Starting a business online can seem a lot simpler than doing it any other way. You don’t need a physical location, you likely won’t be working with other people in person, and you can organize everything from working hours to monetization to suit your preferences. As much as all of this may be true though, it’s also important not to take an online startup too casually just because it is in some respects simpler.
That is to say, it’s important not to overlook important steps just because you may be able to get a profitable online business up and running with relatively little effort. To that point, we have a few specific suggestions of things to keep in mind while undertaking this kind of effort….
1. You still need a business plan
Given the fact that it can be relatively simple to start up an online business in its most basic form, a foundational step like forming a business plan may not even occur to you. This does not mean that your online company is doomed to fail, nor even that you can’t start generating revenue fairly quickly. But if you want that business to be organized, and you want to be prepared to expand it over time, it’s still a good idea to start with a business plan.
The process of writing an effective business plan can take some time and research; it needs to involve a detailed summary of your company, an analysis of the market you’re entering, marketing plans, financial projections, and more. But it’s ultimately a document that can help to steer even an online business toward long-term growth and success.
2. You can still form an official company
One of the reasons the concept of an online startup is so appealing to so many people is that it can be developed in such an unofficial way. You can start a website, find a way to monetize it, and call yourself — with some validity — a small business owner. But nothing about doing all of this online precludes you from making it official, either, and there are some benefits to starting a real LLC, or any similar kind of business. One such benefit is about perception.
A business that can call itself an LLC simply appears to be more professional (or more trustworthy) than your average website. Also significant if you plan on growing a company though is that an LLC protects you as the business owner from liability for business-related assets. It’s still worth taking the time to determine if this is the right arrangement for you and your plans, or whether something like a sole proprietorship might fit better. But don’t catch yourself ignoring this step merely because you’ve started up online.
3. You can cultivate a digital storefront
In a way, “digital storefront” is just a fancy way of describing an online brand, or even a general online presence. But it is not simply what your website looks like. Rather, it’s a vibe you can establish that gives even an online business a sort of personality, like that which an in-person business inevitably projects to consumers.
How you go about building it can depend somewhat on the nature of your company. But from bold web design, to an effective social media presence, to targeted brand marketing, you can find ways to make your business stand out as a destination for consumers. You don’t have to be (or want to be) just another website!
4. You’ll need an email list
Most of the points above concern ideas you might overlook when starting a business online as opposed to in person. You might skip the business plan, fail to consider an LLC, and neglect the idea of a storefront altogether. An email list, by contrast, is something more or less made for online businesses that you might just not think about in the early going. But the truth is that building a strong email list should be among your chief priorities. Establishing a community of customers via email gives you a reliable and personable way to communicate directly to the people who matter most to your business. It’s also typically a more secure and controllable method than, say, social media outreach (which can be great for brand exposure but less so for routine communications).
5. Your site will require maintenance
As a final note, we’d stress that you should keep in mind that your site will require maintenance as you grow and develop. Particularly if you’re new to online business, it can be easy to get the impression that once your website is built, you’re simply free to operate. This is true in a sense, but you should expect (and budget) for the site to need updates, ongoing protections, and general maintenance. It’s a concern in-person businesses don’t always have, but one that it’s very important to stay on top of.
Keep these tips in mind and you’ll be that much closer to establishing a strong, profitable online business you can take pride in!