Online is where it’s at 63 per cent of shopping occasions begin online. This means that no matter where the customer eventually makes their purchase, they will begin their research using the internet.
As a business owner, being online is the best thing you can do. With smartphones accompanying us everywhere we go, the opportunity to shop on the net is greater than ever. People can shop on the bus, queuing for a coffee, or as soon as they wake up in the morning. There’s no time a customer can’t make a purchase – except perhaps in the middle of an exam or at the top of a mountain.
The great news is that anyone can start an online business. You don’t even need an office to get going; remote working is becoming increasingly popular. All you need is a computer. The internet has created a wealth of opportunity, and anyone with a good idea or product and the willingness to put in the hard work can use it to their advantage.
The thought of starting an online business as your full-time endeavour might be daunting, but this step-by-step guide is designed to inform, enlighten, and educate. It’s time to start your very own online business.
The great thing about eCommerce is that it’s easy to detect patterns and trends. Every online activity is tracked and traced – as spooky as that might sound. And knowing the current trends is important if you want to start an online business, especially if you are forming an LLC through a registered agent. You can identify what people like and want to see more of. Below are some of the current trends to give you some online business ideas.
Image from Ikea.com
Will the glasses suit you? Will the sofa fit in the corner? Will the makeup match your skin tone? AR is quickly becoming popular in retail, and its growth doesn’t seem to be slowing down. It gives shoppers the chance to get a lifelike idea of how a product will look, without leaving the comfort of their own homes. These companies are doing it well.
Yep, following the Black Mirror tone, AI is becoming increasingly popular for the retail experience. Chatbots are being used to communicate with existing and potential customers, and self-checkouts are being used in online clothing stores as well as supermarkets.
Mobile shopping is a current online trend that more and more companies are using. How does it work? It can be used to combine the online and in-store shopping experience, creating a smoother customer relationship. Many brands do it well by using an app to create rewards and show customers how to use certain products.
It’s cool to care about the environment. But let’s face it. Capitalism and sustainability don’t often go hand in hand. This applies particularly to online shopping, with wasteful packaging contributing to landfill and damaging our planet. Those looking to start an online business will need to think about being eco-friendly and using biodegradable packaging.
Starting an online business can feel overwhelming at first. This ultimate guide takes you from the very beginning to the very end. So, where do you start?
That’s right; the first step in starting an eCommerce store is conducting market research. There’s no point selling something for which there’s simply no demand – or which is the same as another business.
Image from Sapioresearch.com
But what exactly is market research in the context of online businesses? Put simply, and it’s an organised effort to gather information about target markets and customers. You aim to know about them, starting with who they are. Here are the top three steps of conducting market research.
Finding your niche is key in starting an online business. But how do you do it? Leadership team coach, Jeff Boss, says you can do it in just four steps:
Now that you know your niche, what are you going to sell? An online business needs a product. Whether that’s funky t-shirts, hiking gear, or contact centre products, you need to ensure that your offerings are good quality and appeal to a mass market.
There are several different strategies for online business owners. Some might already have a product. In fact, your online business might result from a product you already know you want to sell. For example, an artist might want to start an eCommerce website to sell their art. In which case, you already know your product.
Image from Unsplash.com
Others might already know the area they’re interested in, but they don’t yet have their product. Take Eric Bandholz, for instance. He created the blog Beardbrand to discuss business ventures. But, as time passed, he began to weave beards into the equation, and eventually created a successful eCommerce business selling beard grooming products. Did he know his product when he started the blog? Probably not.
Alternatively, you might have no idea what you want to sell. Here’s where your market research comes in handy. Searching for keywords, for example, can help to assess what people are regularly searching for. This means that you can sell a product which is in high demand. Go one further by checking out what’s trending on online marketplaces like Amazon, Etsy, and eBay. Tools like JungleScout can help with this, too.
Finding your product is important, but it might not necessarily be the be-all and end-all. You can always adapt your product over time. The key is to get going and research along the way.
Your audience is your customers. The best thing an online business owner can do is know their customers. While it’s important to all business owners, it’s crucial online. You don’t communicate face to face, so it can be easy to feel disconnected.
While a good marketing strategy and online presence will help to sell your products, you don’t get the chance to persuade your customers in-store. So, you need to know what they’re looking for.
Finding an audience seems tricky, but the internet is clever. It knows how to get the facts. Social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, or Linkedin, for example, are great ways to monitor activity and detect who is paying attention to your brand. Asos does this well. You can also conduct user surveys and use Google Analytics or email lists.
And, check out your leading competitors’ customers and ask them questions. The more you know, the better your business will be.
Competitive analysis is all about understanding your competitors and assessing their strengths and weaknesses. By doing so, you can:
First things first, you need to determine who your competitors are. These can be divided into two types:
Graph from Marketingsherpa.com
Confused? Let’s say your online business is going to sell coffee. A direct competitor would be the leading brands: Nespresso, Starbucks, Costa, etc. An indirect competitor might sell mineral water. You want to focus on your direct competitors instead of the indirect ones. How?
You need a different voice. There’s no point creating an online business that sounds the same as your leading competitors. The key is to show some hustle, stand out, and offer customers something similar, but slightly better.
Take Dental Bliss. They established that many people hate going to the dentist because it feels cold, clinical, and anxiety-inducing. So, they changed the tone and created a luxury, spa-like dental experience. Patients can enjoy refreshments while they’re waiting and wear noise-cancelling headphones to eradicate the noise of dental tools. It’s a unique dental experience. They found their voice and stood out from the crowd.
Image from Dentalbliss.com
This takes us back to that word again; ‘niche’. Being different often means being specific. It means thinking outside the box. Offering a service that no one else does.
As a new business, people will be sceptical. They know that Nespresso is trustworthy and reliable, so they’ll pick Nespresso over you every time if your services are the same. How can you be different from Nespresso? Funky flavours? A different target audience? Sustainability? The possibilities are endless when you identify what the market is missing.
“A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person. You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well” – Jeff Bezos, Amazon.
Every online business has a brand. The better the brand, the better the business. All small business owners will press the importance of building a brand. It’s not something that happens by magic. It will take longer than you expect, and shouldn’t be rushed. Here are six steps when building a brand:
After doing your market research and studying the competition, it’s time to start thinking about your focus. Whether you’re giving business advice through webinars or selling hats, you need a personality. A business voice. Are you fun and young? Serious and strategic? Millennial? You need to know this before you move onto the next steps.
the name is important. It needs to be memorable. Short and sweet is usually best. Having meaning gives it an extra layer of purpose. Also, think about the domain name when choosing a legal moniker. Check out these tips from Forbes.
“Every little helps”, “Because you’re worth it”, “Just do it”. Every business owner can learn from Tesco, L’Oreal, and Nike because their slogans are iconic and memorable. Yours should be, too. Pick something that stands out and rolls off the tongue.
All brands stick to a colour scheme. Take the leading British supermarkets. Tesco is red and blue. Asda is green. Sainsbury’s is orange. Check out your leading competitors and make sure you pick a different colour scheme, so you don’t confuse customers. Your font should be consistent across brand messaging, too.
Every brand needs a great logo. Pick something that stands out, is easy to read, and draws attention to your business.
It’s time to be consistent. Your branding needs to go everywhere. It should all match. This means putting it on your website, any leaflets, on email campaigns, and so on. Get your name out there.
Image from arkafrica.com
Let’s face it; Jeff Bezos didn’t wing it. All businesses start with a good plan. Creating a sturdy, fool-proof business plan is a great skill. You will need all the tools and equipment available, from financial software to journals, to advisors. But how do you create a business plan?
While you might be able to create your online business with just your computer, a little financial leverage always helps. Even online, startup costs can rack up quickly. Looking for investors can be a great way to start up your business.
Of course, the chances of receiving a call from a generous benefactor are pretty slim. You need to know how to attract investors yourself. You can do so by using:
Being a business owner, whether your firm’s big or small, requires knowing about online business laws. There are a lot of them. Some of the things you’ll need to know about include:
Brush up on the facts and make sure you aren’t breaking any laws when you start selling. It’s not worth risking your business.
A good business plan always involves testing ideas. You don’t want to invest a lot of money and time into a product without assessing whether it’s something that people are interested in.
In their book, Testing Business Ideas: A Field Guide for Rapid Experimentation, Alexander Osterwalder and David J. Bland established that 7 out of 10 new products fail to deliver on expectations. Their book gives helpful advice for new business owners and contains a library of hands-on techniques for rapidly testing new business ideas. It aims to:
As a new online business owner, it’s a valuable read that will teach you more about the importance of testing your ideas and the best methods to use.
Image from Amazon.com
Selling can be difficult, and empathetic selling is more important now than ever. But how do you get the products to sell?
It’s time to source your products. Put simply, this the process by which a business attains a product to sell. There are a variety of methods by which sellers source their products, including:
There are three primary sourcing options to consider:
So, if you’re looking to work with a manufacturer, wholesaler, or drop shipper, how do you find suppliers?
Finding suppliers for your online business isn’t as difficult as it may seem. You have the internet at your disposal, after all. But, more specifically, here are the most efficient ways to find suppliers:
Image from sellercentral.amazon.com
Now that you know where your products are coming from, you’ll need to think about shipping. Yikes. It can feel complex. From packaging to postage costs and visits to the post office, shipping is often one of the most complex areas of online business. How can you make it simpler?
A shipping plan is important in ensuring that your business runs smoothly. It reduces the risk of items being sent to the wrong place or running out of time to ship. Confused about costs? Here are some of the options:
Shipping is an important part of your business, and it can determine whether a customer purchases from you again. Fast, cheap, and simple shipping is the key to customer retention, so don’t underestimate your shipping strategy.
An eCommerce platform is a software application that allows online businesses to manage their website, marketing, sales, and operations. All online business owners will need to find an eCommerce platform for their products. Here are some of the most popular eCommerce platforms to choose from.
Image from Shopify.com
Arguably, Shopify is the best platform at selling. It’s great for dropshipping and relying on social media marketing. It’s easy to get set up, and you can get selling extremely quickly. It can be great for scaling your business, and they have a large community of independent developers and experts ready to help you.
However, some people criticise Shopify for the costs. It has a minimal amount of free designs and templates, meaning that it can be difficult to create an original looking store. It also doesn’t do the best for SEO performance.
Shopify has a mobile app which means you can keep an eye on sales on the go. Here’s what customers on the Google Play store had to say about it:
Absolutely Love the Shopify app, does exactly what I need it to do, and does it well – Travis.
I chose Shopify for my business and wasn’t sure if I was going to like it after being with another carrier for years. Still, honestly, the mobile functionality was the tiebreaker for me! I can do so much from my phone, allowing me to keep up with trends – Roberta I.
Fantastic App. You always know how your business is doing at your fingertips – Tori.
Image from Magento.com
Magento is used by large brands like Nike and Procter & Gamble. It’s a great choice if you have plenty of money to spend, as coding is included in the package. Unlike Shopify, Magento allows for lots of creativity in web design. You can play around for hours, creating the store that you want.
It also creates a community around buying, with a marketplace and one-click selling apps available.
So, what are the drawbacks? While Magento offers a free basic service, the themes can become pretty pricey, and you need developer skills to get the full benefits of the platform. Its app also has some mixed reviews:
Really useful. Highly recommended – Kuldeep S.
Really Good App! Highly recommended. 5+ – Lana E.
Doesn’t seem to work at all on Android? – Misha S.
Image from wix.com
You probably know of Wix as a website builder. However, Wix Ecommerce is rapidly growing and is becoming one of the leading competitors. It has tonnes of free designs and themes, making it a popular choice for those starting on a tight budget (a whopping 72 in comparison to ten on Shopify).
While it was previously a straightforward platform, it now offers multi-channel integration, abandoned cart recovery, dropship, and print on demand capabilities.
Like Shopify, however, Wix eCommerce isn’t great for SEO. While improvements have been made, it still doesn’t help businesses to perform as well as possible. There is also a bit of a storage issue, as the storage space is 20GB which may not be big enough for some businesses.
Here’s what customers had to say about it:
The app is excellent, but it lacks many important features, such as making tasks or linking elements to other apps. Add more things to the free plan – Pritam S.
It was so smooth. Really loved it. Wix is perfect; you don’t need to learn coding to make it happen. It is quite intimidating in the beginning, but it gets easier and easier. The concept is perfect – Agrima G.
Experience with this app is so bad for me. I can’t upload anything after two posts. I can’t have any help or access. Sorry but it needs development – Sowmya A.
Image from bigcommerce.co.uk
BigCommerce is another leading eCommerce platform and often voted the one with the overall best performance. It has a robust search engine, making it ideal for bigger businesses. It’s also great for businesses that are a little more niche, as it allows for specific searching.
People like BigCommerce because you don’t need to know how to code, unlike Magento. However, if you are tech-savvy and want to do some fiddling, the option to tweak the HTML and CSS is available. It’s also pretty cheap for the entry plan.
So, what’s the catch? BigCommerce can become expensive when you want to sell at a high volume. The entry plan also lacks some key features, such as 1-click selling and cart abandonment.
Here’s what reviews said about the app:
Great app. The only downside is you can’t easily search the products to change inventory levels. Hopefully, they fix this issue – Jeffrey M.
So far, my switch from Shopify to BC has been great. Support is A1… The app, though… Well, it notifies you when you get orders, and they’re pretty straight forward…Other than that, the app is pretty basic – Carlos S.
I’m grateful they dropped an app for this platform. Great for managing orders, accounts, products, and you get your charts right in front of you! – Tom L
“Business has only two functions — marketing and innovation” – Peter Drucker.
Marketing is all about engaging customers. This means it’s potentially the most important part of any business. Without a marketing plan, no one will find your products.
Unfortunately, products don’t sell themselves, no matter how great they are. You can’t leave sales up to chance. You need to explore avenues that may include content marketing, affiliate marketing, and other examples of digital marketing.
Graph from smartinsights.com
Marketing is all about giving people a nudge in the right direction. People are searching for products like yours – so a good marketing strategy gets your products at the top of the search page. It’s why Amazon always comes up as the first option when you search for a product. Amazon does marketing well, and by doing so, it has become the leading marketplace.
Here’s a mini-guide on creating a marketing plan.
All smart business owners optimise their web-page. This is the process of using tools, advanced strategies, and experiments to improve the performance of your website. Thus further driving more traffic, increasing conversions, and growing revenue. Essentially, it means getting more eyes on your pages.
So, how do you optimise a web-page? These are the top basic steps:
Is email dead? Some think it could be heading that way. With inboxes quickly getting clogged up, most emails only get a quick skim read.
Graph from marketingsherpa.com
However, at least 99% of consumers check their email daily, which means that it isn’t time to arrange the funeral just yet. A successful email campaign can easily boost your business and generate more sales.
Here’s a quick guide to email marketing:
Who is your email going to? Any great email campaign starts with an email list full of qualified leads that are interested in what you have to offer. This might be people who have engaged with your site but haven’t made a purchase, have asked questions, or have signed up to your newsletter.
A great email campaign works for its audience. Gather data from Google Analytics and your social media pages to understand your target market. This means you can create an email campaign that appeals to the right people.
Obviously, you need people to sign up to receive your great email campaign. How? Create great opt-ins. Experiment with different types of opt-in forms on different parts of your site, including:
Follow-ups are the meat of the campaign. You need to create a schedule for your emails. But don’t overwhelm your subscribers by emailing too often. You’ll need to get some good planning software. There’s a great variety of choice, such as Asana or Mailchimp.
Hey you! Have you received emails like this before?
Email campaigns with enticing subject lines always work best. Some might use your name or try to draw you in with a question or bold statement.
The subject line is important because it’s the first thing your recipient will see. It determines whether they open the email or delete it immediately. If the subject line is boring or bland, chances are they won’t open it. So, take the time to plan fun, exciting, and intriguing subject lines to get people clicking.
The quality of your email copy is important. It should be well written, clear, and informative. Typos and grammatical errors undermine your business. If you’re not confident in your writing skills, try hiring a freelancer.
Social media is where it’s at – especially if your target audience is young. Millennials are the social media generation, with most having Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts.
For an even younger target audience, you might want to try using Snapchat and TikTok. But how do you use social media for marketing?
It’s pretty straightforward. Create short-form visual content – especially on Instagram. Post regular and often. Use hashtags. Gifs and memes perform well, especially when they’re funny. Make sure your social media content matches your brand. Selling fun products and blogging with a tongue-in-cheek style? Have some jokes on your social pages, too. Selling fitness gear? Keep your page motivational.
You should also reach out to influencers. The clothing brand, Lucy and Yak, is a great example of a small business that started online and regularly collaborated with like-minded ethical influencers. They host yoga videos, painting groups, and other organisations on their Instagram page, all wearing their classic branded dungarees. This creates a buzz around their products through a community of influencers, artists, and creatives.
Image from LucyandYak.com
So, it’s finally time to roll-out your online store. This is a big moment, and you want it to go well. While there are plenty of things to consider, don’t forget that you can continue tweaking even after you’ve rolled-out your online store. The key is to get things moving and start making sales.
Here are a few tips and things to check over before the big launch:
“Growth is never by mere chance; it is the result of forces working together” – James Cash Penney, founder JCPenney.
Graph from smartbusinessmodeler.com
All business owners want to make the most out of their business and see it become as successful as possible. A small business might not always stay small. After you’ve seen some success for your online business, it might be time to think about scaling.
Scaling an online business can be difficult. Business owners often find that after they have decided to start an online business, it gets limited success fairly swiftly. But becoming bigger is harder. You’ll start to compete with bigger brands and people expect more sophisticated services. A small business might get away with a mistake with shipping, but a big business will be criticised – and fast.
Scaling an online business is all about planning and setting goals. For example, you should:
If you’ve already created a small business that’s doing well, scaling shouldn’t be too difficult. However, you will need to anticipate hurdles and have a great plan in place to predict any shortcomings.
Wanting to start an online business is admirable. You’ve seen that the internet holds thousands of opportunities, and you are using the tools available to create a business.
While starting an online business can have its challenges, it’s all about planning, perseverance, and positivity. Many people have done it before. Why can’t you? By following this guide and keeping your eye on the ball, you will undoubtedly see results.
Stop putting it off. You have the skills, knowledge, and tools. It’s time to start an online business.
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