9 Steps to Starting an Online Business

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Do You Want To Get A New Business Going But Not Sure Where To Start?

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It all starts with an idea, a niche, a product, or a service! 

Not so long ago, all businesses needed physical locations whether it was a storefront or your parent’s basement, but as online shopping continues to rise, more and more people are making real businesses online. 

If you’ve always wanted to own and operate your own business, starting an online venture is one of the easiest and best ways to get yourself going. Oh, and don’t forget, online businesses, when done right, can be extremely successful.

Presenting the 9 steps to getting started with your online business:

  1. Start with a really great idea.
  2. Decide on a business name.
  3. Secure a domain name.
  4. Determine your income model, and develop a business plan.
  5. Select a web hosting package.
  6. Build your website.
  7. Prepare your inventory.
  8. Tell the world! Create and execute your marketing plan.
  9. Launch!

Let’s do it

1. A Really Great Idea.

A really great idea doesn’t always have to be unique and it doesn’t have to be patentable, it just has to be something that is a) needed and b) not overly saturated that you can get enough market share without breaking the bank, and c) something you’re good at and can market.

We’ll bet you dollars to donuts that since you found this blog, there’s a good chance that you already have a few ideas for your online business.

Ask yourself the above questions and once you have a good answer for them, you’re ready for stage 2, but before you do…(keep reading)

  1. Needed – If you have a business or product idea that you believe your audience will be interested in, confirm that with some market research. You can get creative and do a little bit of online market research yourself. 

For example, Ask Your Target Market and GutCheck will connect you with members of your target audience so you can ask them questions directly and gain a better idea of what they’re likely to think of your product or service.

  1.  Not overly saturated – Selling online is basically the biggest mall in the world and if your idea (while may be good and may be needed – see above) if everyone is selling the exact same product, you’ll be competing against millions of other companies. This drives up costs of advertising and the ability to capture market share. If there is something unique about your common product idea that can work, as long as you can present something that is not grabbed by every business already, you got something special. 
  2. Something you’re good at – To be successful in any business you have to love your product and know everything about it. Make sure that this is a product or service that you love and want to share with others.

2. Decide on a Business Name.

What’s in a name? Everything! The name, its label, and what appears on the product or service will become apparent to everyone who engages with you. It sometimes can take weeks for a business to come up with a name, because it has to be just right.

For example, if you’re selling online sports wear and sports gear, the name should probably be something to do with your angle. Names like SportsHood or ActiveWear could be excellent choices. The only item to be aware of is not cornering yourself too much that you can’t expand your product lines in the future.

What do we mean?

If your company SportsHood sells sweatbands, sports shorts, and sporting t-shirts (basically all clothing) you want to make sure that if you ever want to sell something that is not exactly like sporting equipment, i.e. bicycles that your business name will stay relevant. You can’t always predict where your business will take you (but always try and plan!) so it’s advised to make your business name more generic than specific. For example, “Sports and More” can be a name that works within that space

When you find your perfect name, don’t get your hopes up just yet, it may be taken! We recommend coming up with a list of 5-10 really good names that you may want to use. Then, run your list of names through your government’s business name and patent office to make sure that it’s available. 

3. Secure a Domain Name – Getting Online!

This part is a little tricky because it’s also a part of choosing a business name. Your website should always be the same as your business name dot com. As a part of selecting a name, search on website registrars such a namecheap.com and see what is available. You almost always want the .com domain name as it is the most recognised version. Sometimes you can settle for .net but that’s far less desirable. 

Key element is that even before you legally incorporate you should buy your domain name to save it for yourself, most registrations last a year by default so buy early and often. 

As noted, if your business name is unique, you can go straight for the most obvious choice: YourBrandName.com. Some people make a business of buying up cheap domains names for resale, if this happens to you, you need to make a decision if you want to buy it at a higher price or simply find a different domain name. 

One thing we do not recommend is using (if your desired domain name is already in use) is to use weird TLDs like .woo or .tnh , stick to the .com and .net of the world. As well, stay away from anything that would confuse your website visitors from finding you, hyphens are typically hard to remember for example, and we strongly recommend against using them,

4. Determine Your eCommerce Income Model and Develop a Business Plan.

Ok. So how will you make money? We hope that’s not a scary question!

Are you selling physical or digital products or digital services?

The answer may determine the type of website you need (an online store and shopping cart function) or if it’s a service, you may want to consider a CRM and backend system. It all has to be in the business plan!

Your business needs a plan, a route, a journey, and a destiny. 

If you need investors to make a profit, a business plan will be one of the most important tools you have for convincing them to buy in. Of course, it means giving up some of your equity, but depending on what you’re selling, this can be one of the most effective means of getting started and quickly.

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.

So what’s in a business plan anyway?

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 by first collecting.

A business plan is also a map of what to do with your business and when. It helps if you’re able to foresee potential problems so you can make contingency plans, but the core base of the business plan is important to start with.

All of that gives you the information you need to make sure your approach is solid. 

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 good idea into something actionable.

Business plans are key mostly for (drum roll) YOURSELF. Refer to your business plan often, even if you never show your business plan to someone else, a business plan can help keep you mentally organised. As your online business grows (or experiences growing pains), your business plan can remind you of your goals and be a guide as you navigate how to approach decisions for the direction of your business.

Again, this doesn’t mean things can’t or shouldn’t change based on current events or personal circumstances, but it gives you the shell of what should happen and when. A good example is Covid-19 and sportswear. Masks became a big part of everyone’s lives really quickly. Fashioning sports masks for sale may have been a great move for that industry.  

5. Getting yourself online

This is probably one of the easiest things to do. If you’re going to be selling online at your eCommerce store or SaaS store, you will be able to simply own the domain (see above) and then connect that domain to a site builder such as Shopify or WordPress. These solutions save you the hassle of self-hosting and all the other challenges that go along with it.

You can as well easily connect Google Business to your domain that you bought (it’s fairly simple, but you can ask for help if needed) and get all the Google benefits such as site tracking and business email addresses all ready to go.

See the next section for finding the right solution for your online business.

6. Build Your Website.

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 from you.  Take time to get it right, and run the finished product by some other people (ideally people in your target audience) to get feedback.

Make sure the website design matches with your overall visual branding and your website copy effectively communicates your brand positioning.

Again if you’re selling online we recommend using Shopify. Shopify is literally the easiest program for eCommerce websites. With 100s of templates and intuitive store building mechanics, it’s the simple choice to go with to get your store up and running quickly, professionally, and easily. 

Shopify also enables you to manage your backend inventory, pricing and more with the click of a button. This article is not a promotion for Shopify, we just really like them and want to give you the best possible experience when running your future online empire. 

7. Prepare Your Inventory.

Now that the nitty-gritty of it is taken care of, it’s time to get down to business!

It’s time to create or stock up on whatever you’re selling. If you’re selling physical items, you want them ready to ship by the time any orders start coming in. If you’re launching a service-based business, this step is where you should create that customer journey for when using your online service. Make sure your eCommerce store is tested! You may want to hire a QA team to make sure that it’s looking how you want. Usually it’s ok with platforms like Shopify that take these things into account, but every store is different and it’s your business!

If you’re selling digital products, like SaaS software, then you need to make sure the product is ready before your website goes live!. Do TONS of user testing to ensure that it not only does what you’re claiming it does, but that customers will be able to use it without confusion or difficulty. You may consider hiring a Quality Control person to make sure that it’s working well on multiple platforms, browsers, and mobile devices.

Obviously this step will vary considerably depending on the type of business you’re launching. Just be sure, before your actual launch date, that you take whatever steps are necessary to ensure you’re ready to start providing what you’re selling by the time your first customer is ready to buy.

8. Tell the World! Create and Execute Your Marketing Plan.

The next step of your business plan is the marketing plan. Before you actually get going, you should activate the marketing plan. Every business is different and marketing can never be the same (otherwise you’d be selling the same product). Because you’re starting an online business, you will want to make use of a mix of content marketing, social media promotion, and paid search promotion that are all set up and ready to go according to your schedule. 

The marketing plan can be one of the toughest aspects unless you’re a native marketer already and a lot of people use agencies to help them in the plan and execution. 

There is a learning curve to get started and some mistakes of ignorance can cause serious financial and business consequences. 

9. Launch!

Launch day will be a big day for your new online business. If your website isn’t already live, then you’ll definitely want it up and running on launch day. You should put out a press release, set up any PR interviews you can get, announce the launch on social media, and start your marketing campaigns. Of course, you should be prepared to start filling orders and fielding any questions that come through).

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.

Bonus – Keep your Eyes Peeled!

Be prepared for everything. Business, when it’s working, is exciting and can also be fun, but keep checking that business plan to make sure it’s going the way you want it to!

Keep close eyes on your inventory to make sure you don’t run out of stock

Keep a close eye on your returns and where they are coming from. You’ll find that certain areas of the country will typically return more.

Keep a keen eye on your email. You’ll be inundated by offers to boost your business with blog posts and other agencies looking to help (sometimes helpful, sometimes not).

Keep in good contact and maintain good relationships with everybody, from your suppliers, to shippers, to your customers.

Make sure to pay all your bills on time. Your business is a well-oiled machine and you don’t want any cog to slow it down.

Most importantly, have fun. If you love what you do, you’ll never work another day in your life!

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I go online?

If you are asking this question, you must be a business owner looking into the possibility of opening an online version of your store. And the answer is yes, you should go online.

All markets are turning digital and if you don’t follow, you will be left not only by the competition but by the consumers in general.

What legal measures do I need to take when starting a business?

First and foremost, you will have to go to your city or municipality hall and file for a business license. Also, you will have to check with intellectual property registrations to ensure that you are not infringing anyone’s copyrights, patents, or trademarks.

If you do your own production, it would be a requirement for you to enlist in accreditations.

Do I need business insurance for eCommerce?

Yes, you do.

First of all, you will have employees. Whether they are your family members or friends, you will have to take care of them by getting business insurance for health and others.

If you have production, you will have properties that you will have to insure too.

Another thing you have to insure is your intellectual property. With the hundreds of thousands of brands out in the market, you have to protect your intellectual property from benign copied.

What should I do for an international business?

Today’s trend is retail that goes beyond borders and it is simple to create a system by which you can source products from one country and deliver them to another.

What you have to do is follow the same guidelines in this article but, additionally, find a shipping service or system that will allow you to reach your market.

To make things better, you will have to do international search engine optimization because of the keywords in different languages and query styles you will have to consider.

What’s the best way to make an eCommerce website?

It depends on your needs.

If you have limited budget and expertise, you can opt to use an eCommerce platform like Shopify or Wix which have drag and drop functionality, making web building as simple as Legos. However, these eCommerce platforms will provide you with limited possibilities.

So if you have the right resources and personnel, the best will still be to make a custom, built-from-scratch website. Doing so will allow you to maximize what you can do with your eStore, not being limited by what any platform can provide.

How can I improve my eCommerce website?

eCommerce is a competitive arena and you will need to do marketing strategies in order to get the profits that you want.

The first thing that you have to do is make sure that the content of your website is enough for people to stay and use it and for search engine bots to index. So you will have to apply conversion rate optimization and search engine optimization, CRO and SEO, to your eCommerce store.

By implementing CRO, you will be able to effectively help your users navigate your pages into an eventual purchases. And by doing SEO, you will be able to have your website contents show up when potential customers place queries on search engines that are related to your product field.

Additionally, you will have to engage your audiences, including prospective customers and website users via emails. Doing email marketing will allow you to make sure that everyone who gets in touch with your eCommerce brand will become buyers.

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