How to start an online business
Starting an internet business is simple, but making an online business succeed takes hard work. Find out how to build a business that lasts.
Find your niche
Part of the appeal of starting an online business is that the Internet provides access to a global marketplace. Rather than pouring money into a brick-and-mortar business, you can start an Internet business with minimal cost and focus on developing your products or services.
The downside to e-commerce is that an international customer base attracts international competition. Differentiating your business in the marketplace is key. Identify what your business does best, and communicate it in a clear, compelling way.
Design an effective website
Here are some core principles for developing a powerful online presence:
Compelling content—The copy on your website should describe your offerings in clear and concise language. Address benefits and features.
Customer-friendly website—Make sure your website is designed to help your customers achieve their tasks and find what they’re looking for.
Opt-in email marketing—When you design your site, make sure you give visitors a chance to opt-in to your email list. Email is one of the cheapest forms of marketing, and one of the easiest ways to convert visitors into buyers.
Credibility—A return customer is more valuable than a new visitor, so make sure your customers feel appreciated and heard. Always follow up after a sale. Consider developing loyalty programs, displaying related products, and sending follow-up emails.
Drive business with digital marketing
Marketing can make or break your Internet business. A solid marketing strategy includes the following:
Search-engine-friendly content—Content should be appealing to readers and search engines alike. You can handle search engine optimization (SEO) on your own or hire a company to do it for you. Read MOZ’s beginners guide to SEO to learn about how to optimize your web content for organic search. Use the Google Adwords tool to find the right keywords for your business.
Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising—With PPC advertising, you can purchase certain keywords from search engines, so your online business appears in the paid results when customers search for words and phrases related to your offerings. For example, if you sell gourmet dog treats in Boulder, Colorado, you want to make sure that when people Google "gourmet dog treats Boulder," your site shows up as a paid listing.
Blog—Blogs provide you with two benefits: they generate interest in your site by exploring trending topics, and they boost your search engine rankings by adding fresh keyword-rich pages to your site. Find hot topics for your blog by checking social media, industry news, and other blogs.
Social media—Make sure you establish a presence on the biggest social networking sites: Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Depending on your market, you might also consider Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram, and Google Plus. Remember that the golden rule of social media marketing is to be of service to your customers—so interact with your customers, answer their questions, and respond to their comments.
If you plan to sell products on your site, you'll need to optimize your website for e-commerce. Remember that depending on what you sell, you might be fighting for business with e-tailing juggernauts like Amazon.com. In order to stay competitive, try offering the following:
Free shipping—Online shoppers expect that shipping will be free. Research has proven that customers would rather pay more for a product than spend money on shipping. If free shipping isn't economically feasible for your business, at least offer free returns.
Multimedia presentations—Quality photos and videos will help sell your products. Customers like to see a product in context. You can potentially pass this duty on to your customers by rewarding those who post photos and video reviews of your products.
A customer loyalty program—80% of your business will come from 20% of your customers. Keep those customers coming back with a rewards program. You should clearly advertise the perks they get at various milestones.
Starting an Internet business in a hyper-competitive marketplace can be daunting, but it's not impossible. If you believe in your business and the products or services you provide, the rest comes naturally. Tell the story of how your offerings are unique—and how they make people’s lives easier, better, more efficient, or just more fun. If you stand behind your business, the customers will come.