While an online business may lack a physical storefront, it still requires a business plan, which is essentially a road map to building a successful online business. If you hand this plan to someone else, they should be able to understand exactly what your vision is and how you will achieve it.
To create one, you'll need an online business checklist of questions that can help you focus your ideas. Start by answering these questions — your answers will help you piece together the road map for starting an online business and develop an effective marketing strategy.
1. What kind of problem does my business solve?
You don't have to reinvent the wheel to create a useful product or service, but can you answer this question in just a few words? When someone asks you what kind of business you have, this will be your go-to answer.
Does your business address a problem for a specific demographic? Or are you helping solve a common issue in a new or unique way? Use these answers to guide your website content and marketing strategy.
2. Who is my target market?
When you came up with your product or service, did you have a particular person in mind? Did someone's problem inspire you to come up with a solution? If so, consider that person your ideal client and decide if they are representative of a larger group. More people with the same problem means more potential customers for you. Keep the characteristics of your ideal client or target market in mind (age, gender, hobbies, purchasing power, profession) as you prepare your marketing strategy.
3. Who are my competitors?
As the saying goes, "Keep your friends close, but keep your competition closer." Before you create and market your product or service, find out what your competition looks like. Search online with the keywords that are relevant to your own online business — you'll quickly discover that you likely aren't the first person to come up with this idea.
Take a moment to analyze the differences between your product or service to the others already in the market. To make yourself stand out from the crowd and gain the attention of potential clients, you need to focus on marketing those unique aspects of your business. Can you offer money-back guarantees? A more user-friendly online shopping experience? Faster shipping? Higher quality materials? Mention these factors upfront on your website and your social media accounts.
4. What kind of Internet service and equipment would I need to get started?
This should be a basic but critical item on your startup checklist. Since you will be interacting with your customers solely online, your Internet service must be fast, reliable, and offer 24/7 customer service in case of technical difficulties. If you're running an online business and your Internet service goes down, you can't do business — it's that simple.
The Internet speed you choose will depend on your business WiFi needs. For example, if you will be uploading and downloading large files, you'll want to invest in a faster speed. If you're only processing credit card transactions, a basic speed will be enough. Make sure your Internet service package is flexible, since you may need to upgrade as your business grows.
Your device setup should be relatively simple to determine: do you need a laptop, a desktop, or both? If you have a home office and plan to work only from there, a desktop would work just fine. But if you like to work from different rooms in the house, invest in a laptop so you can enjoy portability. This is especially true if you work from cafes or co-working spaces or if your business requires you to travel to meet clients and vendors. Consider investing in a separate laptop that you use only for business purposes to help avoid mixing up personal accounts and files with work data — a smart move toward strengthening your cybersecurity policy.
Starting an online business takes a lot of work, and a solid business plan is essential to get your idea off the ground. This checklist can help you create a strategy to ensure your venture is a success.