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.