How to Start an Online Business

Starting and Building an eBusiness: 

Part 1 – eBusiness Foundations

How to start an online businessGetting started

Getting started with an online business can be more challenging than the day-to-day running of the business itself. Whether you have previous entrepreneurial experience with a brick-and-mortar business, or are venturing into the world of self-employment for the first time, it can be difficult to know where to start. This guide covers the Foundations for building your online business, outlining the areas you need to consider before revealing your new venture to the public.

Defining your mission, objectives and purpose

Defining the mission, objectives and purpose of your business from the beginning will give you clarity on exactly what you want, and help you focus your marketing efforts. Some entrepreneurs and companies express the mission, objectives and purpose using mission and vision statements. These are helpful if you’re writing a business plan, and even if you’re not they can still provide you with a healthy perspective on your business aspirations. According to Jay Ebben, Ph.D., the mission of your business should answer the following questions:

1. What do we do?

What customer needs do your services or products fulfill?

2. How do we do it?

How do you or or your organization deliver the products or services in such a way that fulfills customers’ needs?

3. For whom do we do it?

Who is your ideal customer? They might be a certain age or gender, from a certain location, have a certain income level, or work in a certain field. Remember that you might have more than one customer or client demographic, who are each using your product or service for different reasons.

The vision consists of your long-term goals. These encompass what you want the business to be at its peak. A vision statement can include specifics, such as how many employees you want to have, how much annual profit you want to see, and any other goals that are specific to your business.

Your online business model

A key early decision involves which online business model you want to use. Online business magazine Inc. describes three basic online business models:

1. Product sales (selling physical products)

2. Service sales (selling services and products that can be delivered digitally or phsyically)

3.  Information delivery (selling access to an online publication, or information portal)

You also need to decide whether you want to scale your online presence first, then monetize later, or vice versa. You also need to consider how you are going to charge for products or services: will customers pay a one-time fee, or are you going to run a subscription service? You can also employ affiliate marketing, promoting other people’s products or services for a cut of their profit.

Developing a Brand

Once you’ve identified the mission, objectives and purpose of your business, you need to start developing a brand. Part three of your mission (“For whom do we do it?”) is key here, as you can’t market your product to everyone. Instead, focus on your target demographic, and develop your brand with them in mind.

The first, and most important, step is to develop a name. Business coaches from E-Myth.com remark “In the long run, a brand is nothing more than a name” and cite companies like WholeFoods, Blockbusters and Netflix as brand names that evoke images of a certain product or service (healthy food, video rental, online video rental).

Once you have your business name, other branding opportunities include a logo, tagline, and brand style guide, all of which help make your business unique and recognizable.

Why domain strategy is important

Your business’ domain strategy is a key part of SEO, and potentially a huge influence on your long-term success. Using the correct domains and sub-domains for your website makes potential clients and customers more likely to find you.

Glenn Gabe from Search Engine Journal advises business owners to focus building up their core domain using high quality content and inbound links. You don’t need a separate domain for your company’s blog – it detracts from your website’s SEO power if you do. You should also limit the number of subdomains (e.g. music.yourdomain.com, blog.yourdomain.com, and contact.yourdomain.com) attached to your website, instead adding additional pages to your main domain whenever possible.

Developing an e-marketing strategy

Your e-marketing strategy is the bridge between your target customer, and the goals in your vision statement. Online marketing providers Webyogi suggest looking at competitors’ marketing efforts for initial ideas. Here are some basic points to consider when planning an e-marketing strategy:

1. What is the goal?

Do you want to sell more products, attract more visitors to your website, or promote an event?

2. What is your budget?

Deciding – and sticking to – a budget before you start marketing your business will help you avoid financial problems later. It’s possible for e-business owners to market their products or services at low costs, and you should utilize free marketing opportunities as much as possible, for example Facebook and Twitter.

3. What media will you use?

There are many different ways you can market your online business, from basic methods like having a website and a social media presence, to more advanced tactics, like different types of advertising, producing webinars or podcasts, and affiliating with other websites. Just as you can’t market your product to everyone, not all marketing methods will be suitable for your product, and your budget and target demographic will affect which types of marketing you use.

Systems and tools

A multitude of systems and tools exist that will help you run your online business. When starting out, you don’t need to invest a lot of time and money into complex tools. Instead, start simple, focus on money-making activities that will count towards that crucial first year’s income, and adjust your systems as your client base grows.

Tools to consider when starting out include:

1. Email

Sign up to an email marketing manager to make your outgoing communications more professional, and to keep track of sign-ups and engagement statistics. Popular email services include MailChimp, Aweber and Infusionsoft.

2. Finances

Setting up a system to manage finances helps you keep track of your income can save you a lot of time and pain further down the road – especially when tax season arrives! WorkingPoint, outright and Pulse are all helpful tools for managing your finances online.

3. Sales

A online scheduling tool, such as Tungle or Scheduly is a must if you provide a service that requires phone or face-to-face contact. E-Junkie provides shopping cart services for websites selling digital or physical goods, and GoToMeeting provides conferencing and webinar services.

Bringing everything together

Once you’ve dealt with the steps above, you’re in a good position to launch your new venture. With these details in place, you can focus on what’s really important: building your customer base and creating a sustainable business.

Do you have any tips for building an online business? What advice would you give to someone who was just starting out? Tell us in the comments below.

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