6 steps to starting an online business

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many brick-and-mortar businesses have been forced to get more acquainted with the digital world. The good news is, there’s room for everyone. The bad news? If you’re a small business that relies on the telephone, and your toe in the internet pool is sending coupons out via email or text, the online world can look daunting. One shutdown order later, and business owners are now scrambling to take orders online.

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Whether you’re a laid-off employee looking to become an internet entrepreneur, or a small business owner who needs an online store and social media presence yesterday, the steps below will help you get your business on the web.

  1. Identify a market

  2. Identifying online business ideas and finding a market for what you’re selling is conceptually simple. Find a group of people who have a problem but don’t have solutions for that problem.

    The internet makes researching this easier than you think. Social media platforms can put you in touch with people who are frustrated with the lack of solutions to their problems. Google can give you an idea of startup costs, who your competition is, how many competitors you have, and how well or how poorly they’re meeting their customer’s needs.

    Pro Tip

    Start your own online business in minutes with Jotform Store Builder.

  3. Write content that sells

  4. Content that will convince potential customers to buy from you can take many forms, including website and social media copy, blogs, images, video podcasts, ads, brochures, and email marketing, among others. Regardless of the form your content marketing takes, there are some characteristics universal to effective content.

    The most effective content

    • Is compelling
    • Describes the problem you’re solving
    • Establishes your credibility in solving the problem
    • Incorporates testimonials from satisfied customers
    • Describes how the product or service benefits the customer
    • Makes the offer
    • Makes a guarantee
    • Creates urgency
    • Attempts to close the sale
  5. Build a web and social media presence

  6. Having both a web and social media presence is critical.

    While social media seems to get most of the attention, don’t forget that almost every mobile device out there not only has Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter installed, but also Chrome, Safari, and the Google app. A clean, user-friendly, and — most important — responsive website is just as important as a robust, consistently updated, and — most important — moderated social media presence.

    User experience is key for your website. Test the website on all device types and on as many platforms as possible. This will ensure a satisfying user experience regardless of whether the customer is at home on their desktop or on the train with their smartphone.

    For e-commerce stores with carts and check-out screens, efficient, well-designed forms are important for smooth check-outs and low abandonment rates. Platforms like Jotform, which offers a variety of efficiently designed forms and integrations, can help.

  7. Use search engines to drive traffic

  8. In 2015, Google changed its algorithm to factor in a website’s mobile responsiveness in its ranking. The date was aptly named Mobilegeddon because of the lower page ranking many sites received as a result of their failure to meet this deadline.

    The responsiveness of your site is important for more reasons than just user experience. If customers can’t find you, they can never have that experience.

    Once you know that Google isn’t going to banish you to non-responsiveness land, you can begin using things like search engine optimization (SEO), search engine marketing (SEM), and pay-per-click (PPC) advertising to get your site as high in those rankings as possible. Pay-per-click is especially effective because it allows you to test various keywords and then mass-deploy the keywords that perform the best.

  9. Establish credibility

  10. Customers don’t just use the internet to buy stuff. They use it to gather information before making a purchase.

    Become a credible provider of information, and you’ll drive more traffic to your site, create more engaged customers, and sell products more effectively. A simple way to do this is by creating articles, whether on a blog, industry website, or social media. Include a link to your site with each post, and you’ll discover yet another way to drive potential customers to you.

  11. Develop customer loyalty

  12. One of the most important internet marketing strategies is to develop customer loyalty. Customer acquisition is difficult and expensive. However, many first-time customers will buy from you again if you follow up with them.

    Once a customer buys from you, there are strategies you can use to manage that relationship, increase conversion rates, and increase the likelihood that they’ll remain loyal. Here are some examples:

    • Offer products or services that complement what they originally purchased.
    • Send regular coupons/discounts via email or text to reward customer loyalty.
    • Hold special events for repeat customers.
    • Give away free items or services with a purchase of multiple items/services.

Harness the power of an online presence

An online presence for your e-commerce business will continue to reap benefits long after the COVID-19 crisis has passed. Whether you’re starting a new business model or creating a digital extension of an existing one, your online presence is a gateway to a huge pool of potential customers.

A journalist and digital consultant, John Boitnott has worked for TV, newspapers, radio, and Internet companies for 25 years. He’s written for Inc.com, Fast Company, NBC, Entrepreneur, USA Today, and Business Insider, among others.

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