How to start or get a business online
What's involved and where do you start?
As more and more people want to get their businesses online, they run into a problem: confusing Web jargon and a lack of knowledge about where to start, and where to go from there.
In our years of experience with online businesses —and getting other people's businesses online — we have found that the elements themselves are few. Basically, you need:
A Workable Business Plan
It's one thing to want an online business, but knowing what you're going to sell or offer, how you're going to deliver it, whether products can or would best be downloaded rather than shipped, and whether you have an acceptable profit margin ... these kinds of questions are essential to your business success.
Don't follow the dot-com bombs. You need a sound business plan. Figure out how you're going to make your website benefit you — whether it results in sales leads, information to assist customers and attract new ones, or actual sales of goods or services.
A Computer and an Internet Connection
While a computer is not absolutely essential — you could have your customers call you instead of ordering online, signing up via your website or sending you email queries — the best solution is to allow them to do both. On the Web, people "shop" at all hours. They'll also want to send email and you'll need to respond, and for that you'll need a computer.
- Computer: you don't need the latest computer on the market, but you'll need some familiarity with using it -- even if it's just to download and respond to email. Otherwise, your hesitation in using it could interfere with your willingness to respond to customers.
- Internet Connection: this is how your computer gets connected to the Internet. Companies such as @Home, Earthlink and others provide such connections. We prefer cable because it's fast, but any connection will do. Your Internet Service Provider ("ISP") will help you to set up your browser (the program you use to "surf" the Internet) and email program.
An Effective Website and Web Hosting
Having an online business means you'll need a website and a few other things, and it will help to know what's needed:
- Your Website
You'll need a website to advertise, provide information or sell online. Either you or someone else will have to design it, create the images, write effective ad copy, and make sure
the whole thing works.
Notice that the above says more than "make" a website. Websites are about marketing -- so that means professional-looking, unconfusing, easy-to-use, with ad copy and pertinent
images. Just for starters.
This is not the place to stint on fees and the future success of your online business by hiring the cheapest person you can find. Remember that you are creating a business or taking your off-line busines to the Web, so entrusting it to an amateur or making decisions based on who is the cheapest or how much you can save are not the smartest ways to go — especially if your next step turns out to be paying someone else redesign your website!
- A Domain Name (example: Dianev.com)
A professional business website should have its own domain name. Among other things, it looks more professional and established. Don't simply use your Internet connection provider's free web space, or your website address will look like this:
instead of this:
Which is easier to explain ... and for customers to remember?
Which makes it look like you are serious about your business -- and, more importantly, which gives potential customers the idea that you'll be serious about their concerns?
- Web Hosting
Once your website is completed, it will need to be on the Internet. This is generally accomplished by getting an account with a "web host" -- a company that provides web space for websites. There are many good web hosts available.
For commercial websites, we do not recommend "free" web hosting, which can be aggravatingly slow to download and usually comes with its own set of banners advertising anything but your business.
Customer Service -- this means you!
Just like in the off-line world, you'll need to tend to your customers. That means answering email and your phone, providing what they want, and generally keeping on top of things. If you keep in mind your own experiences with "good" and "bad" customer service, this will take you a long way towards providing great customer service for your customers!
Once you've got all that, it's time to learn how to run a website.
Diane Vigil founded DianeV Web Design Studio, has served as a consultant to numerous companies, as a moderator and administrator of the JimWorld SearchEngineForums and Cre8asiteforums, on the Site-Report Experts Panel — and has designed and built numerous websites since 1997.