Starting your own online business
When it comes to ways to make money online, starting your own online business is one of the most popular ideas people have. You can be your own boss, the returns can be lucrative and you could be making an income almost immediately.
But to have the best chances of success, you’ll need to thoroughly research your concept and prepare for the possibility of failure as well as success.
Whether you are looking for a little income on the side or wanting to make your business your full-time vocation, entrepreneurs of all experience levels start by figuring out what they will sell.
Finding a need
One of the most common mistakes people make when looking to start their online business is deciding what they want to sell before finding out if there’s a demand for that particular product or service.
In fact, determining the need for a product or service is the single most important thing you will need to do.
Selling or providing something you like may seem a good idea, but if you’re entering a market with stiff competition you are going to struggle to make sales unless you can differentiate yourself from others.
The trick is to find a problem which people are searching for but aren’t finding the results they need. It’s the area you need to spend the most amount of time researching.
Some of the biggest online businesses today started out small but managed to grow to the size they are today because they identified a need they could build a concept around.
That doesn’t mean all the good ideas are taken – you don’t need to reinvent the wheel in your search for ways to make money online. Successful businesses are being created on a daily basis and they will have all established what particular need they are fulfilling first.
This can take some time to determine and patience is the key here. If you have an idea and rush into it without properly research, you could have wasted a lot of time and money on a concept that is flawed from the outset.
There are several ways you can find what people want, including:
Keyword research – What popular topic or search term is coming up with few relevant results?
Searching forums – What questions are people asking to problems they are trying to solve?
Analysing online marketplaces – Is there a particular product or service selling well with few competitors?
Checking out the competition – Look at potential competitors’ websites, take a note of what they are doing to fill the demand and find a way of doing it better.
Consider your professional experience – If you have worked in a particular industry for any period of time you might be able to see a way to do things differently.
Emerging trends – The business world is constantly evolving to meet new demands consumers have. Can you see where a particular market is going and anticipate a future/growing need?
Write a business plan
Once you’ve established what you want to sell online and confirmed there is a demand for it, a comprehensive plan for your company is an important next step.
You need to determine from a critical perspective whether your business idea will be strong from the start, otherwise you are leaving too much to chance.
If you need to raise capital to start your business, you will only be able to borrow money or attract investors if you have a well-written, well-researched business plan.
Potential lenders or investors will want to know as much as possible about how your business will work before deciding to back it financially.
Even if you have the finance required to start your own online business and you’re the only one who will see the business plan, a written reference document will help instil the self-discipline needed to stick to the financial projections for your business plan.
Staring at the cold, hard facts instead of being led by your emotions can help determine whether your business idea is viable or if some key assumptions need rethinking.
A good plan when starting your own online business needs:
Start-up cost estimate – What does your business need to get going? You may discover hidden costs you hadn’t thought of initially.
Break-even analysis – You need to determine the number of products or services you need to sell to at least cover your costs. The business you decide not to start because of an unconvincing financial forecast is important to your long-term success (not all first online businesses succeed).
An effective marketing strategy – Paid or unpaid, you need to know exactly how you are going to market your product or service.
Cash flow projection – A business that runs out of cash and is unable to obtain new finance will become insolvent. Viable cash flow is critical to start-ups, plus you’re trying to make money rather than spend it.
Market analysis – You’ll only be able to compete through a thorough analysis of what your rivals lack. You’ll also need to identify potential problems so you steer clear of them.
Realism – Overnight success is going to be very unlikely and you need to detach your emotions and temper your expectations accordingly, no matter how good you think your idea is. Potential investors will not be fooled by a business plan fuelled by little more than optimism.
Once you’ve started your own online business, you need drive potential sales your way.
It’s no good providing a much-sought after service that no-one can discover.
Fortunately, there are several ways to do this and many companies adopt a number of ways to make money online.
Potential sales for your online business will come to you in a number of different ways and it’s important you make it as easy as possible for people to find you.
Ideally you will pursue a strategy of paid and unpaid advertising, but if you don’t have an advertising budget then there’s plenty of ways to promote your business for free.
Here’s some ways to make money online:
Content marketing – Generate trust and authority around your brand without the primary intent being to sell your product or service. Blogs, videos and images on your website or third-party websites will help your brand reach a wider audience.
Influencers – Send a free sample of your product to someone within your chosen industry or related to it and hopefully you will get a mention on one of their sites or platforms.
Network – Forums and discussion boards can be ideal places to acquire customers by answering questions and giving out industry tips and advice. Remember to keep it professional and within forum restrictions.
Pay-per-click – Create targeted ads across a number of websites triggered by searches relevant to your product or service. You can set a spending limit to keep this in check.
Affiliate marketing – Let other people market your products and send you traffic in return for a percentage of any sales that originate from their efforts. Diversify your selling streams.
Offline – You never know when you might bump into a potential customer. Always carry some business cards so you can make the most of that opportunity.
Build a website
If you’re serious about starting your own online business having a website is a huge advantage, even if you plan to make most of your sales elsewhere.
A website instantly gives your business credibility and boosts that all important online presence. It’s something you can have complete control of so you can tailor it for your potential audience.
Regardless of whether you are creating a simple website that tells a little about your company or a more complex e-commerce website, keep it as simple as possible.
User experience is key. You have fewer than five seconds to grab someone’s attention, so make sure it is clear what you are offering without overwhelming your visitor.
Whatever the goal of your website is, users should be able to easily achieve it.
Whether you build your own website or find a website designer to take of the process, you should consider the following:
Primary purpose – A business website is generally a place to provide general information about your company or a direct platform for e-commerce. Users want to find out what they are looking for as soon as possible. Don’t put unnecessary obstacles or distractions in their way.
Domain name – The name of your website is one of the most important features of your website as it’s the URL you’ll be sharing with current and potential clients. It needs to be descriptive and easy to remember, but make sure you are not infringing on anyone else’s protected name.
Test – Before making your website public, it’s important to check everything works. Ensure it is displaying correctly on all major browsers such as Internet Explorer, Chrome and Safari on mobiles and desktops. Make sure all links redirect correctly, all images load up and the format looks smooth. Check all the pages to ensure everything is spelt correctly and reads well.
Maintain – Keep visitors coming back with regular updates. Keep people informed of company news, new products and current industry events.
Analyse – You can gather a whole host of information about website visitors and use this to improve what you are offering them.
SEO – Effective search engine optimisation means that your website will rank higher in search engines, driving more potential customers your way.
Alongside having your own business website, a social media presence is a vital tool for any new business.
Social media accounts for your business provide an extra way for people to get in contact and allow you to target potential customers easier.
It is a free and easy way to increase brand awareness and helps with that all important SEO.
You’ll need to work out what social networks are best for you; they all offer something different and some will be more beneficial than others in finding potential customers.
It is far better to pick one or two networks to begin with and go from there. That way, you will be able to manage your posts better and get a feel for what works and what doesn’t.
Inactive or seldom-updated social media accounts will be damaging to your brand and may even make people think your business is no longer operational.
Just being present on a social network is a potential waste of time and effort, however. It is important to analyse where your ideal clients can be found.
To get the best out of social media, you need to consider the following:
Pick wisely – Different social media platforms suit different business. Check which will work best for you before starting an account.
Engagement – If you want customers and followers to be engaged, you have to be engaged yourself. Stay active and respond to comments and questions.
Check what your competitors – You might discover problems or complaints that you can help with.
Update often – With most social media users logging into their accounts more than once per day, you need to keep on top of people’s minds. Reward people with regular entertaining and informative content and they’ll come your way when they’re ready to make a purchase.
Be nice – People can be incredibly rude on social media, often unreasonably so, but don’t get into an argument. If someone is aggrieved with you, do your best to make amends. A successful resolution can often work in your advantage.
Analyse – Look at what content has worked for you and why. When, where and what you post is vital to maximising your content’s organic reach. Don’t rely on guesswork.
Persistence, patience and perseverance
Don’t get disheartened if you are not immediately getting the results you expected. Every business encounters setbacks.
Starting your own online company can be a difficult process and you will make mistakes.
But if you prepare thoroughly, stick to a realistic business plan and undertake constant analysis of your past and present performance, you will find how best to make money online from your own online business.