More and more people are looking to the internet to secure their future. Driven by rising redundancies, job uncertainty and a genuine desire, in some cases, for a healthier work:life balance, people are finding that the internet often represents the perfect solution. So what do you need to think about if you’re planning to start your online business? Here’s a good “starter” checklist:
1. Really get to really know your way around the internet. It may sound obvious, but one of the first things you need to do is make sure you’re really comfortable and familiar with the internet. After all, you wouldn’t go to a completely unfamiliar location and decide to start a business, now would you? Try to think of the internet as a physical place to trade and think about your website as your physical shop where you display your product or service in its very best light at all times. Thinking this way will help make cyberspace seem more “real”. Also, get familiar with all the tools that’ll make your life online easier. Google is a great place to start and offers (amongst many other things) pay-per-click advertising as well as powerful website analysis tools that’ll really help you launch and control your business. So, before you do anything else, make it your priority to know your way around that powerful tool we call the internet!
2. Plan your internet business with the same detail you would a “physical” business. Again, this may sound odd, but one of the biggest mistakes made by people when they set up their online business is that they don’t put the same effort into the planning or the setting out of their offering; they ignore the need for defined customer service standards and they foolishly think an online business will promote itself! They couldn’t be further wrong. Only too many online businesses fail because their owners fail to plan. Don’t be caught in this trap. Plan, plan, plan.
3. Decide on a name for your business. Once you’ve planned your business with a fine tooth comb, you can then get down to the more exciting details like what you want to call your business. The name of your business might reflect what you’re planning to offer; it might speak about you personally or it might be something totally “off the wall”. Either way it’s really important when deciding the name of your business that you make sure that the corresponding domain name is available. There’s no point in thinking up a great name for your online business only to discover that someone else has already registered the domain name.
4. Plan your business promotion. Although we’ve already touched on planning in point 2. above, planning the promotion of your business deserves a mention in its own right. If you think about it, opening an online business is a bit like opening a back street shop in a residential area of a huge city if you don’t promote it. In other words, if you don’t promote your online business, the only people likely to visit it are people you tell about it and people who stumble over it by accident. This simply isn’t enough to make your business work. You must decide how you will promote your business both on and off-line. Online, you may decide to invest in a Google or Facebook AdWords campaign; you may decide that linking to networks is the way to go; or you might opt for search engine optimisation. Offline, traditional advertising, flyers, vehicle markings and business cards can be great ways to promote your online business. Either way you need a promotional plan. You need to be able to measure whether or not your promotion is working and most importantly you need to know that you have the budget to make your promotion work.
5. Design your website and make hosting arrangements. Once you’ve planned your online business and secured your domain name, it’s time to start planning how your online presence will look. There is any number of website options, from free templates, to content managed sites, to highly sophisticated, design-led solutions. When you choose your website style, you need to make sure it fits your budget (of course), but you also need to make sure it is appropriate for your business and suits your business needs now and has the flexibility to suit your needs in the future. Bad website design decisions can be costly, so don’t ever allow yourself to be pushed into something you’re not certain about by a forceful website designer! Once you have your website design sorted out, your website will need to be hosted. Again there is any number of hosting solutions to choose from, but make sure that your selected host is reliable and reasonably priced.
6. Write or get great content. At one time, any website was better than no website at all. This is no longer the case and now it’s not just the look of the site that will set your online business apart from the competition. What your site says; how it speaks to the visitor and how it describes your offering are now more important than ever. At a basic level, at least make sure you don’t have spelling or typing errors, but ideally hire a pro to write your copy. They know what they’re doing and needn’t cost an arm and a leg.
7. Get the detail right. Once you’ve got your domain name, your hosting and your website design well planned, you need to decide if you will accept online payments and if so, how. Will accepting online payments help people decide to buy from you? If so, it’s an important addition to your site. The likes of PayPal offers secure, easy to operate online payment even for small traders. Another detail you will need to consider if you are selling products online is delivery and packing. Will you use the postal system or would a courier be cheaper and or better? Do you have all the necessary packing to deliver your product in a professional way that shows your business in the right light? Really brainstorm the detail before you go live.
8. Cross the T’s and dot the I’s. As with any other business, an online business requires the same attention to detail, like getting your right bank account sorted out; knowing your tax obligations; understanding all the legal implications of your chosen business and of course organising your accountancy. So make sure you don’t get caught out by red tape.
So all in all, an online business can be a great opportunity to secure your financial future and at the same time free you from your 9 to 5 lifestyle, but don’t go into it lightly! Follow our guidelines, do your own research, plan, plan, plan and enjoy the experience.