How to Start an Online Business

Rose Wheeler
woman online

Starting an online business can provide you with the means to increase your income substantially and give you the freedom and flexibility you always dreamed of, but you'll need to go through a research and planning process first. Then, you'll be ready to move forward with launching your new web-based company.

Selecting a Business Type

The first step in any business is to conduct research to identify a gap in the market and then starting a business that fills that gap. If your goal is to start an online business, there are several options to consider.

  • You may want to offering a digital item (such as online courses, information products, or a membership-based community site) for sale via a website or provide services (such as consulting or tutoring services) that you market online.
  • Alternately, you may want to sell a physical, tangible item that will be shipped (such as crafts you create to sell or items that you can have drop-shipped or that you purchase wholesale to resell).
  • You may also want to consider affiliate marketing, which can be an excellent way to start building passive income from a blog or other type of website.

Develop a Business Plan

Once you have an idea of the type of web-based business you want to start, you will need to create a business plan that includes a complete customer analysis and other key information, such as a competitor analysis, estimated operating expenses, pricing strategy, expected profit margin, and initial marketing plans.

Doing this will help you get a sense of how much it costs to start a business and what you'll need to do in order to succeed. Review sample business plans to get an idea of how to format and write this type of document for your business.

Set Up the Business as a Business

Your business needs to be set up properly before you start. This means that you need to follow all the key steps to starting a small business, including reserving the name, forming the legal entity, and completing all state and local licensure requirements.

Use this checklist for starting a new business to help you get started, adding items specific to your business. For example, if you will be selling products through your online business, you will need to apply for a resale certificate and get set up to file sales taxes. You'll also need to open a business bank account and get set up to be able to accept credit card payments through your website.

Establishing Your Online Presence

Business and technology

Since you've chosen to start an online business, your website will be the focal point of your branding and promotional efforts. There are a number of key tips on website business development to consider regarding this central aspect of your business.

Domain Name

As soon as you have decided on your company's name (and reserved it with your state), buy the domain name(s) you want and sign up for every social media platform using your brand name. Have a 'coming soon' feature on each platform to let people know the business name has been claimed.

Brand Identity

Now it's time to create your company's brand identity. This is when you will choose a color palette and brand elements such as graphics, as well as come up with a business slogan or tagline. When creating a logo, you want a strong, memorable, eye-catching design. There are some free business logo options, but you may want to hire a graphic designer to make sure you get this right.

Choose a Hosting Provider

Once you buy the domain, then it's time to set up a hosting account. A web host is the company that will store your website's file on its servers. Choose a top-rated hosting provider that is known for reliable service and offers around-the-clock support.

Hosting packages vary per company. Some offer annual or month-to-month payments, and many offer cheap starting packages for the first year. Prices vary from just a few dollars per month to well over $100 per year.

Website Development

Of course, since you are starting an online business, your website itself is of central importance. Unless you have strong web development skills yourself, consider hiring a professional to design and develop your site. If you do not have the budget for that, you can use one of the user-friendly website builders designed for small business use. Just keep in mind that sites created using these types of applications are not as customizable or easy to optimize for search marketing as custom-developed sites. Keep in mind that usability is an important aspect of website design.

Your website will need to be created with e-commerce strategies in mind since you will be selling products or services online. There are a number of e-commerce solutions available, from relatively simple set-ups to those that are quite complex. If you're selling products, you can also set up a simple shop on Shopify or BigCommerce with a low-level plan until you see enough sales come in to make it worth upgrading.

Web Content

Of course, there is a lot more to operating a web-based business than just having a functional site. You will also need to create content for your website. For example, you will need to write landing pages and product or service descriptions.

Using keywords to publish content is vital. Understanding search engine optimization (SEO) will help your site rank higher on search engines. Some e-commerce platforms make SEO simple by including an easy way to add meta descriptions to your store, categories, and products. If you're using WordPress, the plugins called All in One SEO and Yoast SEO make optimizing your website content an absolute dream.

You will also need to take or purchase images for your site, and keep it loaded with current product and service offerings. If you can afford it, hire a virtual assistant (VA) to list your products on your site. You can give her a spreadsheet with everything she needs to get the products live, clear instructions and access to your online store. Make her an account so she has her own password, as you should never give away your password to your contractors or employees.

Create Your Marketing Strategy

Woman on computer

Marketing is critical to the success of any online business. Your marketing plan should be customized to your business, and can include a variety of tactics.

Social Media

Social media is a wonderful marketing tool. If you're starting from nothing, it's important to build contacts and connections using social media, though you will need an effective content plan in order to do so.

You don't have to wait until your website is live to promote your business via social media Instead, build anticipation while preparing to launch your online business by using social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn, and more.

Focus on the social networking sites your target customers frequent the most. You may also want to consider investing in sponsored ads on those sites, to help grab the attention of individuals in your target market.

Branded Hashtag

It can be a good idea to create a clever hashtag for your brand, to help raise your company's profile on social media. Be sure that your hashtag includes your brand name. Make sure that it's clear what the hashtag is for and what it means so that it's not misconstrued as something else. Include the hashtag in all of your posts and encourage your followers to do the same.

Promotional Blogging

Blogging can be crucial when it comes to attracting website traffic and generating sales for a new business, and it can be an important aspect of your public relations strategy. If you have a blog separate from your e-commerce site, you can start blogging before launching to create anticipation for your store. Publish content on your business blog regularly to build an audience of loyal customers and keep people informed.

There are several ways to attract viewers to your blog, including creating compelling content that readers will enjoy and share. Readers tend to like useful, eye-catching content such as how-to articles, listicles, and guides. Don't forget to post your blog posts on your social media platforms.

Guest Posting

As stated on HuffPost, "Guest blogging is one of the best ways to expand your brand's reach." This can involve writing for other blogs, as well as having other bloggers guest post on yours. Both options can be an excellent way to reach your target market, grow your community, interact with customers, and develop your brand.

Email Marketing

Once you have a few subscribers to your blog, you can begin an email marketing campaign. Let subscribers know that you are not going to spam them, but instead offer promotions, relevant offers, and unique content. Consider starting a quarterly email newsletter.

Influencer Outreach

Search for influencers in your niche and reach out to work with them. You can ask them to create sponsored content featuring your product, do a giveaway or mention your brand. Budget accordingly, keeping in mind that this type of marketing can be very successful and can help your brand to spread like wildfire.

Online Ads

You can run advertisements across a variety of social media platforms or other websites. To spend your money wisely, take the time to understand where your audience spends most of their time online and reach them in their favorite digital hangouts. You can target your ads to your specific audience, and even fine-tune the location where your ad will appear.

Free Previews

Consider giving away an introductory offer to attract attention from prospective customers. For example, if you're marketing training courses, consider providing prospective clients a free introductory class or no-cost webinar as a way to build interest. Alternately, use the first section of an online class to get people excited to buy the full course. This can be a great way to build trust with your customers and let people get to know you.

Special Offers

After you have gotten regular traffic and revenue, attract more website visitors and sales by creating coupons, discounts, sales, and promotion codes. This can be automated with most e-commerce platforms.

Become an Internet Entrepreneur

Anyone can try to start an online business, but to do so successfully you need to put the hard work in. You must be truly committed and prepared to dedicate yourself to the planning and promotional efforts required to make a success of your new venture.

How to Start an Online Business