So you want to start an online business? Good thinking! Even with the recent economic downturn, online business is booming. In fact, 72 percent of online retailers believe e-commerce is better equipped to withstand the slow economy than other forms of retail sales, according to a 2008 study conducted by Forrester Research Inc.
The optimism is based largely on previous experience. In the same study, 81 percent of online retailers reported that their business was profitable in 2007, and 75 percent saw increased profits over 2006.
But just buying a domain name and getting a website design aren’t enough to spell online business success. Your online business is just a vehicle for what should be a marketable product or service, so you’ve got to treat it like any other startup.
First, take the necessary steps to start a successful business. You can find resources at Business.gov, the U.S. government’s official website for small businesses.
Before launching your website, check out the federally mandated e-commerce rules and regulations detailed on Business.gov and the Better Business Bureau Code of Online Business Practices at BBBonline.org.
Even with a well-designed, effective website, you still need to generate traffic. The chances of clients finding you in the sea that is the Web are slim without some serious and focused marketing. Caron Beesley of Business.gov suggests taking time to write an integrated marketing plan that takes advantage of both online and offline channels. She also reminds business owners to keep consistent branding across all marketing platforms.
Online marketing takes many forms these days, including low-cost and free methods. Beesley suggests three of the most popular:
1. Organic Search Engine Optimization (SEO)—This method of improving your ranking on search-engine result pages can require an expert, but even beginners can accomplish the basics.
2. Pay-per-Click Advertising—These are the “Sponsored Links” you see next to search results and blogs. You only pay for placements when someone clicks on your ad, which makes this a low-cost option for small businesses.
3. Social Media Marketing—Beesley says over 260,000 companies in North America use social media—like Twitter, Facebook or blogging—to reach potential clients.
After you’ve engaged your marketing campaign, keep tabs on your progress with Google Analytics or Yahoo Web Analytics, which help you determine your ROI.
Offline, promote your local business in the newspaper, community newsletter and market shows. Sponsor local causes or offer to write a free article for a trade publication.
Through the Internet, small businesses are now able to compete with larger companies, so even in today’s competitive marketplace, you could have the online key to real-world success.