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. 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.
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
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
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
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
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