Know Your Market
Before you ever launch any enterprise, you should know your intended market and develop a plan. Unfortunately, lots of entrepreneurs often overlook this basic step. You need to know what your target audience – AKA “the customer” – wants from you, what you need to do to make them feel confident enough in your business to make a purchase, and know what your competition is doing to find success. And this proves even more true online in the virtual purchasing environment than offline. Before launching an entire business, you need to find out what – if any – interest in your product or service exists in the marketplace, what customer need you can fill, and what place your product will occupy, both in the market and in the minds of your potential customers.
If you have a product that could be marketed on eBay or through some other similar service – try selling it that way to see how many “bites” you get from your potential customer base. If you are trying to sell a service – design, marketing, etc. – attend an industry event and talk with others in the industry and get to know what’s needed, missing or lacking with similar service providers. Word of Mouth is a powerful method of advertising, so even your initial market-test-work can help lay the groundwork for the official launch of your business.
Consider Your Overhead Costs
How much will it cost to launch your business? Think about site design, marketing, management, software, hosting, product development, etc. Make sure you write out a complete plan for the first three years – noting what will be needed now to get your business started and how much you need to have available to keep that business running until it starts turning a consistent profit.
Most businesses will start seeing a profit within the first year, but in the current economy you will need to ensure that you are ready to make the investment necessary to launch your business and not go bankrupt for at least a 2-3 year period. Get quotes from service providers, determine what is a “nice to have” feature versus a “need to have” requirement in order to effectively operate your business. Know what you are getting into and how much you will need to succeed before you spend a single cent.
Know Who You Are Working With
There are a lot of fantastic hosting and design services on the ‘Net these days, and there really are a lot more options than ever before. Unfortunately, there are also a lot of really bad services that could tank your business building efforts before it even gets off the ground. Get references from potential service providers before you sign a contract or make a payment. Hosting companies usually provide references up front – check those references, talk to customers and know all the important questions to ask. Web designers should also offer references. Don’t just trust a design portfolio – you need to speak with real people, preferably over the phone and not just via e-mail, and find out what their experiences have been with the design company. Checking with references – and you really should talk with at least three different sources – is just smart business. If a company won’t provide references, avoid them. Commit to do the real due diligence work; don’t rely on board posts in threads by unknown parties to influence your thinking.
Explore Multiple Marketing Options
Just because your business is Web-based doesn’t mean that the Internet is the only place you can market your services or products to potential customers. Try offline services such as local newspapers, community publications, phone book listings, fliers/mailers and more. Depending, of course, on the nature of your business, there is a whole other world of marketing opportunities out there for you to explore and try. Look into working with PR experts, marketing services that have experience in the industry that can help connect you with the right people and get your business brand “out there” in front of the masses.
Understand the Importance of Content
It’s been said before and I’ll say it again – content is KING! Having powerful, targeted, keyword-rich content on your website will do wonders for your business. Search engines “eat” it up; quality, relevant content will keep customers coming back to read/learn/do more on your main site – and good content can be a great way to communicate with your customer base and invite them in to be a part of your site – an engaged participant not just a visitor or customer.
You can blog, write tips, include articles or even provide interactive opportunities to get your customers involved. Even if they are already customers, give them a reason to come back and buy more products or add more services to their monthly account. Stay on top of the market, anticipate the needs and interests of your target audience and be ready to provide those products or services before they can look for them at another site. Establish yourself as someone “in the know,” an expert in your field, through your articles and other site content. This will also help to increase purchasing confidence, improving your overall sales. Always remember that existing customers are an immense business asset; those proven purchasers to whom you must cater.
Know that Success Takes Time
A lot of people dive into the world of Internet commerce thinking that because they have access to millions of potential customers this ensures they will become an overnight success. It takes time to establish yourself as a viable, trustworthy business enterprise. You need to prove yourself and build a solid reputation within your market. Once you have accomplished this you will need to continually promote your business brand to the public by every avenue and means that technology provides us – this will be a never-ending requirement for resilient long-term success. Customers are gold and you need to treat them as such to ensure return visits and recurring business. Potential clients and customers are also important and you need to keep working hard to attract new ones if you want your business to grow. Remember – it can take up to 2-3 years to see real success for any business in the current economy.