How to Start an Online Business
The Practical Guide
By Bryan Haines, About.com Guide
Eager to launch your online business, but not sure where to start? With improving technology, including excellent online tools and lower costs, there has never been an easier time to put your business online. These 10 steps will get you online in no time.
- Know the Internet
What is your experience with the Internet? Do you still think “MySpace” is your little office under the stairs? Do you raise an eyebrow when your daughter talks about “tweeting”?
Success online requires spending significant time:
- Researching competitors
- Understanding how Web tools work (Twitter, RSS Feeds, etc.)
- Becoming familiar with the culture of the Internet
- Register Your Domain
Your domain is your unique address on the Internet. It is your piece of intellectual property, just like a patent or a trademark. There are numerous registrars (companies that register domains) online where you can purchase your domain.
Some registrars even offer “free” domains with a hosting package or another purchase. While many of these are legitimate, be sure to confirm that the domain is registered in your name. If the domain is registered in the registrars name it may be difficult, if not impossible, to switch to another hosting company without losing your domain.
- Find a Web Host
A Web host is the company that essentially will “rent” you space on their servers to host your website. These companies usually offer domain registration and it’s often easier to have both with the same company.
Web host features such as storage capacity, uptime percentage, domain based email and server security should be evaluated. Also, the ability to host a blog, provide response forms, marketing tools and tools for e-commerce are important criteria to consider when choosing your Web host.
Web Hosting Providers:
- Designing Your Website
This isn’t as difficult as it sounds. You have two options for site creation:
- Create the site yourself, or
- Hire a designer to create it for you.
There are at least three options for creating your own site.
- Many hosting companies offer free site building tools.
- WordPress is a popular free tool – both for websites and stand-alone blogs. It is a very simple install, with many hosting companies having install tools just for WordPress. You won’t need years of study and thick manuals to use this software.
- The other option is to use a high-end program like Dreamweaver by Adobe which will do everything you need, but has a pretty steep learning curve. One of the training manuals for Dreamweaver is an overwhelming 1000 pages thick.
Hiring a professional designer may be a simpler option. This isn’t necessarily expensive. By using services like Craig’s List or Elance.com you can find designers eager for your work. Expect to pay from $50 to $100 to have a designer assist in the install of your free WordPress software on your hosting space. In addition to the visual design work, you’ll need to give significant thought to your site content.
- Online Payments
The days of printing and faxing an order form, or mailing a check are long gone. Online payment acceptance is the foundation of an online business. This allows clients to act on an impulse.
Accepting Online Payments:
Be sure to check for required features and their terms. Minimum monthly fees can affect a start-up business. Its best to choose a capable service provider that allows growth, so you can start with basic services and low cost and upgrade as your volume increases.
- Determine Product Delivery Methods
Depending on your product type, your delivery methods can range from very simple (downloadable information product or an online service) to more complex (shipping of goods via courier, using a fulfillment company). For downloadable products consider an electronic fulfillment company like E-junkie.com.
Fulfillment Companies, for shipping of physical goods:
- Build Site Traffic
Even the most cutting edge design and amazing new product is worthless if it’s buried under millions of other websites. Consider these basic methods of promoting your new site:
- Register with the three major search engines (Google, Bing and Yahoo)
- List your blog in the major blog directories (Blogcatalog.com and Blogarama.com)
- Content marketing, video and audio podcast
- Online Advertising: Google and Facebook ads.
- Direct mailing (print, not email)
- Offline marketing (billboards, company vehicles, stationary, print ads, promotional products)
- Publish an Email Newsletter
Collection of client and prospect email (and other contact information) is critical to the growth of every online business. However, a large and growing list is only valuable when useful and relevant information is sent on a regular basis to these individuals. The goal of an email list is to turn prospects into clients and clients into ambassadors for your company/product.
- Track Growth
Easy (and free) tools are available that allow you to see who clicked where and when. Many Web hosting companies offer traffic analyzing tools.
Google Analytics is a free tool – which tracks, among other things:
- Popular pages
- Traffic sources
- Popular keywords
- Location of clicks
These reports can be customized with a plethora of variables including date range, page views, and length of time on site.
While visitor traffic provides an interesting gauge, what you are really looking for is transactions. Whether you are selling a product or a service, success is measured in sales.
- Other Business Considerations
In addition to the specific online considerations, you’ll need to consider:
- Licensing and trademarks
- Legal business structure
- Business location
- Product warehousing
- Product creation
- Legal matters, among other things