The A to Z of Establishing an Online Business

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It has been a rough two years for many people across the globe, but some business owners have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic.

With economies crashing and unemployment rates surging, many workers lost their day jobs and subsequently, their sources of income. The US witnessed the highest unemployment rates at 14.8% in 2020 in more than seven decades in 2020. So, in order to gain some personal power back in terms of conducting business and earning financial gains, many people just chose independence. Small businesses started popping up all over the place during the pandemic. Nearly a million business startups came about from 2019 to 2020. As a result, 2021 seems to be the perfect time for you to start an online business of your own! Here’s how.

Starting From Scratch

First thing’s first, no matter what kind of business you’re starting or establishing online, you’ll need to figure a whole lot of stuff out first. To start a business — even if it’s just online — you’ll need capital, investors, resources, means of acquiring resources, suppliers, operators, managers, deliverymen or coordinators, third party support and so much more. So, when you’re starting the process of establishing an online business from scratch, here are some things you need to consider.

1.    Evaluate Your Position

Running your own business, no matter how small it may be, is always a risky investment. In order to navigate the complex landscape of online commerce, you need to know exactly where your business stands.

Evaluate your position and determine if your small business is even the type that requires an online presence.

Many business owners jump headfirst into digitalizing their brick-and-mortar businesses just because they assume whatever is trending in the market will work for them too.

That isn’t always true. You need to clearly define your business type, target audience, and business goals.

2.    Determine Your Purpose

Speaking of defining business goals, you can’t successfully do that without first determining what you purpose is.

Settle whether you’re looking to start an online business or establish an existing business online — because those are two very different things.

Your type of business is also what will help you define your target audience and set business goals.

Ask yourself important questions like, “Why do I want an online presence for my business? How will going digital help me and my business? Can I afford to invest heavily into my business? Who exactly am I aiming to target?”

3.    Find Inspiration

Once you know where you stand and have defined your purpose, then it’s time to start looking for inspiration.

Search up businesses like yours and see how they visualize their value proposition online.

Look for their websites, social media pages and online advertisements to gain insight.

Research and Tools

Once you think you’re all ready to get started, that’s when it is time to take a seat, pull out your laptop or desktop, and start studying.

That’s right! Researching your local market and industry at large is an absolutely crucial part of establishing a business.

1.    Analyze Market Trends

Depending on the type of business you are doing all this effort for, your market will drastically differ. You will be operating in an online landscape that you’ll find to be much different from the one you’d been used to i.e. the offline one.

Keep an eye on the market news! You should know what factors influence the market you’re operating in, what your country’s economy is like and how it affects small businesses, etc.

Most importantly, you should know which strategies of conducting online businesses are known to be market best practices.

Learn about how the global economy and political fluctuations can impact your market and industry at large — because ultimately, they’ll affect your small business too.

2.    See What Works For Your Competitors

It’s also extremely important to analyse your competition in the market.

Before you can even begin to analyze your competitors, you first need to properly identify them.

This sounds simple, but many business owners end up incorrectly identifying their competitors and conduct their strategies the wrong way as a result. Naturally, most business have two types of competitors:

  • Direct Competitors: Businesses that deal in/offer the exact same category of product and compete in the same market as your business does.
  • Indirect Competitors: Businesses that deal in/offer products which are in a different category than yours but can serve as substitutes or alternatives to your products/services

Understanding the difference between these two types of competitors is important as it helps small business owners design their strategies better.

Your strategies to compete against direct competitors will be miles apart from those for your indirect competitors —this is why you need to correctly identify, analyze and subsequently target these competitors.

3.    Do Legal Research

No business can run successfully in the market without its owners doing their due diligence.

Your business, no matter how small, will be subject to legal restrictions and requirements.

Naturally, these legal requirements will differ from state-to-state and region-to-region. Some small towns may even have their own regulations that exist as additions to the state’s overall legal stature.

As a small business owner, you’ll need to educate yourself thoroughly on all the laws and rules that apply to your business, including credit management and financing.

You can opt for online resources like the US Small Business Administration to help you stay updated and compliant with state and national laws.

Building Your Brand

So, now that you’ve gotten all of your baseline information, research and compliances sorted, it is time to actually start building your online presence.

The usage of the word “build” might seem a figure of speech to you, but given the complexity of the online space, it defines exactly what you will need to do.

As a business owner, you will quite literally be building your brand — and the way that you can effectively do this is by carefully curating your choices.

1.    Choose a Platform

If your business deals in tangible products, then you’ll be going for direct e-commerce. In contrast, if your business deals in intangible services, your presence online will look significantly different.

First, you need to decide which online platforms you’ll use to target your audience. Luckily, there are numerous options for small business owners to choose from in terms of online platforms.

You can choose to go full social and restrict your business to any of the major social media sites, or you can leverage the power of digital marketing and create a website.

2.    Invest On Your Website

Creating a website may seem like an unnecessary choice if you think your business can thrive just fine on social media alone.

But considering that 81% of customers research about your brand through your website and 92% of them don’t buy on the first visit to your site — it’s safe to say that having a well-performing and intricately-designed website is a necessity now.

If you wish to establish your business online, you must be willing to invest on a good website.

Luckily for you, there are many online platforms like Shopify, Wix and WordPress that let individuals and businesses create and customize their own websites.

Some of them even let you create a basic version for free! But you will have to buy a domain from a domain hosting site.

3.    Sort Your Functions Out

When you’re creating the website, you’ll learn about the different functions an online business needs to conduct. You’ll have to take care of your sales funnel and establish a sales processing strategy for transactions.

You will also need to clearly plan out your forward and backward integration channels through your website — especially if you’re dealing in tangible e-commerce.

For example, processing online orders, tracking inventory on your online shop, processing deliveries and other functions involved in your business.

Leveraging Digital Marketing

It’s great that you have invested all that time, effort and money into creating your business website and social media pages, but since the online landscape is so volatile and complex, that alone is not enough.

These pages can exist on their own forever, but if nobody ever sees them then what’s the point?

You need to now leverage digital marketing and attract attention to your online business sites which will in turn result to more interactions with your business.

1.    Create a Marketing Plan

Planning everything out before you start a high-involvement and high-risk venture is always a good idea. Digital marketing is no exception.

It would do you well to create a marketing plan for your online business that encompasses all the important aspects involved in the process. These include:

  • Defining your business goals
  • Understanding your target customers
  • Strategies to build an audience
  • Strategies for growth and sustainability
  • Strategies for marketing and promotions
  • Creating a budget
  • Managing pricing and finances

2.    Introduce Your Business to New Audiences

Your marketing plan should give you a foundational blueprint of how you’ll navigate the online space in terms of your business and target customers. Establishing an online presence essentially means introducing your business to new audiences.

The goal should be for these audiences to have a positive experience with that introduction so they return and eventually conduct business with you.

There are two main ways to promote your business online and introduce it to a wider customer base.

a.      Promote Organically

Organic advertising essentially refers to the process of leveraging methods of advertising that do not involve monetary investments or paid promotions. You can promote your business organically through tools like search engine optimization (SEO) and social media marketing (SMM).

Neither of these tools necessarily requires you to pay for them to work. Working to increase your website’s ranking on global search engines like Google and Bing is the most important way for you to be seen online in today’s digital landscape.

SEO is what helps you accomplish this task by utilizing the algorithms adopted by these search engines in your site’s favor.

Another really effective way to promote your site organically is through content marketing.

Content marketing refers to the use of short-form or long-form content on your site with the sole purpose of attracting internet traffic and increasing conversions.

The use of keywords in content that is a part of your site helps search engine algorithms pick it up in search results and bump your page higher.

b.     Paid Advertising

Paid advertising, as the name suggests, refers to the use to paid ads or promotions on search engines and social media sites.

You can do this by paying for sponsored ads on sites like Google, Instagram and Facebook.

Pay-per-click (PPC) marketing is among the most common and effective ways of conducting paid advertising.

It is essentially you paying a certain amount each time an ad you have placed is clicked upon. PPC can significantly increase the online traffic your website receives, if you target the right audience.

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