A Step-by-Step Guide to Starting an Online Business

Starting an online business is not something that people initially think of, but it can be extremely lucrative. With any business, there are pros and cons, however with an online business, the income potential is unlimited. Anyone can access an online business, because it’s virtual-based. If someone has internet, they can find your online business. But how does one start an online business?

Before I dive into the steps required to start an online business, you will need to decide if this is something you will want to do. Starting a business (online or not), is not easy. It takes time, consistency, hard work, sacrifice and determination to see your business through. In fact, in a study by Statistic Brain, “Startup Business Failure Rate by Industry”, the failure rate of all U.S. companies after five years was over 50 percent, and over 70 percent after 10 years.

Can you fight through those odds? Online or not, the chips are against you. But, let’s say you fight through and become successful – you can have the life of your dreams. And, since your business is online based, you can run it from anywhere. Check out these articles to help you determine if you are truly ready to start an online business or not: 6 Signs You’re Ready to Start Your Own Business and 8 Excuses for Not Starting Your Own Business.

Now that we’ve determined you are ready to start an online business, let’s get into exactly how you do just that!

How to start an online business

#1 Find a Gap in the Market

Do you have a great business idea? Great! Now, have you done research to see who your potential competitors are? It’s very likely that there is something else out there that you are wanting to offer, and that’s perfectly fine. Think about how you can make yourself different? How can your new online business fill a need or bridge a gap in the market? While this doesn’t sound difficult in theory, it can take some time and extensive research. Don’t rush through this phase of starting an online business. The more you can fill a need and/or bridge a gap in the market, the more likely your business will succeed.

#2 Clearly Identify Your Ideal Customer

Now that you know what gap your business will bridge and what need your business will fulfill, start thinking about who would benefit. Companies spend thousands and thousands of dollars on pin-pointing their ideal customer. As a start-up business owner, you likely don’t have that kind of cash. You don’t need it, but you do need to put in the work. Think about your ideal customer, and answer these questions:

  • What do they look like?
  • Where do they work?
  • What type of income do they earn? How much?
  • What need is your business fulfilling for them?

When you can answer the questions above, you can create (future) content and messaging to speak directly to the potential customers that you can help. It’s best to get as specific as possible with your ideal customer. There is a lot of saturation on the internet, and you will want to reach people who your business can truly help. This will guarantee sales.

#3 Register Your Domain Name

Now that you’ve gotten some of the hard parts out of the way, you can get some of the logistical tasks done! Starting with…registering your domain name! What is the name of your business? Whatever it is, you will want your domain name to coincide with it. If you are starting a business as a coach or sole contributor in some way, will the business be your name? If so, it’s appropriate for the domain to be your name as well. If you are creating a new business name, first do a search to make sure it’s available. I love Bluehost’s Domain Name Checker. Once you’ve determined your domain name is available, scoop it up! Don’t wait and run the risk of it being taken.

#4 Find a Web Host

In addition to a domain name, your online business will need a website. In order to have a website, you need a hosting company. Bluehost is by far the best, and most affordable. In fact, if you sign up through my affiliate link, you get an extra special discount! I have also created a step-by-step video for signing up with Bluehost, registering your domain name, and installing your hosting. Check out the video below:

#5 Create and Design Your Website
Creating and designing a website is a lot more difficult than it sounds, but if you are not tech savvy whatsoever, you can hire out. Fiverr has a lot of great freelance website designers. Simply tell them what you want, and let them create it for you. You can also go with platforms that make it easy to create stunning websites. WordPress is the most popular, and it’s what I use for City Girl Savings. There are hundreds of themes to choose from, and a lot of them have drag and drop features. No crazy coding expertise needed!

#6 Accept Online Payments

If you want to have an online business, it is critical that you have a means of collecting payments from your website. How else are you going to make sales?! If you are just getting started, I would recommend Stripe or PayPal. You simply create products on either site and upload the buttons/check out links to your website. Customers click to check out with Stripe or PayPal and voila, you’ve made a sale. The only downside to these options is they charge a fee, right from the beginning. It’s not much, but it’s still a fee.

You can also invest in sharper quality check out options, like Samcart and Infusionsoft, and IShoppingCart. They offer check out pages directly on your website and are completely customizable. They are significantly pricier than Stripe or PayPal, but the ability to customize your check out page makes your business appear much more credible.

Lastly, you have the option of doing merchant services from your local bank. Merchant Services allows you to accept credit card payments. Since you will be only needing it for online, it will likely link to a processing company like Authorize.net. This is the route I take. I pay a flat rate fee or a percentage of sales, up to a certain amount. It allows me to create my own checkout forms (similar to the options above) with instant credit card processing capabilities.

#7 Create an Email List

Oh, how I wish someone would have told me this when I first started City Girl Savings. Since you can’t track when a customer walks through your doors (it’s online, duh), the best you can do to retain the person who visits your website is to get their email address. Right when your website launches, you will want to ensure you sign up with Mailchimp, ActiveCampaign or ConstantContact. All of these companies will allow you to collect email addresses directly from your website.

Start creating a list of website visitors and email them regularly. Don’t simply email them to ask for a sale. Email them and provide valuable content that will help them in their life. Be consistent in contacting your email list. You don’t want to disappear for months, or they will forget you and your website.

#8 Ensure Your Website is SEO-ready

Before your website launches, I recommend you get the Yoast SEO plugin. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, and it basically means how easy your website is to find on Google or any other search engine. If your business is gardening for stay at home moms, you will want to make sure that anyone who searches information on gardening for stay at home moms finds your website first.

This is where getting specific with your ideal customer will pay off. There are plenty of strategies to ensure your website is found by the right people, so do the research. I’m still working on this piece! It’s a never-ending battle, because the internet is always changing.

#9 Create Corresponding Social Media Accounts

You have your business, you have your domain name, you have your website, now you need your social media accounts. Since your business is online, social media (also online) can be a great resource for helping people learn about your business. Some business coaches recommend you focus in on one or two social media platforms, but I disagree.

City Girl Savings is on Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn, and I get traffic from each platform. I will say it’s not easy to be on every platform, but with social media post schedulers (I love ViralTag), it’s not as difficult as it needs to be.

Just a note: You will want to make sure your social media accounts are the same as your business name. Don’t give anyone a reason not to find you, especially if they are looking. This should be a part of your domain name search – searching on social media to make sure your business name isn’t already being used.

#10 Start Building Your Reputation

Now that you have everything set up, how do you make sales? Well, you are going to have to start establishing and building your reputable reputation. As I mentioned earlier, the online world is incredibly saturated, and you are going to have to stand out. I would suggest you dive right in with doing Facebook Live or YouTube videos, blogging on a consistent basis, posting on your social media accounts regularly and getting any type of referral or review you can.

You may have to offer your product or service for free (or at a discount) in the beginning, just to test the market. Once you get some feedback, you will be able to leverage it to improve and get future sales. That’s exactly what I did for City Girl Savings. I offered my very first Personalized Budget Plan for free, in exchange for a review. The client obliged and exceeded my request. Immediately after completing the Start Your Budget Form, she took to Twitter to say how excited she was. That tweet resulted in an immediate 8 additional budgets being sold. Don’t underestimate the power of a review or testimonial.

#11 Get Traffic to Your Website

Since your business is online-based, when people visit your website, it’s like they are visiting your store. If no one comes to your website, you don’t have a chance to sell. If you don’t have a chance to sell, you won’t make a profit. If you don’t make a profit, your business won’t survive.

Moral of the story? You need to get people to your website. There are plenty of ways to do that, including the few I’ve already mentioned: social media and SEO. You can also get traffic by investing in digital marketing. Social media ads, Google clicks, Video marketing, and more. Every platform has an advertising option. It can be very effective, but very costly. I would suggest you make sure all of the steps above are completed before you put money into digital marketing. It can, literally, become a financial black hole.

#12 Create a Follow Up System

I’ve touched on this by suggesting you create an email list, but I challenge you to really think through your follow up system. How will you get the person to give you your email address? An opt-in incentive is a must. Check out Classy Career Girl’s Website Traffic Blueprint to learn more about opt-in incentives.

How consistently will you follow up? How will you follow up? What if the website reader gives you their phone number or if they reach out to you directly? It’s best to think through the scenarios and plan for them BEFORE they happen.

#13 Track your Website Growth

Set your website up with Google Analytics. This will allow you to track how your website is growing. You will be able to see how many people visit your website, where those people are located, how they came to your website (was it social media or a Google search?), and so much more.

I am addicted to Google Analytics because the information it shares is so useful! You can see what pages people are looking at the most. That means you can make those pages SCREAM “give me your email address”. The options are endless when you have as much knowledge as possible.

#14 Sell, sell, sell

The last point I want to make in sharing how to start an online business is that you need to sell. If you aren’t selling anything, you don’t have a business, you have a hobby. There’s nothing wrong with that, until your hobby is costing you more than it’s worth. Obviously, it’s not all about the money – you actually need to help people (remember, you are filling a need and bridging a gap?). However, you do need to make money so that you can grow and eventually help more people.

I recommend you find your bottom line number. How much are you willing to put into your business until you see a profit? What happens if you reach that number? The good thing about online businesses is that the overhead is relatively low. Don’t let that stop your hustle, though. To live the life you want with your online business, you absolutely need to sell.

Related: How to Start a Money Making Blog.

Well there you have it! That wasn’t so hard, was it? I know, I know. Easier said than done, but if I can do it, so can you! I ever created a Start-up Action Plan to help you go through these steps. The workbook helps you identify everything you need to make your online business a success. Download it now:

Have you started an online business before? Do you have any tips or experiences you can share with myself and other CGS Readers? Leave a comment in the section below to share! I can’t wait to hear your thoughts!

The CGS Team



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