Updated March 20, 2020
Expensive courses, memberships, coaching, tools, services or mastermind groups are great and might give you a jumpstart, but they are not necessary at the beginning. Starting lean gives you freedom to find what works for you. It also removes the stress of having to make it work so you don’t lose money.
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Summary (TL;DR)If I started today, I would get only 3 things:
- A website / blog. Follow my tutorial for quick setup.
- Email service for an email list. Use ConvertKit’s free plan.
- A domain email (ex. amy @ amylynnandrews.com not amy @ gmail.com or amy @ yahoo.com). Use G Suite for this.
Table of Contents
- But don’t I have to “spend money to make money” like everyone says?
- How much money and how many tools are really needed to start?
- How is that possible?
- But wouldn’t they have gotten to where they are faster if they used their preferred tools from the beginning?
- The 3-5 things I recommend to start
- Total monthly cost
- So, what exactly should YOU choose?
- Conclusion & next steps
But don’t I have to “spend money to make money” like everyone says?
It’s very popular advice. A similar piece of advice is “Buy the tools for the business you want to have, not the business you have now.”
I have two thoughts.
First, did this advice come from someone right before they pitched an expensive course or product? If so, consider it a marketing tactic more than advice.
Second, I agree with the idea of spending money to get started. However, I generally disagree with the amount of money or number of tools many say is needed to get started.
How much money and how many tools are really needed to start?
A few hundred dollars (or less) the first year, and no more than five tools. I’ll break it down monthly below.
This is assuming you will use content marketing and not physical products as your business model. Content marketing makes sense even if you do sell physical products, so it’s a great place to start for nearly everyone.
How is that possible?
First, everything hinges on excellent content. Excellent content is easy to produce, nearly for free because it’s probably already in your head.
Why is content so important? Because it’s the most effective way to establish authority and earn trust. People buy from and hire people they know and trust. If you don’t have those two things, you’ll be considered a spammer or shady individual trying to make a quick buck.
Also, if you don’t master excellent content, it doesn’t matter how awesome your external systems appear, like email sequences, landing pages, video production or webinars, they’ll all be fancy masks for an empty foundation. That won’t last long.
Also remember, many of the tools recommended by gurus are ones they’ve chosen after years of fine tuning their process and business model, not the tools they started with.
But wouldn’t they have gotten to where they are faster if they used their preferred tools from the beginning?
Possibly but not necessarily.
Every blogger and online business owner I know experiences many of the same things at the beginning: overwhelm, a huge learning curve and, most notably, a period of not knowing quite what they’re doing.
Most of us try a bunch of things before settling into a topic (niche), medium (blog, podcast, video, book) and income streams (affiliate marketing, sponsorships, products, services) that best suit us.
Adding fancy tools and moving parts to the process makes the overwhelm bigger, the learning curve steeper, the runway longer, the costs greater and the stakes higher.
On the other hand, having only a few things to worry about at the beginning makes mastery quicker, pivoting easier and it provides invaluable foundational understanding that can be applied later.
The 3-5 things I recommend to start
Why do I say 3-5? Because some of these things can be combined. In this section I’ll go over the 5 things. In the next section, I’ll tell you what combination I would choose depending on your situation.
1. Hosting: $6 to $35 per month
You need your own space on the internet, like a website or blog. For control.
If all your stuff is on Facebook, YouTube or Instagram, you are effectively handing those platforms the keys to your online business. If they decide to take your stuff down or change their algorithms, you are at their mercy.
Even if most of your activity is on Facebook, YouTube or Instagram, at least have a basic website with your own domain (ex. amylynnandrews.com). That way, if something changes on the other platforms, you won’t disappear from the internet entirely.
To have a website or blog, you need hosting. For beginners on a budget, I recommend Bluehost. Here’s my step-by-step tutorial. For something more robust, I personally pay for and use WP Engine, but this is overkill for almost everyone just getting started. You can always move later.
2. Domain: Free to $15 per year
You need an address for your website or blog (ex. amylynnandrews.com). I use Namecheap to register all my domains because I have a domain collecting problem and I want them all in one spot.
If you do not have a domain collection problem, that is a good thing. 🙂 You do not need a separate place to register domains the way Namecheap works for me.
Skip registering a domain separately if you use Bluehost since a domain is included for free with that host.
Also skip this if you register your domain when you sign up for G Suite (#4 below). It’s not free, but the price is about the same as Namecheap and other domain registrars.
3. Email Service Provider (ESP): Free to $29 per month
You’ll want an email list to stay in direct contact with your audience. For this, you can’t use your personal email. You’ll need a company that keeps everything organized and legal. I use Mad Mimi but if I started today, I would choose MailerLite (budget option) or ConvertKit (more robust).
Update March 20, 2020: I would choose ConvertKit’s free plan which now gives you the ability to send emails to up to 500 subscribers. (Previously it was not my choice for a free plan since you weren’t able to send emails without jumping through hoops.)
Another option I have not personally tried, but is free up to 1000 subscribers and looks promising is Moosend.
4. Domain email: $6 per month
In order for your emails to land in inboxes and not spam folders, you’ll need a domain email address (ex. firstname.lastname@example.org, not email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org). G Suite is what I use.
5. Physical address (like a P.O. Box): Varies by location. I pay about $100 per year.
In order for your emails to be legal, you must include a physical address in every one. I don’t recommend using your home address (privacy!). Here in the States, the smallest post office box works fine.
Total monthly cost
$20 to $100 per month depending on the options you choose above.
Keep in mind some of the options like Bluehost require paying 12 months upfront.
So, what exactly should YOU choose?
If you look at the list above and still don’t know where to start, here are my suggestions. For most beginners, Option 1 is plenty.
Option 1: My pick for most. ~$12/month
- Hosting: Bluehost (here’s my tutorial)
- Email Service Provider (ESP): ConvertKit’s free plan
- Domain email: G Suite
You’ll notice a domain and physical address are not listed because a domain is included in #1 and a physical address is included in #2.
Option 2: A lot of bang for your buck. ~$20/month
- Hosting: Bluehost (Plus plan)
- Domain: Included in #1 above.
- Email Service Provider (ESP): MailerLite
- Domain email: G Suite
- Physical address: P.O. Box
Option 3: Start with growth in mind. ~$80/month
- Hosting: WP Engine (Startup plan)
- Domain: Included in #4 below (or sign up at Namecheap if you’ll be collecting domains and want them all in one spot like me, LOL).
- Email Service Provider (ESP):
- Domain email: G Suite
- Physical address: + ConvertKit (regular plan, or choose the free version for basic features now and upgrade later)
Conclusion & next steps
As I said, for most, Option 1 above is my recommendation for most people. It’s a basic setup but covers the startup essentials. You can always upgrade. (Trust me, every company wants more money so they make upgrading easy.)
Next steps if you’re ready to jump in and start:
- Follow my tutorial which explains how to start with Bluehost. That knocks out your hosting (#1) and domain (#2) and works for a blog or website.
- Sign up for an account at G Suite. This will get you a domain email (ex. email@example.com). You’ll use this email when you sign up for MailerLite below.
- Get a P.O. Box, or identify a physical address (ideally not your home address) to use when you sign up for MailerLite below.
- Next, sign up for an account at MailerLite. Then read my post Email Marketing 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Building an Email List.
That’s it! Those are the basics. If you want to go in depth, read my post How to Start an Online Business: A Budget-Friendly Checklist.