In the past, all businesses needed real estate – a storefront or office space. Many still do, but the growth of online business means it’s not the necessity it once was. Budding entrepreneurs can now start businesses without having to make as big of an investment or take on as much risk – which is great. All you need is a good idea, some money and time to get started with, and you can start an online business. To be clear, the risk is still there, but the barriers to entry are lower than they once were. If you’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur, starting with an online business is one of the easiest ways to get your foot in the door. And online businesses, when run well, can be extremely profitable.
1. Identify a need.
You can do everything else exactly right, but if you’re trying to sell something no one wants, your online business will fail anyway. Your first order of business has to be figuring out a product or service that people actually want or need. If you have an idea that you think people will be interested in, confirm that with market research. If you have enough money, you can hire a firm to do market research for you. If you really don’t have that much money, you can get creative and do it yourself.
2. Develop a business plan.
Once you know your idea has a realistic customer base, you need to start working on your business plan. If you have any interest in attracting investors, then a business plan will be one of the most important tools you have for convincing them to buy in. Even if you aren’t explicitly looking for investors, creating a business plan will help you clarify your goals and figure out the specific steps you need to take to achieve them. Make sure your business plan includes an analysis of the competition and a clear positioning statement of where you fit within the market. It should also include information on your target audience, which your market research should have given you a nice head start on collecting. All of that gives you the information you need to make sure your approach is solid. With that in place, you’ll have an easier time working out the chronology of what to do when and what finances and resources you’ll need to complete each step. In short, your business plan should do two key things:
- Make a case for why your business idea is a good one, and
- Provide the roadmap to turn your a good idea into something actionable.
3. Create your brand.
Picking a name for your business is hard, but I don’t have to tell you how important it is. The name is the biggest decision to make as you work on your brand, but it’s one of many. You need a logo, a style, and a clearly defined positioning that communicates just what makes your product so worthwhile to your audience.
4. Build your website.
If you do hire marketing professionals to help you develop your company’s brand, then creating the website should be part of what they help you do. You’ll need to purchase a domain name that’s close enough to your business name to be intuitive for users. If your business name is unique enough, you can go straight for the most obvious choice: YourBrandName.com. If the most obvious domain is already taken, then you may have to get a little creative. You can either go with one of the other domain extensions like .net or .me, use a hyphen or underscore between words to change things up, or add a minor addition to the name, like a go at the beginning or a word that clarifies the industry afterward. Another option is to switch steps 3 and 4. You can avoid running into the problems stated above, by choosing your company name based on what domain names are available. Use our domain registration tool to see what’s available. Make sure the website design matches with your overall visual branding and your website copy effectively communicates your brand positioning. The work you did defining your brand should shine through in the website you create. For an online business, your website is everything. You need it to look good, be intuitive to navigate, and make a clear case to visitors why they should buy. Take time to get it right, and run the finished product by some other people (ideally people in your target audience) to get their take.
5. Create (and start executing) your marketing plan.
Before you actually get going, you should establish your marketing plan. Your market research and branding work should have already helped you clarify your positioning and audience. Use that information to determine which marketing channels to pursue and the messaging to use for them.
Launch day will be a big day for your company. If your website isn’t already live, then you’ll definitely want it up and running on launch day. Your first day in business is a big day, but your success will depend on what you do for every day that comes after. Be prepared to work hard, learn as you go, and make a point of providing great customer service. Running an online business isn’t easy, but if you take the right steps and do the work, the rewards can be great.