Starting up an online business has many advantages over bricks and mortar. It cuts the overhead costs of leasing out a shop front or office space, allows you to pass this on as competitive pricing and offers the freedom of working anywhere in the world.
Depending on how big you become, it removes the need to hire and train staff, at least in the early days. And a combination of the right stock and effective digital marketing can capture a customer base that exceeds a local market.
When you look to start an online business – or move an existing business into the online world – it’s an exciting time. But it's important to stay focused on the details, conserve your cash and start within your means before building the business up.
The following tips can help you survive and thrive when you first get started.
Tip #1: Spend small when starting out
When it comes to starting your business, it’s easy to get stuck spending hour after hour (and thousands of dollars!) on perfecting your website, creating schmick marketing collateral to knock the socks off your competitors, forking out a small fortune on a suite of design programs and a whole host of minutiae that seemed important at the time (but really weren’t).
If you expect to have everything perfect before you start your business, you will never be ready to launch it. Remember, the world is moving fast – so by the time your perfect plan is ready, things have changed and your plan is likely to be incomplete – and so the cycle continues!
When you first set out to start a business you have to adopt a lean mindset. Spend small on web development and marketing until you understand your market and their needs inside out. At start up, your aim should be to test the waters - to see what works and customers want, and adjust accordingly.
This is what ‘fail fast’ is all about - testing out variations of a new concept, seeing what works and what doesn’t, adjusting accordingly and repeating. It should be a continual cycle, and your ability to be nimble and spend strategically in areas where you receive a good response will conserve valuable cash you’ll need down the track. Don’t lock yourself into expensive investments that don’t pay a return.
Let your customers tell you what they want through their activity, and shape your business to their needs. Once you have a clearer and more realistic understanding of those needs, you will be in a position to invest in more detailed planning.
Tip #2: Learn from others
We live in a fast paced world and chances are there are other companies out there doing almost exactly what you want to do. While your business is going to have a point of difference (hopefully more than just price), these companies have done all the hard work of gathering data and understanding what customers want.
As a fledging business with limited capital, implementing aspects from successful companies into your own will save you endless time and money. Learning from other people’s mistakes is a shortcut that will also save you time and cash – so ensure you do your research and know what other entrepreneurs in the industry have already done.
When asked how he would go about starting a new business in the 21st Century, one of Australia’s best known entrepreneurs, Dick Smith, once said, “I would find someone already in the type of business I was interested in, but who was doing it poorly, and set up next door!”
Tip #3: Continually learn
Society is rapidly changing and as a result, so is the business landscape as it seeks to deliver on what consumers are looking for. So, the need to stay on top of trends is important if you want to achieve success.
One way to continually grow, improve and build expertise is to never stop learning. This is where technology is a real boon (rather than a headache!). The internet gives us a myriad of information on every topic imaginable - make sure to set aside time each and every week to research and read about what’s happening in your industry.
You have to be disciplined enough to lock away time for this consistently. It doesn’t need to be a huge block of time –even just ten minutes daily will help you keep up with the business world and expose yourself to new concepts that could lead to your next big idea.
Tip #4: Build networks
Today’s world is not just fast paced, it’s complex. The old adage of having to ‘know it all’ has been replaced with ‘knowing where to find it’ and whilst Google is an amazing source, it’s only effective if you search the right information.
Simply put, you don’t know what you don’t know’ and it is those blind spots that can bring you unstuck in a big way - and you will never see it coming!
That’s where having an effective network in business is critical. This isn’t only about a network that brings you business through word of mouth (although it’s important) – it’s about knowing people who specialise in areas you don’t, and can help you along the way.
Being a member of a network such as Bartercard is a great way to grow and develop your business through contacts (by accessing the expertise of your trade co-ordinator), as well as to bringing you business (by being promoted to the membership).
Social media platforms
The more people you bring into your network, the higher the chance you will know someone with the ability to help you when you need it. In the past, these networks were largely personal – people who know people, who know people. However, the 21st Century has a new twist on this with the development of social media – having a presence on these online platforms will increase the likelihood of being linked with someone who can add value to your business or with whom you can form a strategic partnership. You will be surprised at how willing people are to help you out – just make sure that you are just as willing to help others out!
When successful entrepreneurs today are asked when they noticed their business taking off, many reference the momentum they received through social media platforms such as Instagram and strategic partnerships which opened their brand up to new markets and followers.
As a tip for building a social media community always comment and share openly, and do so on a platform that you feel works best for your brand and industry.
Tip #5: Be prepared for a long haul
Starting up any business (yes, even online) takes a lot of effort – no matter how easy others may make it look from a distance. So you have to be prepared to put in a lot of hard work to setup, launch and grow your new venture.
Remember, any online business is open 24/7 as far as your customers are concerned so be prepared to start early and finish late.
Although social media allows you to reach thousands of people from the comfort of your desk, being visible is also extremely important as the face to face aspect of developing strong relationships with customers and your community is still regarded as the most powerful. Getting out and meeting new people will help you build your online tribe and capture an audience to grow your brand.
Without the drive to put in the hours and do what others won't, your business will struggle to get the kick start it needs to compete in the extremely competitive online business world.
Wrapping it up
No matter what business you are planning to build or take online, you are going to discover that there’s a lot more to it than you thought. That is a natural part of the growth journey that building a business automatically puts you on.
No matter what hurdles and complexities your venture throws at you, the most important thing is not to give up. You may need to adapt and reshape, regroup and recover, but always keep going.
Remember, getting knocked down is not failure – as long as you keep getting back up!
Author: Dennis Hall
P: (07) 3040 6432
About the author
Dennis has an MBA in Marketing Management and has been involved in the online environment for over 15 years – in addition to more than 20 years in sales and marketing roles in the business community.
With so many online options available to local businesses to promote themselves, it’s no wonder that there is so much confusion around what to do…… and that’s why he established ‘Ausbizlinks’ in 2004. He’s been an active member of Bartercard from day one of starting.
Dennis has the philosophy of ‘keeping it simple’ which he applies in helping local businesses all around Australia to take control of their online presence and on top of new customer generation activities. He does this by applying a strategic focus which laser targets what a business needs to be doing and when.
Dennis’ goal is to make his clients’ businesses ‘famous’ online!
You can learn more about Dennis at www.dennishall.com.au or www.ausbizlinks.com.au
Already have an online business? Read our tips for selling online