Starting an online business? Here’s what you need to know

Most people who have been following my recent string of articles would have noted that I am frequently writing on subjects like e-commerce, m-commerce and digital enablement. The reason for this is that I feel businesses globally need to act quickly and explore/establish themselves on to the internet or face mass extinction.

The list is in front of you. A lot of the most valuable brands on this list are either .com or technology brands. That says a lot about where we are today. We are a massively disconnected global community that is gradually finding and establishing borderless communications/business channels, and this is only going to increase.

According to Shopify E-commerce is growing but only represents 11.9% of retail sales, but with the massive growth and value we’ve seen from companies like Amazon the graph is only going to go up:

“Fast growth plus relatively low market share means that there is still enormous opportunity for new players to outpace traditional industry leaders”

Some of the readers/businesses I advise to reached out to me and asked. We understand that you’ve been voicing your opinions about going digital, we are sold to a certain extent, but were lost when we try and understand the operational leg of this journey.

How do I get my preferred domain? What is hosting and why do I need it? Who designs my website? I am a basic brick and mortar business and I don’t know the first thing around taking my business digital, how can I make sure that I am building a future-proof e-commerce setup that wont disrupt my existing business?

To answer all these and other questions here is a step by step journey on what it takes to take your brand digital.

1. Research, Research… and Research:

The first thing to do when you’re staring any new business is to first of all understand who your target audiences are. This is something I religiously follow for one simple reason, you need to know who you’re selling to.

A good targeting strategy to facilitate your online sales/marketing process will almost certainly ensure that the right audience lands on your social media platforms (whether its your e-commerce website or your social media pages).

Its simple, I need to be where my customers are and I need to have (or appear to have) what they want as well. Because digital is a borderless you can use tools like Google Trends to review what global or local trends are being extensively searched over a course of time. This gives you good preliminary data to break down your products popular regions, search trends and optimize your digital marketing strategy (including budgets, digital channels and vehicles etc.)

2. Establish your Digital Channels:

A lot of people ask me is a website the only sales/marketing channel you need to setup your digital storefront. The answer isn’t always simple, while I am a strong advocate of building and managing a digital presence through you website, I have to be honest, a lot of small businesses (home based food and clothing concerns etc.) are operating without websites, they rely free-to-use on social media platforms to push their products. While a lot of them see organic results a lot put money into promoting their brands online.

Obviously I will endorse the need to create, manage and maintain your social media presence but to all those businesses who are looking to grow and establish themselves let me tell you establishing a website is an investment:

a) Domain Registration: The myth that building and maintaining a website is a costly affair should no longer apply in this day and age. The first thing you need to figure out when building a website for your business is that there are now multiple extensions one can purchase online instead of thinking that my .com isn’t available.

b) Hosting: Once you’ve locked in a name for your website it's important to understand what sort of domain hosting works for you. Simply put your hosting is the space you require to keep you website up and online. A lot of things can damage your digital brand and bad hosting decisions are one of them. Whenever I am choosing a hosting plan for any one of my digital assets I rely a lot on research. Websites like hosting facts benchmark 30+ hosting companies. This sort of information lets users understand the kind of hosting option that would facilitate their web traffic, understand the costs and downtime/support features included.

c) Website Development: Building your website nowadays isn’t about knowing programming languages, nor is it a costly affair for which you have to hire a customized development team or an agency - this is an option if you’re looking to do groundbreaking stuff that requires a customized solution, but for your standard SMB, Blog or services brand you need to consider site builders that can quickly deploy your standard website at a fraction of the cost a normal developer might charge. Again it is very important to compare which website builder is best for you. According to a recent study 2 out of 10 website builder projects fail this might be due to reasons like a lack research and need analysis - I make it a point first establish the service I will use to ensure that It can scale as per my business case.

3. Focus on Building Winning Content:

The next step after you’ve identified your target audience, target market and digital channels is to write winning content. Some people say that this step should precede establishing your digital channels, I feel one should focus on the tasks and not the order, and this approach has helped me focus a bulk of my time on developing winning content.

This process involves all your (online/offline assets) a key to understanding your content strategy is to build an omni-channel experience. Writing powerful and winning content is that:

a) It should be focused of sales/conversions but should not oversell

b) It should flow naturally - it should be accurate, engaging

c) Make a content calendar that gives you a content regime to follow. Small businesses can use services like Canva to create regular social media posts, web banners etc.

d) Update your website content regularly as well, use tools like crazy egg to set up heat maps that will audit your customer journeys and ensure which content works for you and which doesn’t

e) If your product is technical ensure that you have the right amount of educational material available on your FAQ’s or through YouTube explainer videos

In Conclusion:

These three easy to implement steps are what can get you in shape and online. They serve as a broad guideline of what you should do as an offline brand or even as an online brand that is struggling to complete its transition. The tools and techniques I have outlined are not absolute, but these are solutions that I have and still use today to keep my digital brands relevant. The internet has opened up a huge potential to build future-proof digital businesses, this is the right time to do your research and take your brand online. Happy hunting!