Starting Your Online Business
Starting an online business is a smart idea for people who don't wish to be tied down to a brick-and-mortar business. Online businesses offer you freedom and flexibility to operate out of your home or practically anywhere else you have an internet connection.
Nowadays, there are so many different types of online businesses to choose from that once you come up with a good business idea, getting started is relatively easy.
The practical advice you will find in this article will guide you through all the steps necessary for starting an online business.
The right online business approach involves:
- Coming up with a profitable business idea
- Choosing a name for your business
- Registering your business idea
- Coming up with the right branding
- Planning your business
- Creating a website
- Funding your business
- Marketing your business
- Managing your business
Find Your Business Idea
Coming up with the right online business idea may seem easy, but there are so many different options for an online business that it's easy to get overwhelmed during the decision-making process. We recommend picking an idea that is close to your heart and something you can see yourself engaging with for years to come.
Ideas for selecting a sound online business idea:
- Research some of the most successful business ideas out there.
- Try out our free Business Idea Generator tool.
- Surf around the Internet to find the right business idea.
Choose a Business Name
When choosing a business name, it's important to keep a few points in mind:
- Select a name that is not convoluted and easily readable.
- A good name should be short enough to be remembered and in some way related to the product or service you're selling online.
For example, if you're selling books online, you may wish to include the keyword “books” in your name. This way, there is no mistaking the product you're offering your customers.
Tips for choosing an online business name:
Include what you do in the name.
Choose words associated with the feeling you want your customer to experience.
Keep your name short and sweet so it’s easily memorable.
Try our Business Name Generator tool to come up with suggestions.
Register Your Business Idea
When you come up with a genius idea for your business name, it's important to register your business name. Begin by checking to make sure your name isn’t already taken and is unique by doing a:
- Business entity name search for your state
- Domain name search
- Federal trademark search
- Search the web by visiting sites such as Google, Bing, Yahoo, Yelp, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other popular websites.
Once you discover your name is unique and not already taken, you have a few options. You can reserve the name by going to your state's business services website (typically with the Secretary of State, Department of Treasury, State Corporation Commission, etc.) to reserve or register a business name.
From there, you can form a limited liability company (LLC), file a “doing business as” (DBA) name, or submit an amendment to the legal name of your business.
Forming an LLC
After confirming your business name isn’t already registered, you should register your business name and then decide the best business structure for your company. If you are a single individual, you may want to form as a sole proprietorship to get started. However, other online business owners prefer to form an LLC, which offers limited liability protection to protect your personal assets should you be sued for negligence or debt.
To register an LLC, follow these steps:
- Fill Out a Name Reservation Form
- Choose a Registered Agent
- File the Articles of Organization
- Create an Operating Agreement
- Get an EIN Number
Get a Logo
Once you have your business established and properly registered, it's time to develop your brand. Your brand is what differentiates you from other businesses. It's what people will think of when they think of your business. The most important part of a brand is the logo.
Here are some ways to go about getting a logo:
- Try our Free Logo Maker. This route is a free and simple way to create a great logo for your online business.
- Hire a professional designer. This route is more expensive, but the help you get from a professional designer could be helpful.
Get Your Business Plan
A business plan considers all the necessary components for successfully operating, maintaining, and sustaining an online business. Such elements include marketing, financing, operations management, mission and vision statements, and the like.
You may already have an idea in your head of how you're going to operate your business, how you're going to finance it, and possibly how to market your business. It's important to form these ideas into a proper business plan because this will help you get financing and operate your business.
If you've never written a business plan before, you may want to go with a business plan template. Another option, one that's possibly easier, is to use an online business plan tool. An online business plan tool is structured so that you work on one part of the business plan at a time, prioritizing it, and then moving on until you have the entire plan completed.
Design Your Website
Every online business needs a website to do business. A small business website aligns harmoniously with your branding and is digital real estate where customers purchase your products and learn more about your company.
There are several options for designing a website, depending on whether you want to hire a professional developer or build your own small business website.
Here are the steps for designing a website with a website builder:
- Decide on your website’s purpose.
- Choose your domain name.
- Choose a website builder like Wix, Squarespace, Weebly, GoDaddy, or Shopify.
- Find a design that works with your business’s branding.
- Upload your unique content.
Best Website Design Practices
Your website’s design and layout should be in alignment with your brand strategy.
For example, if your brand is selling sunglasses online, you’ll want your small business website to be clean, minimalistic, and convey the attitude of your brand’s message.
Furthermore, if your brand's message is “Fun in the Sun,” like Billabong, then you might choose bright beach colors as part of your website design. If you’re going for a more serious message, you may want to go for sleeker colors like gold and black-and-white similar to the men’s sunglasses brand GQ.
Once you complete your website, it's important to test it and publish it. Once published, it will be live on the internet, where anyone with an internet connection can see it. Testing simply involves trying the website out and putting yourself in your customers’ shoes (e.g., making sure payments get processed, etc.).
Set up Your Finances
Most businesses require some sort of financing to get started. It's important to know what your financing options are. There are many different financing options. Seek the ones that work best for your particular situation. Here are some financing options to explore:
If you’re looking to start a shoestring-budget business with low overhead costs, you could try bootstrapping. Bootstrapping is where you fund your business yourself by working a part- or full-time job as you build your business.
Small Business Loans
Another option for financing your business is to qualify for a small business loan. This can be done by applying for a Small Business Administration (SBA) loan through a traditional lender like a bank or credit union. The SBA guarantees these loans so that they are easier to qualify for than traditional bank loans. Even still, you'll most likely want to build some measure of business credit to help you qualify for traditional financing.
Other options for financing an online business include going with an online lender. Online lenders are great because their requirements are more relaxed and can get you funded much sooner. In some cases, an online lender can get you funded in as short as a few days, as opposed to traditional bank lenders who may not get you funded for months.
Learn Search Engine Optimization
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the act of creating content for the web that gets indexed by Google and other search engines, so when users type into Google Search a particular set of keywords or a query, it pulls up a list of different search results.
The idea behind SEO is to get your content to rank high on Google so that when people type in a particular keyword, your site ranks high and gets clicks. SEO uses user intent to position content so that it ranks well on search engines for the purpose of marketing your content and small business website to online users.
The best thing about SEO is there's no investment needed; you just need to understand some basic SEO principles and enjoy writing content for the web. Learn more about how to improve SEO for your online business using our comprehensive guide.
Plan Your Marketing Strategy
You should include your marketing strategy in your business plan. Having a thought out marketing strategy will allow your online business to get noticed by your target audience and help you make sales. There are several online marketing strategies to consider implementing, including social media strategies, email marketing, and advertising.
A good marketing strategy for an online business will include social media. You'll want to set up accounts with YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and other social media outlets to help keep engagement with your potential customers. To learn more, check out our Guide to Help You Brand Your Social Media for more in-depth information.
Another aspect of your online marketing strategy is to incorporate email marketing. Email marketing is where you build a list of customers or people interested in your product or service. This involves getting their name and email address so you can keep in touch with them and keep them informed on any promotions or deals your business may have.
One way of staying organized with your email marketing strategy is to harness the power of email marketing platforms such as AWeber, Constant Contact, or Mailchimp. These services let you create emails that can be sent out to your list with the click of a button.
For example, if you send one email offer out to a list of 1,000 customers, you may get 100 sales (10%) from that one email blast. That’s not a bad payday.
When getting started, it may be necessary to invest in advertising. You can purchase ad space through Google, Facebook, or a host of other online agencies. Advertising will cost you money, but targeted ads will help bring in customers. The key is to make more money from your advertising than what you’re spending on the ads.
Maintaining Your Online Business
An online business requires a daily method of operation (DMO), which is a set of instructions that guide you in running your business. These instructions are prioritized by importance. There are different levels of priority, but the most important actions are revenue-producing activities. You’ll begin your day with these important activities, followed by less important activities and so on.
Stay the course. This means staying focused on what you do and not getting distracted by other ideas. Smart online business owners do a few things consistently well, leaving alone things that take their focus away from the business at hand.