Please note that this Go Digital course content was developed in 2017 and therefore should be used as a guide only as the referenced online services may have changed over time.
Week 1 - How to Start an Online Business
In Australia, if you want to start an online business there are a few things to consider before taking the leap.
The Usual Rules Apply
Even though a business is online, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t similar to any other business. All the usual financial, legal and planning / preparation still needs to take place.
Starting an online business doesn’t mean that you get to skip all the hard stuff like ensuring you comply with licensing, you register your business name, you have a bank account and you’ve investigated the market to see if there’s a need and whether or not there are competitors.
Find out more on the general steps for starting any business over at: https://www.business.gov.au/
Know your clients / customers
One of the biggest factors for any business is knowing your clients or customers really well.
Make sure you take the time to talk to potential clients and customers (or past ones if you’ve already started your business) and get their feedback on your ideas. They may provide valuable insight that your assumptions might miss.
Once you know who they are, where they like to hang out, what their life is like, what they are struggling with and how your products / services fit in – it will make all of the following decisions about your online business so much easier.
*Tip for Beginners: even if you don’t have any clients yet, you can join free groups on social media related to your clients. You can even ask people if they’ll do a research call, make sure they know it is definitely not a sales pitch call.
Establish a Presence Online
Now, I’m not saying you need a custom built website that will cost thousands of dollars. But, you do need some kind of ‘home base’ online.
For a large part of the population, they will look online to research a business, product or something to buy.
If you don’t have some kind of presence, you are basically invisible, which won’t help any business get off the ground.
What are your options?
Easy Website Builders
Sites like Squarespace, Weebly and Wix are made for those without strong technical skill. They have easy to use editors where a web page can be edited directly, rather than having to edit in a different screen.
This option can take more time rather than money. Prices start from $12 a month USD. Go Digital will be providing free training on building a website in Squarespace. Check here for more information.
Custom Built Sites
You can find many people online who can build a site for you. However, this can cost in the thousands and usually takes a few months, between deciding on the design and working through the process.
Have a look over on freelancer.com or upwork.com to find talented freelancers in the IT development industry.
Online Marketplace Sites
Sites like Etsy, eBay, Amazon and many other variations can be a great starting point for doing business online.
Sites like these, have millions of customers visiting every month just to shop. This means that you may not have to spend as much time or money trying to attract customers so long as you use the right keywords in your descriptions and tags for your products if you list on these sites.
For those offering services, take a look at freelancer.com or upwork.com. You can list your services and browse people looking for people to help out on service based projects like copywriting, video production, music, graphic design etc
Many of these sites might charge a small fee to create a listing, however it can be cheaper and easier than creating a website.
Social Media Presence
For many online businesses, they simply start with only a Facebook page, instead of creating a full website.
This can be a great starting point when you are testing out your products or services to see if your idea will work before investing more time and money in creating a website.
Don’t feel limited to Facebook. Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter (and many more) all provide viable options for having a home base for your business on the Internet.
Online Classifieds Sites / Groups
An even simpler way to get started selling online is to use sites like Facebook Buy, Swap, Sell groups or classifieds sites like Gumtree (Australia) or Craigslist (US).
These options work like the classifieds sections in a Newspaper. You can join the group or the site and create a listing of something you want to sell.
Facebook Buy, Swap, Sell groups also seem to function like a town noticeboard and can be a great place to make local connections etc, especially if you have a service based business.
Create a Conversation (2-way communication)
The next step is to create a conversation using a blog on your website, and / or social media.
The reason I use the words ‘create a conversation’ is that the internet works differently to traditional media, wherein tv, radio, newspaper it’s all a one-way conversation, ‘Me, me, me here’s what I’m selling’.
The internet allows readers to make comments, to engage with you, your brand, your messages.
It’s a great way to slowly build a relationship with potential clients, customers. It can take more time, but if done well, you will have a loyal group of followers who will be interested in changes in your business, new products etc.
The biggest trick of this strategy is that in most of your posts you won’t actually be selling anything. A lot of the time you will be simply entertaining, informing, advising. A rule of thumb is that you only overtly sell 1 in every 3 posts but 1 in 5 posts can be better in the beginning while you build trust with your audience.
Check out Guy Kawasaki’s interview where he discusses the different types of content and how to engage your audience for more tips.
Land of Opportunity
One of the best opportunities that the Internet presents in business is that you can connect and engage in a different way to traditional media.
Initially, you want to get your message out there; who you are, who you serve and what product / service either delights or solves a problem for your ideal client / customer.
But you also want to seek out where your ideal client / customer hangs out online, what are they talking about, how can you join that conversation, as well as encourage feedback on whatever you are posting.
It’s similar to building a relationship face-to-face, it builds slowly and over time, but can reap fantastic rewards if you’re patient and willing to take the time.
Differences to the Offline Business World
Starting an online business is not all ‘sell, sell, sell – here’s what I have’.
You need to capture attention and not necessarily by direct selling.
Being able to entertain your potential clients as well as being personable so that others can get to know you is the key to growing an online business.
Arguably, this isn’t so different from the offline business world.
If you open a new store, yes people will come to check out your new store in town, but to build a more successful businesses, you need to do more.
If you go to town events, introduce yourself, get to know people, build relationships so you become known and trusted, you’ll find your business grows and will be stronger.
This same process happens in the online world, however, you don’t always get that face to face connection.
Technology bridges the gap somewhat with video and audio – especially facebook live where people feel like they get the genuine you – like if you were interacting in person.
Helping you with the Technology
The biggest difference is coming to terms with the technology.
Luckily, this is easier than it used to be as online business develops with many users finding it easier and more intuitive.