5 Steps to Starting an Online Business
Are you interested in starting an online business but not exactly sure how to get started?
In today's hard scramble "side hustle" digital world, you may have come across several great ways to make money online. By and large, these options (e.g. online surveys, affiliate marketing, pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, etc.) are great ways for supplementing your full-time job.
However, if you are more ambitious and want to gain financial independence, the time has come to consider starting and running your own online business, something that create a full-time income and give you the time freedom to enjoy it.
What does it take to start an online business? Certainly, the niche you choose to operate in will have a huge influence in the success or failure of your online business as you want to be sure to focus on markets that have a large amount of buyers with money. Once you've selected a profitable niche than it will come down to having a good website, understanding your market, and creating great marketing messages for your target market.
As an aspiring entrepreneur on a limited budget, you share the same immediate goal as everyone else... to get established fast via a solid network and generate enough cash flow to stay alive!
To accomplish this, let's take a look at five of the most important things to consider when starting an online business and start turning your passions into profits on the internet.
1. Market Research and Expert Advice
Getting opinions and support from your friends, family, and colleagues to get off the starting blocks is great, but doesn't it make sense to meet real business people who have been there and done that? What have you got to lose? In a worst case scenario, they will point out important flaws in your plans that force you to delay or perhaps cancel your ideas—for the better! No start-up is perfect, and perhaps your consultations will yield some truly golden advice.
Perhaps more important that the options of a qualified professional is what your target audience actually says. Customer reaction via crowdsourcing websites is very much in vogue these days and may allow you to gauge actual interest for your initial products or services. Traditional customer surveys also remain a staple of evidence-based market research.
As mentioned above the biggest key to success with an online business, or any business for that matter, is to make sure you choose a profitable market. Look around at what other successful companies, website, and online influencers are doing. If you see a lot of people in a market that is a good sign of a healthy market with a lot of profit opportunity for everybody involved.
2. A Functional Website
It is funny how many internet businesses still cringe at the thought of websites (or place little to no investment in it). Still, in spite of the social media explosion taking place today, a solid e-commerce site remains the anchor of your budding online business. It helps to establish your brand and distinguishes you from “fly by night” operators.
The basic steps to setting up a website on a minimal budget are:
- Consider the popular WordPress platform or other simple Content Management System (CMS) as your base.
- Choose a strong domain name and register it with a reputable domain name registrar.
- Look for and add simple business plug-ins to your CMS for a professional look and ease of customer navigation.
It can't be overstated that people will judge you, your business, it's credibility, and most importantly it's ability to solve their problems based on the look and feel of your website. Though we all know that we shouldn't... people will judge your business by it's website just as they judge a book by its cover. You don't have to break the bank on a great looking website but you should seek the advice of a professional web designer or at least invest in a good WordPress template to give your website a professional look and feel.
3. Learn About Your Competition
Chances are that you are not about to take on Google, Ford, or Wal-Mart head on. However, you still need to be aware of your major competitors regardless of their actual market share. This includes both direct and indirect competitors, because this is where your ideal customers likely hang out.
Search engines offer tools that let you customize alerts and trend watches that keep you in the loop. With time, you should be able to build up a strong list of websites that will key you in on your industry's inside information.
Two huge mistakes that people make when it comes to starting a business are:
- Thinking that if someone else is already doing their idea then they shouldn't do it. The truth is that if many people are already doing your business idea then that is proof that your idea is profitable and that you should move forward with it.
- Thinking that if nobody is doing their idea then they're sitting on an untapped goldmine. Though a breakthrough new ideas are possible, the reality is that if nobody is currently doing your idea its probably because there is not market / profitability in the idea... otherwise people would already be doing it.
If you haven't done so, you should make a list of all the competitors in your market and study everything they are doing. What products do they offer? Where are they running ads? What does their marketing copy say? Though you don't want to copy what the competition is doing you can learn a lot by watching them and modeling the successful things they are doing.
4. Don't Skimp on the Sales and Marketing!
Set some revenue and cash flow goals (e.g. $100k in sales within 18 months) and include intermediate benchmarks that allow you to properly measure your business growth and performance.
Choose one or two social media platforms to get the word out. Facebook, LinkedIn, and Pinterest are among the most popular, but you may also consider smaller, more targeted websites that cater to your particular area, such as trade magazine and industry association websites.
If you do not have a lot of money to spend then look for guest blogging and podcasting opportunities to demonstrate your expertise to the world. In most situations, the web host will allow you to include links back to your e-commerce site. This is a great way to get free trafic to your website.
5. Maximize Your Own Effort!
You'd be surprised what one person can accomplish on a limited start-up budget. It's not about being stubborn, just smart about the first impressions you want to leave people with, as well as a desire to control the way in which your company grows.
Once you establish your business strengths and weaknesses, you'll be in better position to know what aspects of your online effort needs outside expertise. They key is to constantly outsource or add employees to do the lower level tasks in your business while you focus on the most profitable areas of growing your business.
Starting your own online business does not have to rocket science, but its takes real work to make it successful. Tens of thousands of Internet marketers worldwide have already replaced their ‘9 to 5’ employment income within a short period of time. Why not make your move online to a richer future, a better future, by joining them?
See also: 3 Easy Ways to Make Money With a Blog