Starting an Online Business For Dummies
Starting a business online is all about cutting overhead; getting your products and services in front of the public quickly and marketing yourself in new, cost-effective ways. For the investment of a little sweat equity, you potentially reap big results. A new set of tools is available to online entrepreneurs these days, including mobile websites, shopping cart services and other hosts, viral marketing, social networking, and search engine optimization.
Attract Customers by Triangulating Your Online Business
An online business needs to know how to triangulate its customers (that is, to connect with customers from multiple entry points on the Internet). Doing so will help broaden its customer base, boost its search engine optimization (SEO) results, and make more money.
Triangulate your online business by maximizing your blog, your website, your Twitter and Facebook pages, and the storefronts you have on specialty marketplaces. These components drive traffic to one another and drive customers to your products and services. Each performs a function and helps you achieve a core business goal.
By writing down goals, such as the ones in this table , you can decide what to tackle first and how to do it:
|Goal||Type of Online Presence||What to Do|
|Have a home base from which you can promote all your storefronts and your products||Website||Create a business name and logo and find a host for your website, then talk about your background and expertise.|
|Keep up with customers and build loyalty with giveaways and other promotions||Social Media||Start a business Facebook page (separate from your personal Facebook page) on which you announce sales and other promotions.|
|Keep up a blog||Website||Resolve to post on your own blog on a regular basis and respond to all of the customer comments or inquiries you receive.|
|Reach niche customers who are passionate about specialty items||Storefronts||Find marketplaces that specialize in the types of items you sell or that sell general merchandise and are likely to bring you customers.|
|Give customers a way to talk back to you and to one another||Social media, a blog||Create a WordPress blog and allow comments, or interact with your customers or followers on Facebook and Twitter.|
Finding a Host for Your Website and Storefront
While your online business is in the planning stages, finding a host for your website, your blog, and any storefronts you set up to sell your products is an essential requirement. You can set up shop with a variety of hosting services, from an auction site to an online mall to your own Internet Service Provider.
Here are some suggestions based on the type of merchandise you want to sell:
|I Want To . . .||What to Do|
|Sell mugs, bags, and other merchandise printed with my original designs and artwork.||Create a store on CafePress, which lets anyone put their original designs on products and sell them through the CafePress website.|
|Sell vintage clothing.||Sign up with a specialty marketplace such as Babylon Mall, which enables vintage clothing sellers to set up their own storefronts.|
|Find a site that offers predesigned templates that make my store look like a well-established and professional operation that has been around for years.||Lots of hosts offer website templates. If you are willing to make the investment and purchase a template, check out PrestaShop, which offers a large variety of predesigned store templates you can customize to fit your own needs.|
|Set up a website that is also a store and have access to full-featured storefront software.||Find a hosting service that offers ShopSite or Miva Merchant, software packages that let you run a store as part of your website.|
|Be a part of an online shopping mall where lots of other stores are hosted.||Sign up with AOL Shopping or Access Market Square.|
|Sell individual products such as books and CDs that are already sold through Amazon.com||Add your items to the Amazon.com marketplace.|
|Sell a wide variety of collectible and one-of-a-kind items as well as popular consumer goods.||Start selling on eBay or set up an eBay Store.|
|Keep it simple and, rather than shopping around for a web hosting service, pay a single bill for Internet access and a website.||Use your Internet Service Provider (ISP) as your website host.|
|Find a host that specializes in e-commerce and provides you with a way to list items for sale, have customers make selections, and have those customers pay you with a credit card.||Sign up with a shopping cart service that will host your online store.|
|Put everything you can into a website that has all the bells and whistles — video, blogs, e-commerce, and more.||Sign up with a company that does website hosting full-time. These are businesses whose primary function is hosting e-commerce Web sites and providing their clients with associated software, such as Web page building tools, shopping carts, catalog builders, and the like.|
An SEO and Viral Marketing Checklist for Online Businesses
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and viral marketing are two cost-effective and highly popular ways to get the word out about your online business. After you create your website, follow this checklist to make sure you aren't forgetting anything when it comes to optimizing your web pages for indexing by Google and other search engines, and spreading the word about your products and services.
Put your keywords in the title. Choose the keywords that your customers are likely to enter when they are searching for sites like yours, and make sure one or two (or more) appear in the titles of your web pages.
Sprinkle around those keywords. Make an effort to include your keywords in the headings on your pages, and in the text as well.
Add meta tags. Meta tags are keywords added in the Head section of a web page, between the <meta> and </meta> tags.
Register your site with Google. Don't wait for Google to find you. Add your site to Google's database — and after that, to Bing's and Yahoo!'s sites as well.
Get on Facebook. Create a "fan page" for your business on Facebook.
Start Twittering. Promote your current sales and create special deals for those who find or follow you on Twitter.
The history of the web page is important. This includes the date the page was first discovered by a search engine.
Keep your web page updated. The frequency with which the content of the web page changes is also important to SEO. This includes an average time between the changes, a number of changes in a time period, and a comparison of a rate of change in a current time period with a rate of change in a previous time period.
Keep your site growing. The number of new pages associated with the document matters as well.
Get linked. Make sure your pages ink to other well-designed, content rich sites. The more links you have, the better your search results.
How to Schedule Your Online Sales and Shipping
If you own an online business, stay on track by developing a schedule for your sales and shipping. Selling online, whether it's by yourself, with a partner, or with a team of employees, is full of tedious and time-consuming activities. You have to take and retake photos, edit those photos, get sales descriptions online, and do the packing and shipping that's required at the end of a sale.
The only way to come up with a sufficient number of online sales every week is to come up with a system. And a big part of coming up with a system is developing a weekly schedule.
The following schedule spells out when you need to do all your eBay activities if you plan to get your sales online on a Sunday. But you can adapt it to any number of online businesses and schedules.
|Day of Week||First Activity||Second Activity (optional)|
|Sunday||Get 7-day sales online||Send end-of-sale notices|
|Wednesday||Plan garage sales||Take photos|
|Thursday||Go to garage sales||Prepare descriptions|
|Friday||More sales||Prepare descriptions|
|Saturday||Respond to buyer inquiries||Get some sales online|