We jumped to Step 1 and Step 2 in our previous articles, assuming that you already have a product or service and are already running a business. But here’s the thing, we thought it might be useful to share what typically happens before Step 1 and Step 2.
Step 0: Starting Your Online Business (this article is the prequel to…)
Finding out what type of venture that will appeal to you and keep you interested for the long term, relies on a number of factors. The main ones that we have continuously come to rely on are listed below.
Your Strengths and Passions
Know what you are good at, work out what you have to offer, your expertise, services and products is a good start. This is your chance to take a close look at your skills, talents, experience, knowledge and passion. Then identify an area of business you wish to focus on.
At this point, don’t worry if you think you haven’t got enough experience, skills or knowledge. These can all be acquired through work, from training, attending courses, even simply googling.
- Make a list of interests (current or potential)
- Analyse the pros and cons of each
- Rate each in terms of how much appeal or excitement it gives you
- Against the ones that show the most promise, work out what each will require of you in terms of current knowledge, further training
- Highlight the ones that appeal to you most of all and focus on those
Take your time. Some times the best answers come in waves of inspiration. Starting with a list is often a good beginning but it is very important to be open enough to realise that simply beginning to ponder on what ideas and opportunities may inspire you to paths that you may not even have thought of or dreamt of.
Market Research and Gauge the Demands
Once you have identified an area that you wish to focus on, you will then need to do a little market research. While many would argue that you should research the market first to find a demand for your product or service, emphasis needs to be split both ways: what you can offer and what the market wants. Sometimes, the market may not yet know what they want until they see it or learn more about it. Here is where you come in.
Knowing your own background, realise that there is no one better placed to educate your potential customers.
Search online for similar products, look not only at the Search Engine Results but the advertisements placed by your competitors. Check out the competition and begin to identify where and how you differentiate from them. What makes your products or services stand out from the others.
- Building on the previous list of ideas, detail the market research and everything else you can think of
Branding and Relationships
You may be overwhelmed with the amount of information from your research, especially in markets that are saturated but remember, you are unique. Everyone is unique. What you can offer is your back story, your experience, your expertise. No one makes their buying decisions based simply on the product or service these days. The over-riding focus for sales and purchase is almost always emotive.
Plan and build your brand; focussing on creating meaningful relationships with your potential clients.
Most people buy based on your brand, the relationship you built with them, the trust they have in you, your expertise and authority, your clout, your influence and your knowledge of the industry. So, even if your product isn’t unique and you are not the only one offering a particular service, there are a myriad of opportunities to help you stand out from the crowd and be original.
- Research the brand identities of some people or business that inspire you
- Identify what it is and why those brands inspire you
- Think about your own brand (whether personal or a corporate) and decide what kind of feelings and emotions your would like to inspire in your potential and target audience
Niche and Locality – Reaching Out
When you have identified a gap in the market, a niche that both serves your interests and those of the market place, work to connect with your potential buyers to log their interest for your service or product. Get as much detail from them regarding their exact requirements and what they would like to see to help with your product development.
The beauty of an online business is that your product or service can potentially be in front of millions of customers but so are your competitors. When offering your product or service, target your clients geographically, address their needs and reach out to them locally be it on social media or conventional ads or even face to face.
Customers will appreciate the time and care you take to work with them to cater to their needs specifically. The best place to start is where you or your business is based or the region you are in. Once established, reach out and work on the same principle that in business you should always think globally but market locally, that is why there are multinational companies.
Being ‘local’ allows your customers to relate to you easily so target your marketing to meet the local needs.
When you are ready to launch, offer these buyers an early bird or early adopter’s discount (beta testers may sometimes have a negative connotation). In return, ask for feedback that you can use to improve your service or product. Once all issues have been addressed, do a launch and showcase these early adopters as success case studies.
- Connect in business groups
- Find out and connect with potential clients and audiences
- Focus on offering value and sharing expertise
Register Your Business
You may think that we are getting ahead of ourselves again, doing market research and asking potential clients about what they want when you haven’t even registered your business. We say, until you find your passion, your audience, your potential customers, your product or service then it’s pointless to even register your business.
When you are ready to trade, when customers are lining up to pay you, and this applies mainly to online business, then get your business registered. At this point, you may already have a business name in mind, make it official. Complete the company registration and formation forms and start ordering business cards and stationary.
Registering and forming an online business is just like registering any other business, it’s not rocket science. What you have to consider is the tax implications should you be trading abroad, dealing with international customers, working out if any, trade regulations that governs the type of business activities or product you are about to sell and be compliant.
- Find out what it takes to register a business
- What type of business (sole proprietor, partnership, limited liability)
- Banking needs and requirements
Writing a Business Plan
As with registering your business, we think you can only write a strong business plan if you already have all the information your need about your business; your passions, the market, the demand, the niche, the customers and your route to market.
A business plan may be compulsory if you are seeking funding but even if you are not, a business plan will give your business a solid foundation on which to build on.
Pull together the aims and objectives, your vision and mission, the business goals and plans, your market, development plans, finance, funding requirement, management and personnel, products and services, sales and marketing, operations, risk analysis, cash flow and P&L forecasts. If you are a entrepreneur, solopreneur or a small partnership, the whole business plan idea may not appeal to you as you just want to get on with what you do but it will be beneficial to the online business in the long term.
Now that you have Step 0 [zero] out of the way, let’s look at the following for your online business