How To Start An Online Business

by Mike Holman

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Recently I was discussing with my wife an idea she had for an online business.  One of her hobbies is genealogy, which is basically researching your family tree so she had the idea of offering a genealogy research service for money.  I don’t know if this business idea will ever get going or not, but I thought I would share some of my thoughts for researching and testing this idea.  Hopefully, some of you will have ideas or even experience at this sort of endeavor.

The basic business idea

Offer genealogy services over the internet for a fee.  For example someone who wants to learn more about their family tree but doesn’t have the knowledge or time to do the research might be interested in purchasing this service.

Reasons why she might be good at this business

  • She is interested in the topic.
  • Has quite a bit of experience and expertise.
  • Has access to paid tools and databases. Most of the “free” genealogy databases are fairly limited and you have to pay to see the good stuff.

Potential downsides

  • Can’t get clients.
  • The profit might not be large enough to make it worthwhile.
  • Might lose interest in her own family research.
  • She finds that she hates researching other people’s family trees.

These are the action items I suggested to research the idea

Competitive research: Look around and see what services other people are offering.  If nobody else is offering that kind of service then it might be an underserved niche or more likely – there is no demand.  :)  If you can find some similar services then try to figure out what exactly they offer and for how much.  You can see their rates on their website or you can email to get quotes from them. This might give you an idea of what kind of hourly rate you can expect.

Determine your services/products

Try to think of specific things you can offer/advertise.  Ie for $N you can do a listing of someone’s grandparents and their siblings.  Or do a family tree up to a certain level.  Or if requests end up being too variable then just advertise an hourly rate or quote for a project.  The competitive research from #1 might help with this.
The problem with genealogy is that it is never “finished” so you have to set boundaries.  It’s also hard to know what people want – will they ask for as much info as possible?  Do they want to know about 1 specific person?  Do they just want to know what countries their predecessors were from?
Pre-packaged “gift” ideas might be a good seller.

Determine rates

This one is easy – look at what others are offering and go from there.  Rates can be changed very easily so just start at a reasonable rate and increase with demand.

Website

In our case I can easily set up a website for her using my existing hosting.  I can also leverage off of 4P traffic to help advertise her services.

I find it interesting to note that this is the type of business which modern technology has enabled.  At one time it would take a huge amount of time to research one line of a family tree going back 200 years so nobody but the richest people could afford it.  Now, access to that info is much more accessible so it is a lot cheaper for someone to offer/buy a service of this type.

I know a lot of our readers have started businesses?  Do you have anything to add?  Have you ever started a business and then quickly stopped when you realized it wasn’t going to work?

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 guinness416

I’m a genealogy buff too and totally think this could work. I’ve paid for research several times. Go to some of the genealogy things TPL organizes and they’re packed out. Some reasons people don’t do it themselves: it takes a LOT of time – there’s a reason genealogy is a popular hobby with retirees; the Mormon place out on Don Mills (?) is a bear to get to on transit; there’s a lot of junk online that it’s hard to wade through to get to the sensible information.

Nothing to add on businesses though :)

2 ldk

I have started 2 businesses and been involved with some others…I think this sounds like a good idea (and a service I might be interested in myself.)

The biggest hurdle I can see up front is getting paid for time spent doing (potentially) unproductive research….I imagine the time spent to find out the name of someone’s great grandmother can range from 2 minutes to 2 days–and if you don’t come up with anything, it might be hard to collect for your time. (ie. 12 hours @$25/hr is a lot if you don’t end up with much information.) If you can work that out, I would say put up a website and start doing projects for people as a side venture and see where it takes you. Nothing ventured, nothing gained! (or something like that!)

Good luck~

3 Jess

Hey Mike,

Id say, go for it and back her up. You can think of details later as you go along. The important thing is the vision. As you guys go along, there will be suprises along the way.

Marketing wise, I own Business Directory, Classified Ads, Press Release Distribution Center. Also have Internet marketing system for SEO, Analysis and Reporting Tools.

When your site is ready, you can submit it to the following and let the system do its job.

http://SmallBizAds.ca
http://BizPR.ca
http://SmallBizPages.ca

For US and UK, all you need to do is changed the TLD to .US and .Co.UK for the sites above.

4 Derrick Bradbury

I’m in the process of trying to get a few things going. It’s hard.. the old adage you need to spend money to make money is very true. I’m doing things on a shoestring, but have some advantages. (free hosting, and super cheap telcom services)

My “Hook” is the http://www.freevoicemail.ca site… Hook them with a free service, and try and push the paid services (http://www.quicknote.ca, and a few others) through that.

Since this is a side business, it’s taking time to get moving. The FreeVoicemail is not doing bad.. but I’ve managed to convert ONE paying customer! (better than a kick in the a$$!) The one that I HOPE will work well is http://www.babyblast.ca (in process of building) I will be the first customer, and hope that pushing it through social sites such as Facebook, and using word of mouth will get the word out.

Once I start actually getting paid clients, then I can put that money back into advertising….

I’m sure this is the wrong way, but hopefully it will eventually work for me!

5 The Financial Blogger

I have noticed that all your efforts in the beginning don’t mean much for a while. But when it starts to grow, all your efforts produce an exponential results.

Having the first 1,000 visitors, making the first $100 is the hardest part. After that, it is much easier!

6 The Rat

My father-in-law just loves the family tree/genealogy and he loves using programs like Ancestor (I believe that’s it).

To me, it sounds like a sound business idea. As you mention, your wife is very passionate about this type of work and aside from offering services, she could also post articles and new content on her site to promote that type of work. I know that people would pay for this type of service; the question is whether an adequate % of the market can be reached to make it sustainable.

Maybe you should just go for it and see where it goes? It seems like your wife would have fun working on this type of project too!

Best of luck
The Rat

7 Jazzmin

I would love to start an online business from home. Have no idea where to start. Would like to read more on this subject.

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