[updated June, 2020]
So you wanna start a side business while holding down a full-time job. Kool. Dang smart move – that’s the same route I took – ten years ago now.
Self-funded, no VC to appease, no angel investor to update. Just you, and your sandbox of ambition.
Hmm, but where to start? Which idea to pick?
HERE’S A SUGGESTION
Now, before you go off and attempt to create the next Uber (and fail spectacularly), would you allow me a moment to introduce a friendly alternative? A shortcut towards a market you might not be familiar with. A market that’s dern amicable to aspiring entrepreneurs and can help remedy ideation roadblocks. A market that’s been around for years and most folks utilize without a thought. A market where you, as a solo founder, can instantly create an unfair advantage.
The reveal (or not, cause it’s in the title):
Well Peter, you idiot, I know about domain names – they’re those things you buy after you devise a concept or idea in order to build a website. Big whoop dude. This article sucks.
Eeeassy. I get it. I’m not talking about domain names in reference to the idea you came up with (Fwackoo, right?).
I’m talking about viewing domain names as an asset. As your inspiration.
Let me take a step back & paint a picture for you.
Here’s the scene: you’re planning a neat bike tour vacation across Spain. It’s your first time considering this type of trip, so you’re interested in gathering a little info on the industry before ultimately booking a vacation.
Cool. Now, let me present a choice to you. A binary option where you determine which website you’ll visit to research, plan, and book your trip. But you’ll base your initial decision solely off the domain name itself.
Two options. Both sites provide similar information and booking options. One choice, take your pick:
You chose BikeTours.com didn’t you? You better have. If you didn’t, you can close this browser tab and go back to scrolling Facebook.
But honestly, look at those options again. Those are both legit bike tour vacation providers. For me, it’s almost instinctual. I immediately gravitate towards the keyword descriptive dotCOM. It instantly exudes trust & authority (even though we haven’t even visited the site yet). It seems to self-select itself.
These types of thoughts & feelings also impact whether a link is clicked within search engine results as well. But furthermore, those same thoughts & feelings are triggered when a cold-call is made and the founder is juggling whether to answer or not. Those thoughts and feelings are impacted when someone decides whether to approach a new vendor booth at a conference. Do you seem like an authority? Do they trust you at first glance?
[[We trust descriptive dotCOMs.. especially dotCOMs that represent a niche or category.]]
That’s what I’m trying to introduce – that domains can be viewed as a trustworthy asset. A resource you can harness to develop a side-business as you hold down a full-time job.
I’m trying to introduce that domain names aren’t impossible to acquire – and that they provide built-in business opportunities.
By thinking of them this way, you put the cart before the horse. Acquire the domain name first, then create a business around it. Then utilize the tailwind that descriptive dotCOM domains provide.
And not harness it for nefarious reasons, but to wedge yourself into an industry, absorb its nuances, identify its pain points, and develop a remedy that’s baked within your cute little wittle dotCOM baby.
These types of domains aren’t impossible to acquire. You don’t have to have a business idea first. You can start with a domain, and then craft a hyper-specific product or service within your little piece of property.
Ok Peter – I’m intrigued. Here’s the prob: all the good domain names were snatched up years ago by these scumbag squatters.
Shhhhh shhhh. It’s ok. Sure, some domains were. And the buyers aren’t scumbags. If someone buys real estate dirt and won’t sell to you for pennies 10 years later, do you suck thumb and whine? Nah. Same deal here. While you were binge watching Walker, Texas Ranger in 1995, these folks were spending hours faxing through domain name orders & risking their own cash on a new thing called the Internet. They’re just investors, and smart ones at that.
And yes, you can approach them to purchase names they grabbed years ago, but that can get pricey.
Wanna know another place to get premium descriptive domain names, for a whole lot less?
Yeah, so, every day, roughly 100,000 domain names expire. Those 100k were bought years ago, and folks either did something, or did nothing with them, then ultimately decided not to renew ’em another year. In these cases, domain name registrars (GoDaddy, Network Solutions, etc) will place them up for auction. (If no one bids, they simply get released into the general registration ‘pool’)
If this industry is somewhat appealing to you, that’s where your sniping arse can park – in the domain name auction universe.
You can sit there and study names that come across the board. You can run mini-business models in your mind. You can run instant gut-checks to see if a niche is one you’re interested in entering. And you’re simply gonna concentrate on generic word dotCOM domains that don’t infringe ANY trademark.
It’s a wonderfully fun position to be in – sorta like real-world Monopoly. Buying up online assets before someone else does. It hooked me 10 years ago, and I still haven’t shaken it.
Here – let me give you a few example domain auctions that I’ve participated in over the years (since 2006), just to show you the possibilities that pop-up when you’re paying attention. I’ll also throw in the business ideas that flew through my head. (note: I own none of these – although I did buy one – Ziplines.com – and subsequently sold it)
ComputerCamp.com – Sold at auction for $15,500
(Start a computer camp; create a directory/marketplace of computer camps)
- ShippingSupply.com – Sold at auction for $7,155
(Sell shipping supplies [that’s exactly what this buyer did])
- KobeBeef.com – Sold at auction for $5,725
(Become the leading kobe beef seller on the internet. Find the best supplier & partner with them)
- CameraBag.com – Sold at auction for $15,300
(Curate & sell the absolute best camera bags in the industry. When you generate enough revenue, re-invest in the biz and design the best dang camera bag the world’s ever seen.)
- Pacifiers.com – Sold at auction for $5,600
(Amazon-style site for hard-to-find pacifiers. Baby boutique website. Forum for new Moms. And on and on.)
- ZoysiaGrass.com – Sold at auction for $2,395
(Same as above – partner with Zoysia grass distributor and sell a ton of Zoysia on the web)
- SouthernCookbook.com – Sold at auction for $354
(Make a southern cookbook & sell it, c’mon. Fried okra. Grits. Vidalia onions)
- Ziplines.com – Sold at auction for $3,433
(Sell a zipline kit for backyards; create a directory of zipline courses across world)
- CannedHam.com – Sold at auction for $129
(Sell the heck out of some canned ham on the web. Sell your own or others)
- SexyBastard.com – Sold at auction for $61
(This one wasn’t for business. My wife always calls me this. That isn’t true. She doesn’t. But I coulda bought this and forced her to send emails to me at [email protected] That’s worth $61 in my book)
Those are just a few. Some of those names have clearly larger markets than others, which’ll impact your overall revenue. So that’s something to keep in mind as you window shop.
Your first name doesn’t have to be a homerun, either – a solid single or double generating $10k-$25k/yr in revenue is a killer start. And the fact that you don’t have to come up with ‘an idea’ removes a lot of pressure, as the domain typically guides you towards several avenues.
Ok, I’m following you now, Sweet Pete. But here’s another problem – I have no experience in these niches.
Please don’t call me Sweet Pete. Actually, you can if you want. I don’t care.
Secondly, IT DOESN’T MATTER IF YOU HAVE NO EXPERIENCE. Just become – or partner with – a subject matter expert after you purchase.
Read this story about Warren Royal of Bobbleheads.com:
From the article: “Royal bought the domain name for Bobbleheads.com at an auction, though his previous experience with the iconic toys consisted of him owning a few and thinking they were ‘cool’.”
In other words, he had zero experience producing and/or selling bobbleheads. Wasn’t born into bobblehead royalty. He didn’t wake up one morning with a bobblehead business epiphany. He was simply aware of the domain auction process. He also had a heavy dose of curiosity, was willing to learn a new industry, and he firmly understood the value of an exact match dotCOM. (And before you think there’s no money in Bobbleheads, he employs around 13 people at his headquarters near Atlanta these days, and continues to grow every year)
And what about coding? I’m a novice or have limited exposure …
You really don’t need coding experience – we can thank Matt Mullenweg for that. Push a button (literally) and a fully functioning WordPress-backed website is functional in a span of 10 seconds or so. Sure, basic coding skills are helpful – mainly HTML & CSS. Knowledge of search engine optimization is handy as well. If you aren’t exposed to those, get exposed to them. It ain’t that hard. I taught myself, and I’m a moron. Educational sites I’ve used before are Treehouse and/or Lynda. (not affiliate links, ftr).
If there’s one thing you’ve got, it’s TIME. You ain’t racing against someone else. There’s no deadline. Go as fast or slow as you want. Just make sure you’re moving, learning. Baby steps are all you need.
So, we’ve covered a lot – let’s recap some stuff:
- You wanna start a side business while holding down a full-time job.
- Building a niche operation on a generic dotCOM is an amazing option to consider.
- You can cherry-pick an interesting (& relatively affordable) domain name through the expiration process.
- You don’t need to be an expert on a topic – you can learn to become one.
- You really don’t need coding skills, but they’re helpful. HTML + CSS and SEO would be beneficial starting points.
Good stuff. All caught up.
If this is an avenue you’d like to consider, awesome, cause I love exposing folks to this trade.
But please understand, this’ll take some time & effort. Don’t pressure yourself to find one immediately. And like any business, it’ll require an upfront investment in order to acquire the domain. You can determine your own limits. The good thing is you’re holding down a job, so cut out some vices and divert that cash to a domain name. Try $5k as a starting number. Or less. Your call.
The next big step is combing through the 100k domains that expire every day. And creating a process to scan and filter so you don’t go cross-eyed.
I know. That’s a lot of domains. There are shortcuts, don’t worry. I’ll share my favorites in the next post [live now]. Until then, go sign up for a free domain auction account here, here, here, and here. (Namejet, Snapnames, Dropcatch, and Dynadot respectively). You can also sign up for GoDaddy Domain Auctions, but it ain’t free – costs around $5/year. Pheenix is another, but I can’t recommend them due to issues rewarding won domains.
This is the longest article I’ve ever written.
You don't really need a business idea. All you really need is a great domain name. The domain can be your business inspiration.
— Peter Askew (@searchbound) December 2, 2017
I’ve now written the follow-up.. link below:
And for the record, no outbound links on this site will ever be affiliate. I ain’t doing this for profit. I’m doing this cause other folks helped me along the way, and I simply wanna pay it forward. Sounds boring & cliche, but it’s true. Thanks again for reading.
You’ll either step forward into growth, or step back into safety – Abraham Maslow
If you want to be a crappy little company forever dont buy a premium .Com domain brand.
— Mike Mann (@mikemanndotcom) September 5, 2016
Preach, Mike, Preach!
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