8 Steps to Creating an Online Business - Are You Ready?
There’s no denying that the online revolution together with new software and app solutions has made it a lot easier to set up and run businesses. Today you can run a business whilst sitting in your PJs in bed sipping hot chocolate. Literally. Even so, there are things you need to know about how to run an online business, or you will never be successful - as easy as it seems, there are many things that need to be thought through.
#1 Decide How Much You Are Willing to Do
With any business you will have to work hard, but online you can go down different avenues, which require different amounts of work.
- You can sell other people’s digital products that require no shipping (courses, books, online tutorials, etc.).
- You can sell digital products that you create yourself.
- You can sell other people’s products, being an affiliate of sorts, meaning you don’t do the shipping. This could be anything from having an affiliate Amazon store, to being the exclusive online outlet for a certain clothing brand.
- You can have your own stock room, but use other people’s products. This means you stock (or order in stock when you get sales) and ship the products, but you don’t manufacture them. Gift baskets are an example of this, as is having an online baby supplies store, selling various organic baby clothes and toys.
- You can manufacture products that you ship. For example you can make homemade jam that you ship.
Of course one thing does not exclude another, but if your aim is to work from anywhere, you will not wish to have to deal with shipping. Also, bear in mind that if you are doing something like jam, you might want to try and get into local stores, sell to affiliates, etc. meaning you aren’t just an online business.
#2 Find a Passion and a Market
You need to be passionate about what you do if you are to be happy with your business. Spending 8-12 hours a day when first starting out doing something you hate is unlikely to lead to success. You might think the hard work will only be for a until you can relax a bit more and apply the 4-Hour Work Week (excellent book about running an online business from anywhere), but how motivated will you be if you aren’t enjoying yourself?
Not only do you have to be passionate about what you are selling, you also have to be able to sell it to an eager market. If you are setting up the same business a million other people have already set up, what are the chances of success? Either you have to do it much cheaper, have a much better product, or bring something very different to that kind of business if you are to succeed.
Find out what people need. You can get ideas from browsing Google. Many entrepreneurs have come up with ideas simply because they wanted something themselves that they couldn’t find. The important thing is to check if others would want that too.
Do online searches around what you are passionate about. See what’s out there. Check keywords. See if the competition is missing out on something. Once you have an idea start asking people you know what they think about your idea or walk up to strangers in coffeeshops and ask them (beware some people will think it good or bad no matter what it is).
#3 Educate Yourself
Read up on what other people have to say about starting an online business, both online, as well as in books - spend a week at your library or local bookstore to do some browsing. Also have a look at The 4-Hour Work Week and The E-Myth - both great books for entrepreneurs considering setting up their own business. For example, The 4-Hour Work Week talks about how you can test your business before spending money on setting it up, whilst The E-Myth talks about how you can systematize your business so that you don’t suffer a burn-out trying to do it all.
#4 Write a Business Plan
If you aren’t looking for outside finance (angel investors, venture capital or a bank loan) you might not think you need a business plan, but having that plan will enable you to see what your business is truly all about and how to succeed. You can make it more of an operational business plan, but having it will be like a map to navigate your business from. There are business plan software companies like Live Plan who offer online tools to create your business plan step-by-step. If you still feel at loss, get a mentor, or hire someone on an outsourcing platform like Elance to help you create the right kind of business plan.
The reason you should do this is because you will find the potential strengths and weaknesses of your idea, as well as being forced to think about things like marketing and operational costs you might otherwise have missed out on. Also, as previously mentioned, it will be like a map once you have the business up and running, enabling you to always cross refer to see if you are making the intended progress.
Once the plan is ready have it reviewed by a couple of people whom you trust with your ideas and who can help you see potential flaws as well as missed opportunities. In general it’s always good to have a couple of mentors who can guide you through the process of setting up and running a business.
If you are great at creating products, but know nothing about selling things online you might want to get a business partner. In some instances you can outsource things (platforms like Elance, o-Desk, etc.) and at other times it’s better to keep it in the company. And as previously mentioned - do get yourself a mentor or two and consider having an advisory board if it’s a larger business.
#6 Build Your Platform
Depending on what kind of business you are creating you can use ready made platforms, or build your own front and back end. Wordpress, Wix, Shopify and the likes all offer templates for designing your website, as well as plug ins for shopping carts. If you are creating a simple site, these solutions are great. If, on the other hand, you are working with fifty different suppliers and need a sophisticated back end/CMS you need to have one built especially for you.
Even if you choose to use a Wordpress theme for the site you will need a professional logo and other marketing materials. For this you need to find a professional designer. You will also need professional copy for the site - you aren’t going to sell anything unless the graphics and the copy sells.
#7 The Legal Stuff
Set up your business as a legal entity, ensure your clients can make safe payments and protect yourself against being sued. If in doubt, always consult an expert. Never leave yourself open to being sued.
In addition to good copy and graphics you will need a plethora of other things to market your products properly. Below are some of the basics.
- Blogging - shows expertise and ups SEO
- Testimonials on the site - people want to know they are buying good products
- Testimonials on sites like Yelp
- Social Media - be prepared to pay for this from now on. Start by focusing on two to three platforms, but also always add links on Google+ for SEO purposes
- SEO/SEM - either hire a company or learn the necessities yourself
- Affiliates - best way to reach an existing customer base
- Create an email marketing strategy and collect email addresses on your site
- Build your reputation as an expertise in the field - above mentioned blogging, as well as creating videos, books and courses and giving talks