There are a plethora of internet and business gurus out there ready to give you their step by step guide to setting up a business, whether it is purely online, mainly offline, or a mixture of both.

I am going to give you some tips on what information you can use to your advantage when starting a business, all of which is freely available online.

Figure out who is searching for what

It may seem obvious, but you need to know what your potential audience is looking for. If you sell paperclips, are they searching for the cheapest, the biggest, the best quality or the most sustainably sourced. You can do this using Google Keywords, and also just mooching around the Search Engine Results Page to see what is coming up and what is most popular.

There is little point selling the cheapest paperclips around if the market is telling you they will only procure paperclips that are made locally and not imported at an environmental cost.

A mistake I made when launching my sports content business was not knowing what people really wanted to read. I thought that good articles on football would be very popular, which they are, but there are so many that it is difficult to be heard. So make sure you know who is searching for what before you start to shape your messaging.

Before you buy a domain name, see what is already out there

If we continue with our mythical paperclip business, before you go ahead an buy ‘bestpaperclips.com’, see whether there is an old domain that may have already done a bit of leg work in terms of being a name in your sector.

One way to do this is to look up expired domains, which are essentially domain names of websites that are no longer in use. So for example, there might be ‘PaperclipEmporium.com’ which is no defunct, but has 5 years worth of Google ranking power in the bank. You may want to buy this domain and put your new website on it, which may well help you start hitting the Google rankings a bit earlier.

TIP : Be sure to check the Spam scores of any expired domains before you buy. This can sometimes do more harm than good.

Research what other brands are doing in your space

Building a brand is a lot more than just a logo and a strapline, but at some point you will have to turn your business into something tangible, and a brand is what you will be looking to create.

The paperclip business may not be the most glamourous, but there are bound to be certain hooks and messaging pillars that you can exploit. We already mentioned sustainability, and there will be angles such as charitable donations, profit sharing, local initiatives with schools and colleges etc. These things can all be part of your brand purpose.

If you already have a brand in mind, there are things you can do to improve your offering, to make sure you are hitting the right tone, orientating your brand towards the market and creating foundation layers on which to build upon.

Simply use LinkedIn to find out what the key players in your sector are talking about and what they are actually doing day to day. See what deals they may have made, no one can resist boasting about their latest win.

The advantage of LinkedIn is that it is pretty much in real-time, so you are not looking at outdated information. Create an account if you don’t have one and start sharing thoughts, ideas and other peoples news. As well as gathering information you will slowly start to build your personal brand as well.

In conclusion

There are lots of things you need to do when starting a business, but there are some things you can do without spending much time and certainly any money, in order to give yourself the best possible start. Use the information that is out there to validate your ideas and get off on the right track.