MOUNTAIN VIEW, California, September 04, 2017 Guest Contributor Michael Volkmann is an entrepreneur with a focus on business operations and finance. He has worked with many small businesses helping them with their M&A for over 6 years.
The Internet connects 3.4 billion of us every day. Unfortunately, this massive amount of traffic comes with the serious risk of being drowned out in a sea of noise. Growing your online business in this environment is arduous, to say the least, and takes sustained and concentrated effort. You may have access to hundreds of thousands of potential customers, but so does everyone else — and you’ll be competing with a far greater number of businesses than you would if you were to open a traditional, brick-and-mortar company. Starting your own online business can have manifold benefits, however, and they often have lower startup costs and higher growth potential. A successful online business can mean extra income and greater economic freedom without having to win over access to millions of dollars in venture capital. If you’re willing to conduct market research, incrementally build your audience, and — most importantly — test, fail and test again, then you’ll able to stand out from the crowd.
Building your online business is a long journey, but one that can be conquered one step at a time. It’s easy to get ahead of yourself and take too much on in the beginning stages, but taking a measured approach will ensure your success down the road. Even if things change, conceptualizing your business and vetting your ideas thoroughly is of paramount importance. Although plans often change and financial projections can never be wholly accurate or precise, they are integral to growing your business, as they serve to guide you through the bumps in the road. As Eisenhower once said, “Plans are useless but planning is indispensable.”
In order to plan effectively, you’ll need to write a formal business plan. In your business plan, if you have not already created one, you’ll need to address key aspects of your business and your vision for it as it develops. You’ll need to list goals and objectives, and include financial documents in which you make an educated guess about your profits and losses. You’ll need to backup your revenue projections with research. This requires knowing your market intimately. Too often, small business owners shy away from market research. If your idea is truly good, it will stand up to scrutiny. The only way to properly investigate whether your idea is worth the time, energy and capital you’ll have to invest into it, is to do your homework.
Ask yourself questions like:
- Is the industry I’m about to enter a growth industry?
- Who is my target market?
- How much of the market could I reasonably claim?
- How are my competitor’s capturing the market?
- How will I learn from my competitors’ tactics?
- What channels are my target market using?
- How will I monetize this business? What monetization strategies are my competition using?
Examples of monetization strategies:
- Affiliate marketing
- Sponsored content
- Membership site
According to the Harvard Business Review, over 75% of all venture-backed startups fail; a percentage that could be drastically lowered if small business owners devoted themselves more seriously to careful planning. Even if your company does not require funding to start, completing a comprehensive business plan can help you forge a path that will guide you during the highs and lows of business ownership. In fact, you’ll need to revisit and revise this plan continually to ensure your business is heading in the right direction.
After planning your business from top to bottom, you’ll want to garner a fan base a soon as possible. Loyal customers are your lifeblood, so you will need to court them first. Building an easy-to-use website is of the utmost importance to capturing them. UX has been proven to increase customer loyalty, bolster perceived brand reliability and credibility and boost overall revenue. Think of big companies, like Apple, who invest in sleek, easy-to-understand design. These brands consistently outperform those who don’t invest in user experience. So while it is important that you craft a meaningful product or service, it is equally important to present it in a clean, professional — even stylish — way.
Once you’ve created a website, you’ll need to expand your reach. There are many avenues to garner an audience. Facebook is by far the most popular digital marketing tool for small business, with over 60 million business pages published to date, but it is not the only social media platform available to you.
Here are some ideas for building your online audience:
- Harness social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook
- Create a blog and release content regularly
- Publish guest posts on other sites
- Invest in paid advertising, such as Google Adwords and Facebook’s Promoted Posts
The key to building your business is assessing its weaknesses and addressing them as quickly as possible. The plan you create for your online business will act as the foundation. From it you will structure your website and your brand’s image, which will be communicated through your social media marketing campaigns. Your online business is a living thing and will need constant attention. You’ll need to revise your business plan, your marketing tactics and your pricing strategy as your audience grows. Continually planning and restructuring, paired with consistent engagement with your target audience, guarantees not only immediate returns but longevity as well.
Featured Image: Creative Commons license via Pixabay