How to Start an Online Business
Eager to start an online business or start a new blog, but not sure where to start? With improving technology, including excellent online tools and lower costs, there has never been an easier time to put your business online and start making money online.
Whether you're looking to just make some extra money on the side or completely replace your income with an online business you can quickly and easily get your idea off the ground, establish a web presence, start driving traffic to your website and generating sales in short order.
With that said, let's look at 10 simple steps you can do to get up and running with a successful online business quickly and easily.
1. Know Your Market
One of the biggest keys to success with an online business is to know the market you are (or want to be) in.
What are their biggest wants and needs? Where do they spend their time online and how can you reach them? What are the right words and emotional hot buttons you want to address with them?
The better you know your market, the more success you will have reaching them with the right message and offering them the right products and services. You don't necessarily have to an expert in your market and you can learn as you go along: but it's good to have some knowledge about the market you want to be in as a foundation. If not, you should have a strong interest in learning more about the market you are going to enter.
Another option if you're not familiar with a market or willing to learn about it (but know it's profitable) is to team up or partner with a subject matter expert who is. You could either go into business with them together or simply pay them for their content expertise.
Either way, you're going to be better off starting off with a proven, profitable niche market rather than trying to reinvent the wheel. If there is already a lot of competition the marketplace that's a good sign that there is profit potential. While most people would shy away from a competitive market, seasoned marketers know that competitive markets are where the money is.
Don't try to reinvent the wheel, simply go where the money already is.
2. Register Your Domain Name
So you've decided on the market niche you want to get into. The first step after that is to register a domain name for your new online venture.
Your domain name is your unique address on the internet. It is your piece of intellectual property, just like a patent or a trademark. There are numerous domain name registrars (companies that register domains) online where you can purchase your domain.
Some registrars even offer "free" domains with a hosting package or another purchase. One of those companies is Bluehost Web Hosting, which offers a free domain name with the purchase of a hosting account. HostGator, SiteGround, and LiquidWeb are popular options as well.
While many of these are legitimate, be sure to confirm that the domain is registered in your name. If the domain is registered in the registrars' name it may be difficult, if not impossible, to switch to another hosting company without losing your domain. This is why I usually recommend you purchase your domain name with one company and purchase your hosting account with another company.
Also, if you're outsourcing your website to another company you'll want to be sure that you actually purchase the domain name and it's registered in your name and isn't owned by the company you are outsourcing with. I've seen horror stories of peope being held hostage by their webmasters who actually own the business owner's domain name, not good!
Two very popular domain name registrars are GoDaddy.com and NameCheap.com.
Here are some other options to register your domain name.
When registering your domain name there are two common ways to go.
If you're more into personal branding then you can simply go with your name, or some type of variation of your name if it's already taken. For instance, you could register JohnDoe.com if your name is John Doe. If JohnDoe.com is already taken, then you could go with something like JohnDoeLifeCoach.com if you happen to be a life coach.
The other common way to go is to register a domain name that is descriptive of the product or service you offer the marketplace. A good example is FreeCreditReport.com. It's fairly obvious from the name itself exactly what that site is about.
They key thing is that your domain name should be very easy to say, speak, spell, and remember.
Also, try to avoid names that are "cute and creative" that don't really explain to the marketplace what your value proposition is.
3. Find a Web Host
A web host is the company that essentially will "rent" you space on their servers to host your website. These companies usually offer domain registration and it’s often easier to have both with the same company -- though many people will buy their domain with one company and host it with another.
Basically your web host is where you will upload your web pages, images, videos, etc.
Web host features such as storage capacity, uptime percentage, domain based email and server security should are important things to consider when evaluating a web host. Also, the ability to host a blog, provide response forms, marketing tools and tools for e-commerce are important criteria to consider when choosing your Web host.
Also, you'll want to be sure that your web host offers WordPress compatability (the most popular website CMS software) and offers your website to be secure (technically an SSL certificate).
Another key thing to consider, possibly the most important, is easy-to-access 24/7 customer support.
Some popular web hosts include:
Generally speaking, most web hosts offer the same services, features, and benefits; and all generally cost around the same amount. Though I'm a big believer in supporting local businesses, this is one area where you're better off going with a larger company that can offer 24/7 support in the event of a problem. No mom and pop hosting companies recommended!
4. Designing Your Website
This isn’t as difficult as it sounds. You have two options for site creation:
- Create the site yourself
- Hire a designer to create it for you
There are at least three options for creating your own site.
- Many hosting companies offer free website building tools.
- WordPress is a popular free blogging platform – both for websites and stand-alone blogs. It is a very simple install, with many hosting companies having install tools just for WordPress. You won’t need years of study and thick manuals to use this software. There are literally thousands of WordPress templates you can find to further customize your site.
- The other option is to use a high-end program like Dreamweaver by Adobe (Visit Adobe's Website) which will do everything you need but has a pretty steep learning curve. One of the training manuals for Dreamweaver is an overwhelming 1000 pages thick.
Hiring a professional designer may be a simpler option. This isn’t necessarily expensive. There are several websites where you can find freelance professionals including CraigsList.com, UpWork.com, and Fiverr.com. You may even consider hiring a local high school or college student inexpensively. In addition to the visual design work, you'll need to give significant thought to your site content.
Again, it's important that if you outsource the design of your website, you actually purchase and own both the domain name and hosting account; the web designer is simply designing your website.
If you're not good with technology or don't have the time or patience to learn how to build your website then you're better off outsourcing it to a pro so you can focus on the important things like product creation, marketing and promotion, and other higher value activities.
The key is you absolutely want to prevent any of the technology holding you back from getting started and running your business. You're in the business of online marketing and selling, not becoming a professional coder.
5. Accept Online Payments
The days of printing and faxing an order form, or mailing a check are long gone. It's absolutely critical that you have the ability to accept payments and process transactions directly on your website. This allows customers to act on an impulse and get immediate gratification.
Two of the most popular options for accepting online payments include:
- Stripe.com (see this article comparing PayPal vs Stripe)
Once you get a little more advanced and decide to create more advanced sales funnels, upsells, and other shopping cart experiences, you may consider upgrading to a shopping cart software like:
Be sure to check for required features and their terms. Minimum monthly fees can affect start-up businesses. It's best to choose a capable service provider that allows growth, so you can start with basic services and low cost and upgrade as your volume increases.
Most people will start out with a less feature-rich lower cost solution when starting up; then upgrade to a more robust shopping cart solution as their business grows.
Unless you are an e-commerce store with hundreds or thousands of products, you can probably avoid a more complex shopping cart solution and use as a simple payment processor to take payments online (like PayPal).
Many people will initially start out by using a method such as PayPal to accept payments online, then as their business grows will add a more feature rich shopping cart / check out system.
6. Determine Product Delivery Methods
Depending on your product type, your delivery methods can range from very simple (downloadable information product or an online service) to more complex (shipping of goods via courier, using a fulfillment company). For downloadable products consider an electronic fulfillment company like E-junkie.com or Clickbank.com
If you aren't already, you should seriously consider promoting digital information products as an affiliate.
If you're dealing with a physical products business you may want to consider going with an online drop shipping business model so you're not actually dealing with any inventory.
7. Get Traffic to Your Website
Even the most cutting-edge design and amazing new product are worthless if it’s buried under millions of other websites. In order to generate sales online, you have to drive massive amounts of website traffic. Consider these basic methods of promoting your new site:
- Register with the three major search engines (Google, Bing, and Yahoo)
- List your blog in the major blog directories
- Content marketing, video marketing, and podcasting
- Online Advertising: Google PPC, Twitter ads, and Facebook advertising
- Direct mailing (print, not email)
- Offline marketing (billboards, company vehicles, stationary, print ads, promotional products)
While there are several ways to drive traffic to your website, you don't want to get overwhelmed by all the choices. Focus on just a few methods initially, maximize these sources of traffic, then continually add more ways to drive massive amounts of traffic to your website.
If you're already involved in this market than you really should know where your market congregates, what websites they visit, which magazines they read, etc. If not then you'll want to spend a good amount of time doing market research to know exactly what platforms you should be advertising on.
If you're on a budget then start with free methods of driving traffic to your website. Once you start generating profits you'll want to reinvest into paid methods of driving traffic (such as pay-per-click ads) because paid methods are much faster and scalable than free methods in general.
8. Publish an Email Newsletter
Capturing the email addresses of your website visitors is critical to the growth of every online business. However, a large and growing list is only valuable when useful and relevant information is sent on a regular basis to these individuals. The goal of an email list is to turn prospects into clients and clients into repeat customers and ambassadors for your company/product.
Try to keep in regular contact with your email list, emailing them at least once a week with an update, information, or some type of offer.
A great email marketing service provider is AWeber.com.
The best way to get people to subscribe to your list is to offer some type of valuable free offer. This can be a free report, white paper, or a discount/coupon code. These types of offers work better than a plain 'subscribe to our newsletter' offer.
It's absolutely critical that you implement an email marketing strategy into your business as email marketing is still the highest ROI activity you can use to market and sell your products online.
9. Track Growth
Easy (and free) tools are available that allow you to see who clicked where and when. Many Web hosting companies offer traffic analyzing tools.
Google Analytics is a free tool – which tracks, among other things:
- Popular pages
- Traffic sources
- Popular keywords
- Location of clicks
These reports can be customized with a plethora of variables including date range, page views, and length of time on site.
Other things you may want to consider tracking is how many people are opening your emails and clicking on the links back to your website.
While visitor traffic provides an interesting gauge, what you are really looking for is transactions. Whether you are selling a product or a service, success is measured in sales.
It's absolutely critical that you track and analyze these key metrics on your website; otherwise, how will you know what's working, what's not working, and what you need to do to improve conversions?
10. Other Business Considerations
In addition to the specific online considerations, you’ll need to consider:
- Licensing and trademarks
- Legal business structure
- Business location
- Product warehousing
- Legal matters, among other things
Notice these items are listed last. Although important, you don't' want to let doing these things hold you back. The idea is to pick your market, get a domain name, build your website, and start generating revenue as quickly as possible and work out the details along the way!
Edited by Online Business/Hosting Expert Brian T. Edmondson