You’ve heard it hundreds of times: you need to ‘start an online business’. But how exactly do you do that—and do it the right way?
Whether you’ve dabbled in digital marketing or are just getting started in the online space, this 10-step guide is on how to start an online business successfully.
We’ll help you shorten the learning curve, make the most of your resources, and maximize the impact that you can have both online and off starting an online business.
Get clear about the goals of your new site.
Your website is more than a static sales page—it is the 24/7, always-on, global representative of your business and it needs to do more than passively present information. It needs to transform anonymous web visitors into qualified leads and sales.
Be specific about how you need your website to work for your business and within your marketing strategy. What key actions do you need your site visitors to take? You might consider:
Schedule a consultation, sign up for a newsletter, purchase a product/service, locate the nearest shop, contact you via phone or email, and enroll in a webinar or online course.
Your website’s objective(s) will guide every other choice you make. Skip this step and you’ll spend time trying to do everything all at once. Get clear about your goal and you’ll convert more traffic into business growth.
Take inventory of your site needs.
Now that you know your goal(s), spend some time creating your ‘grocery list’ of requirements, resources, and roles.
Whether you’ll DIY your website or work with a third-party, this is how you turn your objectives into something tangible.
What functionality does your website need to perform? Will it need to be mobile responsive (yes!)? What level of access do you need—would you prefer to make changes yourself or depend on a third-party?
What time, technical skill, creative development, and budget are available to you? What gaps do you need to fill?
Looking ahead to the next 5 years, what ongoing support will you require? Will you work with a web developer or do you want a site that you can easily manage yourself?
Keep in mind the more dependent you are on a third-party to change or update your site, the more time and money you should expect to invest over the long-term.
What’s your site’s web address?
Your domain name is your business’s unique online address. You’ll need to decide if it will be your company or business name, a brand, slogan, or something else—and cross-check to make sure that domain is available for purchase.
A few tips for choosing a domain name for your online business
- Avoid numbers and hyphens
- Keep it short and avoid strange spellings
- Cross-check to make sure your domain name is not trademarked
- Consider buying common misspellings of your domain name and re-directing them to your domain
Where will your site live on a server?
Your domain name points towards your web space, which is hosted on a web server. Most small businesses purchase shared web hosting from a domain or third-party supplier.
When choosing a web hosting provider, keep the following in mind
- How much tech support do you need/want along the way?
- How much traffic do you expect your site will receive?
- Do you fully understand the hosting offer? (Will the price rise after your initial subscription term?)
What will you create?
With the infrastructure and strategy nailed down, it’s time to dream up the content you’ll create for your website. Try to architect and structure your content to achieve your primary goals and to strike a healthy balance of (1) what your audience needs/want to know and (2) what you want to tell them.
Nail down your online business branding
Consistent, cohesive branding is the #1 way to convey professionalism online—whether you’re a one-woman show or a 100-employee operation. Before you begin creating content, set out some brand guidelines.
Define key pages
Consider what key pages you’ll include: Homepage, About, Services, Contact, Blog, etc.
Generating fresh content on your site is one of the best (and most cost-effective ways) to engage with your audience and be visible in Google search results.
If you build it—where will your visitors come from?
Consider how you will drive traffic and send visitors to your site.
Will you post on social media?
Optimize for organic search?
Advertise on Facebook?
Use pay-per-click (PPC) ads?
Referrals from other websites?
What will your visitors do when they arrive on your website or web store?
Once you’re able to drive visitors to your website, your job becomes engaging with them and compelling people to take meaningful actions. Have a plan in place for how you’ll build relationships with your audience so that you can transform anonymous web traffic into a community of happy customers.
Build-in opportunities for engagement
- Add social share buttons to key content on your page to engage your audience and amplify your reach
- After reading an article, invite your readers to share their thoughts right on the page
What’s more valuable than a simple engagement is a conversion, such as filling out an opt-in form or completing a purchase. To increase your conversion rate, use unique landing pages or pop-up forms to collect contact info and deliver tailored content to a specific target audience.
Landing pages allow you to collect leads and close sales by tailoring your content to a unique target audience.
How will your site collect leads and sales?
Connecting your site to third-party apps, such as a landing page software, email service provider (ESP), customer relationship management (CRM) software, or analytics platform is critical. It’s how you track, collect, and follow-up with people who have expressed interest in your offering.
Getting your small business online involves building an ecosystem of tools to help you manage and measure your growth.
Tips to consider
Which apps and tools will your business depend on? Can your website easily integrate with them? What tech support will that require? Are there any skill gaps you need to fill or can you find an intuitive platform that makes it easy?
How will you know your website is working for your online business?
Knowing how your visitors behave on your site is the first step towards creating a more compelling digital experience (and growing your business).
If you’re just starting out with web analytics and conversion marketing, stay focused on the most important metrics:
- Users: The total number of web visitors that are coming to your page or site
- Conversion rate: How many of those web users are taking the desired action (ex. Purchasing or opting in)
- Traffic channels: Where are your visitors coming from? Are you primarily getting traffic from organic search, paid advertising, social media, email, referrals, etc.?
Create a customer journey.
While your website is the cornerstone of your online presence (kind of like your home base), it won’t be the only place you publish content. Your mission, as an online business owner, is to be easily findable wherever and whenever your audience is.
From Facebook business pages to Quora forums, to popular blogs and big social media platforms, your brand must be present, engaging, and enticing traffic to content and through campaigns with the goal of turning clicks into customers.
How you can do that and what works best for your particular audience is a journey of exploration and experimentation. As you grow, invest your time and resources into testing different platforms, tools, and advertising opportunities. Set yourself up for success by making sure that your ads and pages are designed to convert and that you can easily measure your impact and repeat what works.
You’ve finished the 10 steps, so where do you go from here?
At Leadpages, we believe that small businesses, who band together, grow together—and we hope that you’ll join us! Tens of thousands of entrepreneurs, just like you, are joining together to share education and encouragement.
If you’d like to experience the community that made Leadpages the #1 lead generation platforms, we invite you to take us for a test drive.
After you start your trial, be sure to join our exclusive Facebook community group.