How to Start an Online Business

When learning how to start a business online, follow this comprehensive step by step guide to ensure the best results.

7 Steps to Start a Business Online

1. Start with the market first and then proceed to the product. What is the market looking for? What does it want? Once you know what people are searching for you can then proceed to the product.

So find an online demographic that is looking for something but may not be finding exactly what they want. To do this, you need to figure out which market you’d like your business to be in. This means you’re going to have to do a little bit of sleuthing. Figure out what they want, what kind of things strike a chord in them, and go from there.

This doesn’t mean that you have to know everything there is to know about them. That could take years and years of research. Instead, learn as you go along. That said, you should care about the market, too. Don’t simply choose the one you think might offer the highest yield. Instead, choose the one you too have an emotional investment in—the ideas will come much more naturally if you do.

One look thing to look for when determining your market is whether or not there is a lot competition in it. If there is, that’s good. It means people are steadily paying money for those products. It is tempting, of course, to find a market where there isn’t as much competition. Don’t do this, because if you do you’re walking away from money. You know you’ve found a market that is willing to put out money, and one that can support multiple similar products.

Luckily, with the Internet going full steam ahead, this type of research is very easily done in this day and age with keywords, forums, and most visited sites. There are a lot of tools at disposal for the modern marketer. Once you’ve done your homework, you can then create a product and do it better than your competition. After all, you already know what people want, and with a product to base yours off of, you can determine what people don’t like about your competitors. Fix it, make it better, and convince people they need what you have.

2. Once you have a product for a defined market, the next step is to have copy that motivates your buyer.

There are all sorts of formulas out there that do this. Anyone who says it isn’t a science is sorely mistaken. The general gist of all of them is:

  • Catch their eye with a fascinating headline.
  • Point out a problem you know they, the buyers, have and explain how your products fixes that problem.
  • Explain how you are an expert in the solving of that problem.
  • Give testimonials of people who have used what you’re selling and who have found it to make their lives easier.
  • Further talk about the product and how it again will make the buyer’s life easier.
  • Explain how your product is durable and long lasting (an ‘only one purchase needed’ kind of pitch). Mainly, talk about the legitimacy of your product.
  • Create a sense of necessity; put a little pressure on the buyer to purchase then and there.
  • Lastly, directly ask the buyer to purchase your product.

All of your copy, regardless of how you apply the formula, needs to answer the single, most important question to the buyer: What are you giving the buyer? Or, how is your product making his or her life better? If all of your copy does that, you’re golden.

3. Make your website.

Easier said than done, right? They say you’ve only got five seconds to get your buyer’s attention. In truth, even that number is inflated. Most people only give a passing glance at a website before they determine whether or not they should hit the backspace.

Here’s where all of that research comes into play again. What kind of design is going to appeal most to your market? What kind of pictures will appeal the most to them? How text heavy will they allow you to be? If you’re unsure, take a stroll through your competitor’s sites. Determine what they’re doing right, what they’re doing wrong, and go from there when designing your own.

Regardless of what route you go, you’re going to want to keep it user friendly. Don’t make it difficult to purchase your product! Only use one, or at most two fonts (preferably on a white background), and make navigating simple and consistent. Research goes back and forth on collecting email addresses as soon as a buyer enters your website. Too soon and the buyer can’t leave fast enough, but if it’s too late in the game, he or she will think they understand what you’re offering and not think you have anything else to give. It might take some experimenting on your part to determine when and where to get emails.

As for actually building your website: there are many options out there. Wordpress is by far the most popular right now. It’s free, they have thousand of templates to choose from, and it’s easy to use. Don’t think that it’s visually boring, though. On the contrary, all of their templates look very professional when all is said and done.

Another option to go with is Dreaweaver (an Adobe product). If you’re new to it and don’t have any training whatsoever in the construction of websites, this option may be too complex for you to start off. That said, Dreamweaver websites are some of the best ones on the internet right now.

You don’t have to do design your website on your own. It’s a pretty widely known skill these days, so finding someone to do it for you won’t break the bank. You can affordable professionals on sites like Upwork, craigslist, or even fiverr. Even if your bank account is running a little low, consider hiring someone else. Your time is valuable and can be better spent elsewhere.

4. Don’t wait for your website to start pulling in web surfers. It will take too long waiting for it to happen naturally. Instead, consider going the pay-per-click route.

Going the pay-per-click route is a smart way to get web traffic. For one, people don’t have to find it. It will show up on their search pages almost instantly. Secondly, it gives you an opportunity to test out different ads—figuring out which words pull in more traffic, which pictures were bigger eye-catchers, etc. Once you figure out what works, you can put those pictures and specific words into your website. Doing this will help your sales, and help your site work its way up the search rankings.

5. Write daily blogs that you provide for free on your website.

This helps establish you as an expert in your field, and the people who read it will be inclined to share it via Twitter, Facebook, or any other social media site. That’s free advertising and will make people want to visit your site more to see what else you have to share. The more they visit it, the more they’ll be inclined to spend money there.

6. Utilize email marketing from your opt-in list.

The people who sign up to receive emails are the ones who are truly passionate about your product. These people will open up your emails, and many of them will make purchases because of them. It’s definitely a win-win scenario because, for one, you’ve got a group of people whom you know want to hear more from you and would be glad to hear more about special offers, and secondly, it’s free to you. It doesn’t cost you a thing to whip up an email.

7. Utilize back-end sales and upselling as much as possible.

It’s way more difficult to get a new customer than it is to maintain a previous one. Offer deals and thank you coupons to buyers who have previously bought from you, and have products that complement what they have already purchased. Almost 36 percent of buyers will return after their first purchase.

The different types of online businesses

Bypass eBay and Etsy with an eCommerce site where you sell directly to customers. You’re in total control. The site looks and reads exactly as you want it to, and everything is customized by you alone. Of course, this means a lot more work on your part! Just be sure to make it as user friendly as you can, and that you have the best shopping cart to suit your business needs (there are many to choose from, such as X-Cart or Shopify).

Don’t have time to make a website from the ground up? Go with a tried and true website such as Etsy.

However, it does depend on what you’re selling. Is it handcrafted and artistic? Or is it mass-produced and made out of plastic? If it is the latter, you’re going to have some problems. For one, Etsy doesn’t like to have products that are made in a factory and are mass-produced for mass consumption. Secondly, it’s just not the market they hit. People who shop on Etsy aren’t going to be interested in that kind of product.

Ebay: Kind of like Etsy, but really it’s own thing.

Like Etsy, with Ebay you don’t have to worry about what your page looks like or anything like that. Just list your product, attach some pictures, and have apt, well written/ persuasive sales copy to go with it. There is a percentage you have to pay for every product you sell, but there aren’t any rules about whether or not the what you’re selling is handmade. It may sound like a lot negative marks, but consider how much traffic goes through sites like Etsy and Ebay on a daily basis.

What if you’re not selling anything physical?

It depends on what you’re selling exactly. If you’re a designer, be it website design or anything else, Etsy or Fiverr are good options. However, for everything else, whether it’s research or consulting services, crafting your own website is the best bet. You’re offering a unique service, after all, so your website should be unique, too.

Plan Your Online Business

As with anything new, you need a plan before jump in and start making decisions. Have a thorough examination of the market you want to target, a step-by-step plan for how you’re going to fund everything—you’ll need a plan for when your business is doing poorly, and a plan for when it’s doing really well (many businesses have gone under because they didn’t know how to properly deal with backorders). You may also want to consider going through a SWOT analysis (when an outside organization comes in and discusses a company’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats).

Write Your Online Business Plan

It doesn’t have to be a crazy, in depth plan. In fact, the simpler/ leaner it is, the better. This way it revolves only around the core aspects of company. Things start to heat up, and you realize your dream is getting bigger than you ever imagined, then you can go back and start bulking it up to pitch to bankers or investors. For right now, while you’re still at the very beginning, keep it simple and to the bare necessities.

Register Your Domain Name and Set Up Your Website

If Ebay or Etsy isn’t for you, then you know you’re going to have to the eCommerce route, which means you’re going to need to secure your domain name ASAP. Don’t wait on this. Just because the name was available a couple of months ago, does not mean it’s available now. Also, don’t forget, that going with a web developer is not nearly as expensive as it used to be.

If you need help learning more about how to start a business online, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel’s marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Stripe, and Twilio.