If you plan to start an online business this year, your website needs to be a serious player from the start, not a thrown together afterthought. While rushing in without a plan might work for Indiana Jones, it’s not the best advice for online entrepreneurs.
Before you start up, consider the checklist below:
- Make sure you have resources to get through the first year
Before diving head first into a new venture, take stock of your financial situation. Now is a good time to check your books and make sure there’s enough cash to pay the bills during that first year of operation.
While the overhead of an online business is often lower than operating a brick and mortar establishment, there will still be expenses. Since it will take time for your e-commerce business to become established, always make sure there is money on hand to pay the bills until you begin to make a profit.
That means having enough cash on hand (and possibly income from a 9-to-5 job) to keep you afloat as your online business moves toward profitability. Knowing you can get by eases a lot of stress and makes it easier to focus on growing the business.
- Take another look at the business viability
Your business seems like a great idea, but step back one more time and be as objective as you can about the operation’s viability. In other words, will people buy what you are selling? Would you buy what you are selling? Will customers want to tell their friends about your products? If you can honestly answer “yes” to all of these questions, your online business has a good chance of succeeding.
- Review the list of domain names that you’ve purchased
You put a lot of effort into choosing the ideal primary domain name for your online business. Did you put the same care into choosing secondary domain names? Those are the ones you’ll use for landing pages, blogs and other online locations to tout the business and redirect customers to the main site.
Take another look at the list of domain names you’ve chosen. Did you choose them based on relevance, how easy customers can remember them, and how they catch the eye in the first place? If so, then you have a solid list of domain names to draw upon. If not, there’s still time to come up with new domain names and purchase them before your site launches.
- Do your best to break your website
Before your website goes live, do everything you can to break it. Try navigating from page to page. See what happens if you are filling out a form and leave a field blank. Try selecting something to add to the shopping cart, remove it, then put it back in. Play with the quantities of items you place in the cart. In short, try to think of everything that a potential customer might do to the site and see how it responds.
Your goal is to determine if there are any minor (or major) bugs. If so, fix them. Anything you take care of now means less inconvenience to visitors the first time they come to your site.
- Check the plan for launching your advertising campaign
You may have already started releasing a few teasers to let consumers know your site is coming soon. If not, that’s okay. There’s still time to lay out a quick plan. That means getting ads ready to launch, flyers prepped to hand out (if your business serves local customers), and posts on social media.
This is also a good time to reach out to friends and family to let them know when the site will be up and running. Ask them to test it out and provide some feedback. If they like what they see, they are likely to share it with others and give you a nice little traffic boost at the start.
- Make sure your social media accounts are ready to go
Now is a good time to prepare your social media accounts and make sure they are up and running. For now, pick a minimal number of platforms to start with. Make sure you drop links to all on your website so customers can go directly to them and “like” or “follow” your future posts.
For example, you may want to start with a trifecta of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, depending on where your audience spends the most time. Once you have those up and running, think about other platforms that potential customers might use, like Instagram or Pinterest, and how those platforms fit with your business.
- Confirm that your ordering and fulfillment features are functioning properly
Whatever process you use for order acceptance and fulfillment needs to be tested before your website goes live. If you manage everything in-house, that’s an easy enough process. If you’ve decided that utilizing a third party to take care of order fulfillment is the way to go, place an order yourself. Select a mode of delivery and see what happens. If the results are acceptable, there’s a good chance everything will work fine for your customers, too.
- Verify that your accounting system is good to go
Test your accounting system to ensure everything is ready in terms of managing your payables and receivables. It’s fine to make some dummy entries to see how everything works. Just remember to delete them once you finish testing. In the event that you receive some orders on the first day of operation, there will be no question about how to keep your accounting records accurate.
- Make sure your hosting plan can handle the load
You should spend a reasonable amount of time investigating and comparing reputable web hosting companies. Data shows that average page load time should be no longer than 3 seconds in order to keep your website’s performance favorable with customers. The last thing you need is a first-time visitor being unable to connect with the site due to insufficient bandwidth. Not only is it unlikely the visitor will come back; that person will likely not recommend you to others by word-of-mouth.
However much bandwidth you need, upgrade your plan so that it provides at least 20 percent more than you think you need. You’ll want to monitor the traffic for the first few months and upgrade again if the site consistently hits 80 percent capacity during peak times. Doing so allows you to stay ahead of the game and ensures your customers get pages to load without problems.
- Refine your plan for word-of-mouth advertising
Word-of-mouth advertising is crucial. Make it easy for people to share information about your new company. That includes sharing opinions on review sites as well as social media. In addition to referrals, use email, social media and text messages to reach out to qualified customers. Hand out business cards to friends, and post those cards on bulletin boards. You’ll be surprised how these methods help with building a brand’s reputation.
The bottom line
You can accomplish all of this and more in the week leading up to your e-commerce company’s launch. When you finally do go live, it will be with confidence that anyone who visits the site will have a positive first experience.