Starting an online business may seem complicated as there are so many moving parts and hidden costs that can make the whole project seem daunting. In this blog article, we will discuss the process. the tools and the costs of setting up a simple online business.
What do you need to start an Online Business?
1. A Product or Service
To some, this may go without saying but I have had many persons who want to escape the rat race and join the world of business ownership but they aren’t exactly sure what product or service they want to offer. This isn’t a deal-breaker but you should not proceed unless you have found a product or service that you wish to offer and found a way to acquire, market, distribute, and provide aftercare.
2. Sales Process
Your sales process does not have to be complicated but it needs to be solid. Before you set up any business you need to define your sales process and at minimum your sales process answer the following questions
- What is the product or service I sell?
- What is the cost?
- Who are my suppliers?
- How long does it take for the product or service to be ready for sale?
- What is the maximum number of products I can handle currently?
- Will I have inventory or offer on-demand?
- How will I get the product to the customer?
- How long will it take to get the product to the customer?
- What if the customer wants a refund?
- How will the customer pay me?
Answering the above questions will help minimize any hiccups that may affect business production as well as help you develop a solid marketing plan and choose the best digital tools to build and manage your online business.
3. Marketing Plan
No matter what type of business you have the most important part is your marketing plan. You can have the cure for cancer but if no one know you have it then your business will be unsuccessful. In my opinion, your marketing should be the main investment when starting a new online business as well as while you grown an maintain it.
I must note that having a website or a social media profile does not count as marketing your business. A website and social media are like storefronts. Creating a website or social media profile and not telling anyone about it is like opening a business in your home but putting the sign on your bedroom door. The only people who will see it probably are your family and friends and unless you invite them to come to see what you have to offer they may just continue about their business.
4. Digital Tools for starting your online business
Now we get to the actual building of your online store. As digital technology has progressed, we are now at a point where anyone can have an online business and even more importantly you do not need a website to have an online business.
“…you do not need a website to have an online business.”Kevon Mc Carthy
As a website designer, this statement is like blasphemy because we always preach that everyone needs a website but over the past 8 years of not only being a website developer but also being a business owner I have come to understand that everyone can benefit from a website but not everyone needs a website.
There are two (2) main methods to start an online business, via social media without your own website and also by having your own website either on your own platform or a managed solution such as Shopfiy. The choice of which route to go will depend strongly on your product, sales process, and marketing plan. Below we will discuss these two main solutions for having an online business.
Social Media Based Online Business
A social media based online business is where the majority of your sales process happens on social media whether or not the payment happens online or in person. This method is most effective for new businesses with very low capital or while in the testing stage.
To start a Social Media based online business you will need:
- A social media profile – minimum Facebook Page and Instagram for Business Profile
- A content strategy – on social media you should not only post product and prices. Share information about your industry that will help and educate your customers as well.
- Ads – To effectively reach your target clients you will need to run ads. Unless you plan to go around manually sharing your posts then ads are the main way of creating awareness even for persons who have liked and subscribed to your page and profile.
- Payment Method – You have the choice of collecting cash when you personally deliver your products or complete the service for your client or you can request that they pay beforehand via payment gateways such as WiPay in the Caribbean or Paypal and Stripe internationally. Another option is allowing them to pay via bank deposit.
- Shipping Method – If you are offering a physical product you may decide to deliver the product yourself or hire a personal delivery person. But as your business grows this may become challenging and you can elect to use local shipping couriers. In Trinidad and Tobago, we have the option of using TTPost, UPSL, or even smaller courier services. Internationally, you may choose to use options like FedEx and DHL.
The most time-consuming part of putting the above together may be the content strategy however if you are knowledgeable about your product and industry then creating content about it should be a lot easier. You may simply need to research the best methods to put your content together.
Website Based Online Business
Now let’s look at starting your online business by building your own website. Having your own website is the best way to run an online business due to the fact that once you choose the proper platform you can scale your business and automate a lot of the work. Most people who want to start online businesses are looking for residual income which is where they do the work once and continuously get paid for it with limited effort. This is most possible via a website compared to social media as with social media, the only way you may be able to step away and let the business run is if you hire someone to run it for you. (Shameless plug – click here to learn how we can help with that).
To start a Website based online business you will need:
- An eCommerce ready platform – This is the software that runs your e-commerce store and this step requires a lot of thought and research as you need to make sure you take into account if the platform offers the features that work with your sales process and even more important is if it supports your payment method. Click this link to read our article on planning an effective website that will help you choose the right platform.
- A content strategy – Based on the type of product or service you offer, your website may need a blog section, and Just like social media, it is recommended to regularly create content to do more than just sell your customer but also add value to them.
- SEO – Search Engine Optimization is a process that ensures that your website is laid out in a way that is easy for Google to understand.
- Ads – Also similar to social media, you will need to run ads to effectively reach your target clients. No one will know about your website unless you market it.
- Payment Method – With a website, you still have the choice of collecting cash when you personally deliver your products or complete the service. However, the core aim of having a website based online business is to automate your process and to scale. Therefor choosing a payment gateway that allows you to accept payments and issue receipts automatically may be the best option.
- Shipping Method – Just like your payment method, choosing a shipping method for your website requires as much automation as possible. When choosing a provider take into consideration that some providers have solutions that can integrate with your website to automatically calculate shipping fees and show them to your customer which is a feature that can save a lot of time./
Choosing the right platform, payment gateway, and shipping method will be the determining factor in how seamless your online store operates. If you choose the right combination all you will need to do is package your products and hand it to the courier when they come to pick it up.
Starting an online business is simple but the main part that needs to be focused on is the planning stage. Once you plan out your website and cover all touch points your well on your way to having a successful online business.