you’re unsure, it’s best to put some educated guesses down and adjust along the way. 

4. Choose Your Business Model

Your online business model is the how, when, and why you’re making money, and here are some great ways to do it.

  • E-commerce platforms: If you’ve got a product to sell, Amazon, eBay, and Shopify make it easy to get started. Your choice depends on how you like to do business — they all have their pros and cons. For more information, check out our article on Amazon Side Hustles or Shopify for Beginners.
  • Freelancing: To get paid for your expertise from the comfort of your home, set up a freelance online business. You can write for money, proofread content, or become a social media manager, to name a few ideas.
  • Digital marketing: When you run ads on Facebook and Instagram for your clients, they tap into the biggest platforms for reaching customers. And chances are they either don’t have time or don’t know how to do it themselves. Bonus — you can get this online business set up without experience or an advertising degree. 
  • Affiliate marketing: Monetize your blog, YouTube channel, or podcast through affiliate marketing. You make a commission when customers click on the link you provide to your favorite products.

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5. Register Your Business

If you want your business to have a name other than your personal name, it’s time to make it official. When choosing a business name, be clever, be memorable, and make sure the domain’s available if you plan to launch a website.

  • Domain name registration: Your domain is your online real estate, so choose a hosting service that offers excellent security and reliability. If your site goes down, you’re not making money.
  • Permits and licenses: Downloading a pic from the internet without permission or selling products without the proper permits invites trouble. Cross your t’s and dot your i’s by obtaining permits or licenses required in your state and keeping them current each year.
  • Business bank account: Before you start operating, open a business bank account. This will help you keep your personal and professional money separate. Don’t worry if you started out using your personal bank account. Keep good notes of which transactions relate to your business, which will help you at tax time. 

6. Build Your Online Presence

Now that you’ve taken care of the administrative duties, it’s time to establish your online presence. Start by setting up your website. The best e-commerce sites like Shopify have step-by-step guidance for this process. 

Your website needs to look good, work well on mobile devices, and be easy to navigate. If you offer graphic design services, for example, your own site needs to make people want to hire you.

You’ll want to familiarize yourself with the concept of search engine optimization (SEO) to help customers find you when they search. Learn the art of keywords, link-building, and content that encourages site traffic.

For many online businesses, you don’t have to have a website to get started. To launch your proofreading business, for example, you can upload a profile to freelance job sites. 

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Or you can create new social media accounts for your business. Crafting a professional profile on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, or TikTok helps people find you. 

7. Set Up Your Sales Channels

Your sales channels — how people buy from you — need to work every time. Make sure to plan for these three key aspects:

  • Payment: Customers don’t like glitches in the checkout. You’ll need a payment gateway with solid integration and security. People recognize and trust Paypal, but there are dozens of decent alternatives to consider.
  • Inventory management: A reliable inventory management system is critical for e-commerce, including dropshipping businesses. If you’re selling digital downloads or online courses, then your inventory is “evergreen” (always relevant, always available), but you’ll want to refresh it periodically. 
  • Fulfillment: When setting up your online e-commerce business, make sure you’ve planned how you will get your products to customers. Are you using a drop-ship method, or will you need space to store inventory? Your business plan should outline whether you’ll be making personal trips to the post office or collaborating with a drop shipper in another state. 

8. Develop Your Product or Service

It’s time to get into the nitty-gritty of what you offer. Does your product work? Do clients find your services helpful enough to pay the price you’re asking? 

Make sure you set up your online business with a channel for feedback. You’re going to want to hear and incorporate ideas from customers. Although it’s hard to hear, even criticism can help you make your business better.

9. Marketing and Promotion

Now that you have a product or service, and you have a website, it’s time to make some noise. Go back to that business plan on a napkin, and create a marketing plan. It’s your roadmap charting how you’ll get the word out about what you have to offer.

Three key advertising approaches work for most online businesses: 

  • Social media ads: You know those quick-eyed net glances? Be the billboard they can’t unsee. 
  • Email marketing: Remember email? According to Statista, in 2023, revenue from email marketing  ”was estimated at more than 10 billion U.S. dollars.”  
  • Partnerships and influencer collaborations: Be seen in the crowd, but hang with the cool kids. They have followers. Followers might have wallets. Wallets might have credit cards. See where this is going?

10. Launch Your Business

The big day! You’ve tweaked every last detail and filled the virtual balloons with helium. It’s go time! How do you kick off your grand venture?

You can go with a virtual laser show and call attention to your big opening day, or you may go for a quiet opening. A soft launch means you open without far-reaching advertising. It gets you feedback so that you can adjust before your customers line up at the digital door.

Get to know your numbers. The online marketplace is measured in sales data just like your favorite corner drug store. Tools like Google Analytics help you gauge website traffic. Your bookkeeping numbers will help you see spending habits and profit.

How To Set Up Your Online Business: The Final Word

Learning how to set up your online business pays long-term dividends. By making a plan for the operational details, you free up brain energy to focus on the work you love doing. And that’s freedom. There are tons of different types of online businesses. Recognize your strengths and what good product you can provide to make money with.

A good starting point can also be running ads or proofreading for online businesses to see their day-to-day operations, and get inspiration to build your own. When it comes to making money on your own terms, there’s no limit to what you can achieve!


How much money do I need to start an online business?

It varies depending on the business type. Freelancers often have no startup costs if they already have a laptop and access to WiFi. E-commerce store owners may need to invest in inventory or software. You can start lean and scale up as you grow.

How do I make $2,000 a month in my online business?

You can make an extra $2,000 a month when you combine many of the best online business options like being a social media manager and running Facebook ads.