Starting an Online Business

Since computers became prominent as a tool for business, and sometimes as the focus of the business entirely – the dream of starting an online business that makes money while you sleep has become a goal for a lot of aspiring entrepreneurs.

Most of us have some experience using computers – I know this because you’re on a computer right now reading this. The line dividing between computers and phone and other gadgets is blurring. There are already computers in everyday items like your refrigerator and oven.

Starting an online business requires these steps:

Step 1: The Online Business Idea – You might take an existing product you’re manufacturing in Florida and turn it into an e-product. You might leave it unchanged and sell it as a retail product online. You could create something digital… an e-book; an information packet; a website to accomplish some service or task that works online.

The possibilities are endless. You probably have some ideas what you would like to learn more about or try. Research like your life depended on it – copy an idea and change it slightly. Make it better.

Step 2: Your Domain Name – You may have one or multiple domains showcasing your products or services. Choosing a domain name is important, you should choose a name that is brandable. A memorable name that contains some keywords related to whatever your business is focused on.

If you’re selling snails by air… you could call it “escargotbyairmail.com”. Researching what the major keywords are you’re going to target online is an essential step. Don’t buy a domain name before you research everything there is to know about choosing one. There are some excellent bloggers tips out there about choosing domain names!

Some rules about choosing a domain name:

1. Keep it short. No more than 25 characters unless it’s really memorable.

2. Keep it memorable. Is it easily remembered?

3. Don’t use trademarked words or phrases in your name. Check the Trademark office!

4. Don’t use someone else’s domain name and add an “s” or a 1 at the end. You might have your name taken from you by the registrar for being too similar to someone else’s business.

5. Buy the .com and the .net and .info and .org domains at the same time. It will cost you another $50-60 but protect you from squatters hoping to sell the name to you later for a premium price.

Step 3: Website Hosting – Good hosts are easy to come by – and they’re cheap too. Competition has really brought down the price of a host. This site, is hosted at Godaddy.com for about $90 per year. Yes, per year. Don’t let your web developer charge you $500 per year for bandwidth because Godaddy will offer you more bandwidth than your new site could find in 3 years – all for $90.

Step 4: Designing Your Online Business Site – Do yourself a big favor and don’t choose now to learn how to create your own website and hosting. This is a job best left to experts. As cool as you think it is to design your own site you will fail miserably the first 10 times you create a site. Don’t make your business fail because you don’t want to pay for a decent site. Think of how unprofessional some sites appear to you – and then picture your new business that you’re so proud of – with a lame site representing it. Your site is your business card presentation to the WORLD. Don’t cut corners, have it done right.

Step 5: Online Marketing – If there is anything that is more crucial to the success of your online business I haven’t found it. Online marketing is the absolute key to your success. It can make or break your company.

You will learn a whole lot about how to market online – from getting your company mentioned in directories such as mozilla.org and yahoo.com to getting links from other websites to your website. You really need to have a PhD level knowledge of internet marketing if you’re going to do it all yourself. A Bachelors degree at minimum if you’re going to hire someone else to take care of it.

Step 6: Search Engine Marketing – This gets a category separate from the previous because it’s of the ultimate importance for many businesses starting online. Search engines are so important because they give you free, targeted traffic to your site. Well, sort of free. The game has become a lot higher-stakes and there is competition for almost every phrase nowadays.

SEM specialist to optimize your site for the keywords your online business is focused on. Retain that person with a monthly fee to handle maintenance of your site and constant re-optimization for Google and Yahoo search engines. Nearly everyone just focuses on Google, but Yahoo is also important.

Or, learn it all yourself which will take about a year of full-time effort. You might still not be anywhere near as good as the that have done it for 10 years though.

Step 7: Interactive Websites – You may just need some way for customers to complete a transaction online. This would be a minimum requirement. You need to decide early on what role your online presence – your website will play for your business. Are you trying to attract new customers? Is that the goal? If yes, you’ll need a way to capture their contact information online so you can contact them later. There are easy ways to do this and complicated ways to this. Most companies will offer something for free if the customer will sign up for their email blast. They collect email, phone, and other information to contact that customer later.

You might need a website that does the entire process for you – without any effort from you. These web sites typically rely on a database programmed by an expert web developer and are costly and buggy. Assess what you need and plan a way to get there. Be careful about investing too much in your online business up front. Probably you can do it for less for a couple months or years until you know a $20,000 website is what you can’t live without.

Step 8: Building a Customer Base – If your customers will come from mostly online efforts – how will you optimize that? There are whole sites dedicated to helping you do this. There are quite a few spammy sites too. Focus on the Small Business Administration of America’s site and other quality sites like business.com and that level of site. Basically all information is free about how to go about this – but, you might do well to pay someone to teach you about it. Up to you – and how you learn best.

Don’t forget – past customers can be a great source of new customers since they already know you. An email list of your customers is essential!

Step 9: Repeat Business – Current and past customers can be a significant source of business for you. Don’t forget the upsell too – when someone is purchasing something online they are much more likely to purchase something else related to the product or service at the same time. Offer a discount and you’ll likely get more sales instantly.

Step 10: Accounting and Taxes – Stay up to date with a good accountant familar with the intricacies of starting and maintaining your Florida online business.