Why Now Could Be the Time to Start Your Online Business

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Attempting to find even the faintest silver lining in the whole Covid-19 crisis is a largely fruitless endeavour. Painting an accurate long-term picture of what’s to come is far from easy, but one outright inevitability is ongoing insecurity for workers and businesses. 

Across Europe as a whole, it’s estimated that approximately 59 million are at risk due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 7.6 million of which being here in the UK, accounting for an astonishing 24% of the workforce. Though what’s even more alarming is how approximately 80% of workers facing job insecurity – encompassing permanent layoffs, temporary furloughs, pay cuts, reduced hours and so on – do not hold a university degree.

Statistics that suggest the coming months and years could be extremely difficult for those who rely on other people for employment. 

A Return to Normal Life?

Studies and surveys have been carried out since the very start of the Coronavirus outbreak, assessing everything from shopping habits to business marketing strategies to future outlooks from a variety of standpoints. One of the most interesting discoveries being that of a growing desire among the general public not to return to various past norms.

Whether it’s working from home, spending more time with family and friends, shopping online or being cautious of crowded places, it seems many of the habits we’ve become accustomed to during lockdown are set to become the new norm.

In which case, a return to normal life as we knew it may be off the cards entirely.

From a business perspective, this presents all manner of unique challenges and opportunities. Evidence suggests that the Covid-19 crisis has lead to reduced footfall in brick and mortar stores across all industries and regions of more than 50%. Even if the government was to suddenly and comprehensively lift all restrictions, it’s highly unlikely people would flock in droves to crowded shopping malls and town centres in the numbers they used to. 

As illustrated in Wuhan – the suspected starting point of the virus – the nightmare of the whole saga is likely to stick around in the minds of those affected for some time to come.

An Instant and Ongoing Adjustment to Consumer Buying Behaviour

While it may not be all doom and gloom for the high street, Covid-19 brought about an overnight switch in the way customers make purchases and generally interact with businesses.  

Irrespective of the extent to which lockdowns may be eased over the coming weeks, there are several reasons why an unprecedented proportion of the population will continue to choose online channels exclusively:

  1. The government cannot and will not confirm the eradication of Covid-19
  2. There’s no sign of a vaccine on the immediate horizon at least
  3. No universally effective treatment for medication for Covid-19 is available
  4. Far too many people ignore social distancing and safety rules
  5. Many have simply found the online option cheaper, easier and more convenient

As for what this means next for businesses across the UK, it’s a case of adjusting to these new norms or running the risk of fading into obscurity. If there’s a way of capitalising on the popularity of digital channels for the benefit of your business, it’s something you should be doing (and should have been doing for some time).

But what about those who don’t own and operate successful businesses that can be revamped, relaunched or reinvigorated online?  What if you have not a day’s entrepreneurial experience nor a university degree to flash to potential employers?

Is the future really as bleak as it seems, or are there alternative opportunities to explore?

The Shape of Things to Come

Interestingly, some analysts and economists have suggested that the Covid-19 pandemic has simply accelerated an inevitable evolution of the business landscape. Rather than transforming things in ways that would never have occurred, we’re simply seeing the shape of things to come slightly earlier than expected.

The struggles of the High Street, the downsizing of major firms, working from home becoming the new standard – all predicted to become norms at some point. 

From an entrepreneurial perspective, the whole thing is a tale of two halves. On one hand, we’re looking at any number of traditional entrepreneurship and small business opportunities vanishing before our eyes. On the other, the shift to digital that’s been accelerated by the Covid-19 crisis has opened doors in other areas. 

With everything going on around you, you’d be forgiven for thinking that now would be the worst possible time to think about starting your own business.  Given the long-term uncertainty on the horizon for millions of workers across the UK, it could actually be the perfect time to think about setting up solo.

Minimal Investment, Maximum Viability

Of course, pumping vast amounts of money into a daring and diverse enterprise with a high chance of failure isn’t the way to go right now. Particularly with consumers demonstrating all-new levels of hesitation to take risks on unknowns, playing it safe is advisable. 

But this doesn’t mean there isn’t still plenty of scope for setting up and running a successful business, targeting a post-Covid-19 public. If anything, the massive spike in web traffic that’s predicted to continue indefinitely could play right into your hands.

Whether you’re a seasoned entrepreneur or simply looking for an alternative to ongoing uncertainty as an employee, setting up an online business right now could be a win-win situation.

Just a few ideas to consider that require very little by way of investment though stand every chance of succeeding include the following:

1. Offer Your Services as a Consultant

If you have sufficient knowledge, skills and experience in any subject, sector or industry whatsoever, you could offer your services as a paid consultant. Setting up an online consultancy business (at least in the technical sense) really couldn’t be easier, requiring little more than a decent website and a marketing plan to spread the word.

Working as a freelance or contractual consultant in any area provides you with the opportunity to set up a business with next to no initial costs and practically no overheads to worry about. In turn, you’re able to offer your services at a significantly lower price than a conventional consultancy firm, undercutting the competition.

From business to accountancy to recruitment to marketing, it’s simply a case of sharing your knowledge and experience with others at a price. It’s also worth bearing in mind that in times as uncertain as these, the services of skilled consultants spanning all sectors and specialist fields are likely to be in record high demand for some time to come.

2.  Set up a Tutoring Business

This is a relatively similar idea, though focuses more on education and everyday activities than business. Experts believe that around 99% of the total student population worldwide has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. This accounts to approximately 1.7 billion learners – many of whom are hiring online tutors to help them stay on top of their studies.

Of course, the beauty of setting up a tutoring business is that you don’t have to stick exclusively with academia. You could offer cooking or bakery classes, teach people how to play a musical instrument, set up an online photography school or even offer health and fitness consultancy.

Again, the beauty of this business idea lies in the fact that you’ve already got almost everything you need to get things up and running. Low setup costs, minimal overheads and the opportunity to run a successful business in a 100% virtual space – all while doing whatever it is you do best.

3.  Start Your Freelance Portfolio

The desire to cut costs, minimise contractual obligations and generally keep flexible is driving more businesses than ever before to the world’s biggest freelancer platforms. Examples of which include Freelancer, 99designs, Fiverr and many more besides – all designed to link talented freelancers with employers, entrepreneurs and so on.

Freelancing can be a great way of bridging employment gaps, though can also become a rewarding full-time career in its own right. Similar to offering your knowledge and expertise as a consultant, freelancing provides you with the opportunity to sell your skills in any field you excel in. 

Thousands of new projects are posted every hour of every day for photographers, website developers, writers, social media experts, graphic designers, accountants, PR consultants – more or less any service you can provide. One of the biggest benefits of setting up as a freelancer being practically no initial start-up costs whatsoever.

4.  Get Into Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing is another example of an online business idea that requires almost nothing by way of initial start-up capital. Precisely why a sizeable proportion of those who get into affiliate marketing do so alongside their existing employment, making the switch to full-time only when the money starts coming in. 

There are literally thousands of affiliate marketing programs open to anyone with at least a modest level of web development and marketing experience. The idea being that you build a new website (or use your current website) to list and sell products/services on behalf of someone else, taking a commission from every sale accordingly.

In a sense, affiliate marketing is a little like opening your own online store, though without having to buy your own stocks or worry about things like shipping. You simply advertise third-party products and services, referring buyers on to the seller and collecting cash when they make a purchase.

5. Open a Local Online Store 

One of the many interesting lessons learned from lockdown is that even in times of crisis, people still prefer to shop local where possible. Consumers may be switching to digital channels in record numbers, but are nonetheless still showing preference to local businesses. 

Hence, if there’s a gap in the market for something in high demand in your local area, why not consider setting up an online store? As with all ideas in this list, setting up an eCommerce business can be surprisingly easy and affordable.  Particularly if you use WordPress and a top-rated shopping cart extension like Magento, you’ll need relatively little capital to get the whole thing up and running.

By setting your sights on a strictly local market, you’ve a far better chance of making it work than attempting to launch a new national or international online retail business. Assuming it’s your own immediate locality, you can also inject plenty of local flavour into your online store to appeal to your target market.

6. Monetise Your Blog 

Blogging can be an absolute blast. After all, what’s more fun than arming yourself with the mother of all soap boxes and sharing your unique thoughts and musings with the world?

Over recent years, blogging has evolved from a simple ‘news feed’ concept of sorts to a surprisingly lucrative business opportunity in its own right. If your blogs attract enough readers on a regular basis, there’s nothing to stop you monetising your blog and cashing in on its popularity.

A process that’s far easier to get to grips with than it sounds, with most using Google AdSense to position targeted marketing materials on their pages. Every time somebody clicks on an ad, you collect an agreed payment or commission accordingly. The actual per-click payment may be relatively modest, but a blog that attracts a decent stream of traffic on a 24/7 basis can be a serious money maker.

In Summary…

Whichever way you look at it, the Covid-19 pandemic is likely to change life as we know it indefinitely. The chances of life returning to ‘normal’ after the events of 2020 are slim to none. Though as touched upon earlier, it’s clear that many don’t particularly want past norms to return. 

If anything, this could mean that the best way to look at the situation right now is as day-zero. Something of a clean slate to start with and plan for what’s to come. Particularly if you’ve been setting your sights on starting a new business and going solo, now really could be the right time to make it happen.

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