Wondering how to start an online business? Here are 12 easy steps to starting your online business to offer any service or product through a website and social media platforms from initial market research to launching your first campaign. Read on!
1. Write down on paper in as much detail as possible the profile of your ideal customer - geography, income, job title, family status, age, problems.
2. Think about people you know who might fit your customer profile. Are you starting this company to help stay-at-home dads schedule playdates because your friend is in this predicament? Interview him to find out his pain points, what his ideal solution would look like, and what he’d be willing to pay for it. If he has friends or peers with similar needs, interview them as well if you can. You can also go to Facebook and find 5-6 groups where your target audience exists and post an offer to win a free gift card to participate in a 15-minute survey. Get at least 30 people to volunteer (or probably 2X that, because not everyone will follow up). 30 is the magic statistically-relevant number, so that is the minimum number of people you need to survey or interview before you invest in any new business. If you are investing a significant amount of money, you should interview at least 100 people in your target audience.
3. Write down all the detailed questions you are going to ask in the survey to include scaled responses about the proposed product or service (definitely would buy, probably would buy, etc.) at a certain price point, how long they would pay for it, how this would benefit them, what types of content or service they would value, what they would expect for this service, what would cause them to keep or cancel this service, etc.
4. Take all of the data you’ve collected and write down on paper how you can help this ideal customer. Put together the package of what you would offer and what you would charge. Are you looking to charge a monthly subscription fee? Or a one-time payment?
5. Size your market by estimating how many of those people exist and multiplying the response rates as follows: 30% X "probably would buy" and 80% X "definitely would buy". Use these figures to calculate the potential size of your market and multiply by your fee structure to get an idea of potential revenue for the market.
6. Determine your initial upfront costs, fixed recurring costs, and variable recurring costs associated with running this business. Some common costs include: business license fees, office space, equipment (machinery, vehicles, tools, software, etc.), product development, manufacturing, sales, marketing, staffing, and labor.
Once you have an idea of what your startup and monthly costs look like, determine the break-even point (how many customers you need before you break even on your investment and how long it might take you to acquire that many customers). If the numbers look reasonable to you, then move forward with the next steps.
7. Determine what you want to name your business. Do your research on this! You’ll be building a lot of equity behind this name and you don’t want to find out down the road that it’s already trademarked or has a negative connotation among certain groups of people. Once you’ve settled on the perfect name, register it with the state or local county. Your secretary of state’s website is typically a good place to start for the proper paperwork to make your business legal and official.
8. Create a business plan to include a marketing plan and budget. Your marketing plan will likely reference some of the information from your user surveys in Step 2. Where does your target market spend its time? What messaging might they respond to? Review your competitors’ marketing efforts and find a way to differentiate yourself. Identify the marketing channels that you want to use and do some research on their costs to develop a realistic budget. Online and social media advertising can be a good place to start due to the low barrier to entry versus channels such as billboards, TV spots, or magazine ads. A key part of every marketing plan is making sure you know what success looks like and how you’ll measure it—you want to make sure your investment is paying off!
9. Get a logo and set up social media profiles. Commission a designer to create a logo for your business if you don’t have any design experience. A designer’s eye will ensure that your logo looks professional, plus you’ll need specific file types and sizes to use for different applications, from business cards to Facebook cover photos. Speaking of Facebook, now’s the time to set up your social media profiles. Consider what social media sites your users spend their time on and start with a focus on those—you probably don’t need a Snapchat profile if you’re offering online mental health counseling. As you grow your business, keep an open mind to ways that you might market to new audiences or stand out by trying new social media channels (you might drum up some buzz around your pet-sitting business if you create funny pet-based TikTok clips, for example).
10. Create a content plan. Now that you have a social media presence, use it and build it! Users won’t pay much attention to a page that never posts anything, so create a content calendar to maintain regular posting. Try to create content that is useful, actionable, and relevant to your intended audience. For example, if you own an online IT consulting company that serves small businesses, post about how to run a check for the most common computer slowdowns for point of sale systems, then suggest that readers can contact you to fix them. Like your other marketing efforts, you should set attainable goals for your social activity, such as gaining ten new followers each week.
11. Create a website and landing page for people to sign up and purchase the product or service. It should come as no surprise that a website is a must for any online business. Less obvious is the need for a landing page designed to drive conversions. This page usually puts sales wording at the top that describes what you do and why a potential customer should hire you to do it. Below that should be a contact form, a short form for lead generation or an alternative call to action (“shop now,” “download our guide to small business computer setup,” etc.). Your online ads should lead users to this quick and effective page to get them interacting with your company as soon as possible—they can visit the rest of your website if they want more information later. Now is an ideal time to register and verify your business with Google My Business, giving you control over how your business shows up in Maps and Reviews, which will likely give you a slight SEO boost.
12. Find a marketing agency and launch your first advertising campaign! Though your marketing may start off as grassroots, you’ll likely run out of time to manage your marketing as your business (and your marketing budget) grows. That’s when it’s time to hire an expert. Not only will they save you time, they’ll most likely deliver a much greater return on investment when it comes to your advertising, marketing, and content creation efforts, leaving you free to do what you know best.
You’re well on your way to starting a successful online business—good luck. If you need help getting your marketing efforts off the ground or scaling them up, be sure just give us a call!
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