In many ways, website startups are very much like opening a brick and mortar business. In real life you will find a space for rent where you will locate your business, whereas for a virtual business you will have to create a website that’s going to be your front office, or your store.
We’ve outlined a couple of basic steps you will need to take in order to start your online business. Some of them are similar to a regular business; others are characteristic only to online businesses.
Find an idea or a need to fill
You can’t start selling or doing something that nobody needs. Well, you can, but if nobody needs your service or product, you will fail gloriously. So the safest bet is to go off what people want. One of the acceptable approaches is to see what’s popular and then create service or a product that is in some aspects better than your competition’s. An alternative approach is to find the deficit in an area where you are an expert or in an area you love and create a product that will solve this deficit problem, meaning you will create a completely unique product or service – invent something new. It’s a legit approach and has worked for many entrepreneurs. However, you need to really believe in your idea because it’s a startup.
Whether you decided to go with an invention of something completely new and unique or with a slightly better copy of an existing product/service, you will need funding. If it’s a large-scale startup project you may need to find investors. So you need to start off with a good business plan. Now, good does not mean extensive and long. It can be a one-page business plan, but it has to be concise and to the point. Investors and angels are busy people and they make decisions very quickly. So your plan must make sense to you, be logical, precise and brilliant.
For simpler online business ideas you don’t need much money. Unlike brick and mortar business, online businesses do not require an office or a store. You need to pay for domain registration, website, hosting and some kind of marketing. This can come out of your personal savings or borrowed funds from your family. However make sure to warn them that their funds are at high risk of not being returned. Any new enterprise implies high risk. Just do a quick search for failure rates of new businesses this year.
Create your online presence
This simply implies registering your domain name and creating your website or e-commerce web store. There are numerous free resources with templates and online platforms, which allow you to save on this step. WordPress has tons of great free templates and you can even start with a free site on their platform. However, we highly recommend hiring a web design company and creating your own unique website. There are numerous benefits for this, some of which are control retention, professional look, better SEO, plugins, avoiding DIY website pitfalls, managing your own email, gaining access to proper hosting tools, training, etc. In fact, we normally use WordPress as the platform for our website projects, but in standalone and fully controlled applications.
Especially if you are thinking about a web store, we highly recommend staying away from templates and free resources. In some cases they have a strong learning curve. They have poor functionality and result in customers leaving your store in frustration, usually even before ordering a product. A unique customized web store creates a positive experience and enforces a feeling of security in a customer. And this is always a good thing!
A recent website project strongly catered to clients not very tech savvy. In cases like these, and times when you know exactly who your customers are, you need something custom. Simplifying everything in this case was paramount for the business. The easier we made things clear for those unfamiliar with website browsing, the more customers that started coming around and back again.
In another case we created a website that was going to be accessed through low bandwidth internet connections, mainly offshore locations. This was a great time to trash some fancy features and go with something highly optimized. If clients don’t have to wait, it could be a memorable site feature that gains business.
Every website project is different and rightly should be. It’s hard lumping every project under an umbrella solution that’s going to work for every business. This is exactly the reason you might want something professional and custom tailored to your audience, company image, and needs.
Create powerful site message
Part of creating a great website is having powerful text, not just a great user-friendly design. Concentrate on the problem you are trying to solve, create powerful headlines and don’t forget about call for action. Testimonials are a great powerful instrument that adds credibility to your product or service. Write in a natural live language and try to stay personal. People need to feel you through your product.
Promote your website
For a startup online business the most effective marketing approach is sometimes paid advertisement on sites like Google or Facebook. You get traffic immediately and you have a great means to figure out what are the most effective keywords. Later on, you can use this knowledge to SEO-adjust your website texts for improving your rankings in natural search results. You can use social networks for advertisement as well with different articles and posts or topic-related web resources.
The big rising star with marketing over the past five years has been video. Video can sometimes even reach customers you won’t reach other places. You can really grab attention with video and that’s something you should capitalize on. For a moment you likely have the viewers complete attention.
Use email marketing
This is one of the most powerful tools at the disposal of new online businesses. You collect emails using a form on your website. So these are going to be people that chose to be contacted, therefore a higher response rate. You can stay in touch with your prospective clients. This is a very targeted audience; and customer information collected free of charge. You give them something they were asking for and you develop life-long relationships.
Email marketing is one of those things that takes a little time to develop. For the average startup you aren’t likely to get 50k email newsletter sign ups the very first day or even month, but in time the list grows into something immensely valuable. A pool of customers that you can reach out to on a weekly basis whether it’s just to catch them up on your business, offer a free resource, or exciting sales on your products.
What did you learn about websites?
Starting an online business should be done with the same tact as a brick and mortar location. You still need to go through many of the same steps in starting your business. Sure, you can save a bunch of money and have a low overhead but things still need to be done correctly. Getting professional help with your startup website, and early on, can make all of the difference in success or failure.