With the pandemic devastating many industries globally, many Maryland residents have become unemployed. While many have taken the admirable and sensible option of doing what they can to get straight back into work, others have been able to evaluate the opportunities available in regards to starting their own company.
While generally speaking, the pandemic has had a terrible effect on the citizens of Maryland, it has shown that working remotely can work for businesses of all sizes. Thanks to the ability to “drop-ship” and set up online stores relatively easily with platforms such as Shopify, all types of businesses from retail to consultancy services can exist without a bricks & mortar presence.
Many people choose to start up an online business as a “side-hustle” to make a small amount of additional income. However, with nearly 800,000 Americans filing for unemployment at the end of 2020, an online business will provide full-time employment for many in 2021.
Warning – please remember that time & effort is invested just like money. While you can invest lots of time, effort, and energy into building a business, unfortunately, there is never a guarantee that you will recoup all of this input as revenue and profit at any point. The best way to avoid failure is to do your research, speak to successful business owners and be extremely careful when investing any money.
Have a Specific Idea
Perhaps you have a specific online business idea that you have thought about starting for years. On the other hand, maybe you want to start an online business because you love working with computers or simply can’t get a job.
If you don’t know what your idea is yet, then there is plenty of inspiration to be found on YouTube.
Some ideas might include:
- Create a digital product such as an eBook, online course, or a membership only site
- eCommerce store using Dropshipping
- Freelancing – e.g., freelance social media executive
- Amazon FBA
- Virtual assistant
- A Blog or YouTube channel
- Remote English Teacher
- Data Entry
- Web designer
Remember, ideas are great, but the execution is critical!
Some jobs such as web developers are highly technical, while others like selling via Amazon FBA may require a significant financial investment.
Other skills, such as Facebook advertising, could be learned within a few days by watching and implementing several YouTube or Udemy tutorials.
Have a Business Plan
Despite have a great idea, most businesses are not successful. This low percentage of success is something you should be aware of, and you should use it to motivate you to go above and beyond in terms of the preparation of your business.
If you take the time to make a detailed business plan and chart and project a plan to deliver success, it will increase the likelihood of doing so.
Define your vision.
What do you want to create and achieve?
How will the daily activities be aligned with these?
Think about what your business name will be. Use a website such as Hostgator.com to check if the domain name – or web address is available for you to purchase.
Goal setting: Define short-term, mid-term, and long-term goals.
For example, consider the number of clients or customers you will need three months, 12 months, and two years from the start of your business.
Outcome goals – what you want to achieve
Process Goals – how you will achieve the desired outcome goals.
All goals should be specific, measurable, and achievable. If a short-term outcome goal is to obtain 500 happy clients by December 2021, a process goal will outline how you will achieve this. For example, you may create a YouTube channel with lots of informative and entertaining content on several specific subjects; you might use Facebook advertising and provide fantastic customer service. Be as specific as possible; however, outline each YouTube video you plan to make and identify your target audience and the demand for certain content.
Define your Unique Selling Point or USP.
Know your market and outline this in as much detail as possible in your business plan. You will also need to know your target audience and their specific needs and problems.
Do Some Market Research
Market research is an integral part of your business plan.
With a bit of imagination, a large percentage of your market research can be carried out online.
For example, if you are thinking of starting a local business, for example, an online accountancy firm, you could head over to Google and search for an agency near you. Then look on Google Maps and check out how many companies you would be competing with locally.
You can also look at their reviews, see what these firms do well, and take note of people’s complaints. By looking at the feedback, you may be able to develop your own proposition and unique selling point.
You can also use a tool such as UberSuggest or SEMRush to determine online competition across the country. Make a list of the types of things people might search for to find your business. For example, if you were thinking of starting a debt collection agency, type in “debt collection service” into UberSuggest’s main search bar. The resulting page should give you an idea of how expensive ads on Google are (usually charged “per click”) and how hard it is to show up on the top of Google for that given search term.
Ubersuggest states that the SEO difficulty is “easy” for the search term “debt collection service” in the US at the time of writing. Suggesting that there may be an opportunity to gain some online presence in this industry. Although, with 390 monthly searches, the demand doesn’t appear to be huge. To put this in context, the search term “online fitness coach” has 2,400 searches per month.
Online communities such as Reddit forums and Facebook groups are also great places to find market information. For example, if you are thinking of becoming an online nutritionist, head over to the different forums on Reddit.com – the keto forum, the weight loss forum, and the nutrition forum. Take a look at what people are asking and see what the most popular threads are about. This Reddit-stalking will help give you an idea about what your target audience wants and needs.
If you are thinking of selling or developing a product, you can check out the reviews of similar products on Amazon. Take a look at the issues, the complaints and the things people like about the currently available products. Then think about how you could create and market a better product.
Finally, if you are thinking about selling a service, look at some freelancer websites such as UpWork and some job websites such as Indeed. See how many jobs are available in different US areas and how many freelancers are charging per hour. If you are a web developer, for example, at the time of writing, there are thousands of local jobs listed on Indeed. This abundance of jobs suggests that there is a need for web developers in the local area! The wages on offer and the amount charged by freelancers will also give you an idea of how much you would be able to charge.
Having a designated room or area of a room can help create a sustainable work-life balance. It can also help you to get more organized. There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to work from your bedroom with no barrier, physical or mental, between home life and work life.
Having an appropriate desk and chair is a worthwhile investment too. If budget allows, there are some great apps and gadgets that can help your home office to function as a corporate office.
You can now get a number of accountancy apps on the iPhone and Android devices; there are also great apps for focus, file backup, organization, and project management. A phone answering app (Moneypenny’s is great) may also be a great addition to your home office, as it will give your clients and customers the impression that you have an in-house receptionist and that you are working from a conventional office.
How to Register Business with the State of Maryland
Regarding paperwork, for officially setting up and registering a business within the state of Maryland, this can be done online.
First, visit https://businessexpress.maryland.gov/ and then click on the option on the homepage to “start” your business.
Now you should be presented with a number of steps that need to be taken to register your business. Have a read through and then when you are happy, click on the text that says “online filing portal” – clicking on this link will take you to another website – egov.maryland.gov where you will need to create an account with an email and a password.
You can use this website to check for your business name availability. Click on the “Business entity search” option near the left.
When you have determined that your business name is available (also check the web address/domain name is available) – click to register your business and enter all the relevant information. You will have to pay a fee once all the information is submitted.
Go back to businessexpress.maryland.gov and hover over “start your business” again, and this time click on step number 2, to obtain a federal ID number. Again, fill in the relevant information and go back the main website to see if you need additional licenses and permits. The licenses you need will depend on the business that you wish to set up.
There are a number of organizations that will advise you and help you through the process of getting your business started. For example, Maryland Small Business Development Centers and SCORE – a nonprofit organization that can match you up with a volunteer business management consultant.
Starting your own business can be a big risk. While you can mitigate financial loss by working from home, you should still get as much advice as possible from people online and in-person regarding your business idea and its execution.
Whatever happens with the business itself, you can still learn valuable and highly employable skills from studying marketing, graphic design, web design, and the promotion and management of a business. Good luck!