Online Business

With all the online marketing options available today, a work at home startup has more chance to succeed than ever before. A functional website is just the tip of what is needed for ecommerce. Starting a proper online business requires prescient planning, unabashed creativity, and shrewd business sense.

Here is a beginner’s guide to starting an online business from home.

What Is Your Niche?

Determining your niche is the first step to a successful online business. No matter what items you plan to sell, there are likely dozens, or possibly hundreds, of other websites that sell the same products. Establishing a niche can be a unique way to set your online business apart from your competitors.

For example, if you intend to sell pet products, your niche could be rhinestone-studded dog costumes, or eco-friendly cat items, or anything else that sets your online business apart from other sellers of pet products. A clever niche can provide a launching pad for creative marketing ideas, and help you establish a distinctive business identity.

The Online Business Plan

Just like any bricks and mortar business, the work from home enterprise requires a solid business plan. A serious online business plan will include the following:

  • An executive summary
  • An analysis of the company
  • An analysis of the industry
  • An analysis of the target customer
  • An analysis of competitors
  • A comprehensive online marketing plan
  • A plan for business operations
  • An ongoing management plan
  • A financial plan including startup fees and ongoing costs

Legal Structure and Tax Certification

Will you be the sole proprietor, or will your online business be a corporation, an LLC or a partnership? A sole proprietorship can offer a number of tax benefits to the online entrepreneur. On the other hand, incorporating may help protect personal assets in case of financial difficulties. Seek the advice of a lawyer for assistance with the legal structure and tax certification of your ecommerce business.

Seed Money

Unfortunately, it can take up to two years or more for an online business to generate enough sales to become profitable. Work at home entrepreneurs should plan ahead by securing enough seed money to cover start up fees and expenses, as well as ongoing costs. It could mean keeping your day job until the ecommerce site begins to take off.

Product Sourcing

Finding good products to sell is not hard, what is hard is to find a good supplier. Online businesses can opt to buy products wholesale and resell them, or work with a drop shipper who can ship products for a fee.

Drop shipping often makes sense for a work at home business. The initial investment is much lower than reselling items and shipping out of your home. A reputable drop shipper can allow the online seller to offer a much larger variety of products, as there is no need for storage space at home.

Suppliers can sometimes provide fully-automated systems that help lessen the stresses of online selling. Some will even handle customer complaints and returns. Compare the fees and costs, and don’t be afraid to negotiate for the best supplier terms possible.

Shopping Carts and Payment Processing

Every ecommerce website needs shopping software, sometimes called an online shopping cart. It also needs a system for processing payments, known as a payment gateway. The chosen cart and payment methods will have a lasting impact on the success of the site. The payment processes of your ecommerce business deserve serious and careful consideration.

Developers have a choice of open source carts, which are free and unlicensed, and require a host server; or licensed carts, which are essentially software packages that also require a host; or hosted carts, which are basically an all-in-one ecommerce solution with hosting included.

A superior shopping platform will have robust features that help users find products quickly and move efficiently down the sales path. At a minimum, the features of your ecommerce website must meet the particular needs of your business. For example, if you are selling digital goods, the cart must be capable of transferring digital data to buyers. If you sell renewable goods, your cart should have an automatic subscription-renew function.

What payment methods will you accept? The shopping cart and payment gateways must be certified as secure against cyber crime. Also, your cart and payment solutions should be scalable to accommodate anticipated growth and changes in your business. For the best results, consult with a professional web development company.

Advertising, Email Marketing and Selling Channels

It’s not enough just to launch a web presence, some advertising and promotion will be required to get the attention of online shoppers. Internet marketing can provide a number of good options, and some work better than others, but here are three popular methods to promote an online business:

  1. Pay-per-click advertising is a good option for start-ups because there is no charge unless someone clicks the ad. PPC campaigns often attract highly-targeted users who are more likely to convert than casual site visitors.
  2. Email can be a reliable and efficient method for online marketing. Newsletters and other relevant announcements can be sent periodically to interested subscribers for free. Be sure to include a call to action that promotes discount codes and special offers.
  3. Alternate selling channels, such as eBay or Amazon, can provide more reach to help an online business expand and grow. Before engaging in multiple sales channels, weigh the various options and fees, as well as the additional bookkeeping that will be required to maintain all the alternate channels.

Search Engine Marketing

Search engine optimization (SEO) is not just a buzz word, it should be an essential marketing tool for every online business. Reaching out to search engines like Yahoo!, Bing and Google means more attention for your website and more targeted traffic at your door. It’s a lot to learn, and the playing field keeps changing, but putting a good deal of effort into SEO is a worthwhile strategy for your home-based business.

Social Media

It may be difficult to understand how social media can be used to promote an online business, but Facebook, Twitter, and other social platforms can be useful marketing tools. Some social media, Facebook for instance, also provide alternate selling platforms.

Today’s online consumer expects to interact with his or her favorite brands to learn more about different companies and their products. Social media is a logical extension of that reach. By posting helpful product videos, customer reviews and how-to guides on social sites, and asking your friends and fans to share, you can generate more loyalty and trust for your online business.

Customer Service

If there’s one thing that will set you apart from other online businesses it is excellence in customer service. Most consumers are necessarily cautious when shopping online, but knowing that customer service is just an email or phone call away can make all the difference for timid shoppers. Post your contact information prominently, and make it easy to reach a customer service rep. Provide for an instant and automated response to customer emails, and address all consumer inquiries within 24 hours.

Do It Yourself, or Hire an Expert?

Whether to keep the work in-house, or to hire a professional web developer, can be a tough decision. Be realistic. How much do you know about starting an online business, and how much time and energy can you devote to it?

If you are well-versed on computers, and truly believe you can accomplish everything that is required to create an efficient and well-oiled ecommerce website, you might decide to be your own developer. For the inexperienced ecommerce entrepreneur, however, it may be wiser to consult with a professional development team.

Conclusion

Online selling is an exciting prospect, but not one to be taken lightly. Plan wisely, take your time, and strive to build a rock-solid ecommerce platform that will serve you for years to come. That is the smartest way for a beginner to start an online business from home.

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