How To Launch a Media Company For Under $15

Publishing & Web Marketing for Beginners

Most folks don't start a business for a couple of very practical reasons:

  • They think it costs a lot of money
  • Quitting your job is not an option
  • They don't want to sell

What if I told you there was a business you could start for less than $15, can be worked entirely on nights and weekends, and rarely requires you to speak with another human being (unless you want to). You can talk about whatever you want.

There is no e-book, by the way. Haven't written one, don't intend to. This is the e-book. The $15 is going to real business expenses such as hosting and your domain names. This article does link to a couple of good service providers, where if you decide to buy something I get a small commission. We found a low-cost hosting provider who offered a year of hosting your site on a decent box and multiple domains for under $15 - this is good, since you can launch multiple projects. When we sat down to write this article, we actually wanted to talk about how to start a profitable web publishing company with no money. After taking a deeper look at the true "zero-cost" options for building a revenue-generating website, we realized most of them were time traps and it was better to pay a little so you get the full value of your time.

In fact, you will be most successful in this field if you talk about some oddball or opinionated subject that most people don't know anything about. First rule of the internet: 100 x more people are interested in a subject than you ever imagined. Second rule of the internet: only one person in a thousand will actually get around to publishing content for others. The gap between those two extremes represents a fertile area for launching new sites. Find a niche topic, with only a handful of people trying to create useful information about it. And be that person who creates some useful material. What you will (likely) discover is there is a large audience of potential readers and searchers who want your stuff.

Actually, this website is a good example of this concept. Most of the people who are reading this page came here because Google views us as an authority on website advertising revenue analysis. We rank highly in searches for those terms, as a result of a small original research project we did a couple of years ago and published. We did the entire project for our own selfish purposes - we had started launching media websites and needed a way to estimate the predicted website earnings would look like. After we finished the project we realized others might need the information as well - so we shared it. We expected to get maybe a dozen visitors a month. Our actual traffic is several orders of magnitude above that.


To get started, web publishing is a simple business, consisting of three core activities:

  • Create Something For People to Look At (aka "content")
  • Get People To Look At It (aka "get traffic")
  • Show them something they can buy (aka "advertising or offers")
Pretty much every activity you do can be traced back to one of the big three, with the exception of various government and ad agency paperwork. Other fun fact: you can measure the effectiveness of pretty much every part of the big three activities with a free tool called Google Analytics. This is a very good thing, since operating your business becomes a process of continuous learning and improvement. This means you make more per hour with each project as your expertise and productivity improves.

First Up - A Domain for $1

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The first thing you need is your own domain name. A domain name is basically the online address of your project. A good domain name should also be a) memorable and b) be somehow linked (or linkable) to the content it contains. You've probably see domains like "". In addition to helping your regular visitors remember your site, a distinctive domain name related to your topic will help you convince search engines like Google that you are an authority and therefore worthy of receiving free traffic on that topic. This can significantly help grow your business (for free). So it is well worth hosting your content on your own domain. Most regular web hosts also would be happy to sell you a domain for $10 - $20. The package we found with Namecheap (link here) allows you to buy certain types of domain names for under $1.

Another key benefit of controlling your own domain is that you're building your site's credibility with Google. This helps you rank higher in Google's searches, increasing the amount of traffic you get. Furthermore, as we will discuss when we speak about SEO, links from "established sites" can help "new sites" get noticed by Google. So there's a lot of value in buying and "seasoning" your domains early on, to give Google time to get familar with your projects.

One Year of Basic Hosting - Cost < $10

Ah hosting. A wretched hive of scum and villany. Unfortunately, you need a place to host your web pages and data in order to run the business. There are free hosting options, but they generally prohibit (or otherwise cripple) commercial users to get them to upgrade to a paid plan. Of greater concern is the advertising networks: most top advertising networks don't allow putting ads on free sites. For this reason, you are better off getting your own domain and using paid hosting. There are two traps to avoid here: a) super cheap hosting with lousy features that crashes if you get a spike in traffic and its big brother - getting sold a Caddilac hosting plan for $100/month before you're even sure you can attract an audience. The plan we found with Namecheap (a year of hosting for under $10, supports up to three domains link here) is a good option for new publishers on a tight budget.

Other Options for Larger Budgets

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Namecheap isn't your only option, although it is one of the most inexpensive. It is great for getting a basic site with some unique content up and running so you can get your feet wet and start learning the ropes (with real traffic). The other (more expensive) options generally offer value in one of the following areas:

  • Easier for Non-Technical Marketers to Configure and Manage
  • Supports wider range of technical options (such as Python) for experienced developers
  • Faster computers to speed up your site, improve reliability, and handle traffic spikes
The latter is subtle but can represent a major advantage once you become an established marketer. This is particularly true if you intend for your content to "go viral" - I had that happen and it delivered a fierce pounding to the (fairly good) server I was using. Website speed can affect your rankings in Google search, which affects the volume of free traffic you receive. Similarly, the faster your website loads - the less likely a new visitor is to leave your site to go look at another merchant. So when you have the traffic and revenue to afford to invest in a high end hosting package, it often is well worth the additional expense. Speeding up your website is one of the easiest and best investments you can make once you start to build a large audience.

Content -&gt; Traffic -&gt; PreSell -&gt; Monetize

A couple of options we like, for specific situations:

  • If you are an experienced developer or marketer who can spend a little more ($10/month), we recommend you check out the program at Webfaction. They have a nice $10 / month plan built on super-fast SSD storage which lets you to run a large number of websites from your account. Behind the scenes, they give you (limited) access to a Linux shell enviroment with support for Python (and most major web frameworks), Node.js, PHP, and most of the major PHP content management frameworks (WordPress, Drupal, Joomla). I've hosted everything from custom Python web apps to Django apps to WordPress blogs and even static HTML sites. The support is excellent - the company was founded by a couple of Python developers who are well connected with the Python community, so their team is very aware of developer needs.
  • If you have a marketing background and want access to good e-commerce and site builder features, take a look at using Weebly's hosting package (link here).
  • For those of you who really want to accelerate you launch - and have some time and capital to invest - a group called SiteSell has bundled website development with tools and features intended to help you rank more competitively for organic search terms. Check out their offering - and some interesting case studies - link is here.

There - you're officially in business, from a technical perspective. With regards to the original $15 budget, I'd buy a couple of extra domains to give you a second or third project. And use free tools for the balance of your effort. Check out our guide to ranking in Google searches


The Pen Is Mightier Than The Code Editor

Your first goal - and really only goal, until proven - should be to validate that someone (who you're not related to) is interested in what you're presenting. Draft up a version of your idea and share it with a relevant audience - and see if they respond. Your goals will vary by site:

  • For a new content site, this could be as simple as publishing a few articles and sharing them on social media. Watch the traffic and votes / likes - do they stick around to read the article or bounce off to the next thing? Don't worry about search engine traffic, that comes later.
  • If the product you're promoting already exists and your goal is to rebrand / reposition it to serve a particular audience, a great way to test this is to actually try selling a related product to that audience. Look for a relevant product on Amazon or an affiliate deal on ShareASale as stand-in. Then write an article connecting your audience with that offer - and include an affiliate link to the stand-in. If you see them clicking the link - and better yet - buying the product from the merchant, you've got a green light to move forward.

Look at all that code we wrote. Oh wait, we didn't. Everything I've described here is writing - rather than coding.

Test and Learn - A Three Step Process

Unmatched proof of success

Our process for testing new things is relatively simple. We write the content for a small 4 - 5 page website around the idea. For a blog or content site, this would be a kickoff blog post, two or three Wordpress pages about a topic, and good "About Us" description. For a product idea, we build a small brochure site leading to a sign-up page.

The next step is to install Google Analytics and tag the site for Google Webmaster tools. These are free tools which allow you to track activity on the site. Even better, you can set visitor Goals (spend X minutes reading, complete sign up from) which allow you to easily measure the outcome you're after. You also have the ability to run Experiments, where you design two versions of a page and show them to different audiences - this can help you figure out what people respond to. It's great for offer and creative testing.

Finally, you need some traffic. For quick, free traffic, posting the site on social media is often a good idea. Several areas of reddit are also good for getting feedback.

Other Useful Tools

If you've still got extra budget left (assuming, of course, you went ahead and got the Webfaction hosting plan; trust me, the level of support you get is well worth the additional cost), lets walk through a couple of things you can do to accelerate your progress.

The #1 Writing Tool

Grammarly- This business involves writing, usually lots of writing. I don't know about you, but I'm definitely not a writer. Grammarly is a spelling and writing assistance application (basic version is free) which helps catch and clean up your grammatical errors. Definitely worth the download and if you are writing long content, the upgraded version is a real help.

Genesis Framework for WordPress

Studio Press: Wordpress is a powerful platform if you want to focus primarily on text content and conversion tools. It can be very easily customized for your site via the use of themes (formatting and layout) and plugins (adds capabilities, such as forms). While there are a variety of free themes and plugins available, the Genesis framework from Studio press is a very well design theme specifically crafted for marketers and publishers. It offers a variety of features which can help make you more productive and position you site for better results. At $59.95, this is well worth considering if you intend to use WordPress as your main platform.

Books!: The more you know about the technology underneath your site, the less you have to pay others troubleshoot it for you. We highly recommend learning HTML5, CSS, and basic JavaScript. You should also invest in learning Google Analytics.


Actually, another thing I'd put on my early shopping list - if I had to do it again - is a paid subscription to SEMRUSH. They are an excellent tool you can use to analyze where your top competitors are getting their traffic from and - better yet - what changes you can make to your own site to be more competitive. They are also great when you're scouting out the target keywords for new content that you want to develop. You can understand how many searches are made for a specific term and they have a keyword difficulty scores (along with other metrics) which can help you spot situations where you should be able to rank for the term fairly quickly. This can massively improve your success rate when developing new content, which improves your overall effective earnings per hour. Even if you can't afford a long term subscription, sign up for a month or two and go on a keyword research blitz (use the tool like crazy) that will give you enough targets to really build your traffic over the next couple of months. We have been paid customers of SEMRUSH for several years and earned back the cost many times over. Try them out (the free version) by typing in a keyword in the box below.

Ok, fine. Maybe you don't want to write all that content or handle the details of setting up your blog or e-commerce site. Not a problem. You can always get low cost help from fiverr.

Marketing And Promotion

Technical Support

Other Potentially Useful Services (Varies by Project)

And there you have it - how to test your and grow your idea staring with only $15 and a couple of evenings. Don't forget to install Google Analytics and carefully track the results - that was one of the things that really kept me going when I first started, being able to look at an activity reports and watch people using the site.

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