If you want to start an online business there are various things you need to consider, including coming up with the idea, researching the target customers, developing a website and then promoting it so people actually use it.
On the Internet, the website is a storefront of your business. It has to be compelling, easy to read and understand, fast and trustworthy.
But even the best website won’t get you the ROI out of your investment, if there is nobody out there to use it. Or if your idea doesn’t fit any need, solve a problem or bring value.
Starting an online business, it’s recommended to:
- define your product or service
- specify your target audience
- define what elements you need to have on your website
- hire website developers
- promote your business
It will help you to better outline and execute your idea and launch your online business successfully.
Starting an online business: define your product or service
First, decide what exactly you are going to build.
If you’re creating a website for your existing, offline business, it’s a lot easier. You just need to decide which parts of your business can be replicated online, and what you can add to make the online experience special.
But if you’re starting from scratch, you have to evaluate your idea and find out whether there’s an audience willing to buy your product or service.
Outline your business idea
To outline your business idea we recommend to use Lean Canvas over a business plan.
Business plan is much more complex document. It consists of your business idea, where it’s now and how you want to grow it. It’s full of analysis about your internal and external environment. Business plans are typically being written for the next 2-5 years.
Although having a proper business plan has its advantages and may be required by financial institutions, starting an online business you may not be able to predict long term details of how you’re going to run it.
“You don’t need a formal 20-page business plan to successfully plan a business. You need to know who your customers are, what you are selling and what people are willing to pay for your product or service.” – Sujan Patel
That’s where lean canvas comes in handy. It’s a one page document based on the agile methodology, which helps to describe:
- the business idea
- the problem it solves
- key features and metrics
- your target audience and how do you want to reach it
Lean Canvas will make it easier for you to prioritize your business objectives. It’s also quick to create and easy to update in case you’d need to pivot your business idea.
Start with a Minimum Viable Product
To better evaluate your online business, you don’t need to create all of your website’s features at once. Instead, consider creating a Minimum Viable Product (MVP). It’s a version of the product that only contains the core features, which you can test with beta users and collect feedback.
With an MVP you can quickly and at a lower cost evaluate your business idea, and develop your website accordingly.
Solve real-life problems
While brainstorming your product or a service, try to figure out what problems your target audience may have, and then try to solve them. This way you can come up with a solution people actually need.
For example, when we’re creating our side project, a SaaS resource management tool, we figured out that many companies have the same problem that we’ve had. They were struggling to manage their employees throughout multiple projects, often remote teams from different offices.
Solving this problem with our tool, we’ve not only built something that we use internally, but we’re also able to reach new clients. You can learn more about the process in our case study on business benefits of side projects.
One of the problems we wanted to solve with teamdeck was increasing team visibility, knowing who’s available to take on more tasks.
Outline your target audience
Outlining your business idea, you should also create your user personas. It’s a great way to visualize and specify who is your target audience.
User personas give you more detailed information about who your ideal customers are, what they do, what problems they have. It’s much more helpful to know that your persona is “a project manager at an interactive agency or a software house, whose goal is to maintain a proper flow of the projects, striving to find good tools and planning the work, interested in reading about project management and organizing workflows”, than simply “a project manager”.
To create your user personas, you can analyze your existing audience, create a survey to collect feedback, or brainstorm them with your team.
Decide on how you want to get it done
Having outlined your business idea and user personas, decide on how complex your website should be and how you want to develop it.
Define your website’s complexity
Depending on your business idea, you may need a very simple website based on some ready-made solutions or a complex one, a custom solution.
Creating a plan of your website, choose how complex it should be. Depending on your needs, you can develop:
- simple landing pages that can be built by you using tools like Unbounce and LeadPages or online website editors
- easy to create websites based on drag and drop, prebuilt templates like Wix or Weebly
- editable websites based on CMS platforms like WordPress
- bespoke interactive solutions developed for you by a team of developers
Creating bespoke solutions like this homepage animation would require some developer’s help.
Now that you have a big picture of what you are about to build, decide whether you are able to do it yourself, or you need to outsource the work to programmers.
Outsourcing web development gives you an opportunity to start earlier, as you don’t need to hire your own team.
Another advantage of outsourced website development is the flexibility of the team you’re working with. You might need different amount of developers on different stages of your projects.
If you decide on outsourcing the work to a software house or a digital agency, you need to write a project brief describing your website idea, key features, target audience and business objectives. You can learn how to do it in our post on how to write a project brief for website development.
To assure safety of your project during the outsourced development, follow these 5 steps to safe website development outsourcing. Besides choosing the right tech partner with skilled and experienced developers, it’s very important to set the right communication process from the very beginning.
Bring traffic to your website
Users are the lifeblood of every online business. First, you need to bring in traffic to your website to then convert them into paying customers.
There are two ways to do so: free promotion activities and paid advertising.
To promote your online business for free you can use:
- Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) – optimize your website for keywords relevant to your niche to acquire users from search results.
- Social Media – create a consistent social media strategy to reach and engage new followers, and then bring this traffic to your website.
- Communities – learn where your target audience hangs out online and try to reach them there.
Paid advertising is based on using advertising platforms like Google AdWords or Facebook advertising to create compelling ads.
An important thing to bear in mind is the difference between user acquisition and user retention. While running a business, you need to remember that visitors often don’t make a purchase decision during their first session on your website.
Craft your brand’s message to bring them back and reconsider your offer. Ideally, create copy that speaks directly to the visitors from different stages of the sales funnel:
- Awareness – make your message clear for the newcomers.
- Interest – speak to those who are already interested in your offer.
- Decision – help them make a decision about buying from you.
- Action – create compelling Calls To Action (CTAs) to make them buy.
It’s important to acquire new customers, but so is bringing back those who have already visited your website.
Starting an online business you need to:
- outline your product or service
- research a target audience personas
- develop a website
- acquire and onboard users
It will help you to better plan, create, maintain and grow your website.
Additionally, learn about growth hacking and A/B test various hypotheses about your product or audience to get even better results.
Take advantage of how flexible an online business may be and don’t be scared to pivot your idea if you realize that the initial one doesn’t work. Eventually, even many of the “overnight success stories” proved to be a result of a trial and error method.