Starting an Online Business All-in-One For Dummies
Starting an online business or growing an existing business online doesn't have to be hard. Lots of resources and tips can help you do everything from creating content for your website to building a long list of loyal customers. Being a savvy online entrepreneur also means understanding how to use social media to promote your business. Try these suggestions and quick tips for launching your website and engaging your customers.
Tips for Building Loyal Online Customers
Getting traffic, or visitors, to your website is only the first step in building your online business. To be successful, you want to convert visitors into customers who keep returning to your site. Use these simple tips to build a loyal following of happy, satisfied customers for your online business:
Offer multiple ways for customers to communicate with you (including e-mail, phone, real-time online support, and online forums).
Respond to customer e-mail within 24 hours.
Engage customers by providing ways to interact with your site, such as participating in online communities, writing product reviews, and commenting on blogs.
Connect with customers through social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn and keep customers interacting with your online brand.
Make customers feel special by sending coupons and other exclusive offers to your registered users or frequent buyers.
Send customers tips or brief articles that show how to use your products or services to help save time, be more productive, or that is fun or innovative.
Give customers several payment options to make buying easy.
Offer free shipping — no strings attached.
Collect personal customer information (with permission) and use it to send special offers or gifts on birthdays and anniversaries and other special occasions.
Find creative ways to thank customers for visiting your site and for making a purchase.
Important Website Resources for Your Online Business
As an online business owner, it's important to have access to many different types of information for starting and managing your website. The online resources in the following table can help you with everything from protecting your site by registering trademarks to operating more efficiently by buying postage online.
|Website||What You Can Do|
|Electronic Copyright Office||Register your site's content|
|Internal Revenue Service (IRS)||Review filing requirements and deadlines; access and print forms|
|Internet Crime Complaint Center||Report online fraud and e-mail abuse|
|Patent and Trademark Office||Search the trademark database and apply for trademark registration|
|U.S. Postal Service||Print postage and labels from your computer and ship from your location|
|Small Business Administration (SBA)||Find financing information and loan applications|
Checklist for Launching a New Website
When creating a website, you must complete several steps before you can take your site live. The following checklist includes small but important details to help ensure that your website is functional and appeals to your online customers.
The site map — the layout and structure of all web pages — is complete.
The site map matches the web pages — exactly.
Each website page is displayed and is fully accessible.
Every link throughout the site works properly and opens the appropriate page.
All graphics and photos load quickly and completely, and the images are crisp and clean.
The content is free of misspellings and grammatical errors.
Pricing information and product or service descriptions are correct.
Pages with online forms or registration information function when you click the Submit button, and the information is sent (in the specified format) to the designated point of contact.
Text boxes or drop-down boxes on forms and other pages work correctly.
Buttons or links for top-level menus work. These buttons, like the one that returns users to the home page, function properly on every single page.
Special commands that are spelled out with coding language (HTML or PHP, for example) are displayed properly when the site loads.
The credit card processor or other payment service option is in place and working.
All e-commerce-related functions, such as the shopping cart, operate correctly.
Membership icons or logos, such as Better Business Bureau or Chamber of Commerce member emblems, have been included.
The site has been tested for browser compatibility and screen resolution.
The site is displayed properly in mobile formats.
Contact information using your e-mail address or phone number is clearly displayed and easy to find.
The copyright symbol and current year are prominently placed at the bottom of every page.
Using Social Media to Promote Your Business
Social media is an inexpensive way to promote your website and to keep new and existing customers chatting about your business. Here are some quick and easy tips for using some of the most popular social networking sites — Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google+, and LinkedIn — to help drive interest and customers to your business.
Set up a business page on Facebook and post special offers (at least once a month) to all those who Like your page.
Post polls (called Questions) on your Facebook page that ask customers fun or quirky questions related to your products or services. For example, if your site sells clothing, start a poll that asks customers to choose their favorite color shirt to wear on the first day of spring.
Ask customers to share pictures on your Facebook page that shows them using their favorite product they bought from your website.
Reduce your workload while expanding your marketing efforts on Facebook: Instead of managing both a business page and a personal page, simply allow subscribers on your personal Facebook page. Subscriptions allow you to send public updates that your subscribers can view. Subscribers can be customers, vendors, and anyone else who is interested in seeing your public posts — just as they would on a business page.
Use Twitter to tweet interesting or unusual facts about your business or products and provide a link to that product page on your site.
Send out short tips via Twitter on how to use your services or products.
Tweet pictures related to you or your business to your Twitter followers.
Create a YouTube channel for your online business and regularly add fun and useful videos and then encourage customers to view and share your videos with others.
Launch a video contest: Ask customers to create short videos of how they use your product or service and post to YouTube, then let other customers vote on their favorites.
Every week, post a short (two minutes or less) video of yourself offering tips for your customers, such as demonstrating how to use a product that you sell.
Ask customers to submit video testimonials and post them on your YouTube channel.
Create a LinkedIn profile and add links to your website; update your profile with new links, product reviews, books, or articles that you're reading, or other information so that this information appears to all the people in your network.
Join LinkedIn groups that may be popular with many of your customers and frequently post questions or comments related to the products or services you offer.
Ask your customers, vendors, or other business associates in your network to provide a recommendation for you or your business in LinkedIn.
Regularly search the Answers section of LinkedIn and look for questions that you can answer related to your online business (if you frequently answer questions that are rated highly by other LinkedIn users, you could earn the title of Expert for that particular topic).
Create circles in your personal Google+ profile that are set up specifically for your customers, your vendors, and others interested in your brand.
Post interesting content to your customers and other business-related circles and encourage feedback or comments on the content. That content might include your blog posts, interesting articles, product reviews, announcements about special promotions, and other exclusive offers or news.
Start a Hangout, the multiuser chat tool in Google+, to solicit feedback from customers. You might, for example, discuss a new product or service or ask for input on issues such as customer service.
Launch a Google+ profile (as soon as Google opens this feature to all businesses) to make it easy for your customers to find and follow your business.