11 steps to starting an online business

Image Credit: This image, “start ebiz”, is a derivative of “Climb” by Kenny Louie, used under CC BY 2.0. “start ebiz” is licensed under CC BY 2.0 by Sumit.

Good to know information if you are starting an online business

Starting an online business might seem like a fancy activity to get into but believe me it’s nothing like that. Although the internet has a whole lot of resources to guide you to start an online business, but it’s hard to differentiate the real vs the fake. The glamorous lifestyle portrayed by most content creators, promoting internet businesses, are just a means to attract your attention. Do not think of online business to be easy compared to running a brick and mortar store. Both ways of doing business has its own pros and cons.

A few noteworthy differences between online and offline businesses are:

  • Online businesses are easy and inexpensive to start. Offline businesses requires initial investment, in the form of renting an office space, hiring employees, and bearing recurring expenses like electricity bills, office maintenance charges etc.
  • Generally any online business would take time to attract visitors or customers unless you invest huge amount of money into marketing. On the other hand, a physical business has the chances of making money right from Day One [restricted to certain business types, of course. For example a retail outlet], provided the owner does his research and setup his shop at the right location getting exposure to his target audience.
  • Online businesses are easy to scale as there is no geographical limitations. Offline businesses are difficult to scale because of their upfront investment needs. Moreover you as a business owner cannot be present at more than one location simultaneously. So if the business demands your presence, it would be nearly impossible for you to attend them all if you are running an offline business.
  • Online businesses are subject to rapid ups and downs that might occur due to frequent search engine algorithmic changes, trend and most importantly lack of attention from the owner. Offline businesses are not subject to such rapid changes. The main point to understand here is that any online business gains organic traffic from the search engines, which keeps changing frequently and hence the business owner needs to stay updated and adapt his/her website accordingly to avoid missing out on potential searches. Offline businesses are not affected by any such external means, due to which they can expect a constant cash flow once they gain the momentum.

So as you can see running a business – online or offline has its own set of advantages and disadvantages.

Hence if you are one of those who is interested in starting an online business after you saw some videos showing posh lifestyle and glamour portrayed by some unknown self proclaimed entrepreneurs, please come out of that mindset. Nothing as “Get Rich Quick” method exists either online or offline. Even if anything as such exists that’s temporary and mostly scams. Beware!!

To be or not to be an entrepreneur is totally your decision, but I want to share some points quickly before I get into the steps involved in starting a business:

  • Entrepreneurship is a process that anyone can follow to become an entrepreneur. You don’t need to be born as an entrepreneur. You can choose to become one at any point in your life, provided you are ready to follow the process.
  • Successful online businesses are born out of passion, interest or the mindset to solve a problem. Money is the end result. Never start a business just for money because in the long term your interest towards your business will give you the patience to stick to it, mostly during rough times. Businesses started solely with money mindset loose their patience when they don’t see cash flowing in and quit too early.
  • Develop the habit of reading. To become a successful CEO, you need to be a learner first. There is a great saying “Knowledge and wisdom never goes in vain”. According to studies, an average CEO reads about 50-60 books a year.
  • Pursuing the career of an Entrepreneur can be rewarding if you are willing to take risks, adapt to changes and work hard and smart at times.

The reason I mentioned all of the above points is not to scare you but to draw a realistic picture regarding business, which I believe you need to understand before you decide to jump in. So if by now you are still determined to start your own online venture, hop on. Let’s start the journey.

Starting an online business requires one to have a decent understanding of the internet business terminologies and how it works. Lots of terms come into play like SEO, SEM, PPC, Landing Pages, CTR, etc. I know it’s time consuming and most importantly you will understand these jargons better once you are in the process of building an online business. So to make it simpler for you, I have laid down a process that includes the 11 steps to starting an online business.

Step by Step process to become an Online Entrepreneur:

Choose a Niche

There are two ways to discover a niche for starting a business.

  1. You could select a niche based on your interest, hobby or passion. Let’s say you love playing guitar and like to teach others willing to learn the instrument. You can start your own guitar teaching class online. This way you have found a niche of your interest.
  2. If you are more of a problem solver, try to find out a problem that exists, it might be something you personally faced or you might have observed others in your community, group or social networks complaining about. You can then choose the niche where the problem exists and start a business online by offering solution to that problem.

 Do your research

Doing your research well before starting a business reduces the risk of failure. Moreover it gives you enough information related to your niche for conducting the business.

Following are some of the key points you need to research about:

Find out your target audience

You need to know exactly who your target audience is. You need to study their demographics, online behavior, and spot the communities or groups where they usually hang out. This data will help you understand your potential customers better.

Jot down their pain points in a piece of paper

Once you have a better understanding of your target population, try to find out their problems or need and note them down. Once you have a list of their problem and need, you can then find the one that you can solve easily. Start with that one problem.

Find out if other businesses exist to cater to that particular problem

Once you’ve decided on a problem or need to cater to, you also need to verify if there are other businesses serving the same market and doing the same as you wish to do. If the answer is no, you need to verify why there is no one else trying to solve the problem. It might be that someone else tried but failed. If so, try to learn from their mistakes and what they did wrong. Double check if the problem can be solved online. Even if there are competitors trying to solve that problem, if you think you can do better than them, you can proceed with your knowledge and idea.

Create a plan to solve the problem

Finally, this is where your idea will take the shape of a product, service model or content strategy that you can use to start your business. All the information that you have gained from your research in the above steps can be utilized in this step to create a business plan.

Start small but aim big

When you’re first starting out it’s better to try and solve one problem at a time. If you are developing an app, do not clutter it with too many features. Create an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) first to test the market. If you receive good response try to add in more features with time. In service based businesses also, you can start by offering one or two core services that is enough to start your business. You can keep adding related services once your core services are liked by your audience. However do note that if your business competitors are already serving the market with a set of services that are related and essential for your business type, you need to offer the entire set right from day 1. Otherwise, it will be hard to compete. Moreover, consumers would like to avail the services from those who offer them more options and variety under one roof.

Until and unless situation demands, keep your business offering minimum when you are just starting out and try to solve the core problem your business is based upon.

Create a Sales funnel

This is an important step to follow when you are starting an online business.

Almost all successful online businesses have a proper funnel that helps them gain more customers.

What is a Sales Funnel?

A sales funnel is a strategic approach taken by a business to build a structure that includes all the processes right from marketing to making the sale. A sales funnel normally includes four major steps –

  1. Creating Awareness about the solution you are willing to offer
  2. Developing interest in your prospect’s mind
  3. Triggering the buying decision in his/her mind
  4. Finally converting your prospect to your customer

Although it might sound easy, developing a proper sales funnel takes time and hard work. Once you have designed a sales funnel, you need to put in time and effort to analyze your web traffic flow at each stage of the funnel. Tweak your website as per the data obtained to improve engagement and conversion at each layer.

Brand your online presence

Branding a business gives it a unique look and feel. In this competitive world, if you miss out on branding, it will be hard for your prospects and customers to differentiate your business amongst the crowd.

Branding a business online essentially requires designing a logo, selecting a color tone or combination of colors and choosing a proper typography. Try to include the same combination when you are creating websites or social media pages.

Populate your website with contents

There is a saying in the online world that “Content is King” and I truly believe in it. When feeding content into your website, pay attention to its quality. High quality content is essential to rank in the search engines and also to create a positive impression in your prospect’s mind. Uploading copied content or low quality content might subject your website to be penalized by the search engines.

Always take your time to create original and valuable contents for your website visitors.

Spread the word out

Once you are done with the steps above, share a link to your website in social media, forums, groups or communities where your target audience generally hang out. Once they click on your link they will enter your sales funnel. The rest of the part would be played by the funnel you have created in step 4.

Observe your web traffic data

Once traffic starts flowing in to your webpage, it is very crucial to study the flow of the traffic to gain insights about how your visitors are interacting with your website.

There are various tools that can help you analyze your website traffic. Some are free to use and some have paid versions. The premium ones however provide much detailed traffic analysis. But in most cases, Google Analytics, a free traffic analytics tool by Google, would be enough.

Follow up with your customers

Interact with your customers and try to get their feedback on your product / service. Getting feedbacks from your customers in the initial days of your business is very important. It will help you shape your product or service in a way that better connects with your customers.

Share valuable contents with your customers from time to time. This ensures that you are interested in adding value to their life and help them with your offering. Try not to spam. Only share content that adds value. Ignore everything else.

Offer them deals and discounts. Since they have purchased from you once give them extra privilege by sharing exclusive discount coupons.

In between you can promote any new offering that you might have for them.

Try building a long term relationship with your customers. Business is all about network. Network of people that know you, that are willing to buy from you. If you can build a positive relation with your customers, they will listen to you, which will make the sales even easier.

Optimize your website to improve engagement and conversion

The data collected from traffic analysis in Step 8 and rich insights gained from customer interaction in Step 9 can be combined together to create an appealing website that is able to engage the customers well and one that is high converting.

Stay updated

As an online entrepreneur, you need to stay abreast with the latest developments and changes happening in your business niche.

Always be at the first when it comes to knowing your customers.

Finally the most important of all, reform your business as per the latest industry standards. The technology you use for building your website, the traffic generating platforms, the marketing tools you use, etc all have their standards and versions. These standards and versions keep changing and updating. Since you are conducting business in the online space, you need to stay updated technology wise and business wise and make necessary reformations from time to time to stay at par with the trend.

Hope you liked reading this article. If you have any doubts, questions or feedbacks, please share it below via comments.

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