The popularity of online businesses today is overwhelming. Everyone is flocking to the internet to make money out of the air.
Google can readily give you a dozen search results on “how to start an online business without spending a penny”.
However, any business, be it a brick-and-mortar store or an online shop needs substantial effort and certain spending on your part.
Don’t read any more if you aren’t ready to devote most of your time to an online business.
If you are sure you can handle it, read on. These 9 steps can give you and your business a solid head start.
1. Find The Right Niche
Many people want to start an online business but most of them have a vague idea of what it’s really about or have any ideas on what to sell.
The first mistake entrepreneurs make is choosing a certain product they want to sell and then start diving into the marketing matters.
Be smart and do it the other way around.
By studying the market, you can understand which products are the most demanded.
By checking out the competition, you can see which niche needs to be filled. If you provide people what they are looking for, your business is bound to succeed.
Maybe you always wanted to sell Christmas decorations. Unless you are ready to provide a truly unique decoration, the niche is oversaturated.
Look for something fresh yet demanded. One of the smart ways to look for trends is to use a free service Google Trends.
2. Come Up With A Business Plan
A business plan is must-have for any business.
Since there amounts of information and details each business owner needs to deal with are enormous, putting things in order is compulsory.
Nobody ever managed to start a successful business without laying down the framework.
Some people claim they can do it in their heads. Don’t believe them. Sit down and start writing.
You need to establish the financing and marketing plans.
If you are thinking of getting some outside funding, you can’t do it without a business plan. But even if you don’t have trouble with financing, a plan is required to keep you from wasting time and money.
3. Choose a Name
Choosing a name for your business may seem like a fun part, but in reality, it requires careful planning and a lot of brainstorming.
The name you choose should help you market your online business. It must be short enough to fit into a domain name and catchy enough to be remembered.
When you come up with a name, make a domain name search. This way you won’t just see if the domain is taken, you can check out if such business already exists.
You also have to make sure that a business with a similar name to yours doesn’t exist, at least in the same niche. You can do it by simply googling the name.
You can use these helpful services to check for the name availability:
4. Design Your Website
An ideal website is a key to making your online business work like a clock.
Today there are many different platforms available for making a website for an online business, such as WordPress and Shopify.
You can use these platforms to build the website on your own or hire an expert.
If you aren’t on a tight budget, hiring an expert can save you a substantial amount of time.
Some platforms offer free themes to work with. Most of them are fairly good for beginners but may have some glitches and lack of customer support. Depending on your budget, you can choose the interface.
A solid website for your online business should:
- Offer quick loading time
- Be mobile-friendly
- Have a straightforward navigation
- Offer an easy contact option
- Give the customer a chance to buy something in two clicks max
If you are not ready to set up a website, you can use such platforms as Etsy and eBay to sell your products.
This can be a good idea if you are thinking of making an online business a part-time matter. However, a solid business requires its own website.
5. Read About The Legal Aspects
Even though an online business exists in a virtual universe, it abides by real laws.
Since you are planning to get a certain profit, you need to be ready to make it legal.
Most of the rules that apply to brick-and-mortar businesses work for online companies as well. However, you should be aware of a few differences.
Online business laws exist.
Most of them have to do with the personal information you get from your customers and maintaining their privacy.
You can get a good idea of which online laws you need to know to run an online business from this article on Big Commerce.
If you are running a local business, check your state’s and country’s laws. Many requirements vary from state to state and from region to region.
The most important information you have to find is about paying taxes. Each online business owner is obligated to pay taxes.
Meanwhile, if you run a business from your home, you may get some tax deduction. It makes sense to seek professional advice and get all this sorted out to avoid unexpected setbacks and penalties.
6. Learn About SEO
If you want your website to attract customers, you need to invest in SEO.
While an advertising campaign will do part of the job, search engine optimization can help make your website easy to find on such major engines as Google, Yahoo!, and Bing.
By optimizing the content you post on your website, you can bring the potential audience to your online business.
There is a big variety of free and paid SEO tools available for business owners today.
Content optimization, keyword research, link building, and interface improvement are just a few thing you can do to boost your website’s rankings.
You may want to hire an SEO expert to do the job or learn the basics on your own.
It’s better to start learning about SEO before you fill your website with content in order not to do any rewriting afterward.
7. Invest in Advertising
A business without advertising is an expensive road to nowhere. When your website is ready, you can start advertising efforts.
Referral marketing is one of the easiest and most effective ways to find customers.
The best place to begin is with the people you know. Ask your friends, family, colleagues, neighbors, and forum buddies to market your store whenever they can by word-of-mouth.
You can go further by asking other people to market your business. You can find online influencers to give a big boost to your marketing efforts.
These people are popular bloggers, vloggers or entrepreneurs that have a big online following. You can find influencers, who’ve already marketed products similar to yours in the past.
You can also market your website by creating engaging content related to your niche and posting it on the sites that accept guest posts with referral links to your website.
There are many online marketing tools available for your campaign:
- Hootsuite – social media marketing management
- Google Analytics – traffic analysis
- BuzzSumo – content analysis and suggestions
- Social Mention – Social presence monitor
- MailChimp, Aweber or GetResponse – email marketing
- SEMRush – Keyword Ranking, Links and Site Audit Analysis. Allows you to “spy” on your competition’s data too.
There are also several other ways to advertise and promote your business.
These are pay-per-click advertising, solo ads for email marketing, native ads such as Taboola, Facebook ads, traditional media ads (TVs and Radios) and even advertising through offline media (flyers, newsletters, classified ads etc).
8. Request Feedback and Offer Freebies
Whether you already have some customers or know places where they spend their time on social media, request feedback. Without proper feedback on the way a business works, you can’t improve it.
Requesting feedback and acting upon it is part of a solid marketing strategy. People love to talk. Use this to your advantage to find out how you can make more money.
At the first stages of your business, you can even offer some freebies to people, who leave useful comments in your blog.
Giveaways, polls, and competitions require a minimal investment but bring astonishing results.
You can use social media and email marketing to get the audience to take advantage of your offers.
9. Try Hard To Be Different
No matter how hard you search for a niche, it’s probably already taken. Don’t worry. It doesn’t mean you can’t earn money.
However, you need to come up with that little “extra oomph” that makes your business different from the hundreds and maybe thousands of others.
Whenever someone asks you why he should choose your business over the rest, you must have an answer ready.
Use this difference to market your business. It may be as simple as a free car sticker with each product, customer service perks or attractive membership offers.
Starting an online business may seem easy at the first glance.
However, it needs just as much effort, investing, and planning as a brick-and-mortar one.
The best part about such a business is that you can start it in the comfort of your own home without anyone’s assistance.
The success of an online business depends solely on how much time and effort you are willing to invest in it.
Author Bio: Jinghong Chiu is a resident instructor for SEO at Derek Gehl’s Ignited Academy on ProjectIgnite.com. He is a specialist on online startups, SEO, and outsourcing. He also provides SEO services to startups and businesses. Twitter: @chiujinghong