Are you ready to take the plunge and launch an online business? Wondering where to start to position yourself for success? Throughout this guide, we will be giving you the information you need to setup your online business with a foundation that will position you for scalable future growth and success.
How to Start an Online Business
Table of Contents
- Fill a Hole in the Market
- Choose and Secure your online Business Name
- Focus on Building an Online Business System
- Which eCommerce Channels to Sell On?
- Choosing an eCommerce Platform
- Customer Aquisition
- Customer Retention
- Measuring Success
- Additional Resources
A key factor to your online business’s future success is your ability to carve out a profitable niche. It is important to take the time to find a hole in the market where you can carve out a niche for your online business to thrive. This is the first step in launching your business and it is important that you don’t have blinders on based on only personal interests. As you research for potential holes in the market it is best to first look at industries rather than just specific products. Once you identify industries with potential, you can take a more in-depth approach to reviewing potential products within that industry. Ultimately, you need to make it your business to sell what people want, rather than what you want to sell.
When picking your eCommerce niche, it is important to choose a niche where you can add value to the marketplace. You don’t want to enter the market as another ‘me-too’ product/company that doesn’t meet an unmet need. In addition to adding value to the online marketplace, you need to focus on picking the right types of products to sell. It is important to choose products that have good margins so that you can become profitable while having the funds to spend on customer acquisition. Typically products do really well in the $75 – $250 price point, although success has been found across all price points online. Selling products online that are hard to find locally helps you to limit your competition to only online businesses. Ideally, you would want to sell items online that are small in size. This gives you a great advantage by simplifying the shipping process. This simplifies the receiving of your goods from suppliers and also your ability to fulfill orders at an affordable cost. Another thing to keep in mind as you are uncovering your online niche business is to focus on products that require a lot of accessories. Accessories are easy to sell, help you build repeat business, are perfect for online marketing automations, and typically have very high margins.
However, it’s important not to lose sight of the long-term plans you have. If you want to stay in the industry then it’s important to think ahead and plan for what you want your products to become in the future. A niche doesn’t stay one for long if you make it into a success. Perhaps the next logical step is to start a physical store alongside your online business, or perhaps you want to diversify your range of products by appealing to other audiences or niches. In short, once you fill the hole that you’ve found in the market, you need to consider your next steps. You either need to find new holes to fill or create an entirely new market that you can turn into a success. As you grow, try to look beyond filling the niche if you want to have long-term success as an entrepreneur or else you’ll quickly lose relevance.
And what happens if you fail to fill the hole you’ve found? You’re not alone in the world of business and there are competitors around every corner. Just because you currently see an opportunity in the market, it doesn’t mean it will stay there for long and wait for you to fill it. It’s important to take advantage of the opportunities you see or else you’ll regret it when someone else seizes the same opportunity. As such, it’s crucial that you prepare yourself if you want to fill a niche. If you have a general idea of what type of online business you want to run then you should already have an idea of the startup requirements. You may need to brush up on your business skills and you’ll have to take swift action to take over a niche as soon as it is available.
Finding a profitable niche in the market is going to be your best chance of breaking into an industry, but it doesn’t mean you have a free ticket to success. Success will require hard work, consistency and a solid strategy.
Now that you have done research on different online niches, learned what people want to buy online, and identified the hole in the market that you intend to exploit, it is time to choose a name for your budding online business empire. The first step to choosing a business name is to brainstorm a list of ideas that are relevant to the market you are going after. Once you have your list, you can start googling your potential ideas to make sure that your name is unique, relevant, and not infringing on anyone else’s business. Once you have settled on a business name that is memorable and relevant, you need to find a domain name to represent your business online. A domain name is the key to both people and search engines finding you online. When choosing a domain name focus on matching the name to your business name, while keeping it short and memorable. Keep in mind that you don’t want to build your business on another companies subdomain such as yoursite.wordpress.com or yoursite.bigcartel.com. In those instances, you are simply building on someone else’s property rather than own property. When building your online business, you want to have your own property (domain) to build on rather than using space on someone else’s domain. This will build trust with your customers while also allowing you to build up a property that you fully control online.
When starting your online business, you will be well-served to build a systematic process for running your business. Building your business based on a set repeatable processes will allow you to focus on growing business rather than putting out fires taking on an unrealistic workload. You will save yourself a lot of headaches, time, and issues in the future if you focus on building your system from day one. This means that you start off with a strategic objective for your business. You also need to be honest with yourself about what you want to gain from the business. From that point on, you need to create standard operating procedures (SOPs) for all of the tasks related to running your online business. This will allow you to easily offload repeatable tasks onto employees/virtual assistants, allowing you to focus on optimization of procedures rather than spending hours upon hours doing mundane tasks that are an inefficient use of your time and energy. If you truly want to start an online business and position yourself for rapid growth and success, you absolutely need to implement a systematic approach. Doing this from day 1 will only make your life easier going forward, while simultaneously increase the value of your e-commerce business. If you would like to learn more about taking a systematic approach with your online business, the following books are a great place to begin:
- The E-Myth by Michael Gerber
- Work the System by Sam Carpenter
- Built to Sell by John Warrillow
Now that you have found your online market, chosen and secured your online business name, and begun building your online business in a systematic approach it is time to decide which channels to sell on. There are many channels that you may choose to sell your products through and it is in your best interest to do your research. It is best to choose your channels wisely and test in a methodical fashion. This is in contrast to a shotgun approach, where you try to sell your products/services through all available channels. It is in your best interest to pick a few to focus on and test your hypothesis. This will allow you to have data to know where to focus your efforts. You can always choose to widen your net later on based on your results. Some examples of online business channels to consider are:
- Your own eCommerce Website
- Amazon – Selling on Amazon gives your product or service immediate visibility and access to a large customer base that knows and trusts the platform. You also have the ability to leverage Amazon’s website presence and vast distribution and fulfillment network.
- eBay – eBay is great for selling both auction and fixed price items. When selling on eBay, you will need to figure out fulfillment on your own or via a 3rd party fulfillment center.
- Social Media – Social media can be an effective channel for acquiring customers, but has many limitations when actually trying to sell. The best path to selling via social media is to funnel your followers to other channels in order to complete purchases (such as you website, Amazon, or eBay).
If you have decided to create your own eCommerce website for your online business, you need to decide which Content Management Systems (CMS) to use. Like everything else in life, there are tradeoffs between the different eCommerce content management systems. Key things to keep in mind are features, integrations, pricing, and ease of use. Some of the most popular CMS platforms for online business include:
- Big Cartel
- WooCommerce (WordPress)
When building out your businesses website it is important that the user experience be optimized for both mobile devices and desktop computers. While desktop computers are still prevalent at home and at work in the United States, mobile internet usage continues to grow at a staggering rate both in the USA and Worldwide. It is important that your business’s website not lose sales because of something as simple as not making your site mobile-friendly.
Now that you have found your niche, established your business using a systems methodology, chosen which channels to sell your products on, and built out an eCommerce website on the platform of your choice, you need to get customers to your website. While figuring out your customer acquisition strategy, there is a long game and short game. The long game includes building quality content and a website that is search engine friendly, ultimately leading to website traffic via organic traffic. These search engine optimization (SEO) efforts will provide tremendous return on investment (ROI) in the long run, but unfortunately won’t generate much traffic for your new online business in the short term. In order to aquire customers more quickly, you need to focus on the short game to customer acquisition. The short game includes digital marketing activities such as:
- Affiliate Marketing
- Amazon Ads
- Display Advertising
- Google Shopping Ads
- Influencer Marketing
- Pay Per Click (PPC) Advertising
- Social Media Advertising
While it is tempting to focus on the short term and acquiring new leads as quickly as possible via paid advertisements, it is very important not to lose track of building a solid foundation for future organic website leads via search engine optimization (SEO). One of the biggest advantages of organic search engine traffic is that people using search engines are actively searching for answers rather than being bombarded with advertisements. As a result, you can get high-quality targeted traffic every day via organic results without paying for advertising. In order to leverage search engine optimization in order to grow your organic traffic you need to focus on both on-page and off-page optimization. On-page SEO refers to all of the work that you do on your website in order to target the content that your customers are actively searching for online. The focus of Off-page SEO is to show the search engines that you are providing high-value content via acquiring quality links from other influential websites. Below, are some resources we have put together to help you with your SEO efforts:
- SEO Help: Your 2017 WordPress SEO Checklist
- Why You Absolutely Must Submit a Sitemap to Google
- Will an SEO Campaign Help Optimize Your Business?
- The Advantages of SEO Expert Services For Ecommerce Sites
- 8 Useful SEO Hacks to Drive Business to Your Website
- Free SEO Audit: Need help with your on-page SEO? We will audit your website and provide you with a free, actionable report.
The harsh reality is that not everyone that visits your website is going to purchase during their first visit. This is especially important to consider when you are running advertising campaigns and shelling our your hard earned dollars for each visitor that clicks on your website. What happens if they visit your website and leave empty handed? Also, how are you going to leverage previous customers and turn them into repeat business? These are potential customers that are familiar with your online business (some may have even purchased before), but the challenge becomes how to reach them in the future. Luckily, there are many effective tools for capturing your visitors while on your website and then reaching them later in order to drive them back to your online business to hopefully complete an initial purchase or become a repeat customer. The following customer retention strategies provide a tremendous ROI opportunity for your e-commerce business.
As far as cost-effective ways of improving customer retention go, email marketing is still up there with the best of them. In fact, it is so effective that most B2B marketers leverage it as a permanent tactic of their ‘digital marketing strategy’. There are two very good reasons why this is so:
- Email is trackable.
- Email is personal.
It is for these very reasons why email marketing does very well when it comes to customer acquisition as well. Through email, potential leads can be easily reached, cultivated and converted into long-lasting return customers if good retention strategies are put in place. Here are some practical ways through which you can use email marketing to improve your website’s customer retention.
Use email marketing to stay in contact with your customers
Did you know that about 71% of all customers who leave a brand do so because they felt that the brand did not do enough to stay in contact with them as well as build good customer relations through excellent customer service? Through email marketing, you can easily fix this problem with your business. Your customers need to know that you are thinking about them. You can show them that by:
– Emailing them a list of new offers.
– Using email to conduct speedy and thorough conflict resolution.
– Send them greetings on holidays (of course, these should ideally come with discount offers)
It is all about telling your customers that you are working in the background to bring them great service and good offers.
Use email to send them friendly reminders
When you have customers who have already started doing business with you, the smart thing to do is to find ways to keep them coming back for more. Most companies do so by offering subscription services. But because customers get busy and overrun by their day to day lives, they may forget to renew their subscriptions. You can use email to send all your customers friendly reminders about such things. Also:
– Tell them when you have any changes in pricing.
– Inform them about new products or opportunities to save money on old products.
Basically, things that would remind your customers that your brand exists and that they are still valued as customers.
Use email to get their feedback
Amazon does a good job of this with their reviews section. As soon as any of your customers buys anything from you, make a point of sending them an email asking for their feedback. This makes them feel important and could be very useful for your R&D department. It is also an excellent way to get a feel of how people really perceive your brand and where you can improve.
Some of the best things about email marketing are that emails can be highly customized to speak directly to any and all of your customers. Used correctly, this is one of the most powerful assets in your customer retention strategy tool-kit. You, however, need to know when to send these emails and avoid unnecessarily spamming your customers with irrelevant and unwanted emails.
Retargeting (also known as remarketing) is a type of online marketing which allows marketers to reach customers after the customer has left a business’s website. For most websites only two percent of the web traffic is being converted into a sale on the first visit. With a retargeting campaign, companies have the ability of reaching and convert a portion of the ninety-eight percent of users that did not convert on the first visit and are already familiar with the product and/or service being sold.
If money is going to be spent on advertising a product or service, it makes sense to advertise it to people who have already expressed interest in the product or service. Prospective customers generally respond positively to this method of targeted advertising as evidenced by the high ROI’s that retargeting advertisements consistently return in comparison to other forms of digital marketing.
Retargeting works by using banner ads and other methods of advertising to continually market a product or service to potential customers in the hope that they will eventually complete a purchase or conversion. When a potential customer leaves a business’s website in order to view different websites, a targeted ad can be shown on new websites that the potential customer is visiting. Studies have shown that it takes about seven attempts to advertise to a customer before they will make a purchase. Retargeting helps to contact that potential customer in a quick and cost effective manner, leading to easier sales and conversions.
Here’s how retargeting works
You will need to sign up with one of the retargeting platforms such as AdRoll or Perfect Audience. These platforms provide you with tracking codes you can install on your website. When someone visits your website a little bundle of code (called a cookie) will drop onto the website visitor so that they can be tracked. You can also put tracking pixels within your emails and Facebook pages.
Once you have captured your visitor’s cookies, you can simply show them ads promoting highly targeted offers based on the pages they originally visited and expressed interest during their initial visit to your website.
Within the retargeting platform you can set up groups or segments according to customer interests and behaviors. Examples include what product pages they have visited on your website, how many pages viewed, purchasing intent, etc.
You can also further target your ads by excluding customer segments from seeing certain ads. For example, if someone has already purchased your product you can make sure the person doesn’t see the ad again for that product.
Combined with a compelling offer and thorough testing, retargeting is a highly profitable way to advertise and increase your bottom line.
Knowing where your online business stands is key to future growth and success. What are your goals? What is your system for tracking your progress and measuring success? There are a bevy of tools online to help you track your results and measure the success of your online business, including:
For most businesses that are online, Google Analytics is the best solution for gaining valuable insights into your website traffic. Google Analytics is free, easy to install on your website, and gives you a window into how effective your website and tactics are. In order to setup Google Analytics, you need to setup a Google account for your business. This account will come in handy in the future as your business grows and you begin establishing your online presence on other Google services such as YouTube, Google My Business, etc. It is important to put your business’s analytics account under your own Google account, rather than your developer’s account. If your developer were to add your website domain under their account, you would need to start over from scratch should you ever decide to stop working with them. The easy solution is to put your domain under your own account and then simply grant your developer access to your analytics account. Now they have the access they need and you can be sure that you will maintain and control the valuable historical data that Google Analytics provides.
How to Measure Online Business Success With Conversion Tracking
Conversion tracking is the one marketing metric that most businesses don’t track. In fact, a whopping 42% of online businesses don’t track conversions. Without that metric in place, chances are they’re throwing out a ton of marketing dollars out the window. Don’t want to be in that group? Read on. We’re giving you the lowdown on measuring your online businesses success.
Set Your Goal & Your Metrics
The first step in improve conversions is to define or revisit your goals. Your goals decide the most important metrics to track. Do you want people to download a white paper, fill out a contact form, visit a certain URL? What you set as your goal will help you define what your most important metrics are. For example, if your goal is to have people download a whitepaper, and you’re only looking at website visitors, you’re looking at a vanity or feel good metric.
Conversion Tracking for PPC
People use search engines like the phone book. They look up a product or service when they need it or they’re already very interested in it. That’s why PPC conversion rates average 5%. With PPC conversion tracking, you can opt to track website visits, downloads, phone calls, depending on what your goals are. You can use Google Analytics along with AdWords to track your conversions and set up your reporting to reflect those goals. Simply by tracking, you can find out which ads are working, what your most effective keywords are and eliminate what isn’t working. That means money saved and a higher ROI for you.
Track Conversions for Social Media Ads
On Facebook, it’s a little different. Since your ads are targeted according to interests, and people aren’t looking for your product or service in that moment, you’re going to have to adjust your expectations. The first thing you’re going to want to do is set up Google Analytics so your goals are defined. Another way to track social media conversions is to use UTM parameters. They’re tags that you add to a URL which can track the source of traffic. It’s another way to give you the information you need to make smart marketing decisions.
Track Retargeting Ads
There are many benefits to digital marketing. But if you’re letting potential buyers slip through the cracks, you are wasting precious marketing dollars. For both Facebook and PPC ads, only a small percentage of visitors will convert. Even with a high conversion rate of 25%, that means that 75% didn’t buy. Are you going to let them go away with no shot of reaching them ever again? No. That’s why you set up retargeting ads. You can set up a pixel on your website to track visitors and then advertise directly to those who didn’t convert. That keeps your brand in front of potential customers.
Stop Throwing Marketing Dollars Away
When conversion tracking is done well, you can see exactly what is working and what isn’t. You have the knowledge and flexibility to tweak campaigns and improve them, which improves your ROI. Who doesn’t love a higher ROI?
Please stay tuned as we will be building out this section in order to provide you with a comprehensive list of resources that you can use to help start and grow your online business.