Before we begin, let's put some context over what constitutes an online business. We are mostly referring to sites, platforms and apps you've currently released or are in the middle of building.
When you are just starting, every dollar counts.
1. Setting Up A C-Corporation or S-Corporation.
Depending on what state you live in or where you want to incorporate, some states charge as much as $500 to do this. In most cases, you are paying this every year. The whole point of a corporation is to avoid a lawsuit as a shareholder, assuming of course you are operating it as a true separate entity.
Why incorporate later instead of now?
Honestly, you'll find that it takes more time than money when setting up into either type of corporation. You will have to do board meetings and minutes (or at least appear to have done them) which then have to be filed to the state.
Save your time and money and do this much later once you have your first set of users or just go LLC.
2. Print Advertising
Forget doing mailers, magazine spreads or newspapers. You're better off doing flyers at your nearest university and pin it to the bulletin boards. Doing print advertising is like using a shotgun at a far target.
Creative services are also built into these ad spots which will add to the cost. Between the three major newspapers I've quoted, I went with one to promote one of my sites. Despite it being the cheapest of the three, I ended up spending $2000 within a set inventory of spots in the newspaper. While it brought me a couple of nice PR and put my nice mug in the newspaper, it brought me only 121 unique visits - total.
You're better off setting up a quick Facebook page and kindly asking your friends for some feedback. Or better yet, start a blog.
3. Traditional Media Advertising
Most won't have the money to pay for a commercial spot for primetime TV. However, there are plenty of cable channels that are willing to give you some airtime for a few hundred or a thousand and it can be tempting. It's always fun to shoot your own commercial. Unfortunately, ad campaigns in traditional advertising are only effective when you are doing it at months at a time or even a whole year for it to stick. Even then, the media kit you'll be getting to buy these ad campaigns will describe its viewers by a more wide ranging set of data like age, income and education rather than say - interest. You can never tell what kind of people are watching.
If you have some footage or a spot you've recorded for yourself, try using YouTube's ad campaigns. At least you can precisely target your audience.
4. A Separate Mailbox
Unless you love opening up real life spam and getting billed for it, don't do it. Above is exactly what happens the moment you open your own mailbox at a UPS/USPS facility. If you have to register for online services that ask for an address, just make sure you opt out of actual mailings. Most will have that option. Even if it doesn't, use your home address. You'll be glad to know that you're not being billed for a box you would be forced have to drive to.
Bags, t-shirts and custom USB thumb drives are very cool things to have. It could be cheap and a few hundred bucks but is it worth it? No. This is especially true in the early stages of your company and product. I understand the mindset. An ordinate amount of time was spent to make splash from your brand and showing off your awesome logo is always fun. Like most businesses, you want to make a good impression of your company but it's simply too early.
Build your following through the impression of your product instead of the professional image you've been trying so hard to craft for your company. With a great product and some time cultivating customers, your merchandise could sell to loyal advocates instead of being given away to people who've never heard of your product before.
6. City Chamber Of Commerce Membership
Unless you live in San Francisco, New York or a major city, wait on it. The cost of entry maybe low for your city but most of who you'll meet will be locals who are running things like insurance companies, dental offices, restaurants, tax centers, etc.
You never know who you're going to meet
That we get. Just up your chances for a more effective connection. In my experience, owners of an online business have better chemistry in mixers happening at Eventbrite or in the Career & Business section of Meetup.com
7. Private Hosted Email
If you own several domains and want to do things like respond using firstname.lastname@example.org, Outlook, Zoho or even G-Suite From Google, it will roughly cost around $5 per user. It's not bad actually, but if want to save the extra cash and not have to manage more inboxes than you need you should consider using an alias instead. Additionally, if you already have an office suite at home or using the free open source stuff, you're even better off.
Depending on your domain registrar, you should be able to setup aliases. An alias allows you to still have a professional email address using your domain name like email@example.com but instead of going into a seperate inbox that is specific to that email address, it will forward the message to whatever email you want to catch all that stuff on.
Several registrars have this. To my knowledge, GoDaddy and Namecheap have this ability - for free.
Disagree with the list or care to expand it? Let me know!