First, congratulations on your entrepreneurial spirit and desire to get started with business online.
YES! IT IS ENTIRELY POSSIBLE TO BUILD AN ONLINE BUSINESS WITH LITTLE TO NO EXPERIENCE.
Getting started with a business online can be daunting. In fact, starting a business of any kind is challenging. Add to that the ever-changing landscape of the internet, best practices, technical knowledge, and sometimes conflicting advice – it is hard to keep up.
But don’t worry. I’ll outline a few steps necessary to start your online business, even if you don’t have experience.
1. KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE
The first step in starting a business, whether online or offline, is to understand your ideal audience. This is not just “Male, age 30-45, who like trucks” (even worse is when entrepreneurs convince themselves that “everyone” is their customer. It is not true, not possible, and not realistic).
The more you know your audience, the higher your success will be in business. Be specific to the type of person you are targeting. Consider their needs, desires, and the problem/frustration they are trying to solve. For example, if you are selling nutritious lunch packets, your ideal customer may be defined as “On-the-go parents with school-aged children.” Further, you could characterize their persona as health-conscious, upper-middle class economically, and an active lifestyle.
Does this description conjure a mental image of what this person looks like? What does their day consist of? What words you would use to talk to them? Would you market to men and women the same? Do dads and moms have different approaches for their kids? All questions that can shape the picture of your ideal customer.
2. BE HELPFUL
Once you have a good understanding and vision of your ideal client, you need to start building credibility. You need to be a source of information to them. How?
Start by addressing their questions. Using our example above, your on-the-go parent who has kids active in sports and school activities probably has other nutritional questions about the foods she is giving her kids.
- What should they be eating to maximize their success in sports and school?
- How can foods fuel through mid-afternoon crash?
- What food to avoid before the big game?
As a brand, start addressing these types of questions based on your expertise in the form of content (this is called Content Marketing). This content may include written articles, videos, photos, podcasts, social media content, and the like. Publish this content on your brand website. Be sure to include credible research and verifiable facts (in addition to your experience). Use each piece of content to address specific questions your customer would ask.
Once you are done with your blog post, share it across your social media profiles to reach your followers. This is where many new customers will first become aware of your brand. Not only that, but social media is where many of your existing customers can engage with you – directly with you. This is a communication form that brands 20, 30, and 50 years ago did not have. Direct to consumer access. Remember, this goes both ways. Your customers have direct access to you. There is now an expectation that brands will respond quickly to inquiries from customers. Keep this in mind as you put yourself out on social media. But certainly do not let this keep you from social – it is a must in today’s business environment.
Think of your brand’s website as your online “hub” or home. Everything you do on social media, podcasts, guest blog posts, and paid ads should draw people “back home” – back to your hub.
I caution against building your hub on third-party platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Google, Twitter, LinkedIn, Houzz, Quora, or the like because they control your access to customers. Even customers who have raised their virtual hand to expressly say, “I want to hear from you!” are ultimately behind the gatekeeper of those third-party services. You’ll quickly find that your interests, and the interests of those services, are not aligned. Make sure you own you own audience. Everything else is just rented access.
Additionally, be intentional about collecting email addresses of your followers, customers, and fans. Share highlights of your content via email and direct them back to your website for more information. This is a tangible way of “owning” access to your customers.
Keep in mind, that access to one’s email inbox is pretty personal. Perhaps the most personal form of access that many brands have at their disposal. As such, it should be treated with respect and operate to enhance the relationship with the customer; not serve as an endless watering hole for additional sale conversions.
3. HAVE A WELL OPTIMIZED WEBSITE
“Having a website” is a post in its own right. When you are just starting, I recommend an all-in-one solution like Shopify. If you are more comfortable with online technology, I recommend WordPress + WooCommerce to build your online store.
There are a number of factors for the operations of an online store, from payment processors (Beginner level: PayPal or Stripe), to high quality product photos, to search engine optimization that you will ultimately need to consider.
When you are getting started, focus on how the overall experience benefits your customer. It is unwise to try to get all of those operational aspects perfect. Trying to take advantage of all of the best practices before you launch or when you are just starting out will lead to being overwhelmed very quickly.
The amount of content on this subject is overwhelming and leads to analysis paralysis: that is, when we have too many choices, or too much information, we cannot make a decision. Thus stopping our progress altogether.
Instead, focus on your user experience. Constantly view your website from the perspective of your visitors:
- Are your product titles clear?
- Are your descriptions well-written?
- Are your photos high resolution and taken from several angles?
- Do your navigation links work properly?
- Are your prices, policies, and procedures clear?
- Are your products easy to find?
4. ORDER FULFILLMENT
Once you receive an order, it is important to communicate with your client that:
- You’ve received their order
- You’ve received their payment
- You will notify them of changes with their order
- You will notify them when their order ships
Following this, outline your internal process for handling an order:
Make sure you have a process that manages the status of each order. For example, a system that marks an order as “Completed,” “In Process,” or “Not Yet Started.” This especially important to manage this if you have a team or others helping you. Don’t “lose” orders internally!
5. FOLLOW UP
I’ve seen many brands stop actively nurturing the relationship once a customer has placed an order. This is not entirely the brand’s fault. Almost every single sales and marketing advisor or plan ends with the conversion of the sale. But the relationship is not over yet!
Did you know that it is 7-10 times more costly to acquire a new customer than it is to keep an existing customer? Doesn’t it make sense to keep and maintain existing customer relationships?
Map out a process to follow up with your customers, get their feedback, ask for product reviews, and be helpful when recommending other products that compliment what they just ordered?
Obviously having a website is different than having a storefront on the technical side. You don’t have to worry about rent, sweeping sidewalks, or landlords.
Instead, expenses unique to online businesses include:
- Website Hosting ($10-$200 per month) – I recommend SiteGround
- Domain Name Registration ($15 per year) – I recommend SiteGround or GoDaddy
- SSL Certificate ($0-$100 per year) – I recommend SiteGround
SAAS & THIRD-PARTIES
There are third party services that operate as a SaaS (software as a service) or that are cloud-based. While these are not exclusive to online businesses, they are online businesses typically associated with online operations.
- Email Marketing (I recommend Aweber or Drip)
- CRM (Customer Relationship Manager) (I recommend SalesFlare)
- CMS (Content Management System) (I recommend WordPress)
- Website Monitoring / Backup / Support (I recommend SiteGround)
- Live Chat
- Help Desk / Support Ticketing
- User Experience / A/B Testing
- Analytics & Data Intelligence
ONLINE BUSINESS OPERATIONAL AND MARKETING SUPPORT
Finally, business tools or services that are typically found with web-based businesses include:
- Search Engine Optimization
- Content Creation (Video, text, image, digital assets like ebooks/.pdf)
- Pay-Per-Click and advertising tracking, monitoring, and optimization
- Social media management, scheduling, monitoring, and optimization (I recommend Publer and CoSchedule)
- Payment processors
- Ecommerce platforms (I recommend both Shopify and WooCommerce)
- Email (I recommend GSuite)
- Scheduling / Booking / Reservations
- Project Management tools
- Team Communications
There are countless resources for advice on every single one of these elements, from search engine optimization to credit card processing – there are experts within each field. As a new business owner, or new to online business, I think the most helpful resource is a map of where you are going to give you the overview. From there, you can piece together your journey or work with someone who can connect the dots.
If you are looking to start your own online business, I provide professional coaching and consulting services. I bring more than 15 years experience to the table and can help you navigate the ever-changing landscape of the digital marketing world.
If you’re ready to take the next step, schedule a consultation today.