It started with an idea I had to promote BoredHumans.com. Maybe I could build free websites for people in exchange for them mentioning BoredHumans.com on social media (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc.). A potential problem, though, would be that for the past few months, I have been paying somebody $4/hr to promote BoredHumans.com on social media, and although it has a good following, it has not translated to a lot of visitors to my site.
Soon this evolved into an idea where I would create free websites and then make money selling other services such as social media marketing (by subbing it out to my $4/hr worker), e-commerce programming, and mobile app development. Although I don’t do any of that myself, I have spent over 20 years hiring low-cost programmers, so I am very good at that sort of project management.
It is much easier for me to make progress with an idea if I build a quick demo website, so I decided to buy a domain name and make a simple HTML text-only page for it. After about half an hour of typing in anything I could think of related to creating web sites, I registered BuildFreeSites.com.
Usually, I can get a new online business going in a matter of days, but this time it took me two months. First, I took a deep dive into the world of JAMstack web development, which is basically a trendy new way to host your sites for free and never have to worry about them going down. See, for example, the free hosting offered by Netlify.com.
Due to their fee structure, it is not practical to host hundreds of client sites in my Netlify account, so I researched various ways of doing this myself, like using Amazon CloudFront or a dedicated cloud server, or maybe buying wholesale accounts through a reseller program. I also looked into website builders such as Elementor, Mobirise, and Pinegrow. As a test, I tried paying some Upwork.com programmers to create sites for me, to see what I could get for $5-$10. I was happy with the results, but I still was not sure if I would make back the cost of giving away a free website by selling additional services to the customer. Plus, all of this would involve a lot of manual work for me to manage everything, and I usually like trying to make things as automated as possible.
I decided something more disruptive was needed. How about instead if I offer to partner with people looking to start an online business, to handle all the geeky technical stuff for free (building a website, hosting, social media marketing, etc.) so they could focus on what they do best? I would get a percentage of their sales. There are some practical problems with this method, though. If I use my merchant account, I am guaranteed to get paid, but it opens up all sorts of potential problems with fraud and chargebacks. If I use their merchant account, I would have to send them a bill for my share, which they might never pay. Eventually I found a solution to this at Stripe Marketplaces, but a bigger worry was that if their sales took off, the store owner could easily move their site away from my hosting and never pay me again.
My next thought was to go the more obvious route with a domain like BuildFreeSites.com and create an online website builder program that allowed people to build free sites. This would involve some initial programming work, but after that, it would be automated so I wouldn’t have to do anything. I would then earn money as planned by selling related services.
While researching it, I found a website building software I could license (for $500/year) instead of having to program one from scratch. And, I realized I could make more money by being an affiliate for various web hosting companies than I would by doing extra work for customers. So I pivoted once again, to offering a free website builder to get peoples’ attention, but trying to steer them to use a paid plan (so I get a commission). At first, I was going to manually create a free site for each customer as long as they signed up from one of my affiliate links. I eventually realized that was more trouble than it was worth, and now just focus on trying to explain the various hosting options so the customer can decide which is best for them.
All of this also led me to create a 2nd affiliate site, this time about sales funnels (a special type of web page designed to boost sales), at BuildFreeFunnels.com. I spent several weeks getting lost in the funnel business, which has a very “get-rich-quick” type feel to it. But apparently, many people do really get rich from it. It is a way to make more money than you are spending on ads, which then lets you scale your business to make big profits. It is all the rage in the digital marketing industry.
Anyhow, a day after I paid the $500 for a private labelled free website builder, I started worrying about what would happen if I got some sign ups, but BuildFreeSites.com was a failure. If I eventually decided to stop paying the $500/year fee, I didn’t want those users to lose their hosting. I decided to forget about using the $500 system for now and instead just link to a free host I like, since either way, I make no money from the free hosting.
I know it sounds like I am going crazy with the minor details on this, but the pandemic has led to a huge surge in people wanting to start an online business from home, so there is a lot of money to be made in this space if it is done the right way. Take a look at BuildFreeSites.com and let me know what you think.