Starting an Online Business in Spain – What do I know?

Warning! If you think this online business stuff may not interest you, you are probably right – why not go and read about Spanish Presidential Candidates’ sex lives or browse our forum instead!

Still here? OK, as mentioned recently, I want to write occasionally about running an on-line business in Spain… or beyond. But some people may wonder what on earth I know about that?! (I often do!)

Books on Spain

I built my first website in 2004, a site called booksonspain.com, which reviewed, wait for it, books on Spain. Every book had an affiliate link to Amazon, and I thought I’d soon be a very rich man as everyone jumped from my new site to Amazon, spending loads of money there and giving me the resulting affiliate commissions. I think I made about 100 dollars in the year or two the site was running.

Next I started blogspain.com, where I tried to build a directory of, wait for it, blogs about Spain! At the same time, I started this blog, Notes from Spain, to write about the genesis of the new blogspain.com site (confusing, I know). I soon stopped updating blogspain.com as well, to concentrate on Notes from Spain, and this new-fangled podcasting malarkey.

Getting in early on the podcasting scene put notesfromspain.com on the map. Notes from Spain led to Notes in Spanish, and Notes in Spanish (to our continuing surprise) turned into a business that has allowed Marina and I to give up our old day jobs, earning more (but not vastly more) than we used to, and having a lot more flexibility and free time. And, of course, no commute or boss.

So, based on the above, what are the fundamental things I think can tell you about starting out with an on-line business?

1. It takes a long time – 3 years of tinkering in our case before we could really think about this as a viable income and lifestyle possibility.

2. It takes hours and hours and hours of work every week. Be prepared to put in 12+ hour days to start with. I did for at least a couple of those years, and often still do.

3. If you are not passionately interested in what you are doing (in your on-line experiments, or your “niche”), then you probably will not succeed – and the passion should be more important to you than the money at first. But passion, patience, and a bit of luck, should pay off eventually. The internet is a meritocracy, and if you are dedicated and good enough, you will eventually gain people’s attention.

I heard a great interview today on a podcast that has given me some very useful information recently – Internet Business Mastery. The interview is with Yanik Silver, who knows a lot about making a lot of money on-line, and has some great tips about starting out. Listen here.

Finally, one more podcast recommendation: if you are any type of creative person (and in particular a musician), and want to know about making money for (and from) yourself via the net, listen to the Jonathan Coulton interview on Episode 133 of This Week in Tech – it’s slow to get going but stick with it, there is a lot to be gleaned once Jonathan starts talking about his own experiences of making money from what he does online.

Less about me in future, and more interviews and reading/listening recommendations. Please tell me, is this content interesting/useful?

19 thoughts on “Starting an Online Business in Spain – What do I know?

  1. Matt

    Ben and Marina,

    It’s been fun watching NiS grow over the past 3 years or so. You’ve come a long way from your first “terazza”-casts to where you are now. The fact that you’ve been able to build a viable business model and quit your day jobs is a testament to your hard work and dedication. Best of luck in the next three years and beyond!

    Cheers!

  2. sandy

    Thanks for sharing your experience. Before we launched our online wine shop, we did a lot of research, and really thought we found a niche market to fill having a site in English shipping to other European countries. Spanish wines are good value for money. Everyone would be buying them from us like mad for sure. I thought then if the little old woman who owns the little shop selling olives down the road can make it, so can we because we are selling to the whole world!

    But we found out doing business on the Internet is a whole different ball game. We are still learning everyday. Will let you know when we become millionaires. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  3. ValenciaSon

    I also enjoy watching your baby grow and grow. It seems like yesterday when I went on line and googled podcasts because I listened to a show on NPR in 2006 on podcasts and how they are really taking off all over the world. It then focused on podcasts in China and how the government was unable to keep up with that proliferation , allowing the Chinese to have an uncensored voice at home.
    Anyway, when I googled podcasts, I came across those terraza casts. I remember Marina’s first input. Lets just say it was also uncensored, LOL!

  4. Matt

    Nice post, I like how it ties into last week’s interview with Dean Hunt. I’ve also been following NiS and NFS for a couple years now and it’s awesome to see you doing what you love and making a living off of it. Congrats.
    Matt

  5. Jules

    Though not as early on the scene as you guys above, I was looking desperately in early 2006 for Spanish broadcasts and found the 30 podcasts in 30 days from a link in About.com:Spanish and was instantly hooked by the podcasts. How refreshing it was to listen to normal conversational Spanish that was comprehensible!! A simple concept (in hindsight) but fascinating to watch the idea build and mature.
    In Ben’s place my only concern would be thinking how to develop in the future, because nothing (particulary web-wise) is forever.

  6. Ben Post author

    Jules, you hit the (or one of the) nail(s) on the head – I wonder constantly about how this will develop in the future. I’m reading an invaluable book about this at the moment, ‘The Emyth Revisited’, which I think is going to help – more on that later, but it basically looks at how things like this grow on a day to day basis and one day you realise that although everything is going really well, one never really thinks forward, and how that can in the end stifle development. I hope to avoid that ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. luke

    You deserve your success (does all the money from the work-sheets?) and I imagine that you would have had it even if the internet didn’t exist. There was always a gap in the market for your natural/entertaining style of language learning. 20 years ago you’d have been successful with Spanish language audio cassettes. Maybe you should expand your empire and start with another language? Get a French girlfriend on the side! That’s a joke, Marina.

  8. Stephen

    What about a brazen link one can click on to send a donation? Your site is excellent so perhaps some of the users who didn’t want the work-sheets would feel gulity and just donate instead! Tell us more about those hours of dedication and how you get up to clean roads for t’council (t’ayuntamiento).

  9. Hola Valencia

    This could be our story as well.

    My tip is not to give up. You will run into discouraging situations. In our 3 years we had to put up with tons of stuff – worse was a lawsuit with our service provider suing us for รขโ€šยฌ5000 right in the first 6 Month when we started with our first site.

    We are still out here and it was worth not to give up.

  10. leftbankerr

    Living in Spain has given me a few ideas on making money on the internet. I have been knocking around the idea of making an online business inspired by all of the annoying street hustlers in Spain. My site would attack you with a pop up window while you are online and you would have to suffer through accordion music, a bad juggling act, or a guy pushing a rose in your face until you put money into my paypal account. If people don’t pay up I up the ante by sending in a mime. It would have aspects of a video game so if you tipped enough you would get the opportunity to do the virtual intruders bodily harm (or you at least get to smash the accordion to bits with a cricket bat).

  11. Sarah Spencer

    Hi Ben,

    I’ve found your Starting an Internet Business in Spain articles really interesting and useful. You mention you are hoping to write and series about this subject – do you have any more material like this up your sleeve? I am starting an internet business in Spain and would welcome the help and advice.

    Sarah Spencer

  12. Graham

    Hi Ben

    Interesting aticle about the trial and error process. I too heard your podcasts early on doing a search on Podcasts in Spanish to recommend to clients. Have you ever thought about affiliate deals to monetise more

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