Before the Internet, starting and running a business was a tall order. Reaching customers required expensive print ads or direct marking pieces; rent and decorating costs for retail or office space were often a necessity; even maintaining relationships with existing customers via phone or mail could be costly and time-consuming.
With today's wide-spread Internet use, however, the dream of starting a business is accessible to more people than ever. Many high-cost business essentials of 20 years ago have been replaced by low-cost, online alternatives or made obsolete by new technologies. Today, having the right idea—and the right business skills—can be enough to get started.
Business owners who want to advertise their products or services no longer need an extensive media campaign. Local, national, and even worldwide marketing can all be carried out online instead.
Utilizing targeted web ad campaigns and social networking sites (such as Facebook) can be a good way of reaching target customers. With improved avenues of communication, alerting customers about a special promotion can be as easy as typing a status update. Business owners can maintain consistent contact with customers via e-newsletters, blog posts, and personal emails.
Small businesses with websites can purchase targeted web advertising through services like Google's AdWords. These targeted ads appear as "sponsored links" when web users search for specified keywords. Targeted ads are usually pay-per-click (PPC) ads, meaning there's no fee for the advertising unless a user clicks through to the site for more information. Business owners also have access to immediate ROI and click-through reports allowing them to continuously change and test ads to find what works best for their businesses.
Office or retail space, which can be among a business's highest costs, is now often replaced by a company website or online marketplace.
For retailers not ready for their own websites, there are online marketplaces like eBay and Etsy, where business owners can market and sell their wares to larger audiences than they could with brick-and-mortar stores. There is usually a commission charge on sales through the sites, but the initial cost is lower than that of a traditional website or a physical store location.
A company website can also replace a brick-and-mortar location. The cost of setting up a basic website where customers can purchase goods and services is not as high as the cost of renting and decorating a storefront or office space. And a business no longer has to be tied to its physical location; most goods can be shipped and many services can be delivered via email or file transfer.
Most of the tools and equipment business owners need to operate a business, from business cards to copy machines, can be found and purchased online. Websites like Craigslist help people buy and sell products more efficiently than was possible without the Internet. Ordering marketing collateral is a snap—and a steal—with online-only creative services websites that offer design and custom printing services.
Education and Tools
Business owners can use online sources to find information and stay in tune with trends in their industries. Websites such as SmallBusiness.com and Entrepreneur are great resources for general insight into running a business and connecting with other business owners.
The Internet has also made hiring new employees easier. An online job posting can draw hundreds of applicants that may not have known of the position otherwise. And once you've found them, the Internet can provide a good way of verifying a potential employees' work history and professional accomplishments.
For many entrepreneurs, the time and money saved using online services is what makes their businesses possible. If you're ready to start your own business, you can even file your LLC, incorporation, or other business structure online with LegalZoom. Check out our business formation page for more info.
Starting a business has never been easier. Harnessing the tools available on the Internet can bring connectivity and resources to the fingertips of every budding entrepreneur—and level the playing field for all.