Starting an Internet Business from Scratch
Starting an internet business is no easy feat.
A recent statistics reports the start-up failure rate increases by year. It starts from 25% after year one to 55% after year five.
Despite the fact, people are still interested in starting an internet business. If you’re one of them, you’re in the right place.
Let’s find out what we can learn from the failures.
Three causes of the failures are incompetence, no managerial background, and minimum industry exposure. It seems like a lack of skill, but it’s actually a lack of practice.
What can you do to reverse the trends? How to improve your chance of success?
Find out the skills you’re lacking and practice them every day.
You’ll make more mistakes than before, and faster too. But you’ll know how to figure out what is going right.
Now it’s time to follow this guide. Let’s make some mistakes.
Don’t just read this tutorial and then forget about it. But make a commitment to yourself that you’re going to follow it to start your internet business or get your small business online.
Ideas for Starting an Internet Business
Steps to starting an internet business are like one for an offline business. It starts with a good idea.
To come up with good ideas, take a look at some options for starting an internet business:
1. Sell digital goods. Digital products may start from a simple report to a comprehensive online course. The e-book may only offer how-to tips. But the online training can provide a comprehensive tutorial.
2. Sell physical goods. Physical products are handmade crafts or wholesale products. You can handle the sales processes yourself. Or you take an order and your dropship partner handles the fulfillment for you.
3. Sell services. Marketing and accounting are two examples of professional services. And carpet cleaning and hair salon are two forms of consumer-based services.
If you own an existing business, get it online. Just create an online presence and reach more prospects. You’ll get more orders or even build relationships with prospects with your website.
Ready for taking the first step to starting an internet business? Let’s start.
1. Leverage Your Personal Strengths
No matter whether you’re a seasoned entrepreneur or a new one, leveraging personal strengths is step #1.
Personal strengths are the finest combinations of experience, passion, personality and values. It’s your DNA.
Before you do anything else, learn about what you can do and what you can’t do. It includes taking a career test plus doing a self-assessment. You can also get feedback from those who have worked with you for long time enough.
Here is what I learn from a personal experience when starting an internet business.
Failures to understand our strengths and weaknesses result in inaccurate judgments and sloppy decisions.
I once thought I was good at marketing. But I was wrong. I made many bad judgements any time I assessed a recurring marketing issue. As a result, the problem kept coming in.
So before you pursue a business idea, always start with your strengths and your weaknesses.
The first relates to a field that you enjoy doing and you know plenty of it. And the second comes from a work that you avoid doing or you don’t want to learn at all.
For example, if you’re an accountant who enjoys crunching numbers, then starting an internet business related to accounting services is a natural choice.
2. Pick Your Target Market
Target market is who you sell to: consumers or businesses. But we’re talking about selling to people, and not faceless entities.
Let’s say you have eyes for offering an accounting service in your local area.
When starting an internet business you want to research the market. You want to know the market size, your audience profiles, and existing players.
You can group the data into niches based on industry, company size or other relevant categories.
Within the niches, have a look at the trends and the competitions. And find a niche that is still growing and that allows you to get a sizable market share.
Target market consists of people with similar needs. Because you can satisfy all of them, you want to create a profile of ideal customers.
If you sell to businesses, the categorizations may be industry, business size, and decision maker. But if you sell to consumers the categorizations are like demographics, psychographics, and behavior.
Your next step is to “translate” your ideal customers into buyer personas. Buyer Personas represent potential customers in terms of goals, buying behavior, reasons to buy, and more. It can give you lots of ideas to tailor your marketing campaigns.
Once done, get all the information about your business ideas, personal strengths and target market. Can you find a sweet spot? If you can find one, that is your opportunity!
Your next step is to validate the opportunity with a keyword research.
3. Research Your Keywords
Now it’s time to study what prospects search online.
The best way to understand the keywords they use is using this competitive intelligence tip.
Just go to the Google Keyword Planner. (If you don’t have an account, you have to create one.)
Enter the url of your primary competitor to the Keyword Planner. And you’ll get hundreds of the keywords they use within seconds.
You can expand your list, if you want to. But for an initial research, the keywords are good enough to learn ways to direct prospects to your website.
Take a look at the keyword phrases. They may start from informational questions to detailed product and service type.
The key here is to select less competitive keywords that help you build a “coherent website theme”. That is what you want to do to build a website that attracts your target audience.
Finding and choosing keywords are the foundation of a successful website. Without proper keywords, you can’t create content that attracts potential customers. And without great content, there’s no way for your prospects to find you on search engines.
To complement your keyword research, visit forums or groups where your audiences go online.
Just look around to learn about their keywords usage from their concerns and opinions. If you want to know their pressing problems, just ask questions.
Don’t be shy to show off your expertise. One of them is answer critical questions they ask. Later, your forum activities can become one of many ways to drive traffic to your website.
Keyword research and forum research can lower your risks. The more you know about your audiences, the more you create content and product that answer their needs.
Now, check back the opportunity you get at the step 3.
What is the market size? Does it grow? Can you differentiate your product or service? What is “the lowest hanging fruit”(the first potential customers to focus on)?
This step is a critical milestone for you. Don’t proceed to the step four before you’re satisfied with your answers.
4. Create Your Product
Let’s talk about selling products as an option for starting an internet business.
Have got an idea about a product to sell? If you haven’t got any idea yet, learn about what to sell online.
Two types of products you can sell online are digital and physical.
Digital products and digital services come in as natural offerings online. Services like web hosting and web design exist to support online businesses. Software as a Service (SaaS) is another good example.
Physical goods and services are natural stuff for the offline world. But the Web allows us to reach a different market coverage. We all know the story of a pure online player like Amazon could dominate the retail industry.
Now, it’s time to research your options. It’s about where you’re going to get your products: make them yourself or get them from wholesalers.
That’s just one option. You can also simplify your sales processes with a dropship business model , where you outsource the fulfillment process to a drop-shipping company.
But if you know what to sell online, you don’t have to start from scratch. Again, a simple competitive intelligence is the answer.
Just visit your competitors and take a look at products and services they sell. Can you find the best sellers or popular products? If so, search the reviews online, mainly the critical reviews.
Critical reviews are the best information for developing a product. Buyers who write critical reviews find the product works but they aren’t completely satisfied with it.
Reading such a review is good way to spot an opportunity for improvement. Just take a look whether the reported flaw is essential for the consumers. Because if it’s so, you’ve found a way to create a better product.
That’s an easy and fast strategy to create a proven product.
But you can always improve it along the way. Once you know your customers better, you’ll be able to make a new product. A product that is even better than just making an improvement.
5. Get a Domain and a Web Host
Now it’s time to name your small business. Get a name that is short, memorable, and benefit-laden. Just go to thesaurus.com to generate lots of name ideas.
Once done, get a domain name using your business name. Registering other domain names with keywords that help differentiate your business are also a good idea.
But before you buy the domains, make sure you check with an organization like The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). This is to prevent you from running into legal issues.
A web host is a service where you can install a website builder, build a website, and store web files. This is the essential service you will ever need to create an online business presence.
Now, it’s time to choose your website building program or website builder.
6. Choose Your Website Builder
There are different website building platforms available online. It starts from proprietary web building packages to open-source Content Management System (CMS) installed on your web host.
A proprietary platform that I’m familiar with is SiteBuildIt or SBI. I built my first website with SBI and found success with it. This SBI review shows you how it works plus its pros and cons.
The SBI offers a block building concept that is easy to use. The package is more than just a website builder and a web host. It also offers a business building services that combine step-by-step process, 80+ tools, detail tutorials, and active forums.
Today SBI also comes in to support self-hosted WordPress users, with a product called BizXpress. It provides the same facilities as SiteBuildIt for those who build websites with WordPress.
There are other proprietary software and services for creating a beautiful website. But the package is mostly web building and web hosting.
These online website builders are easy to use. You can have add-on features that improve your website functionality.
The providers offer many templates designed for industry-specific websites. You can customize your template to meet the needs of your target audience. Design-wise they are much better than the free Blogger and the free WordPress.com.
With the exception of SBI, I tend not to recommend the proprietary package for building a business website. But when you build an e-commerce website that will be a different ball game, especially if you’re just starting out.
The more complex your e-commerce website, the more you need a solution that makes your life easier.
For that reason, I would recommend you go with a proprietary e-commerce package like Shopify. And if you’re in the market for e-commerce software the tutorial for building an e-commerce website may answer your needs.
Despite the advantages of the proprietary package, I would still recommend you go with the open source CMS route. There are many reasons for using the self-hosted WordPress. This link shows some of them and why I recommend you go with the self-hosted WordPress.
7. Build Your Business Website
Now you can start building your website.
Let’s say you’re building a site with WordPress. Two things to pay attention to are a theme and plugins. A theme or a template will lay out your basic design. And a plugin will add functionality to your website.
Getting a professional theme is an affordable way to design your small business website. A good template doesn’t need a lot of customizations, and you can do it on your own without the help of a pro webmaster.
Once you upload your theme, just play around with your design or context. If you want a logo for your business, you can get one cheaply from Fivers.
Plugins are essential for improving your website functionality. Two of them are search engine optimization (SEO) and website usability. The SEO plugins help make your website visible on search engines. And the usability plugins improve visitors’ chance to take a desired action.
To learn the details of a theme and plugins take a look at my tutorial for building your first website. You’ll get a quick and easy tutorial for making a business website, even if you have never built one on your own.
Once you’re quite satisfied with your design, start creating and adding content to your website.
Your content makes prospects want to visit your website. And a good combination of design and content makes them want to know more about you and your business.
For that reason, make sure you create content that answers their questions.
Content is a way to convince audiences that you’re the authority. Because once they trust you, they will want to refer to your website if they are looking for more information.
8. Promote Your Website
You have finished creating a beautiful design and useful content, and you’re proud of your work. But your website will be useless if there is no traffic coming in. And there is no business if your target audience can’t find you online.
For that reason, you want to go out and promote your website. Website promotion is all about attracting potential customers to come to your web pages.
But with limited budget you’ll want to figure out inexpensive methods of reaching prospects.
There are two ways to get website traffic: free and paid.
You can generate free visitors if your web pages show up on search engines. But it will only happen if you have great content and get relevant inbound links.
You can also drive web traffic using search engine advertising or media buying. The common methods of getting paid traffic are search engine marketing (SEM) and pay-per-click traffic from social media.
Setting up an affiliate program is another promotion method. With the right set-up, you can get targeted traffic. And the beauty of this method is you only have to pay an amount based on how your affiliates perform.
9. Build Relationships with Visitors
Capturing email address of visitors is a must. So when your site start receiving visitors find ways to get their email.
Getting mails seem like an outdated marketing practice. But email campaigns still work. If visitors want to give you their email chances are they want to listen to you. And you can start communicating with them using email campaigns.
For that purpose, you’ll need a reliable email marketing service like Getresponse.
Getresponse can help effectively manage your email campaigns. They can help you starting from creating a script for your site to sending an email to your subscribers. All you need to do is crate email content, and the software will do the rest.
One of many forms of email content is a newsletter. Publishing a periodical newsletter is a good way to build relationships with audiences. If you cover a particular topic they are interested in learning more, chances are they stay subscribing.
You will want to deepen the relationships with free downloads. Giving tips and information that help make their lives easier, and helping them to become more productive are some of the ideas that you can use.
Using emails you can direct subscribers to your blog post. A great post is place to start a conversation. It’s also a place to learn about their concerns, problems, and expectations. And you can ask their feedback for improving your business.
Don’t forget about social media presence. Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter and Google Plus are places where you can connect with your audiences. But to avoid wasting time and money, make sure to focus on the social networks where they naturally gather with family and friends.
Creatively use the chosen social network for giving stuff not available on your website. If they’re clear about where to find you for their particular need, chances are social media can improve your business.
Like in a normal human relationship, you’ll feel whether you’re at the right time to show them your offerings. But it’ll work only if you know what they’re struggling with and your product can solve the problem.
10. Sell Your Product
The closer your relationship with visitors, the more familiar they are with you and things you sell. It’s a stage where visitors are more likely to choose you over the competitions.
It’s the right time to show and tell them why your products are good for them. Just use many sales gimmicks–like special price, bonus and limited offers–to entice them to buy from you.
When a prospect becomes a buyer, this is where the magic happens. Make sure you handle the next processes very carefully.
First, follow it up with everything you can do so that he or she can get the full benefits of the product.
Second, give more tips and advice as a bonus so they can get more than the package offered.
Third, provide after sales support to answer questions and to get feedback.
As you can see, the overall sales processes are so critical for your success. The first buying experience determines future relationships. If you handle all “touch points” with you heart, you’ll win their heart.
Let’s look at the situation from the customer perspective. Before she hands you her money, she may be struggling with a decision whether to buy or not to buy, or even whether to buy from you or another seller.
Say she finally buys from you. She may be worried whether she will get the best value for what she paid for. Also, she’s still not sure whether she has made the right decision, let alone tell about it to her family and friends.
Just carefully handle all her concerns and create positive experiences. And the reward is she’ll become a repeat customer.
11. Build Relationships with Customers
Customers are not the potential customers.
Customers are the people who trust you. They believe that you have the competence and that you speak the truth. They’re willing to spend money for your product because they think you can help solve their problem.
Now it depends on your business model and solutions you’re offering them. It doesn’t matter whether they’re a subscription service or a consumer product, you’ll have to find ways to stay in touch with them.
Generating ideas on how you can help them further are a good start.
One of them is sending them educational materials, or the like. Another one is showing them an experiment that can help improve their situation. There are still many more ideas but you got the point.
However, there is an issue with growing numbers of customers. It’s when you can no longer deal with them one-by-one.
When they are less than 10, they are relatively easy to handle manually. But you will need a tool to manage your relationships with customers if they grow beyond your control.
At this stage, you want to take a look at how the CRM, stands for Customer Relationship Management, software can help you.
Small business CRM software lets you get to know your customers using information gathering methods and by creating a database. Using all the information, you’ll be able to tailor your product and service offerings or to carry out programs to make them happy.
And we all know that happy customers mean repeat business and referrals.
12. Optimize Your Conversion Rate
Conversion rate optimization is a metric to measure the performance of your sales processes.
You may start a business with strategic things like building buyer personas. You use them to create solutions for your customers.
But the actual things happen at your Website. This is where it matters most.
There are many types of visitors coming to your site. They may come from organic search engine traffic, social media, referrals and paid traffic. They may be first-time visitors or those who regularly visit your site.
You want to study them all. How do they react to your offerings? How effective is your website convert visitors into buyers?
If only a small percentage of the visitors buy your products, you want to find out why they aren’t converting. You want to test and re-test different website designs or landing pages to look for opportunities to increase your conversion goals.
Now you’ll agree with me that starting an internet business is hard.
However, success is within your reach. All you need to do is find reasons to stay motivated and to enjoy the process.
But there are the right and the wrong reasons for starting an internet business. If you’re building a business for the sake of making money, or other selfish reasons, you’re in business for the wrong reason.
If you tap into your strengths to help improve the life of your audiences, you’re doing it for the right reason. Take that approach with all your heart and your buyers will eventually become loyal customers.
Loyal customers are those people you want to work with. They’re the ones who make your business grows and becomes more profitable. So make sure your number one goal is to build a LOYAL CUSTOMER base.
Don’t just read this tutorial and then forget about it. But make a commitment to yourself that you’re going to follow it to start your internet business or get your small business online.
What to Do Next?
Don’t have a website? Learn how to create your first website for starting an internet business.
Originally published at www.smallwebusiness.com on June 17, 2015.