If you ask people what their perception is of an online business, majority will describe an e-commerce site or a website that sells merchandise. But there are many ways you can have a business online without directly selling products and services. You can set up an informational website which generates revenues through advertising placements. Or you can establish an online model that generates prospects for your offsite business.
Given the large volume of Internet users; 3 Billion every day and rising, it should not be a question of “why” you should start an online but “when” and more importantly, “how”.
The answer to “when” is easy: NOW! According to Netcraft there were 180,000,000 active websites as of January 2014 with an average of 31 million new domain names registered every month. The competition for concepts and domain names are rising largely in part to the increasing presence of mobile technology in business. With more SIM cards than there are people in the world, mobile technology is now a way of life and has opened up a lucrative avenue for businesses to build new markets.
The question of “How” requires more thought, strategy and adherence to a process. Here are five (5) ideas on how to run a successful online business:
1. Invest in a Good Website
It should go without saying that you cannot run an online business without a website. The website is your business address in the digital world; this is where potential clients will find you and where transactions will be carried out. But statistically only 47% of small businesses own websites which mean there are a number of entrepreneurs who have not recognized its unquantifiable value. For the most part, business owners hesitate to build websites out of cost considerations and misinformation. The truth is having an effective website will not cost much to build. Keep in mind these simple pointers when building a website:
Keep design simple. It should represent you and your business but not detract from the content.
Your website must be mobile responsive. It must display clearly and accommodate all devices regardless of size or scale.
Your website must be accessible by multiple browsers.
Ensure download speed is below 7 seconds. The average download speed is 10 seconds and a 1 second improvement in speed increases sales conversions by 7%.
Create great content. Use images and write content that are relevant to your business and engaging with your customers.
As you can see, implementing these qualities require the skill set of a professional website designer. While there are free, downloadable templates online, do not attempt to design the website on your own. A website is an integral part of your online business success. You must invest in it.
2. Identify your passion
A good business idea comes from the heart. It addresses a perceived need and presents a solution. An example of great idea of passion coming to fruition as a business concept is a health and fitness website that addresses the problem of obesity. If you are a health advocate and active in sports, you could possibly put up an informational website with an e-commerce feature for vitamins and supplements. When you identify your passion, your endeavor becomes purposeful. From purpose comes great, relevant and engaging content. In studies conducted by The Harvard Business Review, 80% of consumers patronize businesses they can align purpose with.
3. Embrace technology
It’s not enough that you have a website. You must improve your competency in the medium that houses it: technology. Of the 644 million registered websites only 180 million are active because a significant number has shut down. Most of these online businesses lost because they could not maximize the power of technology to improve the visibility, functionality and accessibility of their websites. Technology also allows you to find new ways to introduce efficiency in your online business. If your business is the type that needs to constantly communicate with people, there are several online tools available to host meetings, make calls and will not cost a cent. You will greatly reduce your costs by using these online services instead of relying on landlines or mobile phones.
4. Implement online marketing strategies
If a website is your digital business address, online marketing strategies help build the roads that drive traffic to it. There are several online marketing strategies to choose from and they can all contribute to the success of your online business. Here is a short-list of the more popular ones:
Social media marketing
Similar to website development, it is advisable to hire a digital marketing professional to at least get your online marketing running. Once the process is more stable and consistent, the digital marketer will turn over the campaign to you.
5. Engage your site visitors
The most important factor in the success of your online business is also the most overlooked: your site visitors. Whether the inquiries, comments or opinions you receive are positive or negative should not matter as much as the fact that the person took the time to engage with you. It means that the person was able to find your website or social media accounts and spent time reviewing your content. That in itself is a victory. If the response is positive, don not be lulled to complacency and strive to become better. If the response is negative, use it as a reference point to review your products and services. Either way, reach out and engage them! You can send them an e-mail or message via social media. When responding, do not give scripted or default messages but customize them accordingly. In driving your online business forward, you have to engage your customers or site visitors because that is how you build relationships. Once you have built a relationship with your site visitor, it doesn’t matter if the feedback was negative, you can be assured he or she will come back to check your services.
Running an online business is not easy but it can be greatly rewarding if you are willing to invest the time and resources.
Felix is a marketer and entrepreneur. He currently helps small business owners reduce costs and boost profits by hiring fully trained virtual assistants. You can connect with Felix on Twitter.