First things first, Congratulations! Just by reading this informative guide on how to start and grow an online business you have taken the first step towards succeeding as a brand new business founder!
You’re in the right place as this guide is all about achieving the best results when it comes to succeeding in the digital world following the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Developing a new brand online can be difficult, especially with the vast amount of competition that ‘going digital’ has engendered. But with a little TLC, common sense, and expert advice from the right people, the journey to establishing yourself online can be fun and incredibly rewarding.
This guide is for all business owners who:
- Are seeking to, or are in the process of, establishing an online business from scratch
- Are already running an online business but need some help with boosting sales enquiries and conversions
- Are currently thinking about the potential of starting an online business. You don’t know where to start, or even if this next career move is for you… but you do want some guidance
Are you ready to start a business in the digital age?
There are many benefits to starting a new online business. Obviously, the main incentives for most are twofold: making money and being your own boss!
As legitimate and inspiring as these motivations are, the prospect of wealth cannot be your sole driver as the road to profitability for many young businesses can be long and bumpy indeed. There are many CEOs and business founders who go years without even paying themselves a salary in the pursuit to push their young enterprises past the first hurdle.
Being your own boss is a great motivator as it reclaims your time for yourself. It can be incredibly freeing deciding the length of your own workday and optimising your own efficiency in a way that profits you and your ideas. The COVID-19 pandemic caused many people to take a step back and reflect on the core elements in their lives. If you’re not happy at work, change it right?
Whether your new venture becomes a multi-million-pound company with offices in 12 counties around the world or not, entrepreneurship offers you financial and personal freedoms that a desk job simply cannot. The fact of the matter is when you’re clocking a 9-5, you’re making money for someone else, building someone else’s dream rather than your own.
That dream comes at a cost: stability. No longer at the mercy of a boss, you will most likely be a boss at the mercy of the markets. The Coronavirus pandemic has taught us all one fundamental truth: everything could change in a second. The current situation has hit small businesses more than most, and you have to be able to adapt to market changes well to survive. It’s a challenge that can be met by the right person who is asking the right questions from the start.
Common FAQs when starting an online business
Starting a new venture can be completely determined around the questions you ask of yourself and your business in the early phase of mapping your ideas and the initial setup. The world of eCommerce and digital interchange can offer many opportunities and rich rewards, but there are many pitfalls you will want to navigate around at the same time. Critical thinking from the outset will help pave a smoother road to success.
Here are a couple of hard-hitting questions that should put you on the right track when thinking about taking the plunge:
Am I likely to succeed?
We’ve all heard the disheartening statistic that approximately 90% of start-ups don’t make it past their first 3 years of trading. This can be scary, but you already know that starting a business is going to be difficult. Did you know that Richard Branson filed for bankruptcy five times before succeeding with Virgin? Your first idea may flop, but your second one may be the money maker.
One thing we would absolutely recommend is to seek the advice of experts. There is plenty of great material on the internet about starting a business online. However, search engines are crowded places. Digital advertising campaigns can be complex to set up and monitor. Social media channels are becoming an ever-more crucial element in the marketing mix. There is room for outsourcing at the beginning… whilst you focus on the really important stuff.
Is it possible to launch whilst still working full time?
Yes! We are living in a gig economy in 2021! It is easier than ever to set up a business. You have a laptop, a creative idea, and £12 to register your company name and Voila! You’re a new business owner.
Many businesses start out as a side gig and are nurtured in development – sometimes for years – before owners are ready to take the plunge and forgo their day jobs. This is actually a great way to somewhat mitigate financial risk, as you can still develop your business idea whilst maintain a steady income.
Should I seek investment?
Looking for business investors is always an option for any business, but it really depends on what sort of company you are setting up. When it comes to online business, the starting blocks required are quite minimal – you do not need an office or a warehouse for example. Rather than seeking large amounts of capital, we recommend putting aside a budget to employ expert resources to help grow your company. As a digital marketing agency, we know the incredible value of SEO and content marketing and its fantastic influence on brand development. Perhaps also an accountant may be of interest whilst you focus on the more entrepreneurial elements of your business growth plan.
What online business will you go for?
Again, this is a question you need to consider seriously at the start of your entrepreneurial journey. Lots of people would love to start a business but never get past deciding what type of enterprise they want to pursue.
Let’s have a look at what kind of online businesses already exist and maybe the right one for you just jumps off the page.
Selling Physical Products
An eCommerce site is an exciting prospect. Imagine the busy foot flow of a general high street and multiply that by, well… literally millions. If optimised correctly, your site could sell its products in front of consumers looking for your products on an international scale. It is not easy to set up and maintain an eCommerce website; especially if it needs to correspond with systems that monitor physical inventory. However, this type of online business removes the barriers to entry that come with a brick-and-mortar shop.
Selling Digital Products and Solutions
There’s a whole range of digital products which can turn a profit in today’s information age. Whether it be an eBook, a subscription-based content hub, audio & music services, or an online games store, there is a market for non-physical offerings. If you’re selling digital products, there is also no need to worry about inventory, warehousing costs, potential shipping bottlenecks, or other stages of the supply chain that may cause hiccups.
Software is huge. It powers the majority of what we do in the digital world and represents an international multi-billion pound market. If you’re thinking of starting a software-as-a-service business then you will need to identify a key gap in the digital space and most certainly seek investment as launching a business such as this is likely to be a costly affair.
Therapy & Advice
As the world turned to Zoom during the COVID pandemic, this gave therapists and consultants, and financial advisors a window into a wider world when it came to their client list. All of a sudden a London firm can advise virtually someone who lives in Sunderland. The competition will be fierce, but if you have great advice to give – the cost/benefit analysis of giving it digitally really works in your favour.
Dropshipping refers to eCommerce websites that sell a range of products on their online store. They will then pass the orders made on their website on to the actual supplier of the goods, who will then deliver the product to the customer. Dropshippers usually work on high commission and can be a very lucrative venture.
Services and solutions
A little bit like the therapy & advice section, if you have a desired skill – why not flaunt it on the internet. Are you an excellent video maker? Are you a graphic design Wizz? With a fantastic website that is fully optimised for your services, you can present your awesome work in front of a wealth of new customers.
Choosing and Evaluating your Niche in Business
What is your niche? What will give you the fire in your belly to keep you going through the difficult stages of setting up an online business? You need to find an option that fills you with an intense passion but is also profitable and sustainable. The internet is a crowded place. In 2021, there are now 4.80 billion internet users in the world. Specialisation is key.
Here are a few handy questions to ask yourself to help you identify your own niche:
- If money was no object, what would you do to make a living?
- What sparks your interest when the workday draws to a close? What do you spend your spare time researching on the internet?
- Do your skills come naturally to you or could you improve them by taking specialist courses to enhance your credentials?
- How do you allocate your time based on interest?
- Have you identified a serious gap in the market? Have you done extensive research to find out how you personally can exploit that gap with a new online venture?
Exciting isn’t it? If you read down that question list and almost burst at the seams with ideas then you are in the early stages of building a successful online business. Now it’s time to see just how viable your answers are. When evaluating your niche, it’s best to do some research around how popular your product is going to be.
Head over to Google
Google is obviously a fantastic tool to find anything and everything on the internet. Type in the products or services you wish to sell and have a look at how many results turn up, or how good the competition is. If a website looks really successful at selling the niche which you have chosen, think about how you could replicate their online strategy to maximise your own success.
Soar Online specialise in analyzing the results of search engines and can provide excellent consultative business advice on how best to build and optimise your website so YOU can be found for YOUR niche on the first page of Google.
Conducting keyword research
Keyword research is an incredibly handy activity that allows you to see the search volume, on a monthly basis, of all of the keywords that relate to the products and services you wish to sell. This way, you can gauge how much interest there is in your product/niche. You can then fine-tune your business output in relation to what consumers are seeking online. Soar Online offers keyword reports with all of the important information included for free. Just tell us your niche and we’ll get right to it.
Head over to Amazon
From one tech giant to another. You can see how truly unique your niche products are by scanning Amazon for competitors. The fact that Amazon can accurately provide product types, information, pricing and reviews for hundreds of thousands of retailers around the world makes it a perfect place to finalise the evaluation of your chosen products and niche. Remember that what you chose to sell doesn’t define your company or brand forever. You’ll most likely innovate and expand as you go along.
Do you have a minimal viable product test (MVP) in place?
A minimal viable product is a process of testing your solutions/products with early customers who can provide feedback for when you roll out a more extensive product line in the future. For online businesses, these tests can range from something as small as keyword research solutions as well trialing different types of landing pages. Will your idea resolve issues for a future consumer to the point that people are willing to pay for it? That’s the question you are seeking to answer with an MVP.
As well as answering those all-important questions, a key benefit to performing an MVP test is that you get to know your audience incredibly well very early on in your venture. Defining your audience is an essential strategy and should guide your entire marketing plan from the very outset. You need to know:
- who to sell to
- why they would want what you’re selling
- and roughly how big the potential market is.
Soar Online can provide a free audience report if you want to know the online market size of searches for your solutions/services.
An incredibly simple, yet effective, way of testing whether your audience will respond to your product is through a landing page. If you have not got a website yet, Soar can help you create an effective landing page that promotes your brand the way you want. Use attractive imagery, inventive copy and a strong call to action to see if people respond to your business idea. To boost engagement on the landing page and widen your initial sample set you could find relevant social media groups and communities to share your content with or set up a Google Ad campaign. If you chose to do the latter, you can put a small budget aside to boost your audience engagement and provide a bigger testing pool for your MVP.
Creating a new online business: the first steps
When all testing is done and you are ready to make a real success of your new venture, the first requirement when bridging the gap between concept and reality is the name. Don’t think that the name is a trivial step that provides no substance to the business. On the contrary, your business name will be searched on Google, linked, tagged, reviewed, quoted, debated, misspelled, and hopefully loved for many years to come. It matters.
When choosing a name ensure that there is a similar variation or like-for-like match when browsing the availability of website domains. There are an unthinkable amount of business names that have been taken and trademarked in the past – so keep it unique and make sure your domain name is memorable.
Another thing to think about is social media. Your business name alongside your domain and your social media handles are the pillars of your digital existence. They need to be both striking and consistent in order for your brand to develop successfully. It is worth doing extensive research on the internet and all social channels to find other companies with similar names.
Building your website
All online businesses need a website. The type of website that you require again will likely be dependant on the sort of business you are trying to establish. An artist seeking to sell his or her paintings may need a simple portfolio landing page, whereas a garden furniture business may need a full eCommerce website with multiple pages for various products and functionalities.
What you need to consider with websites
We’ve briefly touched upon the importance of your domain name and its value in being unique. Namecheap is a fantastic domain ‘shop’ where you can search for all the available domains and how much they’ll cost you. We advise that you try to get a domain that ends in ‘.com’ or ‘co.uk’. But there are variations that exist such as ‘.io’ or ‘.co’ usually available at cheaper prices. The domain is going to form your company email address – people are more comfortable with the classic suffixes.
There are a few different types of hosting available to you: Shared Hosting, Virtual Private Server Hosting, Dedicated Hosting, and Cloud Hosting. All of these different types will provide storage for your website but will differ somewhat in capacity, reliability, and also the speed at which the server will respond.
As a new owner of an online business, it’s probably best to start with Shared Hosting. It’s easy to set up, low risk and you always have the potential to upgrade as your business grows.
Actual website creation
There are countless options of software solutions and platforms that you can use in order to build your actual website. The complexity and functionality of your website will differ based on which provider you chose to go with. There are simple drag-and-drop website builders like Wix, which are useful for websites with only one or two simple pages. For something more functional, easy-to-use, and effective, we always recommend WordPress. Its excellent content creation and management function make it easy to design new pages whilst its plugins are simple to use and set up.
Soar Online has tons and tons of experience in building websites, finding the perfect hosting package, and seeking out the slickest business domains to match your brand. Our website management specialists monitor, maintain and optimise websites so they are constantly running at maximum health and efficiency.
Linking to your social
In the modern age of digital, it pays to present your brand across a variety of different channels. Social media accounts are free to set up and when used correctly, can amplify your message, brand, and company values to the exact people in your target market. Social channels are a great vehicle with which to distribute your blog content. Once your new online business is on a roll, you’ll see a regular exchange of visitors from your social accounts to your websites.
Different platforms are great for different types of companies. For instance, LinkedIn is an incredible platform for networking and B2B marketing. Instagram lends itself incredibly well to young & vibrant eCommerce brands or travel companies for example. A great example of how a website and social channel can work in tandem:
Brian Nowak, a keen analyst from Morgan Stanley, recently concluded that approximately 54% of retailers ranked Google products, including YouTube, as “their first place to go to research products online”.
You cannot grow an online business from scratch if you are not measuring your own growth and website activity. There are a number of fantastic tools available now, mostly free, that provide all sorts of valuable data for the performance of your website. See growth charts, real-time traffic numbers, historic traffic data, and other visitor statistics at the click of a button. Tools such as Google Analytics will also show you bounce rates (how long someone stays on a single web page), the source of the visitor (did it come from social or an email campaign?) as well as their journey through your website through to checkout.
There are lots of valuable lessons that you can learn from tracking and measuring your audience behaviour and these lessons will ultimately form the basis of your future marketing activities. If the majority of your earlier customers are finding you on Google, then it will be an excellent strategy to invest further into Search Engine Optimisation. If your visitor numbers are down for a month or so, try running a small PPC (pay-per-click) advertising campaign to drive traffic to your site and increase your audience size that way.
Feedback & Demographics
A key part of the development of a new online business is feedback. Understand from your few early customers what it is they bought and why they bought it. Send a survey, or conduct an interview – try and replot their customer journey for all the consumers that come knocking on your digital door in the future.
It’s all about understanding your audience. Use Google Trends, examine competitors, join forums and Facebook communities, engage on social. Performing these simple tasks will help you form a guide for the demographics and psychographics of your perfect customer. Once you’ve honed in on who you’re selling to early on, use analytics to boost and shape the perfect customer journey.
Content is King
We’re a firm believer that content is the almighty king here at Soar Online.
The stats do not lie:
In 2020, 70% of marketers invested in content marketing. 44% of marketers increased their content budgets in 2021, and 85% of B2B marketers claimed promising results on their content campaigns.
Content marketing is an almost-perfect strategy that achieves two important outcomes:
- Creates inbounds leads: The more valuable content you feed into your website the more search engines will view your site as an authority on the topic/theme of your online business. The more Google sees you as an authority, the higher up the search rankings it will serve your listing. The higher your listing, the more traffic to your website.
- Credibility: The more topics and subtopics that you write about, the more opportunity you have to educate and inform your customers and visitors as well as sell to them. It gives the user the impression that you are a trusted authority and simply that you know your topic inside out.
Blog posts are a popular way to update your website with fresh content. But once you learn and determine which topics gain the best audiences, you can then look into publishing evergreen content, such as videos and guides.
Now go and make your new online business a success!
Well, there you have it. All of the useful information you may need to make your new digital venture a success. Being an entrepreneur is not going to be smooth sailing. The waters will chop and change and you’ll have sunny days as well as strong winds. But with the right mindset, you can make this world your oyster.
A few lasting principles to live by when you finally decide to begin your journey of building a successful online business:
Don’t be scared of growth
Embrace it! There will be barriers to growth at every step of the journey. But when opportunities and risks present themselves, just apply a growth mindset. Understand that by working hard & smart, and by developing your skills and commercial awareness, you can overcome many setbacks. It’s ok to fail.
Look after number 1
Running an online business can play with your emotions and mental well-being, and there may be times when the stress overwhelms you. Looking after yourself is a top priority to balance the stresses of entrepreneurship with a healthy lifestyle. Working from home? Go out for regular walks. Exercise, meditate, go for dinners and enjoy your downtime. Most importantly… avoid burnout.
Learn from others
Starting an online business has got to be a learning curve for you; especially if you’ve never done anything like this before. Seek out a mentor, join entrepreneur groups on LinkedIn, listen to business growth podcasts and read success stories. Not only will these actions guide you when making future decisions, but they should also act as a natural motivator to keep you going.
Believe in yourself
You have made the decision to pursue your dream. You are daring to better yourself and that will be the key to your success with your new digital venture. Don’t give up. It won’t be easy, you’ll end up stumbling your way out of problems. Covid-19 has provided the opportunity to reflect on what is important in life and has given many people the impetus to take chances and pursue what matters to them. It has also massively accelerated the digitisation of shopping and searching habits on a scale never seen before. This provides an almost perfect climate to create a successful online business. Seek the advice of experts and believe in yourself!