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Online Adventures

1. Sell practically anything online. From food, used clothes and antique knickknacks, to music, e-books, accounting services and software, online businesses are as varied as the people who surf the Internet.

2. Automation can set you free. Depending on the product or service a business offers, it’s possible to operate profitably and automatically. Drop-ship services enable online entrepreneurs to sell a product without investing a dime in manufacturing or inventory and without lifting a finger to produce, package or ship it. Automation means that while you’re sleeping, enjoying your vacation or holding down a day job, your business can operate 24/7.

3. Costs can be kept to a minimum. Web design and e-commerce services make it easy for online-business owners to set up shop. If you choose to tap into existing systems such as eBay, the setup and maintenance time are also minimal. Although you could easily spend a lot of money for a sophisticated site, it doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive.

4. An online store can help build your brand. Set the stage for a bricks-and-mortar business or tap into the Web to increase your existing customer base. An online presence can make any business look bigger and more successful than it actually is.

5. It’s a big world! The Internet is used by more than 1.3 billion people looking for products, information, entertainment and services. Potential customers are everywhere. The Web is the perfect place to reach busy consumers who don’t have the time or desire to go to a mall or supermarket.

Caveats to Keep in Mind

1. It’s a big world and competition is plentiful. Considering that a typical Google search returns anywhere from 10,000 to 2 million or more results, it pays to get your name at the top of the list. Competition online is as fierce (perhaps more so) than a traditional business, so expect to invest time and money into researching your market and its needs. With an enormous audience, it’s tempting to sell to the masses, but zeroing in on a relatively small niche market often proves more profitable. Timothy Ferris, author of The 4-Hour Work Week, suggests evaluating your likes and needs and then selling a product or service that you would buy. “Creating a demand is hard. Filling demand is much easier. Don’t create a product, then seek someone to sell it to. Find a market—define your customers— then find or develop a product for them,” Ferris says.

2. Information overload can stall would be Internet entrepreneurs. With so many “helpful,” how-to sites offering advice on running an online business, it’s easy to get bogged down or misdirected. Use caution when considering a business opportunity or third party from which to purchase products for your site. An abundance of true online opportunities exists, but there are also plenty of schemes that look to take advantage of starry-eyed entrepreneurs. Do your research and it’s possible to use the Web to create an automatic stream of income with a minimal investment of time or money.

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