How to Start a Small Online Business • Burt Systems Uganda

How to Start a Small Online Business

How to Start a Small Online Business

Starting your small online business – steps that will help you.

For some time now your mind has been dancing around the thought of starting your own small online business but lost of questions keep distracting your thought and you can’t come up with the right thing you can do online to make money.

Honestly, this can be tricky. You could list all of your interests and passions and still come away feeling as if you haven’t hit upon the singular thing you were meant to do.

I have researched around the internet for the best proven sequence that will guarantee success when you’re starting a small online business and the following list has resonated with every article I had to read. And to affirm you that it works, the Entrepreneur says thousands of small online businesses have used this sequence to romp up their online revenue.

  • Step 1: Identify a genuine need and fill it.
  • Step 2: Write simple content that sells.
  • Step 3: Design and build your first website.
  • Step 4: Use search engine optimization to drive targeted buyers to your site.
  • Step 5: Start online marketing to get your website visible.
  • Step 6: Use the power of email marketing to convert visitors into buyers.
  • Step 7: Get authority links to your new website

Alright, let’s dig right into this small guide on how to start your small online business.

Step 1: Identify a Genuine Need and Fill It.

Certainly when considering how to start a small online business, you want to do your due diligence in selecting a viable business niche, but it’s better to get up and running than to wait around. That said, start with identifying that which you are passionate about and have in the past invested time to gain skill and knowledge capital in.

Running a small online business is not easy. At one point it’s going to test you. If you’re working in an area you don’t like and have no skill about, your odds of quitting will greatly increase.

The internet, unlike your mom, is fickle and ruthless. Attention spans are short, and there’s always a meme or hilarious video just a click away. That means you’ve got to be compelling. And you’ve absolutely got to make something people actually want or they’ll never stick around, let alone come back.

That positive reinforcement about your idea doesn’t mean a thing until someone actually pays you or until you see repeat, engaged visitors coming to your small online business website.

So how do you make something that people actually want? Start with a real problem.

Obviously it should be a problem for you, but be sure it’s also a problem for others. The thing is, sometimes people don’t realize they have a problem. And often just telling them they have a problem will only elicit an “Oh, that’s good enough for me.” As the old cliché goes, we’re creatures of habit. It’s really hard to persuade someone to try your thing when the status quo is good enough. But put a better solution in front of the same person and suddenly the status quo looks repugnant.

You’ve undoubtedly encountered products or services that have frustrated you. Keep a notepad or a tablet handy and write down whatever is upsetting you. There’s a good chance you’ll find a business in those notes.

Airbnb got its start because the founders needed to pay their rent and realized there were lots of other people who would pay to rent the founders’ unused space.

So many successful companies start out like this: the founders were having a problem, and they found a way to solve it. A company doesn’t have to start this way, but it’s the easiest place to start. Make something you’d use and, ideally, pay money for.

Another starting point is to have an idea that very few people other than the founders can actually build. These technical feats provide a natural defense against competition. Remember, every hard problem you solve drops a massive obstacle in front of anyone who’d want to replicate you. Certain problems haven’t been solved because none of the few people smart enough to do so have made it happen. Look at something like Google, which co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin were technically capable of building at a time when not many people were. Back then, there were very few people smart enough to build their own search engine let alone imbue it with software that could crawl and rank the entire World Wide Web.

There’s also a third route: think of an idea that is rooted in a perspective that everyone else is missing because they don’t see the potential today. Chris Dixon, describes the extreme version of this by saying, “The next big thing will start out looking like a toy.”

Finally on the shallow research end of starting your small online buisness, start with a market. The trick is to find a group of people who are searching for a solution to a problem, but not finding many results. The internet makes this kind of market research easy:

  • Visit online forums to see what questions people ask and what problems they’re trying to solve.
  • Do keyword research to find keywords that a lot of people are searching, but for which not many sites are competing.
  • Check out your potential competitors by visiting their sites and taking note of what they’re doing to fill the demand. Then you can use what you’ve learned and create a product for a market that already exists–and do it better than the competition.

Step 2: Write simple content that sells.

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” That’s what Leonardo da Vinci said anyway. And four centuries later, Steve Jobs agreed. Actually, Jobs more than agreed. He flat-out stole it.

So here’s the question: What does plagiarized advice from the 16th century have to do with marketing copy in the 21st? The simple answer (pun intended) is everything. Because simple sells.

Brevity is no longer a luxury: According to a recent Harvard Business Review article, the “single biggest driver” of a consumer’s likelihood to “follow through on an intended purchase, buy the product repeatedly, and recommend it to others” was “by far … simplicity.”

Writing directly to content creators in their book Content Rules, Ann Handley and C.C. Chapman put the issue like this: We’re in the clarity business, simplifying people’s convoluted ideas and wresting their wild, out-of-control text into something more civilized and comprehensible.

Why simplicity? Because in a world teeming with “Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More)” — as the subtitle of Handley and Chapman’s book explains — brevity isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity.

So if you want to engage your small online business audience, inspire them to action, and ultimately (pregnant pause) sell, the most fundamental question you can ask is, “How do I keep it simple?”

To that end, here are nine simple steps for writing simple copy that, simply put, sells.

  1. Arouse interest with a compelling headline.
  2. Describe the problem your product solves.
  3. Establish your credibility as a solver of this problem.
  4. Add testimonials from people who have used your product.
  5. Talk about the product and how it benefits the user.
  6. Make an offer.
  7. Make a strong guarantee.
  8. Create urgency.
  9. Ask for the sale.

Throughout your copy, you need to focus on how your product or service is uniquely able solve people’s problems or make their lives better and most of all simple. Think like a customer and ask “What’s in it for me?”

Step 3: Design and build your website.

Once you’ve got your market and product, and you’ve nailed down your selling process, now you’re ready for your small online business web design. Remember to keep it simple. You have fewer than five seconds to grab someone’s attention–otherwise they’re gone, never to be seen again. Some important tips to keep in mind:

  • Choose one or two plain fonts on a white background.
  • Make your navigation clear and simple, and the same on every page.
  • Only use graphics, audio or video if they enhance your message.
  • Include an opt-in offer so you can collect e-mail addresses.
  • Make it easy to buy–no more than two clicks between potential customer and checkout.
  • Your website is your online storefront, so make it customer-friendly.
  • Remember it is also important to try and optimise your website for search engines to allow customers to find you more easily.

The tips above assume that you already know the technical steps to actually getting your business website online, if you do not want to hire a professional website designer. If you don’t, here’s a short step-by-step guide that can help you get that sorted.

Chose a domain name

A domain name is your website name (eg www.yourname.ug). That name is the address where Internet users can access your small online business website and is used for finding and identifying computers on the Internet. Computers use IP addresses, which are a series of number. However, it is difficult for humans to remember strings of numbers so like your name identifies you among the population, the domain name will identify your business online among many others.

A domain name would cost you about $14 (Ush 50,000) from most domain registrars like Web Star. Don’t rush to register your domain yet, most domain registrars will register a domain for free if you buy web hosting with them.

Hosting your online business on the web

A web-hosting company stores your small online business website on its computer servers and makes it available on the web for others to see it. Free services are available but if you’re serious about running an online business it’s best to pay for web hosting that offers all the features you need now and as your business grows.

Prices start low, with sites such as Siteground offering a basic small business package that includes a customisable website and web hosting from just $3.95 (Ush 14,00) per month. Before you choose a web host consider what support they offer should you face problems with your website, what backup services they offer and their scalability so your business can grow.

Remember to avoid cheap web hosting services that seem to be so attractive. There are so many disadvantages that come with cheap website hosting. I have had so many clients that were enticed into hosting for like $27 (Ush 100,00) per year and later discovered security vulnerabilities, no customer care and very slow websites. So be careful when choosing a web host.

Create a business website

You can create an attractive, functional small online business website yourself, with no need to spend money on a web design professional, by buying an off-the-shelf solution from free platforms such as WordPress or Shopify. You could use a free theme, or pay for a premium theme that may offer more features. One advantage of these sites is that they often feature SEO add-ons, which will help people find your site. Another is that you do not need to have any knowledge of coding or design to create an attractive functional website in as little as an hour or two. Alternatively, hire a website designer to create one for you.

Recommended Read: Hiring A Website Designer Questions To Ask Before

As a start-up, you shouldn’t be spending more than is necessary. Your website should look good and be easy to use and find information. It should not be overly expensive to create. In fact, as a small online business it might be better to direct your funds elsewhere, especially if you have concerns about cash flow in the company. Save your money for marketing your business online.

Don’t forget to optimize your website so that search engines can find your pages and serve them the users which is expanded on in the next step.

Step 4: Use Search Engine Optimization to drive targeted buyers to your site.

I see it time and time again: The number-one challenge faced by brand-new small online business owners is a lack of traffic. Obviously, if your website isn’t getting any traffic, you’re not generating any sales. And what’s worse is that without traffic, you can’t test the key components of your sales process. And if you roll out a large traffic campaign before you’ve tested your site to make sure it converts maximum visitors into buyers, you risk losing sales and looking unprofessional to potential business partners and affiliates.

Also Read: 5 Tips for Marketing Your Website

So you’re caught in a vicious cycle: Before ramping up a big traffic campaign, you need to test your sales process, but without any traffic, testing is difficult–if not impossible!

Test your website first!

When I talk about testing with new small online business owners, I hear the same two questions all the time:

  • How do I test my site?
  • What do I test on my site?

There are an infinite number of things you can test on your site to help you increase traffic. From layout to copy to design, there are limitless combinations of changes that may improve your visitors. But what’s “enough” when you’re just starting out? What elements should you focus on testing before rolling out your traffic campaign?

My advice is to stick to the basics. Focus on testing your:

  • Sales content, especially your headline, benefits, guarantee and call to action
  • Order process, which needs to be simple enough for a novice web user to place an order
  • Opt-in offer, so you can determine if you’re successfully capturing your visitors’ contact information
  • Site navigation, so you can figure out how many clicks it takes to buy. Ideally it should take less than three.

These are the four critical aspects of your sales process that need to be tested before you start driving traffic. Later on, once you’ve generated sales and have some steady traffic, you can move on to testing other parts of your site.

Of course, all this talk of testing your new site raises one big question: How can you test with zero traffic? Because if you’re just getting started, chances are good that your website doesn’t get traffic at all.

The solution is simple: Buy traffic through PPC search engines. Pay-per-click advertising is the easiest way to get traffic to a brand-new site. It has two advantages over waiting for the traffic to come to you organically. First, PPC ads show up on the search pages immediately, and second, PPC ads allow you to test different keywords, as well as headlines, prices and selling approaches. Not only do you get immediate traffic, but you can also use PPC ads to discover your best, highest-converting keywords. Then you can distribute the keywords throughout your site in your copy and code, which will help your rankings in the organic search results.

After you’ve tested and tweaked your small online business site with a limited amount of purchased traffic, it’s time to start generating qualified traffic for your site on a larger scale. You can either continue with paid advertising (PPC) or with the generated traffic optimize your website with the research you have acquired on keywords, user navigation and conversion rate.

Get free traffic from search engines like Google.

Now that you’ve bid on keywords for a strong showing in the PPC search engines, it’s time to tackle the organic search engines and directories. Search engines like Google and directories like Yahoo! can still be a great source of free traffic for your website. The trick is getting a competitive ranking for your best keywords.

Recommended Read: 20 Ways To Make Your Website Accessible

The first step in getting a top ranking in the search engines is to submit or suggest your site to them. In other words, you have to provide them with details about your small online business site. You want to make sure that the “spiders”–automated programs that crawl the web indexing sites for the search engines–find your site and include it in the search results.

While the spiders do index sites and pages that haven’t been submitted, you certainly don’t want to leave this to chance. A spider might find your website and index it next week–or it might be two years before that finally happens. So take the time to submit your site to be sure you’re included. Once your site’s been submitted, expect it to take two to six weeks for your listing to appear.

Every engine has a slightly different process for site submission, and it pays to follow their guidelines. For example, there’s a fee to list your site in the directory at Yahoo!, but Google doesn’t charge for their submission process. Here’s a tip: If you submit your site exactly as they ask, you stand a better chance of getting a good listing on the first page of search results.

To submit or suggest your site to the major engines, follow the simple instructions they provide on these pages:

And don’t bother with companies that offer to submit your site to the search engines. Since each search engine uses a different set of criteria to rank your site, free submission services can actually end up doing you more harm than good, since they submit the same information in the same way to all the engines.

Step 5: Start online marketing to get your website visible.

Give away irresistible free content for priceless publicity. People use the internet to find information. Provide that information for free to other sites, and you’ll see more traffic and better search engine rankings. The secret is to always include a link to your site with each tidbit of information.

Believe it or not, a really easy, frequently undervalued strategy for getting traffic is giving away free content to other websites. Even just two or three well-written articles can generate truckloads of traffic, as long as they don’t contain a sales pitch. You want to include rare, hard-to-get information that’ll lend your articles automatic value–the kind of information that establishes you as an expert in your field.

To locate sites that might be interested in your content, e-mail other website owners in your industry–be sure to choose sites that receive attention and visits from your target market–and invite them to use your article on their site or in their newsletter at absolutely no cost. Many site owners need fresh content, so they’ll be more than happy to post your articles–and it won’t be long before those articles start driving traffic back to your site.

Don’t underestimate the power of giving away free content. And as your articles gain more exposure, don’t be surprised if you’re contacted by high-profile magazine and portal sites related to your industry looking for free articles to include on their sites, too.

  • Give away free, expert content. Create articles, videos or any other content that people will find useful. Distribute that content through online article directories or social media sites.
  • Include “send to a friend” links on valuable content on your website.
  • Become an active expert in industry forums and social networking sites where your target market hangs out.

You’ll reach new readers. But even better, every site that posts your content will link back to yours. Search engines love links from relevant sites and will reward you in the rankings.

Step 6: Use the power of email marketing to convert visitors into buyers.

Getting lots of traffic to your site is great, but if you aren’t collecting the contact information–the names and e-mail addresses–of visitors, you’re wasting every single click. If visitors leave your site without buying your product, there’s a good chance they won’t ever be back–and you’ll have absolutely no way of following up with them.

Remember: It can take up to seven points of contact to make a single sale, so you’ll want to begin collecting visitors’ contact information from day one using an opt-in form on your home page. Then send them e-mail messages to follow up and keep them thinking about your site. Need some ideas for e-mails you could send to follow up with your opt-in subscribers? Try these ideas:

  • Monthly or bi-weekly newsletters that include tons of tips and information
  • Free reports on topics your market would appreciate
  • Answers to common questions people ask about your product
  • Offers for products similar or complementary to ones you may have already offered them
  • Free product trials that give potential customers a taste of what you have to offer
  • A “downgrade” offer for a product that’s less expensive or robust than your featured offer

Following up with the addresses you gather is quick, easy and simple with e-mail management and automation software. You can create e-mail messages called “autoresponders” that potential customers receive automatically as soon as they opt-in on your site–within seconds–no matter what time of day it is or whether you’re even at your desk!

That’s right: As soon as your visitors opt in, they’ll start hearing from you on a regular basis without you having to deal with the stress of writing a ton of e-mails to individual addresses. This is a process you can put on autopilot from the very beginning.

When you build an opt-in list, you’re creating one of the most valuable assets of your online business. Your customers and subscribers have given you permission to send them email. That means:

  • You’re giving them something they’ve asked for.
  • You’re developing lifetime relationships with them.
  • The response is 100 percent measurable.
  • Email marketing is cheaper and more effective than print, TV or radio because it’s highly targeted.

Anyone who visits your site and opts in to your list is a very hot lead. And there’s no better tool than email for following up with those leads.

Step 7: Get authority links to your new website

Let’s say 50 links that you need to start being able to compete. Content can you take you a long way. Keywords can take you a long way. Engagement and interaction can take you a long way. But you’ve got to have a base of links.

Blogging is a surefire way to get quality links. According to HubSpot, businesses with a consistent blogging habit get up to 97% more inbound links. But, if you’re a new blogger, you may wonder how you can get authority links to your blog. There is no one “right way” to get links, but I can show you some proven techniques that work.

Some of the link building strategies that worked in 2013 are no longer effective. In fact, you could be penalized if you try some of them – forums, directory submissions and so on. The links you really want are those that come from great content that helps people.

You need links to rank highly in Google. Here are some effective ways for new bloggers to get high-quality incoming links.

Create Free Valuable Resources

I talked about this in step 5 above. The word “resource” can be defined as, “something (or someone) that is a source of help.” For our purposes, it means a piece of content that provides benefit to your users.

If you can create valuable resources in the form of blog posts, ebooks, short reports, whitepapers or videos, people will link to them.

Get Involved in Online PR (Without Spending a Dime)

You can also use PR techniques to position your brand for media attention. There are several techniques for getting other people to share your work. Of course, blogging is very effective, if you’re consistent. But, I’ve found press releases can also work well. If your press release gets picked up by media experts, you can expect other authority sites to link back to you.

Fill the Content Gap

Another simple, but effective way to get authority links is by filling the content gap. By reaching out to your target audience where they are, you’re making it easier for people to talk about you and link to you. In other words, find something that other bloggers have missed and take advantage of it.

Moz’s Rand Fishkin agrees that there are potentially untapped opportunities out there for you to leverage. For example, there are almost certainly keywords in your niche that your competitors aren’t targeting. As you strive to reach the “content marketing maturity” zone, make a commitment to move beyond producing the same type of content that your competitors publish.

I could go on and on in this post with more tips about the success of your online business but what you should keep in mind is that the internet is constantly changing at unimaginable speeds and you have to keep up with it. But the principles of how to start and grow a successful online business haven’t changed at all. If you’re a newbie, still to this sequence and research more on each step to get better results. If you’re an existing online business, it wouldn’t hurt to revise your old game and these out.

Good luck!

Burt Baguma
Burt Baguma
Most online business owners underestimate the power of online marketing in growing business and rely heavily on having a beautiful website to get them website visitors that convert into buyers. I'm sorry, I can't help you with your tears but I can help you understand why that concept is so wrong in these blog posts. Subscribe to my updates and I'll feed you the good stuff! Cheers!

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