Today, hardly anyone does not know how to use a computer and the internet. Considering this, it is not surprising that most companies do their utmost to ensure that they are available online. For some, it is the main source of commissions and orders, while others use it to supplement their main business.
The unlimited opportunities the internet gives made way for the emergence of a new type of business – a fully online business. This can be a website, an online store, or even a small blog. And starting one is easier than it seems.
To start your own business, you don’t need to have a large sum of money, a property, or even a team of employees. You can do everything on your own, and it will not take more than a couple of days. More on that, below.
Why You Should Start an Online Business
Simply put, the internet is a virtually unlimited space where you can earn money and grow a business. The eCommerce market itself is estimated to be worth $5.5 billion, and it is growing every day.
On top of that, an online business does not have geographical boundaries. You can sell your products or services to anyone, no matter where they live. The same goes for the place you work – as long as you have a computer with a relatively stable internet connection, you can do your job from anywhere in the world.
What Makes a Successful Online Business?
It’s safe to assume that most advice on business is universal. The first thing you have to do is to find a market niche that needs to be filled with a product or service. This way, you greatly increase the chances of becoming a market leader, or at least a significant player.
A great business idea is not enough, though. Successful online businesses thrive on three pillars – effective marketing, excellent customer service, and sustainable profit margins.
Your marketing efforts, from running social media accounts to search engine optimization, should attract potential customers to your website or online store.
Once they land on your site, you greet them with a user-friendly design, helpful product descriptions, and an easy checkout process. After they become your customers, you make sure to deliver on your promises.
With time, your online business should generate enough revenue to cover all your expenses and leave you with a profit. From there, it is all about reinvesting this profit back into the business to fuel its growth.
Types of Online Businesses
There are many ways in which you can categorize online businesses, from the type of product or service they offer to the market in which they operate. Yet, the most important distinction is usually between online businesses targeting regular customers and those targeting other businesses.
Although they may not be as visible to the general public, online businesses operating in the B2B model make up a great portion of the internet economy. These mostly focus on providing services – from software and IT solutions to professional consulting, financial analysis, and marketing.
If you have expertise in a certain field, think of how you could package your services in an online business. Certain jobs, typically those related to IT, are perfect to be performed remotely. You can easily create a website, list your services and find clients from all over the world.
eCommerce websites are the first thing that comes to mind when we think of online business, and it comes as no surprise. There’s an abundance of them on the internet, with numerous brick-and-mortar stores moving online as well.
eCommerce covers anything from selling physical goods to digital products like e-books and music files, as well as services like online courses and professional advice. If you have a product to sell to regular customers, then an eCommerce website might be the right choice for you.
How to Start an Online Business
To a certain extent, starting an online business is no different than opening a brick-and-mortar one. You need to have a great idea, do your research, put together a solid business plan, and find the right location – or website.
Of course, some of the steps you have to take are unique to the online world. For starters, you need a great website optimized for search engines.
So, if you’re wondering how to start an online business, here is everything you need to know.
Find a Niche
As mentioned above, the first step is to find a niche with a problem to solve. Many online business ideas fail because they try to invent a product that caters only to the inventor’s needs. This ultimately leads to a lot of wasted time, money, and effort.
If you want to be successful with your online business, you need to find a problem you can solve with your skills, knowledge, and experience. It also needs to be something you’re passionate about – because it won’t do much good to work on a business you can’t stand.
But how exactly do you find your market? Well, there’s no one right answer to that question. Some businesses owe their success to a eureka moment, while others came to be after a long, painstaking research process. Either way, you need to be thorough in your market research if you want your business to stand a chance.
Choose a Business Model
While researching your market, you probably already have a general idea of what type of online business you want it to be. Here are some of the most common online business models you can choose from:
- eCommerce stores – arguably the most common online business model, eCommerce involves setting up a storefront that sells physical or digital products. In most cases, it requires an inventory, which is why it’s more expensive to set up than other types of online businesses.
- Dropshipping – an alternative approach to online stores, dropshipping involves sourcing products from other manufacturers and selling them to customers. Typically, you don’t have to worry about storage, as you ship your products directly from the suppliers.
- Affiliate marketing – as an affiliate marketer, you promote other companies’ products and services on your own website. In return, you get a commission for every sale that comes through your site.
- Membership sites – membership websites are the most common in the online courses industry, as they offer exclusive content to their subscribers. They may also come with other perks, such as coaching sessions or private groups.
- SaaS (Software as a Service) – this type of online business focuses on selling software solutions that customers can access online. It’s popular in the marketing, HR, and accounting industries – but also in customer-oriented ones, such as video streaming or online dating.
- Consulting services – this is a very versatile business model since it can encompass anything from coaching and law assistance to personal training and event planning. Depending on how in-depth your services are, you might be able to offer them entirely online.
Research Business Ideas
Now that you have picked your niche and business model, it’s time to come up with specific business ideas. For this purpose, you can use a variety of tools and resources – Google Trends is a good place to start.
Look at what people in your niche are talking about, and think about products or services you could provide that would make their lives easier. It’s also a good idea to look at the competition – if there already are similar businesses out there, it means there’s demand for what you want to offer.
Decide on Funding
It is true that starting an online business requires less capital than starting a brick-and-mortar business. However, it also takes time to build an audience and make money – and you may not want to risk not having any income during that time.
That’s why you should start thinking about how to finance your online enterprise before you launch it. If you already have savings you want to devise for your business, that’s wonderful. But if you don’t, there are other options open to you. Seeking out investors or taking out a small business loan are both viable options.
If your product lies on the more creative side, you can also look into crowdfunding. Sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo can help you raise the money you need to get your business off the ground with the help of people who believe in your online business idea. Think of it as the first step in your social media marketing efforts.
Understand Online Business Laws
Unfortunately, the freedom associated with online businesses goes only so far. You need to make sure you’re in compliance with the law, or you risk getting shut down and facing severe penalties. To begin with, you’re still required to obtain all the licenses and permits your business needs – those vary from business to business, so it’s no use generalizing.
Apart from that, you need to take care of taxes, data privacy, copyright, and intellectual property issues, as well as compliance with international laws. To make sure you’re not missing anything, you can always consult with a business lawyer. This way, you can avoid spending long hours doing paperwork and focus on making your small business idea a success.
Conduct Market Research
It is a good measure to conduct market research to better understand your target audience – who they are, what their needs are, where they spend their time online, and so on. This step is crucial for developing your marketing strategy, as well as for creating products and services that will appeal to your target market.
Start by analyzing the data you already have, such as your website traffic and social media analytics. You can also use Google AdWords to find out what keywords people are using to search for businesses like yours. If you have a direct competitor, you may also want to analyze their product descriptions, website copy, and marketing campaigns to get some insights into what works for them.
Once you’ve gathered all this data, you can start building buyer personas – fictional representations of your ideal customers. Such generalized profiles can help you figure out the most significant pain points your target market is dealing with and how you can include them in your business strategy.
Define Your Target Audience
Conducting market research gives you the base you need to start defining your target audience. From there, you can start narrowing down your target market by demographics and psychographics.
Demographic data includes age, gender, job title, income level, education level, and other socioeconomic characteristics that define the wants and needs of your target market. Products and marketing strategies aimed at middle-aged women, for example, will be very different from those aimed at young men.
Psychographic data includes personality traits, values, interests, and lifestyle choices. It can help you create marketing messages that resonate with your target market on an emotional level.
Only a good combination of demographic and psychographic data will give you the ability to affect the spending habits of your potential customers – or, in other words, to get them to buy what you’re selling.
Evaluate Your Products
The next step is to evaluate what your small business will offer. Your previous research should give you a clear idea of what your target market wants and needs, so now you need to figure out how the product or service you offer caters to that demand.
To do that, you need to assess your product’s strengths and weaknesses. Consider the budget your target market has for this type of product and the level of competition in your niche. In the end, you want your business to be profitable, so make sure you can offer a product or service that people will actually want to pay for.
Write a Business Plan
The steps above are not listed in any particular order, but they all need to be done before you can write your business plan. Once you’ve gathered all the information, it’s time to put pen to paper – or finger to keyboard, if you prefer.
The business plan is the foundation of any successful online business. It will help you validate your ideas and assess your business’s feasibility. It will also give you a clear idea of the progress made and what you need to do next.
This is not the time to be modest – describe your business idea in as much detail as possible. Write down your goals, objectives, and strategies – everything that will help you move forward. Don’t forget to include market analysis and competitive research in your business plan. Those will change over time, so be sure to revise your plan regularly and update your business strategy as needed.
Develop Your Brand Identity
You can’t just enter the market with a product or a service and expect to be noticed. These days, online customers are bombarded with marketing messages at every turn, so you need a way to stand out from the crowd.
Your brand identity is what will make your business unique and recognizable. But it’s more than just the name or logo (albeit those are important as well) – it’s everything that makes up your brand.
Before you can start developing your website and online presence, you need to know what kind of message you want to send. Are you selling luxury goods or affordable, everyday products? Are you aiming at a wide audience or a specific niche?
Your brand design, colors, voice and tone, messaging, and overall identity will be based on the answer to these questions.
Set Up the Website
Creating a website for your business is the most important part of starting an online business. This is where you’ll interact with your target market and turn them into customers – so be sure to do it right.
Your website should have a clean, modern design and be user-friendly, regardless of whether you run an online store or a consulting business. If a potential customer can’t find the information they need within seconds, chances are they will move on to your competitor’s site.
You also need to make sure that your online business website is fast. In fact, you should pay just as much attention to the back end of your site as to the front end. A well-designed, fast website is essential for a good user experience and SEO success. This is why you should consider outsourcing your website development to professionals with years of experience.
Devise Marketing Strategies
One thing is to have a website and another is to attract people to it. Your marketing efforts should encompass various strategies that target your potential customers and draw them to your website.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
SEO is the process of optimizing your website for search engines so that your site shows up higher in search results. The first thing to do is conduct keyword research and identify those that attract your target market. Include these keywords in your website content to improve your search rankings and attract organic traffic.
This, however, doesn’t mean that you should stuff your content with keywords. This will only damage your SEO and reputation. Write for the benefit of your readers, not for search engines.
If you manage to get your website visitors to leave their email addresses, you can create a valuable database and use it to engage with them. Chances are that a person who provides you with their email address is interested in your products or services.
To turn that interest into a sale, send them regular emails to provide value and keep them informed of the latest deals. You can also set up automated marketing campaigns that encourage customers to buy from you. These include cart abandonment emails, win-back campaigns, and upsell emails.
Pay-per-click Advertising (PPC)
Pay-per-click advertising is a form of online marketing where you pay to show up in search results. This is a very effective marketing tool as your site will land higher in search results, thus increasing your traffic.
Indeed, those results will be marked with the “Ad” tag, but if you manage to write compelling ads, you will still be able to attract clicks without annoying your prospective customers.
When you run a business online, social media marketing is a must – simply because that’s where a huge chunk of your target market spends most of their time.
You can use social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to promote your products or services. Create engaging posts and share them with your followers who will in turn share them with their networks if they find value in them.
Create Relevant Content
The website of your online business isn’t just a pretty business card – it should also be packed with high-quality, relevant content. After all, that’s what will keep visitors coming back for more and eventually turn them into loyal customers.
The content should be well-written, informative, and engaging, with a clear focus on your target market. If you run an online store, for example, your product descriptions should be clear and concise, without any marketing fluff. For a law firm, on the other hand, your website content should be designed to educate potential clients about your services.
Of course, you don’t need to devise your precious time to write all the content yourself. You can always hire a freelance writer or a content marketing agency to help you out. Typically, they will produce a content strategy for your website, so you know exactly what needs to be written and when to both engage with your target audience and improve your website performance.
Plan Your Sales
The pricing strategy you choose will have a direct impact on your sales. Make sure you take the time to plan it out carefully.
Consider your target market and what they’re willing to pay for your product or service. In a saturated market, you may have to undercut your competitors to have any chance of success. On the other hand, if you have a unique product or aim at the premium market, you can instead focus on the value you provide.
You may also want to take a look at competition-based strategies – you don’t always have to lowball your prices to succeed. Sometimes, it’s about turning your strong points into a selling point.
Establish Your Reputation
When operating locally, you only have to worry about the competition in your area. The internet gives you a chance to reach a wider audience, with the downside of a significantly higher level of competition. To stand out when running a business online, you need to establish your reputation.
One way to do this is to create valuable content that helps your target market. Remember that your goal is to be an authoritative source of information, so make sure you do your research. You should also focus on customer service. Respond promptly to queries and complaints and always be professional. In the end, you want your customers to remember you as a brand they can trust.
Keep on Growing
It is easy to fall into a trap of stagnation when running a small business online. After all, you have a lot of day-to-day responsibilities to take care of, which can make it difficult to find the time to try out new strategies or experiment with your marketing.
However, if you want your business to thrive in the long run, you need to keep on growing. Make sure to keep an eye out for new opportunities, and always be ready to seize them. This way, you can make your business even more successful in the future.
For instance, if you offer consulting services, you may want to start offering an online course to complement your offering or start working on a blog and cooperating with other businesses relevant to your field. Just as importantly, you should also be willing to embrace change and adapt to the new world of business.
How to Start an Online Business FAQs
How Do I Start My Own Online Business With No Money?
This is probably the biggest issue with online business ideas – financing your venture. The good news is that there are plenty of ways to do it. You can start small and run a blog first, with affiliate marketing as your main source of income. Once you’ve built a following and have some traffic coming in, you can start selling products and open yourself up to other income streams.
However, if you feel that your idea is worth investing in from the get-go, there are options for that as well. You can share your business idea online, create a few prototypes, and start a crowdfunding campaign. Once you’ve raised the necessary funds, you can start working on your online business full-time, giving back to those who believed in you and your idea from the beginning.
What Is the Best Online Business You Can Start?
The most lucrative business is the one that offers a unique product or service that people need or want. It’s also a business that has a clear understanding of its target market and what it is looking for. Yet, not everyone aims to build the next Amazon. Sometimes, the best online business is the one that’s the most personal, the one that allows you to tap into your creativity and use your unique talents and skills.
So, if you want a quick profit, you may want to start an e-Commerce business – an online store that sells products or services and ships them to customers. Such a business requires a bit of start-up capital to get going, but it can be profitable quickly if done right.
But if you are on the more professional side and want to offer your knowledge and expertise to others, you can start an online consulting business and offer your expertise to clients from all over the world. This type of business is perfect for those who know how to excel in particular areas, whether it’s web design, online marketing, social media, or even writing.
What Can You Sell Online?
While on the surface the answer to this question is obvious – anything, as long as it’s legal – there are some important nuances to consider. First, not every product is a good fit for online selling. If your product is highly perishable, for example, you may not want to bother with the logistics of shipping it. Although possible, you’d be better off selling it in a brick-and-mortar store or at a farmer’s market.
Another factor to consider is the regulations surrounding your product. In most countries, the same laws concern online and offline sales of electronics, pharmaceuticals, age-restricted items like alcohol and tobacco, and other products. And so, importing certain goods to outprice your local competition, only to have them confiscated at the border, is not the best way to start an online business.
Is Dropshipping a Good Business Idea?
Dropshipping is a form of online business in which products are sourced from a supplier and then sold to customers. Dropshipping is a popular business model for new entrepreneurs as it is relatively simple to set up and run – sometimes all you need are a few social media accounts and a website. And because you don’t need to keep any inventory, it can be a very low-cost business to run.
However, there are also some downsides to dropshipping. Because you are relying on a supplier to provide products and fulfill orders, there can be communication and shipping delays. This can lead to unhappy customers and negative reviews, which can damage your business. In addition, because you don’t have control over the product or the shipping, your margins may be slim.
So, is dropshipping a good online business idea? It depends. If you want to make an extra buck selling and reselling premium items without much hassle, then it might be a good option for you. Such businesses, however, are very dependent on trends, so you need to be prepared for the fact that your business might not be around for long.
Manager with experience in leading team of software developers and testers during implementation of internal and external IT projects.