“I’m starting an online business — where do I start?” It’s broad question, but is one that comes up repeatedly on small business forums and discussion boards.
Of course, an online business is merely a vehicle for the product or service you are selling. So starting a Web-based business — and making it a success — will take more than just getting online. There are two fundamental steps you will need to take. The first is to treat your online business like any other business venture by paying attention to business start-up processes; second, you’ll need to generate traffic to your site.
Below are some tips and best practices that can guide you through these steps – with all your check boxes ticked.
Starting an Online Business: Be a Responsible Business Owner
Whether you are starting an innovative new online business or setting up a hot dog stand, you must pay attention to the fundamentals of business ownership. For online business owners, this means more than just building a Web site and registering your domain name. You’ll also need to comply with the regulations that govern your type of business and the products and services you sell.
A useful resource to help you get your arms around being a responsible business owner is Business.gov’s 10 Steps to Starting a Business. This step-by-step government guide consolidates everything you need to know and do to honor your legal obligations as a new business owner.
If you are engaging in any form of e-commerce in your online business venture, you should also be aware of these federally-mandated e-commerce rules and regulations.
Marketing an Online Business: Using Online and Offline Channels
To succeed in your online business venture, it’s critical that you generate traffic. But without a store front or obvious physical business location, let alone any kind of physical signage, generating traffic is one of the biggest challenges of starting and online business.
Take time to write an integrated marketing plan that maximizes both online and offline channels – and delivers a consistent brand message through both.
Below are some tips for using both online and offline channels to market your online small business venture:
1. Promoting Your Online Business Using Online Channels
Using Web-based marketing channels to promote your online business can be accomplished in many ways. But, unless you have a substantial marketing budget, your best advice is to employ a mix of low cost and free tactics. At a minimum these should include these three intertwined tactics:
- Organic Search Engine Optimization (SEO) – You don’t need to hire an SEO expert to help make your small business Web site search engine friendly. Getting your site to rank high in organic search results, such as Google, gives your site a “presence” and there are some basic strategies that you can implement. Here are some Tips on Doing SEO for Small Business.
- Pay-per-Click (PPC) Advertising – PPC advertising is an online advertising model used on search engines (usually appearing under the heading “Sponsored Links”), advertising networks, and content sites, such as blogs, in which you only pay when your ad is clicked. It’s a cost-effective option for many small businesses who can’t afford more complex SEO campaigns. Here is a useful overview of Pay-Per-Click Advertising for Small Business from the StartUp Blog at PartnerUp.
- Social Media Marketing – From Twitter to Facebook to blogging, the concept of building the profile of online business through social media is being used by over 260,000 companies in North America, not just to engage with their markets, but to actually generate sales. John Jantsch at Duct Tape Marketing has many tips on social media marketing for small business. Read how to “Hit the Social Media Sweet Spot” or view his archived webinar “Social Media for Small Business“.
2. Promoting Your Online Business Using Traditional Offline Channels
If your online business is local in its focus, get out there and make the most of on-the-ground tactics such as flyers, or advertising in local newspapers, community newsletters or at niche market events. You can even generate free press for yourself by getting involved in cause-related events. If you have writing skills, contact your local free press and volunteer to write an article or quick column on your particular area of expertise.
- Real-life Twitter Business Success Stories (Web Worker Daily)
- Seven Ways to Raise Your Local Business Listing Rank in Google (LevelTen Interactive)
- Quick Start Guide to SEO : Search Engine Optimization Basics for Small Business (SBI+ M)
- How to Use Your Local Newspaper to Market Your Business (Allbusiness.com)
- Three Ways to Earn Followers on Twitter (American Express OPEN Forum)
- How to Conduct a Website Self-Evaluation (Sparkplugging.com)
- Twitter Tools for Business (SCORE)
- How to Use Facebook for Business (Community Marketing Blog)