Imagine working from anywhere in the world, any time you like, with just a laptop. Sounds wonderful, right? That’s life as an online business owner.
Well, it’s not that perfect. You still have to actually work, but there’s no doubt that the lifestyle is attractive to a lot of entrepreneurs. If you’ve ever thought about starting an online business, here are some things you should know first:
- Ignore the statistics
Yes, 90+% of online businesses fail. That sounds daunting, but you should ignore it. Online businesses fail easily because the barrier to entry is low. There’s no storefront, no inventory, and no staff. That model attracts people who never planned to commit or who aren’t willing to put in the work. If you have discipline, that number isn’t accurate.
- Choose a niche you enjoy
You may have found the perfect niche, topic or market that’s ripe for profit, but if it’s not something that interests you, you’ll struggle, flounder, and likely fail. Can you see yourself working in that space in five years? If that thought makes you cringe, choose something else.
- Market first, product second
What you sell isn’t as important as whom you sell it to. Before you look for a product or service to sell, decide on who you want to serve. Find people who are searching for a problem, then decide the best manner to solve it for them.
- Business cards and letterhead don’t matter
Don’t fall into the trap of spending all your time on marketing efforts, such as creating business cards, logos, letterhead, and even online advertising until your ”storefront” is complete. If you absolutely need those assets, handle them quickly and move on to bigger problems. You can always update them or make changes later, but these items are only obstacles that should be overcome quickly.
- Don’t quit your job!
Building a business large enough to support a single person takes a while. In the meantime, you still need to eat. Even though you could build the business faster with a free schedule, it’s more likely that you’ll succumb to financial pressures and abandon the business once your personal debt starts accumulating. There is plenty of time outside of the 40-hour work week to build a company. That said…
- Successful people take breaks
Hustling and a strong work ethic are great, but your brain can’t work every waking moment. If you want to start an online business, settle in for the long haul. Plan breaks into your day. Occasionally take a day off. Trust me on this one – burnout will get you to that 90% fail rate pretty quickly!
- You need a website
You must have some control over your sales channels. Selling on Amazon, eBay, or Etsy has advantages, but you’ll always be at the mercy of their platforms. If they ban your product, you’re done. If they change their search systems, you might become invisible.
Protect yourself by starting and marketing a website. It will always be in your control. Use a practical, clean design and engaging copy that clearly describes what you’re selling. Use lots of pictures and video where appropriate. Don’t forget SEO best practices!
- Email marketing has the best ROI
There is no debate over the effectiveness of email marketing. Wherever possible, try to grab your customer’s email address. They are much more receptive to sales copy through their inbox. Over time, use this channel to nurture a relationship and turn them into a fan.
- Speaking of websites and email – You need strong copy
The written word is your primary tool when you sell online. Images and video help, but writing is the most common way people interact with online businesses. Your websites, blog posts, social pages, emails, and press releases are all word-heavy.
If you can’t write well, expect to learn. Your copy must be arousing, clear, credible, and focused on benefits. It should create urgency and drive visitors to take action.
- It’s all about the data
To be successful on the web, you must take a data-centered approach. Learn how to use Google Analytics. Use data to ask tough questions. Why isn’t traffic converting on that page? Why is no one clicking that link? Use data to draw insights and make practical changes to improve your business’ performance. Even 1% and 2% increases can turn into big money down the road.
Don’t let any of these points discourage you. An online business is a rewarding way to earn a living! Already have an online business? Tell us how you got started!
Margret K. Warner
Vice President, Commercial Lender
Director of Business Services