There’s nothing quite like starting a new business venture — it’s exciting and nerve-wracking all at once. But if you’re starting an e-commerce store rather than a brick-and-mortar business, things may look a little different. Take a little time to consider the startup services you’ll need and the unique aspects of an online business startup, and you’ll be set up for success.
Your online presence and Internet service
While both brick-and-mortar and online businesses will require a Web presence, your virtual storefront will need to be more robust than a simple website or Facebook page. Whether you’re providing a service or selling a product, customers no longer have the face-to-face interaction with staff. Creating a welcoming, informative, and streamlined website is essential, as it may be the only visual experience customers have with your Web-based business. You’ll also need reliable Internet service like Comcast Business to keep your business up and running. Choose a service with top-notch customer support and the speeds you need.
You likely won’t need a pricey retail space for your online store so you may save a little money on rent. On the other hand, since your business relies mostly — or even entirely — on your Web presence, you’ll likely pay quite a bit more to create, host, and manage your website than you would for a brick-and-mortar operation. It’s important to have the ability to handle spikes in traffic volume on your site and respond quickly to downtime. A more robust hosting plan can avoid problems down the road, but it will be more expensive than the base service.
Where a brick-and-mortar shop obviously needs a security system, don’t forget about the security your online business needs too. Your website will need to be protected from hackers, your employees’ computers will need to be protected from viruses, and your e-commerce solutions will need to protect your customers’ data carefully. Breaches in security can be costly not only to your bottom line but to your reputation, as well. It’s hard to repair a loss of trust.
Despite a shift to online communications in the business world, many people still want to ask questions and handle other customer service requests over the phone. Even if you don’t have a dedicated office outside of your dining room, you’ll need a phone line. A VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) line, like VoiceEdge Select offered by Comcast Business, often has features that allow you to transfer calls among a set of numbers, record and replay voicemail, and even act as a virtual receptionist, all without a traditional landline and expensive equipment.
Search engine optimization
A traditional shop owner wants a storefront in an area that gets a lot of foot traffic, especially if their target audience lives nearby. E-commerce stores, however, rely on search engine optimization (SEO) to nab prime search result ranks and bring in targeted search engine traffic. Ranking highly (at least on the first page) for relevant queries will be critical to your customer acquisition online. Don’t ignore this vital part of your marketing plan.
One of the challenges of online businesses is the inevitable, but hopefully rare, downtime. There are some causes for this, but they might include upgrades by your Web hosting company, Internet problems, or hackers. If this downtime happens during a peak sales window, you’re going to lose customers and money. Don’t wait until there’s a problem to assemble a team who can help. Be prepared to act quickly to minimize the damage and get yourself back online.
Small stores often close one or two days a week, as well as major holidays. Sometimes small business owners close for an entire week or two each year to spend time with family. While you can “close” an e-commerce store, the reality is that people expect 24/7 sales and support online. That’s not always practical or reasonable for small business owners, but not responding to an inquiry can cause you to lose business, or worse, leave you with an angry customer.
Create a plan to build some free time into your schedule, so you can recharge, reconnect with family and friends, and avoid burnout. Make sure you have employees you can trust or even a friend who can step in for a few days. And don’t worry — one of the most significant benefits of an online business is that you can take it anywhere. If an emergency strikes, you can respond from almost anywhere.
An online business startup can be freeing when compared to a traditional business. With lower overhead costs and more flexibility, it may be a refreshing change of pace and allow you to follow your passions. As long as you plan accordingly, and don’t underestimate the time and financial investments, there’s plenty to love.