One of the beautiful things about the Internet is that it is supposed to level the playing field between the major corporations and the little guy trying to eke out a living on his own from his basement. Many a netrepreneur has managed to go start a company on a shoe string and turn it into a business that generates a nice profit. The whole point of Search Engine Guide and our sister site, Small Business Brief, is to try and help people learn how to do just that.

So, I've decided to set up a little challenge for myself and to both blog and write articles on it over the next month. The idea is to try to setup some type of business in my free time and see if I can start to turn a profit in a 30 day period. That shouldn't be too hard, since I'm also going to limit myself to spending zero cash out of pocket. That means that any sales at all will be profit.

I plan to outline all of the steps that I take over this 30 day period so that readers can find out what worked, what didn't, and maybe get some ideas to try with their own sites. The point I need to make again is the lack of money involved here. There's a big difference between what someone can do with cash to pay for hosting, for marketing, for web analysis and so on. I'll be working without many of those advantages, using only what I can get for free.

Day One

Trying to come up with an idea to make money online that doesn't require any cash up front is tough. Off the top of my head, I could come up with a couple of different options. Selling on eBay seemed to be the most obvious, with generating profits via AdSense being my second choice. But I decided to bypass both of those and take advantage of CafePress. CafePress is a site that allows you to create your own shirts, mugs, bumper stickers and more and put them online. They handle the printing, the shipping, etc. All site owners have to do is come up with the ideas and promote the products. In fact, according to CafePress, some shopkeepers earn six figures a year from their stores.

I had played around a few months ago with their free store and thrown some products online. While checking in earlier this week I noticed that I'd sold four products, despite the fact that I was running a free store and had never done any promotion of it. Those four products generated about $8, which was enough to upgrade me to a premium store for a month. I also realized that I still had a $100 Google AdWords coupon sitting around, so I decided to use that to start promoting the site and thus, the idea was born.

(You can say that I'm cheating by starting off with $108, but the reality is that none of that came from my pocket, so I'm not.)

I knew that any old store was unlikely to have a chance at making a profit without some real marketing dollars behind it, so I decided to focus on a highly niche market that didn't have a lot of competition, but that could attract some viral marketing and attention. As a breast feeding advocate that has exclusively pumped for a full year, I had spent enough time in online message boards and sites to know that there was a solid base of women out there that would have an interest in unique shirts that helped them share their views with the world.

Thus, "The Lactivist" was born.

Day one saw me sitting around trying to come up with unique slogans and ideas for products. I'm not a skilled graphic designer, but I do have a sense of humor. Since I couldn't spend any money on my project, that meant that I was mostly limited to pure text with a few font variations. I came up with about a dozen different slogans, uploaded them to my store and selected the products to go with them.

While I wanted to take the time to really customize my store and get some solid product descriptions written, I was doing this in my spare time and only had an hour or so left to work that evening. The need for traffic was strong and I knew that I could setup a PPC campaign more quickly than I could optimize page content and get it indexed. Thus, the rest of my time was spent setting up a pay-per-click campaign aimed at two different sets of keywords.

I selected about fifty different keywords and set them to exact match to get started with plans to expand the campaign a little further down the road when I saw how traffic started to pan out. I also wrote seven ads for each campaign to get started so that I can test some different messages and start tweaking my copy later this week. Finally, I setup conversion tracking through Google's AdWords interface because I won't have the cash to setup tracking via an analytics program like ClickTracks.

Tomorrow I'll be focusing on shifting around product categories on my site in order to get the most sellable products in front of customers. I'll also add image ads to my AdWords campaign and research sites that I can set those ads to run on.

Jump to Day Two.

(Want to read the entire 30 Day article series at once? Download the free 30 Day ebook!)
November 9, 2005

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.

Search Engine Guide > Jennifer Laycock > Zero Cash, A Little Talent and 30 Days - Day 1 - Formulating a Plan