Are you wondering how to start a small online business with the hope that your products will fly off the virtual shelf? To stand out as a business in the digital world and attract the right customers, you need to take a few key steps to get started. This guide can help you build a solid foundation for your business, so your customers keep coming back for more.
1. Build a user-friendly website
WordPress and Squarespace are two popular platforms for creating clean, easy-to-navigate websites. These are great options if you aren't tech-savvy and don't have the budget to hire someone to design your site.
The annual cost for website hosting is typically $50 to $100; registering a domain name runs around $10 to $20 a year. WordPress features thousands of free design templates and almost 50,000 free plugins, but there are also paid options if you decide you need something more. Squarespace also offers many simple website designs for businesses. With a few clicks, you'll be able to integrate complex features like e-commerce and feedback forms.
If you prefer to let an expert take care of your website, plan to spend anywhere between $1,000 to $10,000, plus the hosting and domain registration fees. Sites like Fiverr and Upwork can help you find capable and reasonably priced freelancers to do the job. You can also check out LinkedIn to search for design professionals with great testimonials, or ask your entrepreneurial friends for recommendations. To prevent yourself from stressing out over the budget, decide how much you are willing to spend on your website before you contact any designers.
2. Connect with your clients on social media
Online marketing for small businesses is essential, so take advantage of the power of social media to let people know your business exists. Most small businesses will benefit from setting up a simple presence on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Small retail businesses especially can use Instagram to drive sales through photos of their products and merchandise.
Create a Facebook page for your business and consistently post enticing photos of your products or behind-the-scenes shots and information about your business operations. You can also share relevant articles or create polls to discover more about your followers' interests and boost your business by using Facebook’s business-to-consumer messaging. Facebook has chatbots that can answer customer questions 24/7, though you’ll likely need some help from a web developer if you choose to use them.
Instagram is a powerful platform to show off beautiful photos of your products. Use Twitter to retweet articles and tweets that are relevant to your business and the direct message feature to reach out to customers personally. Finally, engage with those who take the time to interact with you online, and reply to all comments and questions you receive via social media.
3. Establish a positive reputation
If you want to prove that your business is reliable, honest, and offers quality products and services, you need to earn that reputation. When you make an impression on just one customer, word spreads. That one customer could refer you to others in their network. Keep this in mind as you build your website and communicate with customers.
Transparency is everything these days, and you’ll want a site that shows you’re an open book.
- Create an engaging and detailed About page on your site that tells the story behind why you started this business, what inspires you, and how your products are made. Focus on your passion and expertise for the product or service.
- Include a high-resolution, happy photo of yourself with your employees or just of yourself.
- An FAQ page can help answer common questions you always seem to get from customers.
- Make sure your Facebook page is also filled out with these details.
Superior customer service is another surefire way to gain loyalty and a glowing reputation. When you receive emails or Facebook messages from potential customers, respond as soon as possible and in a friendly manner. If you are feeling overwhelmed with other aspects of running your business, this is a task you can outsource to a virtual assistant or another employee.
If something is wrong with the product or service received by the customer, offer a refund, replacement, or discount on the next purchase. Show your customers that you truly want them to be happy with your product or service and that you care about their feedback. You can also ask clients for reviews and testimonials to post on your website, or ask for a review on your Facebook page.
If you have the budget for it, apply for BBB accreditation, which will allow you to feature the official BBB logo on your website. The annual cost is $480 for businesses with one to three employees.
4. Drive traffic to your site
Paid advertisements are an easy way to get people to click on your website. You can use Facebook ads or advertise on blogs that are relevant to your business.
For free advertising on relevant blogs, offer to create a guest post. Find blogs with sizable followings that are of interest to your target market, and email the blogger to see if they accept guest post contributions.
Write a weekly or monthly newsletter that includes links to different pages or specific products on your business website. Include promotional offers, coupons, or event invites — you can also post these on your social media platforms. And speaking of social media, liking and commenting on other Instagram accounts can help attract the attention of potential clients.
If you use LinkedIn and have an up-to-date profile that links to your business website, consider creating articles on the LinkedIn Publishing Platform. Before you begin writing, select your topic carefully. Make sure it's relevant to your business but isn't too “sales-y.”
For example, if you sell essential oils, your post could discuss the ten health benefits of a specific oil. If you offer graphic design services, you could write about the latest trends in graphic design. Show your audience that you are highly experienced in and genuinely excited about your industry.
5. Utilize cloud-based services
Even with today’s technologies, phone calls are still a popular way for customers to reach out to companies. Quick and effective phone service is a sign of high-quality customer service — an important trait for small businesses trying to gain a customer base. Consumers want a swift resolution when they call, and keeping your phone support on track is an essential step in appearing professional to your client base.
Cloud-based phone services offer automated assistants with personalized greetings and can quickly route calls and take messages. Alternatively, a hunt group feature will ring the first available person in your office. If you or your coworkers are frequently out of the office, use an app to set up your main number at the office to follow you on your cell phone when you’re on the go.
No matter how your customers interact with you, make sure you can quickly access order information in one step, so the customer doesn’t have to repeat it. This creates a personalized experience and cuts down on the frustration of having to keep and read long or complicated tracking numbers—two factors that will keep your clients happy and make them remember your business in a positive light.
Finally, perhaps the most crucial aspect of starting a small online business is reliable Internet service. Comcast Business offers the services you need to get your website up and running.