For many of us, the idea of starting an online business is about gaining financial and professional freedom. The benefits of running an online business include everything from focusing on an interest or expertise to working from anywhere in the world at individualized hours.
Today, there are plenty of online tools to effectively create an eCommerce website that’ll cater to just about any entrepreneurial goal you set out to make. This step-by-step guide will provide you with valuable insight on how to start an online business and help you successfully launch your new venture.
How to start an online business
01. Pick your niche market
Before you start working on your product or service, you’ll need to choose a target market. By narrowing down who your customers will be, you’ll be able to start a business that meets a need or fulfills a demand.
This will take a bit of thorough research and some important questions that’ll have to be answered. Market research is the practice of gathering information about your target audience in order to determine how successful your offering would be among that specific crowd.
Luckily, conducting market research is easier than ever before with free online access to both public and commercial sources in the form of extensive market reports. For example, if you’d like to sell pet products, you can check out the Bureau of Labor & Statistics for a comparative report on the average American household expenditures on pets, as well as other consumer trends. Alternatively, you can pay a fee to access consumer materials by private research agencies, including Forrester and Gartner.
There are a few things to consider when choosing your specific niche. Is your business idea offering anything new? Will it help solve a problem for potential customers, or how is it different from your competitors?
You’ll also want to scope out the field by visiting others’ websites and see what they have, or have not, to improve your own strategy. Keep an eye out for the marketing strategy they employ, their branding approach, and anything else that can help your own emerging business. You can perform a SWOT analysis and write out the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of each competitor.
02. Choose a business name
Deciding on a business name and a matching domain name to go with your website is key to creating a strong brand identity for your online business.
When naming a business, you’ll want to consider these important points:
Make it memorable: Your business name, often in tandem with the domain name (your website’s address online), should be easy to find and remember. Aim for it to be descriptive and concise at the same time.
Check availability: Make sure your business name is available for you to use. In some cases, there are businesses who have registered a trademark for their names, making them protected by law. You can search the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office database of registered trademarks to check your name’s availability. For unregistered business names, you can do a quick internet search or check social media handles to confirm that your name hasn’t already been taken.
Align the name with the brand: During the market research phase, you’ve figured out what your business stands for, what your values are and what you want the audience to take away from it all. These are core components of building a brand, which is essentially your business’s personality. Like us, when a business is given a name it’s also being given a corporate identity that helps differentiate it from others. A great business name embodies the feeling of your brand by representing the very essence of what your business is all about. To get the process started, you can turn to an online business name generator that can suggest some unique ideas for free.
03. Write a business plan
You’ll want to devise a plan in order to navigate through how to structure, operate and manage your idea. A business plan is a written document that serves several purposes, including organizing the process, figuring out finances and helping you set business goals.
With the right business plan template, you will be able to stay focused and on track.
There are a few essential elements to include:
Executive summary: When crafting your executive summary, you’ll want to keep in mind that it’s the first part that’ll be reviewed by others, such as relevant stakeholders. It should serve as a standalone document and give a high level overview of your business idea.
Market analysis: You’ve done some research on your competitors and industry in the earlier steps. Now you can write them down into a formal document. Focus on answering questions like “Who are your competitors?” and “What does your market look like?”
Financial projections: Most likely, you were tempted to start an online business considering the low startup costs involved. Regardless of whether you’ve had zero or substantial investment so far, you’ll want to know how long you’ll have to wait to start generating profit. This section is meant to get you to dive deeper into the cost of starting a business.
04. Validate your idea
When thinking to start an online business, there are several initial steps you’ll need to take before finalizing your proposal. You need to create a proof of concept (POC) before doing a simple ideas testing solution called minimum viable product (MVP).
MVP is a version of a product with enough features to attract early-adopter customers, meant to help solidify a business idea early in the product development cycle.
There are several ways to test your MVP:
Create a landing page: It’s a single webpage that’s dedicated to one goal: conversion. Landing pages are the most straightforward way to try out a business idea because visitors are given one thing to consider - your offer. It’s low-investment, which is great for businesses just getting started. Creating a landing page is easy to do, but first you’ll want to choose the right landing page template for it. Do use inviting copy and consider featuring a strategic call-to-action that’ll encourage visitors to take initiative. Your CTA can include everything from pre-ordering a product to booking a session to downloading content in return for a contact email address, depending on your site’s goal. Share your landing page on forums, social media and other places where you’re sure to be connected with your target audience. Launching a landing page before anything else may also give you a real glimpse of online activity and visitor engagement. Test and optimize your landing page accordingly with the help of website analytics tools, looking at various metrics such as the page's bounce rate, the percentage of visitors who interact with the site or the most used sections and buttons.
Start a crowdfunding campaign: Fundraising campaigns are good indicators of whether your target market likes what you’re offering, since they’re willing to put money on it. Kickstarter and Indiegogo are some of the best crowdfunding sites to track this kind of consumer interest. Collecting pledges before actually spending money on your product or service is an effective way to get validation during your business’s early stages. Set a goal for your campaign as a way to see whether your idea is actually gaining traction. Make sure it’s a SMART goal - specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound - so that you have a clear end result in mind. If you meet your goal, that means your approach is working, but if you haven’t reached it yet, it’s not too late to redirect your strategy.
Get feedback from people: Conduct user interviews by reaching out to people who fall into your target audience. They may be relatives, friends, friends of friends, or members of your local community. It might be helpful to show them your executive summary from your business plan for feedback.
05. Create a professional website
Whether you’re working with a business website template or designing a site from scratch, make sure it's also mobile-friendly so that visitors get the best user experience, regardless of screen size and device. Having an online presence is a huge part of any successful business.
Even more so, as an entrepreneur, your professional website must run like a one-stop source for all your specialized needs.
Here are some elements to consider:
Design your site: Design is a way to express your brand and make your ideas resonate with others. Use web design as a way to share your business’s story to the world. Having clear information hierarchy, for example, lets the viewers’ eyes focus on what’s most important first, which is one of the top design tips for a professional site. This can directly impact your site’s performance. Create your own logo to boost your site’s brandability and help your business stand out. Show off your logo across all your branding assets, from your site’s favicon to social media channels. Make sure to include an intuitive website navigation in order to enhance user experience. Choosing the best website color scheme can evoke the right message and support your vision. Whether your brand’s voice is playful, intellectual or feminine, finding the perfect fonts for your website will amplify it and look aesthetically pleasing too. Do implement visual content from photography to videos and illustrations so that the information is not simply conveyed, but amounts to a story or an experience.
Implement quality content: Write compelling website content that stems from an understanding of who you’re speaking to and what kind of value you can provide them with. At this stage, you should know your target market, where they are coming from and what their interests are. Establish your credibility as an authority in your industry by adding a testimonials page or writing a blog. You can build a good reputation for your business and gain others’ trust by drawing attention to customer reviews and sharing your knowledge and expertise.
Include keywords: Incorporating commonly searched words in your web content is important for your SEO strategy. SEO, or search engine optimization, is the process of optimizing sites to help elevate their rankings on search engines, like Google or Bing. Doing keyword research helps you identify highly searched terms by your target market and provides insight into what questions or issues they want answered. The benefits of this type of research include finding the relevant words and long-tail phrases that can be included throughout your content online to help optimize your webpages. Insert your keywords in all aspects of your web content, such as the alt text for your images and the meta description of your site.
Add features: Depending on your product or service, you’ll want to offer the right features to appeal to your target audience. If you’re building a website on Wix, you’ll find different solutions and technology trends for every business need. Wix Bookings is an online scheduling platform where business owners can host sessions and manage services, let clients make appointments whenever they choose and more. If you’re looking to build an eCommerce business, the Wix eCommerce platform is helpful when setting up an online store. This feature includes everything from product and cart pages to secure payment solutions. Getting a virtual phone number for your company streamlines the process of making and receiving business calls in a more professional way. Just simply link your new business number to your current cell phone, providing customers with a dedicated line on the same device. Perhaps your business has the potential to attract clients around the world, which means you’ll need to build a multilingual website that speaks to all of your visitors in their language.
06. Promote your brand
The “If you build it, they will come” motto may have worked for Kevin Costner’s character in Field of Dreams, but in reality, this advice isn’t really helpful for any new business. Instead, you’ll want to plan ahead and decide on the best marketing strategy for your brand and your audience.
A few good options to review:
Email marketing is an effective way to reach your audience and share all the interesting things you’re doing. You can create and send email campaigns such as newsletters, sale promotions and product updates that look great across all devices and that are designed for a wide array of messages. Email marketing can also improve overall user engagement with your brand, as well as drive traffic to your site.
Optimizing for SEO, as you may already know, is key to increasing traffic to your site. SEO has the potential to provide your brand with important web exposure, and is one digital marketing strategy used across all types of online businesses. On-page SEO is one of three ways to boost your website’s ranking on search engines. Armed with the keywords from your research, you can implement those terms naturally throughout your content to boost your site on search engine results.
Social media marketing helps your business gain quick exposure and reach crowds of different people worldwide with little or no cost. Whether it’s Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram or anything else, you’ll need to post engaging content about your business. Some of the best social media marketing practices to bear in mind are regular postings (manually or via tool like an RSS feed), adding hashtags and emojis, live streaming and all forms of direct interactions with followers.
07. Register your business
Keep in mind that your business might need to pay state and local taxes depending on location and business structure. Take the time to learn about what tax obligations are required for running your online business.
5 online business ideas you can start today
With so many online business ideas to choose from, we’ve got some great examples already underway. Whether you’re looking to launch a podcast, write an e-book, consult for companies, or sell online, you’ll want to find the right fit for your lifestyle and professional goals.
The writers in the audience may have already considered the idea of breaking into the blogger sphere with good reason. Historically seen as a virtual journal, blogging is now a profitable platform of sharing experiences and expertise online.
When starting a blog with a blog maker, it’s critical that you know your niche ahead of time in order to create high-quality content. In turn, you can begin thinking about how to monetize your blog. Some ways include offering paid services in the forms of personal consultation or one-on-one sessions, as well as hosting paid advertising.
02. Affiliate marketer
For those who already have some kind of online following, you may find that affiliate marketing is the next natural step toward making money from what you’ve built. Affiliate marketers earn a commission each time they convert someone into a buyer of other company products or services by promoting the content on their social channels and other relevant places.
03. eCommerce retailer
Opening an online store to sell your own products has the benefit of allowing you to control every aspect of your business, from managing order fulfillment to optimizing your shoppers’ experience.
You can also expand your offerings by setting up a dropshipping business, in which you source high-quality products from other third-party suppliers.
04. Webinar and online course instructor
Ready to share your expertise in the form of lessons? You may find that teaching an online course is a good way to generate passive income. Give yourself time to build your course and plan your lessons ahead of time. Consider the market and think about building a freemium plan for first time subscribers—this may cut down on initial marketing costs, and can help spread word about your content via word of mouth.
Another option can be to create a webinar, which are online presentations usually held in real-time. Webinars are powerful tools that provide participants with exclusive insights from industry experts for a fee.
YouTube has over two billion users worldwide, or about one-third of the internet. If you’re looking for ways to connect with a high volume audience and tell your story in front of a camera, then this video-sharing platform is a good option for you.
There are many effective ways to make money on YouTube, including selling merchandise, partnering with an affiliate program, or creating sponsored content, all of which depends on the right fit for you and your viewership.