The Internet has opened the doors to a world of business possibilities for people who wouldn’t have dreamt of starting a business on their own before. Starting a business online means you can get away with much less in terms of investment and start-up expenses, particularly if you choose to offer a service online or trade exclusively in digital products, dropshipping or affiliate promotions that don’t require you to buy any starting stock. Get ready to learn how to start an online business from scratch!
Step 1: Find a Need or Problem That You Can Fill or Fix
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Even if we are talking about starting an online business, the same rules as traditional business apply and this includes your business fulfilling a useful purpose. Nobody will pay you unless you provide them with something they need or want. Identifying your product and your market first is the only way to guarantee your business won’t just run out of breath due to lack of an audience willing to pay for them. While it is possible to educate people so they discover a need they didn’t know they had (just look at Apple or Amazon) you need significant brand authority and enough money to keep your business running and the bills paid until that process is complete, and that can be years.
Look for a niche that has three things:
- An audience asking questions or with a problem that they are trying to solve. If you can find a problem or need that won’t go away, even better. Otherwise your customer’s lifetime value will be too low.
- A product or solution that actually is worth paying for.
- Enough competition to prove that there is a profit to be made, but not so much that a newcomer into the market wouldn’t have a chance.
If you aren’t confident you found a niche with all three things, move on and look at something different. It doesn’t matter if you think you had a brilliant idea, if nobody else needs it you will just waste your time or money starting an online business around it.
It is worth spending a few hours writing a business plan that includes your market research, competitor’s research and realistically what are your economic forecasts for the next few months and years. This will help you focus your efforts and discover potential risks on time to plan around them.
Step 2: Find The Right Business Name
The right business name describes what you do, is easily remembered and easy to spell out on the phone and type from memory. Depending on your niche and business style you can get away with more or less humorous or distinctive business names but always keep in mind that something you find funny may be offensive to somebody else or make you look less serious than you are.
Brainstorming for the perfect business name can be exciting and time-consuming as you fight to decide on The Name. Get help from a family member or close friends (you don’t want anybody stealing your business idea before you make it happen!) and set a time limit on how long you have until you decide on a name.
Step 3: Create a Suitable Online Presence
Most of the people starting an online business fail because they don’t understand the need for a professional looking, trustworthy online presence. Would you hand your credit card details to buy a book from an amateur looking website, with typos or without any signs of authority?
In order to sell online (or be able to convince people to buy a product you recommend) you need to build authority and enough trust signals to make people trust that you actually have an answer to their questions worth listening to (and paying for). You can accomplish that through 3 different things:
Personal Authority: Display the qualifications that make you an authority on your chosen niche, somebody people should trust because of the knowledge you have. You can accomplish this by blogging, providing free ebooks, social media, or even via third party reviews of your product or service and testimonials.
Professional website: If you are serious about starting your online business, you should at least invest in a suitable domain name and a paid web building service. There is nothing that looks more untrustworthy than a website using a free service, branded with third party links and ads.
Professional sales copy: If you use a website to sell, your website will be the one doing the talking.This means the copy of your website needs to be of a professional standard, clear and without typos, and most importantly it needs to be great sales copy. You may be able to write your sales copy yourself, or get somebody to do it for you. It could be the best investment you ever made.
Step 4: Build Scalable Processes
The key to a successful online business is being able to scale so you can make the most of the never-ending stream of customers you can find online. If you need to do many things manually, you will run out of time and lose opportunities. It is extremely important to build scalable processes that allow you to spend your time on profitable things, and reduce the amount of time you spend marketing or doing administrative stuff such as sending a downloadable file to your recent customers.
Make the most of the business tools available online to increase your profits and be able to grown your online business. For example:
- User an auto-responder to get the contact details of your visitors and build your mailing list
- Schedule Tweets and Facebook updates using Hootsuite and avoid wasting time on social media accidentally
- Keep your data secure on the cloud with services such as Dropbox
- Keep your business finances in check with TurboTax by Intuit instead of spending money on an expensive accountant
- Use Google Docs to create and edit documents
- Streamline your processes so you can outsource them easily by training somebody else to do small, time consuming tasks for you
There is one thing missing on this guide about how to start an online business and that is: don’t expect immediate results for no effort, and don’t be afraid to change your mind or change direction as you discover more and more about your industry and your potential clients. Most people fail to build their first online business, but try again and again until they master the process and find success. Become one of them, and enjoy the benefits of being your own boss and working from home.