The internet has transformed the way we communicate, conduct business and learn about the world. For entrepreneurs, it has opened up new possibilities for achieving business success.
An online business can offer tremendous flexibility. When done correctly, it can provide you with access to some of the world’s most lucrative markets at a tiny fraction of the cost of running a traditional brick-and-mortar store.
There is a proven sequence you can follow to maximize your success when starting an online business. Some of these sequences are unique to the online environment, whereas the rest deal more generally with any business startup.
Whether you’re a noobie or a seasoned online entrepreneur, consider the following steps when launching an online business.
1. Go where the demand is.
The first step is the most basic, but also the most crucial. What is the product or service you’re looking to offer? If you’re reading this, there’s a pretty good chance you already have a few ideas germinating in your head. Before you start your business, you need to get more specific about what you can offer.
This can be as easy as doing a keyword search or visiting online forums to see what specific problems people need answered. It can also be as simple as offering a service that people need and can be delivered over the internet.
Based on our experience working with digital entrepreneurs, your online business will probably take on one of the following:
- E-commerce website: The most direct form of online business, an e-commerce site allows you to sell your products and serves directly to your customers without a middle man.
- eBay or Amazon store: Starting your own eBay or Amazon store has a number of unique advantages, such as not having to set up an entire website and having access to a massive global market. There’s also several drawbacks as well, such as higher fees and little control over your “storefront” appearance.
- Company website: If you’re selling a service instead of a product, you may decide to start your own website. This provides a practical way for potential customers to learn about your services and contact you directly.
- Freelancer profile: if you’d like to really cut down costs while increasing your outreach, starting a profile on a freelance website like Upwork or Freelancer is a good approach. These sites have millions of jobs posted, and attract buyers from all over the world. If your service is writing, business planning, marketing or software development, these platforms have a lot to offer.
2. Develop a business plan.
Once you’ve decided on your unique differentiator, it’s time to mobilize a plan for launching your business. A business plan is the blueprint for moving your plan forward. It can help you quantify your goals and identify what your business needs to move forward (and how much it will cost).
Your business plan doesn’t have to be very long, but it should include the following:
- Develop your strategy: Define your business strategy by listing your long-term goals and objectives. Zero in on your target market and develop a strategy for matching to their needs.
- Identify your tactics: Now that you have a strategy, start putting together a list of tactics for executing it. This includes how you will market your business and what sort of incentives you’ll offer your target market.
- Crunch the numbers: A business plan isn’t very useful without a budget, sales forecast and cash flow projections.
- Figure out payment: Have you thought about how you will get paid? Will you be accepting payments directly on your website or will you rely on third-party payment processors? Click here to learn how credit card processing can help your business.
Having a business plan is handy when the time comes to apply for financing. Red Door Capital makes managing your growth and expansion easier than ever before. Click here to learn more.
3. Market your business.
Depending on the nature of your business, you’ll have to give serious consideration to marketing. Before pulling out your check book, start off by writing killer copy that sells to your target market.
You don’t have to be a brilliant content developer to write meaningful copy. Allen Moon of Entreprenur outlines a proven sales fomula for converting more customers. This includes:
- A compelling headline.
- Describe the problem your product or service solves.
- Explain why you’re the best at solving it.
- Where possible, add testimonials.
- Talk about how how your product or service benefits the user.
- Make an offer, backed by a solid guarantee.
- Create a sense of urgency.
- Ask for the sale.
Social media is another powerful way to market your business. In fact, it’s pretty much essential in today’s business world. There are more than 1.8 billion people on Facebook and an extra 320 million Twitter users. Before spending money on paid advertising campaigns, optimize your presence on these platforms.
4. Build a sleek website.
It’s often said that first impressions are everything. When it comes to online business, your website is often the first interaction people have with your company. You want to make a good first impression and ensure a smooth user experience.
When it comes to designing a website, simplicity is often the best approach. This means plain fonts and simple backgrounds with easy-to-use navigation and a clear interface.
Graphics, audio and video should be used sparingly unless it enhances your message.
Most importantly, include opt-in offers and a ‘Contact Us’ page so you can collect e-mail addresses.
Whatever you’re selling, make it easy to buy from your website.
Obviously, this process becomes much easier when working on Amazon or from a freelancer profile on Upwork. But many of the same rules apply regarding copy writing and creating a meaningful first impression.
5. Establish reputation
At the end of the day, people browse the internet to find information. The better your reputation, the easier it will be for potential customers to find your solution.
Offering awesome products and obtaining five-star testimonials are two ways to boost your online reputation. Another way is through search engine optimization (SEO) and developing quality free content that people find informative. Then market the heck out of them.
Becoming an expert in your field makes a lot of business sense. Website traffic drives conversion, and conversion leads to business growth.
Just don’t expect it to happen overnight. Building a positive business reputation takes a lot of time. If you’re serious about your online business, you should be in it for the long haul.
Once your business is up and running, consider automating as much of it as possible. This will help you focus on the things that matter, such as improving your product or service. To learn more, read Ten Ways to Automate Your Small Business for Maximum Efficiency.
1. Allen Moon. “How to Start a Business Online.” Entrepreneur.
2. Brianna Morgan. “4 Steps to Starting an Online Business.” B Plans.
3. Dan Schawbel (May 31, 2012). “How to Start a Business With Only $100 In the Bank.” Forbes.