2019-08-08 09:00:26 Starting a Business English Online business owners face a world of opportunity. And challenges. To guide you, we’ve assembled 15 ideas and 25 step-by-step... https://quickbooks.intuit.com/r/us_qrc/uploads/2019/08/How-to-start-an-online-business.jpg https://quickbooks.intuit.com/r/starting-a-business/how-to-start-an-online-business/ How to start an online business: Checklist, 25 steps, and 15 low-cost ideas

How to start an online business: Checklist, 25 steps, and 15 low-cost internet businesses

35 min read

It may seem like all you need is a business idea and an internet connection to earn money online. After all, with an estimated 4.3 billion active internet users across the globe, over half the world’s population is just a few clicks away.

Add to that the $2.8 trillion in online sales business-to-consumer (B2C) retail companies made last year plus the $10.6 trillion B2B organizations sold online … and there’s no way a new online business could fail. Right?

4.3 billion active internet users worldwide for online businesses

Total online business revenue

Data from Statista and eMarketer

Unfortunately, despite those encouraging numbers, most small businesses do struggle to succeed online.

On top of an idea and a connection, you also need a solid business strategy to get started and the right tools. Customers need to know you exist and understand why you’re worth buying from.

Small businesses struggle to start online

Data from Fundera, Statista, and Google

No matter which profession you choose, you want to go from concept to cash flow—from web-based business to successful business—as quickly as possible.

Helping you launch on that trajectory and arrive at your destination is exactly what this article is all about.

In fact, given the length and detail of this article, we’ve compiled 15 low-cost internet businesses and all 25 step-by-step instructions into an easy to follow checklist:

How to start an online business - Ideas and checklist

But first, let’s clarify …

What is an online business?

An online business can be considered any business activity that generates income through the internet. If your business uses online resources and channels to promote, buy, sell, and deliver your products or services—even if you do business in the real world too—you’re running an online business.

Many different types of businesses can be found online—across a variety of industries. It can include offering a service or selling goods to customers. And anyone, with the right idea and strategy, can start and grow.

How do you pick? Here are a few choices to spark inspiration.

(If you already know what type of business you’re going to start and would like to jump into the 25 how-to steps, this link will scroll you directly there.)

15 low-cost internet businesses

Services-based businesses

Many people market their services online. This can come in the form of online courses, being a virtual assistant or coach, or offering other digital services through email, video, and more. Here are some examples to inspire you:

(1) Accounting services

Balancing the books and keeping track of payroll and billing is essential to any company. If you have expertise in this area or, even better, you are a CPA, many small and medium-sized businesses will find your skills useful.

(2) Business consultant

This category could also include services like business plan writer and business coach. With the number of small businesses launching daily, many entrepreneurs are looking for expertise. It’s a great choice if you’ve recently left the business field and are looking for ways to apply your experience.

(3) Fitness instructor

This category covers jobs like Personal Trainer, Yoga Instructor, or Zumba Instructor. Many fitness instructors now post videos online and charge a subscription fee for access to their training.

(4) Graphic designer

Graphic design or web design is an in-demand field, and a perfect home-based business to run online. It’s important to stay up-to-date on the latest in graphic design trends, such as newer presentation tools like Keynote and Prezi to stay relevant.

(5) Marketing consultant

This umbrella term covers a host of different areas, including:

  • Copywriting and blogging
  • Metadata specialist
  • Social media consultant
  • Podcast host or vlogger
  • Editor or even proofreader

Additionally, you can simply serve as a consultant, someone to help with big campaigns or at critical times of the year for organizations.


Want even more business ideas?

Perfect. Because we recently put together a master list of 65 ideas along with three questions to guide you.

In that article and PDF, you’ll find a number of e-commerce options, like setting up an online store through Shopify or a dropshipping business on Amazon and eBay.

Ideas for offline and online businesses

The rest of this piece won’t touch too much on e-commerce or online stores, but if you’re interested, we’ve covered how to give your e-commerce store a boost as well as e-commerce mistakes to avoid.

(6) Infoproducts 

As an overlap of this type and the next, you can create serviced-based products and sell them on your site as an additional or stand-alone revenue stream. Some examples include:

  • Ebooks
  • Workbooks and templates
  • Online courses
  • Webinars
  • Virtual conferences
  • Membership sites

Productized services

Services in this section can be packaged in such a way to be “productized.” In other words, if you’re a marketing consultant, you can package a set number of tasks you can do for a company to help them with a common problem.

For example, you could productize building an online advertising strategy. You can offer different flat rate fees based on the tasks that you’ll do for a basic, premium or gold-standard package.

(7) Stock photographer

If you’re constantly taking pictures or have a passion for photography, you could turn your snapshots into cash. Getty Images and Stocksy offer services for amateur photographers to sell their pictures.

(8) App and web development

Even with DIY platforms like WIX and Squarespace, many companies still want something with a more personal touch or are looking for a higher level of functionality. Likewise, applications (or apps) continue to be a go-to business tool many organizations are trying to develop for mobile customers.

(9) Transcription services

Many different industries use transcriptions; medical and legal being the most popular. It will typically require you to have a headset or to download some free software, but the costs should be nominal.

(10) Translator

If you’re bilingual or multilingual, use those skills to start your own translation business. There are a variety of ways you could take this business from translating other people’s business documents, marketing materials, or websites to serving as a live, online translator over chat and video.

(11) Virtual assistant

You can help people reply to emails, set appointments, or keep track of expenses. With access to the cloud, it’s easier than ever to give someone a digital assist.

There are a variety of sites that allow you to sign up for virtual assistant jobs, including the appropriately named VirtualAssistants.com. You can also use your social networks and professional networks when looking for clients.

Selling other business’ products or services

Some people offer their audiences to advertisers to make money online. They’ll create content, build a following, and then receive payment from brands to promote their products.

You can do this full-time through a website, blogging, e-newsletter, or social media channels like Instagram or Youtube. Creating an audience and then monetizing it through other business is often a great source of passive income as well.

(12) Affiliate marketer

Affiliate marketers earn a commission for helping another business to drive traffic and sales. For example, Amazon affiliates link to and promote Amazon products on their websites or social media platforms. They then get paid (a percentage of the sale) whenever someone clicks on those ads.

(13) AdSense revenue generation

Google AdSense consists of a network of publishers or bloggers which opt-in to enable Google to place ads on their sites. Like affiliate marketing, you earn a cut of the ad sales Google generates.

(14) Direct sales representative

Direct sales marketing includes Avon, Pampered Chef, and Stella and Dot reps. If you have an interest in any of these products or just like to host parties, consider becoming a rep for one of these companies. With Facebook and Youtube Live you can host virtual parties any day of the week from your own living room.

(15) Lead generation

B2B and sales-based businesses are always in need of help to capture more sales opportunities. As a content marketer, search engine optimization specialist, or pay-per-click advertising consultant, you can sell your services to these companies as a resource to generate new leads for them.

25 steps to start your online business

If you’d like to save the 15 ideas from above and the next 25 steps we’ll cover, grab the How to start an online business: Ideas and checklist as a PDF here:

How to start an online business - Ideas and checklist

1. Choose an online business model

When selecting the type of online business you want to run, consider what makes the most sense based on your skills, lifestyle, and ability to invest or outsource certain aspects of your work.

You also need to determine how your business will make money.

Unlike the types of internet businesses, this first step is about the revenue-generating options for each of the web-based businesses discussed earlier:

Affiliate and marketing revenue

You earn money in the form of a percentage of sales or by being paid a flat fee for helping to promote a product.

Ad revenue

Ad networks like Google AdSense, or individual companies, will give you a cut of the revenue earned for advertising on your site—often through display ads or sponsored posts. The bigger your audience size, the more you’ll earn. Consider making access to your content free if you plan to go this route.

Freemium to paid

In this scenario, you provide customers with free access to a simplified version of your software or online content. If they want to access additional, premium features, they have to pay for them.

Services fees

For the services-based businesses I outlined earlier, you can charge either by the hour, by the session (if you’re a coach or fitness trainer), or by proposing a flat fee based on the scope of work for a project.

Subscriptions

In this case, your site or content might not have ads, but you’ll charge your customer a one-time fee, or a regular monthly subscription payment—enabling them to log in to access it.

The best model for you will depend on what your online business is doing, and what you aim to achieve with it. You can build your business around a combination of these options as well.

2. Conduct market research

Many entrepreneurs make the mistake of marketing something consumers just don’t want to buy.

You can avoid this situation by doing target market research to find out whether your business solves a real problem and has a good product-market fit. Knowing the market wants your product before you launch your business will save you money and headaches further down the road.

What is market research?

You can’t be everything to everyone. That’s why you need to research your customers and market to determine how you can best serve them.

Here are some steps you can take in your research:

Define your niche

Once you’ve identified the basics about your customers and market, drill down further into their biggest problems and how you can solve them.

Answer questions like:

  • Where do they spend most of their time online?
  • How do they prefer to consume content?
  • What are their loves and hates, dreams and nightmares?

Continue refining your market profile along the way.

Talk to friends, family, and colleagues about your idea

Ask for honest input about whether your product or service is something they would likely buy. However, if your product is really niche, they might not understand. In that case, you need to seek out real-life customers to ask them what they think.

Test your idea with an online focus group

Have anonymous target customers test your site or social platforms. Then, they can rate your product or service, and provide valuable feedback through a survey or as part of an online focus group. Look for companies like Mindspot and InsideHeads to organize them for you.

Search secondary sources

Look for free online industry reports and whitepapers which might help you build a customer profile. You may even want to create a customer persona and map out your customer’s buying journey to better understand them.

Customer journey map

Who are your online competitors?

Now that you’ve established the problems your business will solve and how you fit into the market, it’s time to analyze and determine your competitive advantage. While conducting a competitive analysis, you must define how you’ll stand out from the crowd.

Start by listing other companies that sell to your target customers.

Next, answer these questions while visiting competitor websites and social media accounts to better understand what you’re up against:

  • What marketing and advertising tactics do they use?
  • Do they list press coverage or publications?
  • How is its customer service set up: email, phone, etc.?
  • What sales and pricing strategies can you identify?

Additionally, review their “About Us” page. All of these details will help you to conduct a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) analysis that you can include in your business plan, which is what you should do next.

3. Develop a business plan

One of the best ways to organize your online business ideas and thoughts is with a formal business plan.

You can reference this business planning template for more guidance, but some of the key features of any good business plan include:

  • An executive summary: Includes a high-level look at the vital information from your business plan in a short space. It should be less than a page.
  • Your company description: Contains your mission statement, which explains why your business exists.
  • A competitive analysis: Details what sets your business apart from competitors and what advantages you have over them.
  • Your marketing and sales strategy: Outlines your value proposition, ideal target customers, launch plan, and growth tactics.
  • Business financials: Describes income, profit-and-loss, and cash flow statements.

Online business plan template

4. Determine if you’re financially ready

The final step in your planning is to be ready to accept the financial realities that come along with small business ownership.

Not only must you find startup funding, or fund it yourself; you should also save up enough capital to cover living expenses before you can start drawing a salary.

Here are five crucial steps to take to become financially ready to start a business.

(1) Calculate your startup costs

Determining your startup costs is a crucial part of assessing whether or not you can afford to go into business for yourself.

While the average cost of launching a business is roughly $30,000, startup prices vary dramatically based on many factors; such as geographical location and business type.

While online businesses tend to be less expensive, you’re still responsible for certain costs. Along with incorporation and licensing fees, online startups must find funding for website development, online advertising, and employee salaries (if applicable).

(2) Manage your living expenses

Along with the costs associated with launching and operating a business, you must be prepared to support yourself before your company becomes profitable. Make sure personal expenses don’t fall by the wayside—just because you start a business.

You should be prepared for any additional costs associated with out-of-pocket healthcare premiums as well. Try to save up enough money to carry you through six months of operation before leaving your day job.

(3) Build your credit score

Your personal credit history can affect your ability to secure a business loan. So it’s a good idea to review your current credit level and build up your score. You may want to assess your home equity to determine if you qualify for a home equity line of credit, too.

If you’re concerned your credit score will prohibit you from securing lending, you may want to wait to leave your day job. After all, banks tend to be far more willing to lend to someone with a regular paycheck.

You can also consider alternative lending sources like venture capital companies, angel investors, government loans and even crowdfunding.

(4) Consider your tax burden

If you’re used to working as an employee, you may not be prepared for the upfront tax burden associated with self-employment. Because small business owners have to pay self-employment taxes along with federal and state income taxes, consider your tax obligations and save appropriately.

Additionally, do research regarding potential write-offs, and track expenses thoroughly. The last thing you want to do is miss any valid deductions when your business is still struggling to get off the ground.

(5) Assess prospects

Starting a new business means you get to be your own boss and create something you care about. Unfortunately, many entrepreneurs fail to properly assess their profit potential. Just as startup costs vary based on business type and location, so too does the average monthly income a business owner can expect to generate.

Before opening a business, assess how much money you can expect to earn. You don’t want to invest more in the company than you can reasonably expect to make back.

Also, failing to raise appropriate capital can leave you with insufficient supply to satisfy your customer base. The last thing you want is for customers to lose interest or turn to your competitors because you can’t meet demand.

Many experts recommend projecting operating expenses with your best-case growth scenario in mind.

Now that you’ve done all your upfront planning, it’s time to start building your operational strategy.

Building your online business’ infrastructure

At this stage, think about everything you’ll need, including invoicing and collecting payments, purchasing personal tools for tracking your work, expenses, and more.

5. Get set up to accept online payments

No matter what type of business you choose to run, your customers need a way to pay you for their purchases. While some will still mail you a paper cheque, pay via credit card, or send a direct deposit to your business bank account, many now prefer online options.

You can accept online payments by integrating your business bank account with a variety of all-in-one payment solutions like QuickBooks Payments. Other options include e-checks and ACH transfers.

  • All-in-one online payment solutions: These services allow for quick setup and you don’t have to apply to get started. Although, you do have to link your bank account to them. There are no setup fees, but transaction fees do apply. Some providers include QuickBooks Payments, PayPal, Dwolla, and Stripe.
  • E-checks and ACH bank transfers: Some people don’t use credit or debit cards, and you’ll need to provide a way for them to pay, as well. You can use a service like QuickBooks Payments to increase your customer payment options.

6. Track your finances (automatically)

Since managing cash flow is crucial to stay in business, it’s important to have a system for tracking your finances. It’ll help you understand your business profits better and save you tons of headaches during tax season.

First, accounting software to make tracking far easier than Excel templates. Second, nearly all major options are cloud-based, meaning no installation is necessary.

Look for features like custom and recurring invoices, the ability to sync with your banking system, and reporting.

7. Carve out your business space

If you work from home, it may be hard to focus on your online business without a designated space. Try to set up a corner office, or get noise-canceling headphones to help you tune out background noise.

Make sure your family understands your space is a time for working on your business. If working from home isn’t ideal, consider finding a co-working space or quiet cafe nearby.

Keep in mind, if you’re running some part of your business or service out of your home, you may need special licensing or permits.

Launching a website: Start to finish

Your website is the primary gateway to your business. If it’s built and designed well, you’ll have an easier time convincing buyers to work with you or purchase goods and services.

Here’s a process you can follow for building a website for your online business:

8. Register your domain name and find a host

Think carefully about the name you choose because it’s an extension of your brand.

Don’t give up if your first few choices are already taken. If you can’t find a good .com extension, try other extensions like .biz, .net, or .co. Choose how long you want to reserve the name—it can be anywhere from one to 10 years.

Popular sites for registering your domain name include GoDaddy, Register.com, and Namecheap.com. You can register your name for as little as $10 annually.

Next, find a web host.

A web host rents internet space to website owners, and this space houses the pages and images on your site. Most places that register domain names also offer web hosting, but you can use other sites like Bluehost as well.

If you allow your web host to register your domain name, make sure they register it in your name. Otherwise, you don’t officially own it, and it could cause problems if you want to switch hosts later.

9. Design your website with builder tools

You have a few options when it comes to designing your website. You can hire a designer to build a custom site, or you can design and build one yourself, using a website builder tool like WIX or SquareSpace. These are cheaper options than hiring someone.

If you decide to build your own site, many web hosts also offer free building tools, along with consulting services.

Additionally, if you want to have a robust blog, you can build your site using WordPress, a free website and blog platform which offers many themes and plugins to choose from.

If you go that route, first find a web host that supports WordPress, such as Bluehost or DreamHost, and then download the WordPress software.

However, you’ll have to pay for customizable themes, but those are often more affordable than hiring a designer to do it for you.

No matter which route you take …

Make it easy to navigate

You need to provide site visitors with a seamless and easy experience. The more difficult it is to use your site, the higher the chance a visitor will leave out of frustration.

Organize content intuitively

Consider what your average visitor’s intent is when they land on your site. Place the most important information upfront on your homepage, or create a separate page linked through a visually dominant call-to-action.

Simplify your content

Try to limit your site to four or five top-level pages, with supporting pages under those as needed. Offering a search bar helps to make it easier for visitors to find what they need.

Follow simple design best practices

  • Easy readability
  • Lots of whitespace
  • Mobile responsive design
  • Consistent colors and fonts

Use inspiring images

Include photos or illustrations that feature people when possible. The human eye is naturally drawn to faces. Ensure the images are high-quality, optimized for the web (small sizes load faster), and viewable on any device.

Make calls to action clear

Calls to action (CTA) help visitors understand what to do next. Each page should have one—and only one—driving CTA repeated throughout:

  • Download a resource
  • Buy now or add to cart
  • Reach out for more information

Go beyond forms on your contact page

Include your address, phone number, and email to make it easy for customers to get in touch. If you use a contact form, test it yourself to make sure it works and delivers an email to your inbox.

The overall goal of a website is to start a conversation with prospective customers. Make sure it’s easy and inviting for them to do so.

Always remember less is more. Spread out your information and give your website a clean aesthetic to make content easy to digest.

10. Write copy to convert browsers into buyers

The goal of your copy should be to convince visitors you are competent and trustworthy to deliver whatever product or service they’re seeking. A good way to build trust and credibility is by providing social proof, which can come in the form of case studies, testimonials, and product ratings or reviews.

Depending on your budget, you can start with written testimonials and reviews. As your business grows, you can create written or video case studies. Share industry awards, recognitions, and certifications specific to your niche on your homepage.

Put yourself in your customers’ shoes and think about what would make it easy for potential clients to see themselves doing business with you. It’s especially important on your “About” or “Contact” pages.

Additionally, look at your competitors’ sites to see what copy works well for them. Often, inspiring founder stories motivate customers to want to meet you or buy from you.

Finally, try to use personal shots of you and your actual team and office, rather than stock photos. Knowing who they’ll be working with will help the customer decide if your business is the real deal.

11. Optimize for search engines (SEO)

As you prepare to launch your site, spend some time thinking about how your customers will find you on search engines like Google, Bing, etc.

What is search engine optimization (SEO)?

SEO is a strategy which involves using industry-relevant, high-volume keywords and phrases in your website copy and on your blog.

These keywords and phrases will help specific pages on your site to rank higher in search engines—enabling you to drive more traffic and prospective customers to your site.

Some of the website builder tools I’ve mentioned will have built-in solutions for SEO—making it easier for you to optimize your pages.

How do find your online business’ keywords?

A keyword research tool like Wordtracker or Keyword Tool can help you decide which keywords or phrases are your best bet to focus on. When adding keywords to your copy, make sure it flows naturally as part of your content.

You don’t want to overstuff or overuse the keywords too much.

Likewise, the more helpful and useful your content is, the more likely it is for someone to link to it through social shares or on their own blogs or sites. Getting more links back to your site is another important way to boost your search engine rankings.

12. Use Google My Business and Google Analytics

While SEO can seem complicated and overwhelming, creating a Google My Business listing is an easy first step you can take.

After you create your profile, your information will show up automatically in Google Maps and Search. Google provides detailed instructions for creating profiles for both desktop and mobile.

It’s easy to forget about setting up Google Analytics before launching your new website. However, it’ll help you in the long run.

You can start with an Audience Overview report which gives you a quick snapshot of your total number of users, page views, time spent and bounce rate (e.g., how many people leave your site quickly after landing on a page).

Drill down into demographics as well, which will help you better understand your customer base and, ultimately, grow your business.

Google Analytics and starting an online business

Spreading the word: Internet marketing

Now that you’re ready to serve customers, it’s time to promote your business.

Marketing, advertising, and promotions are paid options. However, paying to spread the word isn’t your only path. Plenty of free digital marketing tactics exist to attract visitors and buyers.

Below, I’ve outlined some of the best web-based channels to get rolling.

13. Set up email marketing

Email is still a highly effective and affordable marketing channel. From the very beginning, it’s worthwhile having your email marketing software set up and ready to go. You can start collecting an email list from day one to grow a loyal subscriber base.

Many email marketing platforms offer affordable or even free services–perfect for new business owners. MailChimp and GetResponse are free for under 2,000 subscribers.

Later on, I’ll get into the anti-spam laws you need to know to avoid getting fined for sending emails to customers who haven’t given you permission to do so.

14. Create a content strategy

Telling your brand story on your website is just the beginning. Today’s successful online businesses also create content to help customers learn more about your product or industry, and see your brand as an authority on the subject. You can do this through a variety of tactics, including:

  • Blog posts
  • Ebooks
  • Webinars
  • Case studies
  • Video tutorials
  • Infographics
  • FAQs

Do some research to understand what kind of content will best serve your audience. As I mentioned earlier, Google Analytics can help you understand the specific search queries or keywords driving people to your site.

Creating a few blog posts on those topics is a great start, but it’s not enough. Ideally, you’ll need to develop a strategy to plan which tactics you’ll use, how and when you’ll create and post your content, and how you’ll measure success.

The end-goal is to keep your customers engaged long enough to want to contact you for more information, or to add-on a new feature or service. In the short-term, you’ll want to continuously present them with new content to drive them through the sales funnel.

15. Leverage social media for business purposes

Social media isn’t only useful for consumer-based businesses. If you’re trying to attract another business, there are lots of ways to use the medium to your advantage.

Social media marketing refers to any marketing activity executed on a social media platform. Activities can range across a variety of different channels.

Common social media marketing activities include:

  • Driving traffic and buzz for your website and brand
  • Boosting posts on Facebook or running Facebook ads
  • Building customer engagement on LinkedIn
  • Participating in or running a Twitter chat
  • Running a contest to promote products
  • Targeting YouTube viewers with video content
  • Showcasing shoppable products on Instagram or Pinterest

Ultimately, your social media marketing should be tied very closely with your overall content strategy.

It’s common to feel overwhelmed when getting started. So before you consider marketing on every social media platform, ask yourself: What do I want to achieve with my marketing efforts? The answer will guide your next steps.

Likewise, investigate which social media platforms your customers use the most. Don’t spend all your time promoting yourself on Facebook, if all your potential customers are on LinkedIn.

16. Measure your social media results

Many social media platforms now offer comprehensive analytics. So if you can’t afford any additional tools, you’ll still be able to measure your results.

One of the most important social media metrics is engagement (e.g., the number of people who saw your post, ad or video, and actually interacted with it). Likes, comments, shares, and clicks to your website will help you understand how many people engaged with your content and wanted more information.

Social campaigns should always link back to your goals and objectives.

Managing multiple social media accounts isn’t easy. There are many tools available to help you schedule your Facebook and Instagram posts ahead of time, or your pins for Pinterest. Additionally, they’ll provide detailed audience insights and automation.

You can start by checking out Buffer and HootSuite. For more tips on enhancing your social media channels for your online business, review our post on building a small business social media presence.

17. Explore digital advertising and marketing

Online advertising strategies allow businesses to target specific users who are most likely to purchase their products or services. In this post, we break down all the benefits and key strategies to consider when developing an online advertising strategy.

Here are highlights of key tactics to consider:

Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising

PPC advertising uses search engines, ad networks, or social media platforms as marketing media. Ads appear beside or near content or social media posts created by targeted consumers, or on search engine results pages (SERPs)—based on specific keywords your customers are searching for.

Some of the most prominent examples of PCC advertising programs include:

Google Ad

These text-based ads appear on Google when web users type in keywords or phrases. You only pay when someone clicks on your ads—allowing you to set a desired budget for reaching new clients.

Google AdSense

You can also place image-based ads on Google’s display network, which includes some targeted placements on YouTube. These options are available on publisher websites running Google AdSense, too.

Small businesses can benefit from using Google AdWords Express, which is an app where you can view and tweak campaigns on the fly. It lets you set up simplified campaigns too—which is great if you don’t have the time or background to spend a lot of time doing PPC advertising.

If you want to become better at managing AdWords campaigns, you can become certified as an Google Ads expert or certified partner.

Paid Social Media

Paid social media means your ads are seen by a captive audience of registered social platform users. The top social networks to consider advertising on are Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn (especially if you market yourself to other businesses), YouTube and Instagram.

18. Follow online paid advertising tips

Start by identifying your target audience

You can do this by narrowing down their interests, needs and goals. Then, outline their key demographics (e.g., gender, household income, geographic locations). All this information will help you better target your ads and maximize your spend.

Use multiple media platforms

Aim to include sites or blogs your clients are most likely to visit, plus online publications that cater to your local area.

Identify what action you want the customer to take

Is it to download an ebook or buy a specific product? Define your goals and scale your campaign accordingly.

Set an appropriate budget

While online advertising is often more affordable than traditional ads, you need to be realistic about your initial return on investment (ROI).

You’ll also need to dedicate more time and resources to it early on. Once you learn how much revenue you’re earning from various sources, you can readjust your budget and allocate more money to profitable channels.

19. Don’t forget public relations (PR)

There are more traditional ways to promote your online business as well. Your local newspapers or news sites might cover your business or do a profile if you know how to pitch them properly.

You can outsource your media relations strategy and work to an agency or freelance PR specialist—provided you have the budget for it.

Additionally, make a list of relevant communities, social media consumer group accounts, or events happening near you which are related to the type of business you run. Ask them if you can speak to the group, send a sponsored email, or sponsor an upcoming event to get your business in the spotlight.

Now that we’ve covered how to attract customers to your business, it’s time to optimize the opportunity and grow sales.

Growing your web-based business

Email, content marketing, and advertising campaigns must constantly be monitored and improved upon to drive the best return on your investment. The same is true for operational and financial elements.

Growing an online business—after you’ve started it—has to be done by the numbers. That requires tracking, measuring, and optimizing.

20. Track and measure your growth

Track your success with Google Analytics

  • Monitor the top referring sources of traffic (via the Customer Acquisition Report) to see which advertising, social media, or marketing channels are driving the most visitors
  • Google will most likely be the highest source, especially if you have a blog that’s driving content to your site
  • However, sometimes referral traffic can lead you to a site where you might want to pay to advertise and drive more traffic
  • Look at the top performing posts on your blog to see if you can build on those posts to drive even more traffic
  • Keep an eye on increases or decreases in traffic to your blog and your overall site over time—to find patterns, or understand what might have driven customers away
  • Look at your bounce rate for the most popular pages on your site; if it’s very high, have a look at what might be driving people away as your bounce rate can impact search engine rankings

Monitor your paid advertising results

  • Use unique tracking URLs in each of your PPC campaigns, so you can monitor the total number of users who visited your site after clicking on one of your text and display ads
  • This information can help you adjust your monthly PPC spend and properly track your return on investment (ROI)
  • You can integrate Google AdWords with your Analytics account to give you in-depth analysis on your ROI per campaign and channel

Remember that it’s important to first set your campaign, or marketing strategy goals first, and then define the metrics you’ll monitor over time. Be sure to measure results regularly (e.g., weekly or monthly) to track your progress over time.

21. Find new customers via existing customers

Once you have happy customers, you can work with them to drive more growth for your business. It’s because customers trust recommendations and referrals from friends and family more than advertising.

Consider asking your happiest customers to …

Refer their friends

You can offer them a discount on their next purchase, or loyalty rewards points for referring new business to you. Those referrals can then be tracked in your POS system.

Write online reviews

Positive online reviews on Google, Facebook and other review websites can help your business stand out. Again, you can offer an incentive to get them to do it—just be careful what you promise as you need them to write honest reviews.

Share on social media

Ask your customers to share a post on relevant social media channels if they’re happy with your services. You can run it as a contest and randomly select a winner to get more customers involved.

Review and NPS

To identify happy customers, monitor online reviews on your site or third-party sites. You can also track positive comments or social media, or run a Net Promoter Score (NPS) survey to identify customers who say they’re likely to refer your business to a friend.

For more tips on how to harness the power of customer reviews and referrals, read our post on mapping the customer journey.

22. Look for efficiencies and improve

While fine-tuning your advertising and referrals programs, you’ll want to explore ways to improve profits and efficiencies.

Here are a few places to start:

Seek outsourcing services

If you have limited time or resources, look into outsourcing non-essential tasks, or those for which you aren’t an expert. For example, hire a freelancer, an advertising specialist, communications professional, or social media expert if those aren’t your areas of strength.

Focus on customer upsells and retention

Regularly review customer feedback to identify ways to improve your product or service. Since the cost to acquire customers online is getting pricier (e.g., the cost per click on popular ad platforms are increasing), you’ll want to entice more customers to become repeat buyers.

This strategy is called customer retention, and these customers are more likely to drive your sales revenue higher than one-time buyers. Here are some popular retention strategies:

  • Regularly engage with customers through blogs, emails, and video
  • Launch a customer loyalty program to increase a customer’s lifetime value
  • Show your gratitude with personalized offers and hand-written thank you notes
  • Improve your customer service to delight happy customers and increase word of mouth referrals

Explore ways to cut costs

Some software services can bundle services and offer a discount when you use their full product suite. Be on the lookout for special deals and promotions to try new marketing services or tools (e.g., a discount on Google Ads or Facebook marketing).

Finally, you can’t run an online business without being mindful of your customers’ personal information and security.

Minding the legal regulations and security

Last, but not least, it’s important to know about security and web-based laws and regulations when starting an online business.

Let’s look at the most common.

23. Review anti-spam and customer data laws

Anti-spam laws are prevalent in many countries to ensure you don’t email customers, without their permission, to sell your products or services.

If you don’t follow those legal regulations, you could face fines and prosecution.

You’ll have to research the laws based on the countries in which you place to sell your services and deploy emails for marketing purposes. That’s because each country’s anti-spam laws have different rules with regards to what you can and cannot do.

The most wide-reaching is known as general data protection regulation (GDPR). The regulation ensures consumers have control over their personal data.

Your business must be transparent about how you’ll use their data, and comply to their requests to see what data you’ve collected. If a customer wants you to delete the data, you must do so upon request.

24. Learn about cookies and privacy protection

Because of ad retargeting, a law was created to police the use of cookies (e.g., data files that allow a website to track what you are doing online). These laws now prevent websites from using your personal information for unlawful business purposes.

Therefore, when using cookies, it’s necessary to:

  • Tell new visitors you use cookies on your site
  • Let users know how to turn off cookies
  • Explain how your site uses cookies via your privacy policy

Often, businesses inform customers immediately through a pop-up message (using a “Cookie Law Info” plugin) when they first land on their website.

25. Put additional security tips into action

When selecting which web services you use for your online business (e.g., email marketing software, or other data collection tools) make sure to research whether they use encrypted password features and secure payment processes (e.g., using PayPal or Stripe).

The more secure those services are, and the more you understand how they handle personal data, the better off you and your customers will be.

For more information, refer to our post on the top online security concerns for small businesses.

Starting your online business off right

We’ve covered a lot of ground in this post and presented you with many tips and ideas on how to start an online business.

Start with how you’ll make money from your online products or services, then develop a plan. Don’t forget you’ll need to figure out how to attract and keep customers happy. Build a web presence and promote yourself.

Once you begin tracking your results, figure out how you can optimize your strategy to grow your business. Finally, make sure you follow proper laws with regards to email and consumer data privacy and protection.

Following these steps will guide you from idea to self-employment in the lucrative world of online business.

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Information may be abridged and therefore incomplete. This document/information does not constitute, and should not be considered a substitute for, legal or financial advice. Each financial situation is different, the advice provided is intended to be general. Please contact your financial or legal advisors for information specific to your situation.

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