How to Start an Online Business, a Guide for Entrepreneurs
8 Steps to Start Your Successful Online Business
These days, it’s harder to find reasons not to start an online business than it is to find reasons to go ahead and do it. Not only is an astounding amount of money being generated, with ecommerce sales expected to top $740 billion (with a B) next year, but technology has streamlined the processes and minimized the effort necessary to start an online business. So, whether you’re looking for a side hustle, a passive income stream, or an entirely new career, consider getting your piece of that $740 billion pie.
No longer tied to a desk, you can run your online business from anywhere. If you know what you’re doing, you can scale up to serving a worldwide audience thanks to the worldwide web. And without the requirement of a huge capital investment in the infrastructure and inventory of a brick-and-mortar operation, your ROI can be significant.
Although it’s easy to find reasons to start your online business, it’s not as easy to find online business success. It takes focus, commitment, and a solid business plan. Whether you’re drop shipping with Aliexpress, earning money through your blog via affiliate marketing, or anything else in the online business space, these eight steps will help you bring your brainstorming sessions to life, and turn your ideas into actual functioning businesses.
1. Know that you don’t know everything
You might have a great online business idea. You might even have the BEST online business idea. But without a firm grasp on the concepts that contribute to a successful online business, your idea won’t ever have a chance to flourish.
If you don’t have a background in business, it’s worth shoring up your knowledge base and expanding your network to support you on your path of online entrepreneurship.
Although a college degree isn’t a necessity to start an online business, neither is a quality product and good customer service. You wouldn’t set yourself up for failure by providing a poor customer experience with inferior products, and you shouldn’t set yourself up for failure by not knowing foundational business principles.
There are dedicated programs out there supporting online entrepreneurship, and a great example is the TBB Bank School of Entrepreneurship at Millennia Atlantic University. Offering a BS in Retail & E-Business Entrepreneurship and a BS in Global Entrepreneurship, students have the chance to create a pitch for seed funding from TBB Bank.
2. Know your market
Back to that foundation, you need to understand your market. Since one of the most attractive things about an online business is that it opens up the whole world to buying from you, you need to know a lot about, well, the world!
Market research for your online business should include:
- Determine target audience demographics and behaviors
- Conduct keyword research
- Follow your competitors
- Research what’s trending
- Monitor social media
- Test market products to collect your own data
- Leverage forums and customer feedback.
From market research on demographics to adoption rates for products, you’ll want to know all about who you’re trying to sell to, what they want to buy, and how to get your product in front of them.
3.Create your business plan
Although a lot has changed as the opportunity to open businesses online has evolved, some things never change, and the wisdom behind creating a business plan is one of those.
Whether your online business is transactional, content, promotional, or relational in nature, a business plan will be your road map to getting wherever it is you want to go.
This document will help you nail down the structure of your online business, use your market research to clearly outline who you’re selling to and what you need to do to get them to buy it, how you’ll finance it, and outline your digital marketing strategy to get you there.
Your business plan will also identify needs for financing, how you’ll use what you have available to invest, and it will help you identify the right CRM tools, accounting tools, and growth measurement tools for your online business.
A business plan for an online business should include:
- Executive Summary
- Business Description
- Market Analysis and Competition
- Detailed Explanation of your Product or Service
- Marketing and Sales Plan
- Structure, Ownership, Management, Staff
- Financial Reports, Plan, and Projections
4. Build your website
Building the website is when it really starts to get REAL! This is how you welcome the world to your online business…and your shopping cart.
To build your site:
- Sign up with the e-commerce site builder of your choice
- Create your WordPress e-commerce site
- Connect your WordPress site with WooCommerce
- Finalize your site’s settings
- Create your online catalog
- Add plugins and additional content to boost conversions and support sales
- Publish your e-commerce site for public viewing
5. Optimize your web content
As part of your digital marketing strategy, to get the highest ROI, make sure you have optimized your e-commerce website content. This step is important, because it ensures search engines, and your audience can easily understand your content. High-quality information that is search engine-friendly and easy to find and use will make the visitor experience better, encouraging conversions and return visits.
6. Comply with all legal regulations
Depending on where you are located and where your business is registered, there are legal requirements designed to protect consumers and you as the business owner.
Not every locality has the same requirements for an online business, but depending on where you live, these could include:
- Business Operation License
- Home Occupation Permit
- Occupational License
- Employer Identification Number (EIN)
- Doing Business As (DBA) License
- Seller’s Permit
- Sales Tax License
If you choose to form an LLC, the three states that are the most business-friendly (pro-business court systems, tax benefits, and privacy protections) for company registration are Nevada, Wyoming, and Delaware.
7. Launch social media accounts
Create a communications launch plan on multiple social media accounts based on your digital marketing strategy that includes:
- Create content calendar
- Focus on creating buzz by hyping up the audience with anticipatory content
- Create accompanying hashtags for analytics
- Facilitate engagement and conversations
- Monitor mentions, questions, and ways to engage with the audience
8. Create and implement a digital marketing strategy
The choices for ways to market your online business are so plentiful that they can be overwhelming at times. The key is to start with the ones you can do well, and as you build your business, you can add to your digital marketing toolbox.
These options include:
- Invest in Search Engine Optimization
- Run influencer marketing campaigns
- Sell on marketplaces
- Create a dedicated TikTok marketing strategy
- Run Pay-Per-Click ad campaigns
- Upsell products
- Integrate Instagram into your paid ad campaigns
- Reduce abandoned carts by tracking and communicating with shoppers
- Utilize text messaging campaigns
- Build an email subscriber list
- Provide a live chat function on your site
- Content marketing
- Invite user-generated content
- Sell globally, think locally
- Optimize all product pages
- Optimize for mobile devices
- Create a loyalty program
Just as you spent time and energy coming up with ideas for what you want to sell, you’ll need to brainstorm how you can make it a success. From market research and your business plan, to choosing the CRM, accounting, and measurement tools, to creating a comprehensive digital marketing strategy, the knowledge and technology are available for you to create a successful online business.