online business

The Complete A-to-Z Guide to Starting Your Online Business

If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur favoring e-commerce over a traditional storefront, we have the top tips on how to kickstart your new online business. Between establishing your company as an LLC, coming up with a marketing plan, and leaning into paid marketing, there’s a whole host of ways to successfully promote your business — and rank high on search result pages. 

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A to Z guide to starting your online business

A — Be authentic 

Your website’s design and tone should reflect your company’s ideals and standards. This can range anywhere from customer-centric messaging to determining whether your content headlines will be in title case or sentence case.  

B — Build it the right way 

Create a functionable website by consulting with a designer, developer and copywriter who are well-versed in search engine optimization (SEO). As your website grows, it may make sense to hire other marketing specialists like an SEO-specialist or PPC-specialist. 

C — Study your competitors 

Keep a pulse on your competitors by studying what’s working and what’s not. Read customer reviews to see how consumers are responding to products. Learn from what’s working, and avoid mistakes other companies have made.

D — Determine an effective domain name

When it comes time to choose a domain name for your website, always remember: The simpler, the better. Keep it short and make it findable. Avoid numbers, hyphens or other special characters that will make it difficult to remember. 

E — Lean into email marketing 

Email marketing is the golden goose in e-commerce. It’s cheap, effective and successful in targeting customers. Use email marketing to promote new products and spread promotions and discounts.  

Related: The Ultimate 10-Step Checklist to Starting an Online Business

F — Establish Your Facebook Page

Facebook is a great way to promote your business. Having a strong Facebook page strengthens your brand’s authority. Create a business page on Facebook and update your page frequently with engaging, high-quality and helpful content. 

G — Guard yourself against cybercrime 

No website is safe from cybercrime — including yours. Protect against hackers by investing in firewall, anti-viral and anti-spyware software. You should also encrypt your wireless network, frequently update your computer systems and get creative with hard-to-crack passwords.   

H — Have a plan in place 

Before your company hits the ground running, establish basic company policies. How will your company handle returns? Will you ever offer free shipping? If so, on what conditions? Setting the terms now will guide you and your employees in how you market yourself and respond to customers. 

I — Use images 

Consumers love images: they break up content visually, showcase your products and allow customers to scale your product to size. Plus, original photos boost your site’s credibility. 

J — Jumpstart your business with paid marketing 

Between pay-per-click (PPC), retargeting and displays ads, there are many types of paid marketing. Paid marketing helps spike your site’s traffic in a short amount of time, which circulates your company’s name in the early stages. 

K — Know your audience

Tailor your products and marketing strategy to appeal to the customers you’re targeting. For example, if you sell high-end dog treats, do you market research and target animal lovers both locally and nationwide. Use customer testimonials and include pictures of real-life pups enjoying your product. 

L — Look into business laws 

Before you focus on marketing, you need to be sure your business and website are following the appropriate business laws and regulations. Get familiar with antitrust laws, zoning laws, tax codes, shipping restrictions and that pesky trademark symbol (to name a few). 

M — Be mobile-friendly 

Always be mobile-minded. In 2017 alone, at least 19 percent of e-commerce revenue came from mobile devices. Always scan your website on your phone to see how it reads on mobile, and keep mobile in consideration when you’re designing your site or crafting email templates. 

N — Never undersell a product 

Bottom line: Set your product at its appropriate price point. Determine the cost of what you’re selling based on the cost of labor and materials. As your company grows, there’s room to adjust numbers, but lowball pricing is risky territory for a new business.

O — Offer occasional promotions 

Keep your customers engaged with seasonal discounts and promotions. When you’re starting up, it’s an especially good idea to offer first-time discounts or establish customer purchase logs (like a punch card at a coffee shop). 

P — Invest in PPC 

If you don’t have it already baked into your budget yet, invest in pay-per-click (PPC). PPC boosts your site’s traffic and pulls your name to the top of search result pages (SERP). Paid marketing is perfect for online companies just starting out. PPC helps get your company’s name out there. 

Q — Queue up your paperwork 

Just as you’ll want to get comfortable with business laws, be sure to secure the right credentials for your company. Create a limited liability company (LLC) by filing with the state you’re located in. 

R — Research, research, research  

Use market research to guide you as you’re determining your product’s prices. Search your product (or related products) using a healthy variety of keywords to find the average price people are paying. 

S — Pay attention to SEO 

Like PPC, search engine optimization (SEO), is another phrase you’ll often see in the e-commerce space. SEO is free, and it helps pull your page higher on SERP by boosting your site’s authority via keyword implementation. You can track how successful your SEO tactics are through Google Trends and Google Analytics. 

T — Focus on the time of year 

Research the best season to launch your business so you can optimize the peak seasons for your product and industry, and avoid starting your business in the slow months. 

U — Incorporate user-generated content 

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Let people spread word of your business for you. A reported 76 percent of people purchase products after seeing them on social media. Find local influencers to promote your products and create contests or promotions to entice new buyers. 

V — Don’t forget about video  

Showcase products and their benefits, film customer testimonials and utilize ad revenue. Video is a great way to introduce your business’s culture, and with the right resources and research, it’s easy to figure out. 

W — Write your heart out 

Adding blog content and strategic copy to your site helps search engines better recognize you, pulling you higher up the SERP. The more content you have, the more Google or Bing like you. Focus on calls to action (i.e. Buy Now), catchy or informative headlines, and speak to your product or company’s benefits.  

X — Read examples of other e-commerce startups 

It’s helpful to research examples of successful online businesses for multiple reasons. For starters, it helps you see which marketing tactics are working, and which aren’t.  Also, it reminds you of the end-game; the early stages of any business are especially frustrating. 

Y — Be true to yourself 

As cliché as it sounds, don’t let your vision of your business get lost in the mayhem of taxes, demanding customers, or defeating SERP results. As your business grows, your stress will heighten too, and it can be easy to forget your company’s core values.  

Z — Zone your shipping 

Last but not least, if you don’t have the bandwidth or hands to ship your products out, you can list your products on third-party shipping sites like Amazon, Etsy or eBay. They will handle the dirty work of getting your products to your customers for a portion of the sale’s profit. 

The bottom line

Start with a plan. As you begin to rev up your online business, your to-do lists will become miles long. Strategize before you start creating, that way you’ll have better direction and you won’t feel like you’re shooting in the dark. 

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