There are many great perks to running a business online. You get to set your own schedule, you are not tied to a particular location, you can work from anywhere in the world, you have access to a worldwide network of customers. And on top of all of that, you can get started with very little capital. But making the leap and starting your own business can be daunting. Here is a step-by-step guide on how to start an online business. It will help you focus on what’s important and turn your idea into a business in just a few weeks time.
Step 1: Figure out what your business will look like
Once you have an idea for your business, it’s time to figure out what your business model will look like.
Rather than spending days and days writing up a 100-page business plan, you can do this very efficiently by using the Business Model Canvas tool.
The Business Model Canvas is a very simple tool that helps you work through nine essential elements of your business (customer segments, value propositions, channels, customer relationships, revenue streams, resources, activities, partnerships, cost structure).
Using this worksheet will allow you to look at your business idea objectively and get very clear on how your business will create and deliver value.
Step 2: Get super clear on your target audience
Establishing who you are targeting is important for many reasons:
- It will help you create services and products that your customers actually want and are willing to pay for;
- Knowing who you are targeting will allow you to craft marketing messages that speak directly to your ideal customers;
- It will make it easier for you to connect with your audience and build a community around your brand.
One way to establish who your ideal customer is is by building a “customer avatar” – a fictional character that reflects the key attributes of your audience. Imagine your ideal customer. Give that person a name. How old is she? Where does she live? Does she have children? What is her job? How does she spend her free time? What are her favourite social media platforms? What is she trying to achieve? Which obstacles is she encountering that are stopping her from achieving these goals?
Get as detailed as possible. The better you understand your target customers the better you will be able to help them and create value for them.
Step 3: Choose a catchy name
Finding a clear, powerful name for your business can be extremely helpful when it comes to branding and marketing efforts.
So it’s time to get creative. Get a pen and paper out and start brainstorming. As you are coming up with names, keep these things in mind:
- Avoid names that are hard to spell or difficult to pronounce;
- Choose a name that conveys something positive and meaningful related to your business;
- Conduct a thorough web search to check that no one is already using the same business name;
- Do a domain search to check that the exact .com domain name is still available.
Once you have come up with a list of 3 to 10 potential names run them by friends, family and trusted colleagues. Get feedback from people who correspond to your target customer to make sure the name resonates with them.
Step 4: Register your domain and sign up for hosting
Once you have nailed down your business name you can go ahead and secure your domain name. Here are a few things to consider when registering your domain:
- Use a domain name that exactly matches your business name;
- Avoid using hyphens in your domain name;
- Choose the .com domain name over other possible alternatives like for example .net or .org. A .com domain name sounds more trustworthy, it is easier to remember and it can make your website seem more authoritative.
There are many website hosting providers to choose from. A great option is Bluehost. It is very affordable, reliable, well integrated with WordPress and their customer service is excellent.
Step 5: Make it legal
First, you need to decide on a business structure. The most common forms of business entities are sole proprietorships, partnerships, corporations and limited liability companies (LLC). The type of structure you choose will depend mainly on liability, taxation and the level of record-keeping required. This article gives a great overview of the factors to consider in order to select the most appropriate structure for your business.
The process, requirements and fees for filing business formation documents will vary from country to country and will depend on the business structure you have selected. Most government websites offer all the information you need on this topic.
Step 6: Build your website
Before you start designing your website you need to install a CMS, or content management system. A CMS is a platform that allows you to post and edit content online. One of the best CMS platforms out there is WordPress. It is one of the most widely used system, it is very user friendly (you don’t need coding experience to design a site with WordPress) and it is extremely versatile.
Pick a theme
After you have installed WordPress you will need to choose a “theme”. A theme is a collection of templates that are used to define the appearance of your website. Once you have picked a theme you will be able to customise your site by modifying individual elements within the theme. If you have never designed a website before this may all sound a bit complex but once you get started you will quickly realise that it is very straightforward. And as I mentioned before you don’t need to know how to code to design a website with WordPress.
When it comes to designing your website, you have a few options:
- You can pick a free theme within the WordPress library. This is the cheapest option but it means that you might need to do more customisation yourself to make your website look good;
- You can use a Premium WordPress theme (my personal favourite is the Divi Theme by Elegant Themes). Premium themes typically cost between $10 and $200. Premium themes usually look sicker than free themes. Another advantage is that they are SEO-optimised;
- You can hire someone to design your website for you. This option will probably cost you around $1500 – $3000 but if you have zero web design experience and if you are short of time, it might be an investment worth making.
Keep it simple
A few tips to keep in mind as you are designing your website:
- Keep it simple. You don’t need a spectacular, fancy pants design. The priority should be to get your message across and make it very easy for customers to understand what your business is about and what you are selling;
- Make it easy for visitors to navigate your website so that they can find what they are looking for as quickly as possible. You can do this by adding menus in the page headers and footers and by adding a “Start Here” page;
- Choose one or two colours that you use consistently throughout your website;
- Include an email list opt-in to collect email addresses. This can be done very easily using MailChimp.
Step 7: Set up social media channels
If you are building an online business, social media will most likely be an integral part of your online marketing strategy. Social media will not only allow you to share and promote your services and products but it will also allow to interact and engage with your customers and target audience.
Rather than trying to be present on every single platform, select the social media channels that suit your type of content and your audience best (refer to Step 2!). For example, if you are trying to build an adventure travel company, a highly visual platform like Instagram may be a good choice to showcase your trip offerings.
Once you have selected which channels to go for, spend some time optimising your social media profiles:
- Choose a standout profile picture – either your business logo or a great headshot;
- Optimise your profile picture and cover image size for each network;
- Make it easy for first-time visitors to understand what your business is about;
- Fill in all the profile information fields.
Step 8: Launch!
Congratulations – you are now ready to launch!
A little side note here. Launching your business is most probably going to feel scary. Doubts will probably start creeping in. You may start thinking things like “I don’t have enough experience”, “Who am I to start a business”, “What if no one likes it?”. But remember that as uncomfortable as this feels right now, this feeling of fear is a sign that you are stepping outside of your comfort zone and pushing yourself. And that’s a good thing.
So. Once you are ready, launch your website by sharing it on your personal and business social media profiles. Invite your friends and followers to “like” your page. Send emails and direct messages to your contacts to ask them to visit your website and to help spread the word. And include a link to your website in your email signature.
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