Are you an aspiring entrepreneur, eager to start your own business, but short on cash? Consider setting up shop on the Internet and reach a vast---potentially global---market. Like any business, your venture will take planning, time and commitment, but unlike traditional "brick-and-mortar" businesses, creating a virtual store can be done much more easily and cost effectively.
Books and websites geared towards getting your online venture up and running have made it easier than ever to delve into ecommerce. Here are important steps to consider before you open shop online.
What Business is Right for You?
Starting a business requires a tremendous commitment in terms of your time, energy and effort. Before you decide to start a business, it is best to truthfully consider what interests you, what you are good at, and what areas you have practical experience in - if one thing satisfies all three areas, you just might have found your goldmine. If you can see gaps or opportunities for improvements in a product, then you have the opportunity to become successful in that area. The best way to succeed in any business is to offer a product or service that is unique.
Once you have determined your general area of interest, you need to discover your niche market within that area. Suppose, for example, that your business interest lies in golf. Do you want to offer golf lessons? Sell golf clubs and clothes? Arrange golf vacations around the world? Write books on improving your golf game? Your passion for golf may be used in a variety of businesses. Self-examination is necessary to discover what type of work would make you the happiest. In some spiritual traditions, this called your "right livelihood." It is finding a career or business path that it uniquely suitable to who you are and what you want to accomplish in this world.
The Business Plan and Legal Considerations
Once you have a clear sense of the business that is right for you, a solid business plan is the next step. This document forces you to think about all aspects of your business and to make the right decisions. Many business plan templates are available on the Internet free and are a great starting point. Solid planning increases your chance for future success.
Do I need an LLC or a Corporation?
Before you open your virtual shop, it's important to make sure the requisite legalities are covered and that your formal business structure is in place. Both an LLC, or Limited Liability Company, and a Corporation offer personal liability protection not to mention a number of other advantages. The LegalZoom Education Center offers free and informative resources that you can access anytime to learn more about creating the right business structure for your enterprise.
In addition to the costs required to establish your legal structure, you'll most likely have to set aside funds for state and local licenses, permits, fees and other regulations in order to conduct business. Every US state (not to mention cities and counties) has local business requirements that you must comply with. To learn more about your local business operation requirements, you can visit your state's official web site or consult a local small business resource group.
Domain Name Registration
Internet experts advise choosing a succinct and catchy domain name. It's important to use a name that customers can easily remember. Try to steer clear of using hyphens in your name. If possible, use the .com extension, since it is the most common and best known.
When choosing a name, always keep your branding in mind. Ideally, your name should be synonymous with products or services you offer. For example, using your own name for the business will be easy to remember, but is it distinctive enough? Many branding experts advocate using a name that explains what your business does.
There are hundreds of domain name registrars out there. You can pay anywhere from $4.95 to $35 in this relatively simple process. What separates domain name registrars are the extras they provide. Some offer free email accounts, web forwarding, email forwarding and even free hosting. When choosing a registrar, prioritize the other services you'll need to help your business run smoothly.
Web Hosting and Web Design
Many Web hosting companies now offer do-it-yourself, user-friendly site-building tools (and even staff designers) to help you design a professional looking site. Remember, a well-designed web site will attract new customers and keep old ones coming back. Find out more at Web.com.
Fees for Web hosting vary greatly, depending on how much storage space and bandwidth is required. If you have a large catalog of products to sell, you will need a great deal more space than a service company which basically wants an online brochure. If you want to add forums, message boards, or expect a lot of traffic, then you would need more bandwidth to allow more visitors to access your site.
Many Web hosts allow you to start with a small monthly hosting package and allow you to upgrade as your business grows. This is the wisest method to use. Remember, it takes time to build site traffic, so why pay for services and disk space that you don't currently need? It is best to start small and learn as you grow.
Promoting Your Site
Once your Web site goes live, you will need to promote it to attract visitors to your site. Search engine optimization is a very important marketing tool that helps to get your Web site to the top of the major search engines. In plain terms, "SEO" is a way to improve the ranking and visibility of a website in search engine listings. The content on your site is an important part of its optimization, and keywords and phrases that pertain to your site should be sprinkled throughout your site to more easily enable search engines to locate it.There is a great deal of information on the Internet on what small business owners can do to increase the visibility of their site.
You can also advertise your Internet business through conventional offline channels, such as business cards, brochures, newspaper and magazine advertising and press releases. These are just a few of the many ways you can promote an online business. You are limited only by your imagination. Some people use message boards and forums to offer their expert advice and then use their Web site address in the post. Others offer free gifts, free newsletters, or offer promotional contests to build traffic to their site. Offering useful information about your product or service and allied fields is a great way to attract return visitors. Just as the Internet is a great place to launch your business, it is also a great resource for finding low-cost marketing and advertising solutions.
While starting an online business is not as difficult as launching a brick-and-mortar company, the basics are the same. A marketing plan which includes a budget is essential. You need a product or service that fills a need and an effective way to reach your targeted customers. Once you have built a customer base, the best way to keep them is through delivering excellent customer service and support. With a great idea, careful planning and expert execution, your Internet business just might be the start of something big.
This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.