The last 10 years have seen dramatic changes in the way business operate online. Competition is high and the demand for excellence has grown to match the transformation of a digital economy.
There are those who see no opportunity, those who are naive about starting out online and those who, with a single blow to their reputation, have seen everything fall in a heap.
Despite these factors, there is still plenty of room for growth and opportunity – provided you play smart.
Having worked in small business for over 20 years, and worked with numerous startups, I have gained a lot of exposure to the patterns that make for success.
Here are 10 steps to getting your business up and running online.
1. Determine Your Niche
In the world of bricks and mortar, the catch-cry was, “location, location, location.’ In the online world, the catch-cry is, “niche, niche, niche.”
While there is room for everyone online, there is little room for someone to be everywhere and everything to everybody.
Those who have succeeded, and continue to succeed online have been those who zeroed in on a single market and owned it before expanding their product or service delivery.
Amazon was once selling only books. Now they sell everything you need to run a boutique hotel. eBay began by selling Pez dispensers. They now sell every conceivable gadget. Together with Amazon, they represent some of the biggest entities online with no signs of slowing down.
Determine your niche product or service. Narrow it down to the point that you can explain it in a single sentence.
Here are three questions that you need to be able to answer with a single sentence. Once you can do that, you are ready to develop a business and marketing plan for your operation.
- What are you providing?
- Who are you providing it to?
- What is it that separates you from the competition?
2. Determine Your Point of Contact with Your Target Market
Don’t assume you need to build a website and then wait for people to show up. It may be that your product and service can thrive via:
- Other established platforms (think Etsy, Amazon, People Per Hour, and more)
- A well-established email list or subscription service
- Social Media
The key here is to determine the best place to gather with your target audience. It may be a single platform or a collection of platforms.
If you are selling professional services such as web design, content marketing, graphic design or digital consulting services, you will find that there are several places you can establish a presence that is already attracting your demographic.
3. Establish Your Brand
Whether you build your own site or squat on Twitter, once you have determined where to place yourself, you need to begin branding whatever it is you are offering.
Establishing your brand includes:
- Logo and graphic design
- Website or page design
- Personality and Character, which includes content style
Practical matters for those who decide they need their own website will include choosing the best website builders for your enterprise, deciding which platforms are most conducive to developing trust and authority in their niche and how they are going to present their products and services.
This will differ widely between industries. Those with high-end graphics, gaming and video will require a different set of tools against those who are selling clothing, pots, pans or accounting services.
Your branding needs to be consistent with the product or service you are delivering, and beyond that, consistent with the services you are using to promote and establish your brand.
4. Cost out Your Venture
Don’t simply move on passion and conviction. Failure to complete a basic financial strategy in business is one of the biggest reasons for failure.
Take time to cost out your project. If you are planning to have a website designer develop your business, you need to know the costs for development at every stage.
You will want to know:
- Cost of initial structures
- Cost of potential expansion
- Cost of maintenance
Time is also money and so you will want to see some dates, times and deadlines form any web developer.
5. Develop a Comprehensive Marketing Strategy
Marketing online goes well beyond pushing out a few ads. Marketing today involves,
- Search Engine Optimisation
- Media Buys (think Facebook ads, Google ads, etc)
- Content Marketing
- Social Media Marketing
- Email Marketing.
It also involves managing superior business-to-business or business-to-customer communication channels.
You need to determine which tools are most suitable to keep your customers and clients in the conversation loop and which tools and marketing strategies are going to re-engage them in your product or service.
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), should be among the things that top your list. Not only because a large proportion of people will find you through searches on Bing and Google, but because this marketing strategy also impacts your branding, on-site optimisation, design and your budget.
While Google Adwords, for example, may bring some quick return, the revenue dries up as soon as you put your wallet back in your pocket.
Search Engine Optimisation, on the other hand, might cost you more up front, but it keeps working long after the money is spent.
It is also still true that most first-time conversions and most first time sales happen through the top organic search results in Google.
Your Content Strategy is all about how you are going to showcase your expertise or unique selling point to your audience. Will video be your main vehicle or will it be long-form research papers, How-to articles or funny memes.
This also takes you back to those things which belong under the heading of “branding”. Your content strategy should reflect the intrinsic value and character or your product and service.
6. Outsource When Needed
You will not have every skill needed to run your business or bring your business online. Whether you are starting an eCommerce store or a digital service site, you need to have some realistic expectations about time management and skill set.
There are plenty of services that provide a way for you to reliably outsource certain aspects of your business. Some of the more obvious ones might be:
- Financial management
- Graphic and web design, coding and IT
- Stock management and,
- Copywriting and content writing
Some o these activities you will want to outsource right away. Some you might be able to teach yourself in the early days but outsource later and some you will outsource as a result of growth.
There will also be some aspects of bringing your business online that you have either not thought of or which are for the time being, irrelevant. That’s okay. Just be prepared to outsource later on if the need arises.
Some of the places I recommend are Legiit for SEO services, People Per Hour for content writing, coding and research assistants and I heartily recommend ourselves – the team here at Mallee Blue Media for all of the above site and blog management services.
As a business that manages multiple client sites, we understand the burden we are able to lift of growing business and the satisfaction that comes from seeing them flourish.
7. Licensing, Legal and Protection
The internet is not quite the free-for-all it once was. Increasing licensing, copyright laws and varying taxation issues can plague the early states of business, as well as knock the socks of well-established industries.
Europe’s General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) and copyright laws, VAT, GST and more, all govern the way we are trading and doing business online.
Each country or region will have its own set of governing bodies and regulations and depending on your industry, these may have a direct impact on what you do.
Don’t let this intimidate you. There is still plenty of room for just about any business. Just make sure you have some idea of the rules governing your operation. It would be awful if a simple but poorly thought out email or newsletter had you blacklisted as a website and consequently undermined as a business.
Starting out online is exciting, and time-consuming. The web is large and cluttered with people who are all trying to get attention.
Your job is to stand out through methodical, well-planned operations, well-positioned marketing
And a brand that attracts your most likely market of online buyers, readers, shoppers or service hunters.
Take time to go through these early stages of planning and development, and you are quite likely to see yourself enjoying a flourishing enterprise online.