Having your own online business is a dream that many of the readers of this blog may have. There are however important steps to start an online business that needed to be followed.
Starting an online business, although it operates in a different channel, is not that different from starting a Brick and Mortar business. In both cases you need no do certain things in order to get your business up and running.
The 7 steps to start an online business
Starting a business may be for most people a chaotic and emotional episode. However, if you have a guide to do the right at the right time, the process may be smoother that you think. So, here are the steps:
Step 1: Planning
A Business Plan is a detailed action plan or road map outlining every conceivable aspect of the proposed venture. The plan describes what, how, when, where and why with regard to the new venture. It is thus a structured guideline for achieving your business goals.
Therefore, if you want to start an online shop, you should at least ask the following questions:
- What kind of products do I want to sell?
- Are there any competitors that will be selling the same products as me?
- What should my website look like?
Read more: Planning Your Online Business
By this time you should already have an idea what your business is about. Also about a name for your business…
Step 2: Register a domain name and choose a hosting company
If you already have the name of your shop, it is time to start setting it up. The first thing to do is to register for a domain name. However, good luck! According to Tek Eye (2017), there were 330 million domains registered for over 1.8 billion websites last year… So I think all the obvious domain names is already taken.
In spite of all the best domain names already been taken, you should try to get a name that can best represent your products or services. Registering a domain name should not cost you more than $10 (R120) for a .com extension. Visit SA Domains to see if a domain name is available.
After getting the domain name, you need to find a good hosting company. Look for a hosting company that has good servers and that will be able to run your online store e.g. Texo Webhosting.
Step 3: Choose your E-commerce package
You can build your online store through hosted solutions or self-hosted solutions
Many hosted solutions provide a good experience to users with you doing very little on your end. However, when you use a hosted solution, you should be prepared to lose a lot of opportunity for customization.
The following three are among the top solutions:
It’s easy for anyone to set up an e-commerce site with Shopify. Some of the features you will enjoy by setting up a store with them include a custom mobile template, unlimited server bandwidth, SSL security, and a personal app store. You can try it for free for 14 days or choose a package that will suit you. Pricing starts from $14 to $179 (R180 – R2300) per month depending on the features and functionalities you are looking for.
Yahoo! Merchant Solution. The layout of Y!MS is fairly straightforward and can be easily customized. Y!MS ecommerce plans start from $19.98 to $224.96 (R260 – R2925) per month depending on the package and features you need.
BigCommerce is similar to Shopify but has limited features. The website has a clean interface, making it easy for users to sign up. You can easily add users, products, features and take payments online in just a few minutes. BigCommerce pricing ranges from R325 to R3900 a month depending on the features your need.
If you do not want a hosted solution, you can make your own e-commerce scripts or use other open source or commercial shopping cart scripts.
Zen Cart is a popular open source script that will work in most web hosts. The script is free to download. The only downside of using the script is that your website will feature a “Powered by Zen Cart” message at the bottom.
Magento is another good script you can use for your e-commerce website. The script is written in PHP and is frequently updated. As is the case with Zen Cart, you will feel more comfortable using Magento if you are well-versed with HTML and CSS.
If you are comfortable using WordPress, you can easily set up an ecommerce store using various free and paid plugins. Examples of popular plugins that will enable your WordPress site and have ecommerce capabilities include WooCommerce, WP e-Commerce, Cart66, and others.
Step 4: Taking Payments Online
Credit cards provide customers with an easy way to make payments at your store. Apart from credit cards, customers may also wish to pay through other methods such as PayPal. You will want to accept payments through the methods that your customers trust and use. To accept credit cards online, you will need a merchant account.
Step 5: Add Content and Products
After you have set up your domain name, hosting and shopping script, you are ready to start selling online. You now need to add your content and products. From this point onwards, you will also need to do some maintenance and tune your website design to match the needs of your customers.
Indeed, “The quality and relevance of the content of a retailers’ webpages can mean the difference between a sale and a bounce” writes Douw G Steyn recently in eBizplan.net.
Read more detail about Adding Products to your eCommerce Website
The next important step is to get the product that your customer has paid for, to its destination.
Step 6: Shipping and Fulfillment
Like a physical retail store, you need to maximize the visitors at your store. However, you cannot simply hand over products over the counter. Also, shoppers expect a seamless shopping experience — no matter where they are, what device they are using, or how they choose to shop. Order Fulfilment – taking the right product, putting it in the right box, shipping it, and gaining the customer’s approval – is a demanding task.
Step 7: Marketing your online shop
One of the biggest challenges you may face as an e-commerce store owner is generating traffic that converts on your store. There are a number of digital marketing channels that retailers can use in the online channel:
- SEM (Search Engine Marketing) consists of SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and Paid Advertising (e.g. PPC – Pay Per Click advertising). Read more: Marketing your Website for Machines to Find.
- Content Marketing includes Blogging, e-Mail marketing, e-Books and video marketing.
- Social Media Marketing is marketing on social media websites such as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
So these are the seven steps to start an online business…
Just as with Brick and Mortar shops, there’s no easy way to just star and make money. If you follow these steps to start an online business, you may soon identify your strengths and weaknesses as well as opportunities and threats that exist in the marketplace.
Good luck with you new venture!
Remember, you need a well researched and written Business Plan to get your business off to a good start!