6 Must-Dos When Starting an Online Business
Today’s digital e-commerce tools make starting an online business easy for pretty much anybody with an idea, a computer, and online access. But launching a successful online business requires a bit more effort than merely opening an e-commerce store. Follow these six steps to get your online store up, running, and making money.
(But first! If you’re new to online entrepreneurship, check out a primer on tips for naming and branding plus other basics of starting an e-commerce business model.)
1. Choose the Right E-commerce Platform
Successful online business owners know that one of the most important decisions to make when starting an online business is which platform you choose for your online store.
Some new businesses like to start small. They test the viability of their e-commerce business idea by creating a store on an existing plug-and-play marketplace, like eBay, Etsy, Amazon, or Poshmark. This way, you don’t need to know how to build a website or create a shopping flow for selling your own products.
For these easy entries, you just need to follow their step-by-step instructions to upload products, design your storefront using their included tools and free digital graphic design tools, and pay a fee for the benefits of being part of a larger selling community. You won’t get the design flexibility that comes with building your own online store. But you also don’t have to sweat the startup costs associated with building your own website from scratch.
Other newbies like to design their own custom store right out of the gate. Fortunately, you’re not entirely on your own here either. E-commerce software like Shopify allows you to use their platform or create a freestanding store (and corresponding blog) and use their well-established shopping, checkout, and shipping functionality for an ongoing fee.
Open-source WordPress has more flexibility; it’s the way to go if you want a custom-designed website that can accommodate shopping along with a wide variety of other features. It also has more costs; you’ll have to pay for website hosting, web design, software licenses for everything from shopping carts to credit card transactions (from the likes of WooCommerce and Stripe), and a freelancer to build, design, and maintain your website if you’re not comfortable doing it yourself.
Some small businesses, and even large ones, do both; they manage their own physical storefront and use the aforementioned online marketplaces as satellite sales opportunities.
Only you know where you want to start with your own business. Do your homework on which type of platform is best for you and get it going.
2. Clearly Brand Your Shop
You get just one chance to make a first impression. If your first impression keeps the interest of potential customers, you get additional chances to show them why they should do business with you. This is where branding comes in.
Since you’re not standing next to your customer, holding their hand through the purchasing process and showing them how wonderful you and your offerings are, your branding needs to do all the work for you.
Whether you’re selling handmade crafts, home appliances, or power tools, strong branding (conveying your brand personality through images, design, fonts, text, and tone of voice) lends a sense of place, personality, and humanity to your storefront. Done right, it also creates a perception of professionalism and trustworthiness and consequently attracts loyalty from consumers who share your values and interests.
Hopefully you’ve already conceptualized your brand, as you’ll want to extend it to your e-commerce site. If you haven’t, learn how to create one here.
Once your brand fundamentals are clearly defined, you can explore all the ways you can infuse your storefront with compelling branding. Then you can design the following branded elements for your online business using easy, free online tools:
If you don’t have one already, there’s no need to hire a freelance designer to craft a business logo. Free online logo design tools make it nearly effortless to create your own.
Your website banner is the first thing people see when they come to your website or marketplace homepage. The colors, images, and words you use here can convey strong messages about who you are and what you offer. Use a free banner-making tool to craft your own.
Your online business can’t tantalize with window dressing or personalized engagement like it can with brick-and-mortar shopping. So, you’ve got to create a sense of style, unity, and intentionality through the ways you display your product collection.
Part of this is achieved through the products themselves; they should make sense as a collection and underscore your brand. But also important is how you present the products you’re selling, both visually and through the words you use to name and describe them.
At a minimum your product images should look clean, clear, and professional with great lighting. If relevant, you should include multiple images showing various angles of each product you sell (video is great too).
From here, making your images on-brand is simple: be consistent or complementary in lighting and backgrounds, and add on-brand graphics if and when appropriate. See how easily it is to convey that the plum tarts are new on the graphic above? You can customize your images too if you use a free graphic design template).
Also, describe your products with text that conveys a tone of voice that fits your brand, appeals to your customers and their interests, and tells customers the product specs as well as the problem it solves for the consumer (“These individual spiced plum tarts are perfect dinner party finales—with no baking!”).
Finally, make sure to name your products for optimal SEO and interweave keywords throughout your product descriptions to take advantage of the free traffic that comes with showing up in search engines.
3. Leverage Email Marketing
Regardless of the e-commerce platform you use, there should be a way to collect email addresses. Yes, you’ll secure the addresses of customers through the purchasing process. But you can also add a newsletter sign-up link or popup somewhere very visible on your site to collect contacts for potential customers (“Sign for special sale notifications!” “Join free to learn our gardening secrets!” You get the idea.)
Even if they haven’t shopped with you, consumers who have already found their way to your site are your best leads because they’re already looking for what you’re offering.
Don’t miss the chance to get their email so you can contact them later. Instead, build your email list and conduct regular email marketing campaigns to keep your brand top of mind.
Make sure to space out the timing of your emails so you don’t overwhelm your customers, and be sure they feature important news content that delivers value, including announcements of sales, new products, seasonal specials, and tips or how-tos that are relevant to your brand.
4. Take Advantage of Social Media Marketing
Social media channels such as Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter are critical digital marketing tools, where you can optimize content marketing strategies.
Even before you launch your online shop, you should create corresponding social media channels. Start filling them with branded content so you can leverage the awesomeness that is free social media marketing the minute your shop is up and running. Don’t forget to use free online social media graphics templates so you can customize your images and make them look their best.
Post regularly, make sure to tag your content so more people find it through online searches, and pay attention to posts that get you higher conversion rates (i.e., traffic to your site that leads to purchases).
Fine-tune your content marketing strategy based on what triggers the most engagement with your customers and you’ll see positive results.
5. Provide Epic Customer Service
If you’ve ever engaged in exhaustive email or text exchanges with remote customer support staff, you know that even great products can’t make up for poor customer service.
What you might not know is that the bar is so low now, providing good, prompt and compassionate customer service can instantly turn a customer or even a potential customer into a loyal supporter.
Respond quickly, personally, and courteously to all customer service requests and you’re already ahead of the crowd.
6. Explore Growth Opportunities
Once you’ve launched your online shop and have your products, branding, SEO, email, social media, and customer service working smoothly, you’re off and running.
You may find that you’ve got your hands full already. But if you have the time, consider exploring additional digital marketing and advertising opportunities. The following methods can get your business in front of new potential customers without you having to even get out of your office chair:
- Affiliate marketing: There are lots of bloggers and small businesses out there that are happy to promote your products or business in exchange for a small percentage of any sales generated from their recommendation. On the flip side, you can generate revenue as an affiliate if you have a natural spot to market others’ products on your site. Study up on affiliate marketing and see if there’s a place for it in your online business.
- Influencer marketing: When a respected blogger or YouTuber recommends a product, their followers listen. If the product they recommend is yours, you’re psyched when you see an instant spike in sales and new followers. It might be time to reach out to social media influencers who share your target market! Most influencers are happy to promote products for a fee (the fee can vary from free product to tens of thousands of dollars depending on the size of their following). Start small: Try out one or two influencers that speak to your audience and measure the ROI.
- LinkedIn: While it’s still a job networking site, LinkedIn is also a place where people connect with potential customers and like-minded groups. Create and post to your LinkedIn account and join groups and conversations; it’ll establish your brand as a player in your space.
- Google Ads: If you get good at tagging your content for optimal SEO, some consumers will find you through an online search. But the more crowded the space, the harder it is to get your content to rank high enough to be on the front page of search results. Paid advertising via Google Ads can put your content in front of your exact target market.
- Social media advertising: It doesn’t cost much to boost your posts on social media platforms so they are put in front of your target demographic. The expense may be worth it if you want to get more followers or drive traffic to your website.
Do all of the above and you’ll see real results on an ongoing basis. Maybe you’ll even generate enough revenue to hire someone to help you with your ongoing marketing efforts!