Starting an online business
There are a range of benefits to starting an online business or ‘ecommerce’ business, the largest being the lack of overheads you have to account for. With consumer habits also continuing to favour digital channels for specific goods and services, it also makes sense to make yourself available to as wide a range of consumers as possible.
However, running an online business requires just as much thought and planning as a bricks-and-mortar business, just with different approaches required. During the process of setting up an online business, ensure you address the following key aspects that are key to running successful online businesses.
Your brand identity will drive every other facet of your business so it is the most important (and first) thing to establish.
It is a good idea to work with a web design agency who also offer inbound marketing services to establish your brand identity. They will work with you to assess who your customers are, how this customer base can be increased in the future, what your core values as a business are and what sets you apart from similar businesses. Once established, your brand identity will then dictate the design of your business, how customers interact with your digital presence, your messaging (how you communicate to your customers) and how you will grow your business.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
As part of the design of your online business, copywriting is a key part to helping attract customers in what is called ‘inbound marketing’. As opposed to spending money on advertising for your business, inbound marketing works to attract customers to your online business according to their own habits and buying patterns.
SEO, or search engine optimization, is a vast aspect of the ecommerce world and copywriting plays a core role as part of SEO. In order for your business to appear in potential customers’ online search results, your digital presence needs to be tailored to attract these particular customers, rather than a broad base of people.
Keywords play a strong role in this process. If you are an online furniture retailer that delivers to Melbourne, you want to include specific keyword references that people would search for. For instance, rather than have your main keyword as ‘furniture’ (think of the amount of people who search for this one word and the big players, such as IKEA, who would have a monopoly on this sort of language) you would instead use the term ‘furniture for sale in Melbourne’ or similar specific phrases that may attract less customers but attract customers that are more likely to convert into sales.
Customer Management Systems
How will you manage your database of customers? There are a range of online tools/platforms that you can use to manage the various enquiries and leads you receive, as well as the sales you make. It is important to organise how your business will function in relation to your customers before you start running. One of the most common mistakes for ecommerce businesses is that they do not establish clear rules for their CMS and spend too much time chasing up past mistakes.
User Design (UX)
The user design of your website runs parallel with your copywriting and SEO. Your user design is again dictated by your brand persona and your awareness of who your customers are and how they want to interact with your business.
Customers come with expectations. They have expectations on what sort of language is used in your industry, how they usually interact with similar businesses and how they get from A to B (how they find items and then purchase them). It is up to you to design your website around these expectations and to either meet them, or transform these expectations by offering a new way to interact with your business.
User Design comes down to the smallest aspects of your website. For instance, where is the “Checkout” button in your website? Is it easily visible and is it situated where customers expect it to be situated? If not, why? Secondly, what sort of language is used for what is called your ‘Call to Actions’? These are the buttons and pieces of information that guide customers towards a purchase or any other action on your site (such as signing up to a newsletter).
Testing is one of the largest aspects of starting an online business and then maintaining and growing successful online businesses. Basically, your testing should never stop.
The most common form of testing is called A/B testing, wherein you might test a particular button’s usage with a group of consumers compared to a similar button that has some key difference (its location, for instance). With constant testing, you slowly optimise your website to suit the usage patterns of your customers. This same testing applies to your marketing.
A key part of starting an online business is to establish your social media channels. You may not need to cover every channel, and in fact this is probably an ill-advised approach as you don’t want to spread yourself too thin. Social media management is more about quality than quantity, as users are highly astute and require some form of worth in following your account. If they are barraged with generic messaging that does not relate enough to your business, they will not engage.
Certain industries work well with certain media channels. For instance, businesses that rely on a high number of visual merchandising, such as businesses that sell food products, do extremely well on image-based social media channels (Instagram, Pinterest).
One key thing successful online businesses share with bricks-and-mortar businesses is an awareness of how to grow the business from its establishment. Fortunately for online businesses, you have greater opportunities to extend your customer base through strategic marketing. Through testing, you can market to different audiences in a way that you in effect function as multiple businesses. Start slow with this at the start and market to your immediate customer base, but be aware of how your business could change to attract a variety of customer types, and slowly diversify your marketing and your business to cater to these different audiences as you grow.