How to get started with an online business

Starting a real-world business is, in one word, difficult. For starters, you need some amount of capital to get things rolling – buying or even renting a business space costs quite a bit of money, to speak nothing of having it equipped. Then comes the drawing of attention to it – unless you were able to get an attractive location for your business headquarters (which very few businesses are able to do nowadays), you’ll face no small amount of difficulty when trying to figure out how to shine a light on your brand.

Thanks to the popularity of the internet, however, entrepreneurs can now take an attractive shortcut: as opposed to going brick-and-mortar, one can choose to run a business that works almost entirely online and do just fine.

While it might be a shortcut, don’t think it’s easy – in fact, the added competition alone will make success achievable only for the truly driven. Still, if you can persevere, there are plenty of rewards to running your online business. Here’s how you can start one in the shortest amount of time possible.

Starting your non-goods online business

Online businesses differ mainly in what they offer: goods or services? If it’s the latter, your job will be considerably easier, yet much more difficult at the same time.

The great thing about starting a service-based online business is that you don’t really need anything other than a working website. In fact, depending on what you’re doing and how legitimate you need to appear, you might not even have to register your business or own any licenses – instead, much of your dealings can be done in an under-the-table capacity.

To start offering your services, you’ll have to buy an attractive domain name and some hosting for it first. From there on, see about having the website designed so that it projects the kind of image you want: slick, professional and ready to serve.

Afterwards, you’ll have to evaluate your competition and see about beating them to the punch. Round up your competitors in the area and work with a SEO consultant to see how far their influence is spreading and what you can do to wrestle clients away from them.

Instructions for goods sellers

Is selling goods your thing instead? No problem – online shops are almost as easy to start up, although you’ll always have the additional issue of shipping to worry about.

The most important thing is to decide whether you’ll be selling your stuff through a middle man service like eBay or on your own. Both choices have their perks and drawbacks: selling through something like eBay or Amazon will let you net customers more easily and will make shipping easier, but it’ll also mean you aren’t really independent and are forced to give a cut of your profits to someone else.

Whichever method you choose, you’ll probably want your own website in order to appear more legitimate. If you’re selling through a middle man, you’ll be able to save time, effort and perhaps a good bit of money on web design – your website will only need to feature basic information and a link to your eBay page.

Those looking to have a proper online store will need to pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars to a web designer who can get things running – if you’re unsure of your ability to handle these costs, consider starting with a middle man and then splitting away once things get going.

Best ways to market your business online

So, you’ve opened up your business and are ready to assume the role of an entrepreneur in full, huh? Congratulations are in order, then – the first step is more than most are willing to take.

Unfortunately, this step is still only that: the first out of countless others, each potentially being more grueling than the previous. Yes, you might have opened up your doors to customers without hiccups, but have you really made sure you’re on the map?

Being a successful business owner takes a lot more than drive – you’ll have to make a constant effort to get ahead of your competition through creative marketing.

The essence of online marketing

In a sense, online marketing isn’t all that different from its real-world counterpart: lots of businesses in lots of niches trying to attract customers. Yet online marketing differs in one important aspect that far too many business owners who started in the real world neglect: search engines.

Search engines are always looking to make or break your business based on how they perceive you. Are you someone with a quality presence on the web or are you an interloper who needs to be swept back to the last pages of search results?

Fortunately, no matter the stage your business is at, there are plenty of ways through which you can convince the search engines to lean towards the former. Understanding how search engines work should be the corner stone of every online business marketing effort – we’d say it’s always best to start simple, but manipulating these devious and complex engines is anything but.

After optimizing your online brand in a way that gives you more favor with the search engines and lands you on more first pages (or, preferably, even in the top 5 results), it’s time to start thinking in more detailed terms.

Running your online campaigns

Here’s another thing that online business marketing has going for it: running a marketing campaign on the internet is much easier than doing it in the real world. You don’t have to pick and choose from heaps of newspapers or magazines, or scout for billboards, or argue with TV heads over how much prime time you can get – instead, you can have a full campaign up and running in a matter of hours (or even minutes, if you’re really in a hurry).

That’s not to say marketing yourself successfully on the web is easy, of course. No, you’ll have to put in a good bit of consideration into managing your resources effectively – every ad budget is limited, and you can’t afford too many failed campaigns that generate very little traffic.

Familiarizing yourself with the search engines should have given you a good understanding of how Google works, which should help you set up your first Google ad campaign. With Google, you only pay when someone clicks on the ad, so you’ll have a good insight into how well the advertising effort is working out for you. Make sure to monitor traffic and ask your leads about how they found you – if Google ads aren’t doing the trick, perhaps a few targeted Facebook campaigns might yield better results.

Past that, see about becoming a mainstay advertiser on one or two websites of your choice that have a decent amount of visitors – if you picked a website that complements your niche well, this method stands to get you the biggest amount of leads over the long term, although you’ll always have to give the website owner a cut of your profits.

What is the process of getting your business listed online

When you’re in charge of a business, being on the map is just as important as having something good to offer. Even the best service or goods in the world won’t matter if people don’t know about you or don’t know how to reach you.

You should never catch yourself waiting to reach a certain point in your entrepreneurial venture before getting listed – instead, it should be the first thing you do as soon as you open up shop.

Basic online listings

Luckily, getting your business listed online isn’t all that complicated. In fact, finding the relevant pages might be the most difficult part of the process.

The big ones are obvious: Google+, Yelp and the like. But what about the less-known sites – sites that could help you get customers just as much as bigger ones?

Take the time to search the web for as many listing and citations websites as possible. You can skip the truly obscure ones, but don’t overlook a citations website just because it isn’t the most popular one – each of them could end up getting you a customer or few who will stick with you for years. This guy talks a bit about the importance of local listings no matter the type of business you’re running.

Different websites have different ways of accepting listings: some will let you create and fill out your own page while others will require correspondence with the site owner or a similar figure. Likewise, don’t skip a website just because the process of getting listed is more difficult or takes more time, as every additional listing will give you an extra push when it comes to search engine rankings.

Also, keep a close eye out for existing listings: some websites list businesses on their own and can often feature incomplete or inaccurate information. Perform thorough searches that include your business name, address, number and other forms of pertinent information in order to pinpoint any erroneous listings. Then, contact the owners of these websites and forward them your updated information – with a quick verification of your identity, they should have no issue correcting the entries as per your request.

Beyond the online listing

Speaking of pushes, if you’d like your listings to do a little more than just feature your company info, you can choose to work with one or more citations sites that offer premium services.

Convenience is among the primary perks of these sites: for a fixed or monthly fee, these citation places offer plenty of reputation-boosting activities without bothering you too much with the details. If you’re strapped for time (as so many business owners are), this is a great way to get more exposure without doing all that much – press releases, blog posts, featured articles and general advertisement are just some examples of the services that these websites offer.

If you do choose to go for the services of a premium listings website, make sure to monitor your traffic closely – no matter the amount of money you’ve spent on premium perks, you’ll want to have a good idea of whether you got your money’s worth or not and plan future campaigns accordingly.

How to find a good web designer

Successful people are where they are because they’ve made a series of sound choices and have surrounded themselves with all the right people. Some of these people help them on a personal level by offering support and guidance: others are there to fill the gaps in expertise and help create a complete and polished product.

A good web designer is the quintessential ally of every online businessman. If you run an online business of any kind, your website acts as your de facto headquarters and serves as the perfect representation of you and your company. Therefore, you can’t afford to have your web design done by anyone other than a professional with plenty of talent and a decent work ethic.

Unfortunately, finding such people can be tough – everyone’s out to make money, and in doing so will brand themselves as the very best that the world has to offer. Being able to tell real from phoney is tough, although knowing where to look is a solid first step.

Freelancer sites

If you’re looking for a decent web designer, you can always try your luck with one of the numerous freelancing sites running around. Generally speaking, these will feature contractors of all skill levels: from true professionals to those who have read a couple of instructional articles before deciding to advertise their services.

These sites are always a mixed bag of results because you never know how well someone can deliver until you’ve tried them out, especially with something as nuanced as web design. Sure, feedback and portfolio help, but on average, you can expect a solid amount of frustration when hoping to find someone you can work with over the long term.

That should be your goal, after all: having a web designer you can turn to year-round, one who will service your website quickly and efficiently as soon as an issue arises. As it is, many web designers view their services as ‘one and done’ and consider websites something to be delivered and moved on from – this is definitely a mindset you don’t want in your employ.

Web design company

A noteworthy alternative to freelancing sites presents itself in the form of web design companies. As opposed to a bazaar type of environment, each employee in a web design company must pass a stringent quality check before getting a job position – as far as guarantees go in the world of online business, you can’t get much better than this.

These companies also have a clear orientation towards professionalism and aren’t likely to fail you in any way, be it by delivering a low-quality website or taking way too long to finish – reputation is everything and very few companies can afford to have disgruntled customers posting bad reviews. Here’s an overview of what you should look for when choosing the perfect web design company for your needs.

For all their perks, web design companies have a major drawback to working with them: the prices. Because multiple people need to be paid as opposed to a sole web designer – not to mention the fact that these designers often have a formal education and therefore want more money for their services – getting your website done by a design company can easily empty your pockets, especially if it’s a complex one. Still, it’s an option worth considering for those who aren’t willing to make compromises on their way to establishing a brand.