How to Start a Business Online

7 tried and true steps for attracting visitors to your site–and getting them to buy.

There is a proven sequence of steps you can follow to guarantee your success when you’re starting a small business online. I’ve seen thousands of people start and grow successful businesses by doing the following:

  1. Find a need and fill it.
  2. Write copy that sells.
  3. Design and build an easy-to-use website.
  4. Use search engines to drive traffic to your site.
  5. Establish an expert reputation for yourself.
  6. Follow up with your customers and subscribers with e-mail.
  7. Increase your income through back-end sales and upselling.

Anyone, from newbie to seasoned online entrepreneur, can benefit from this process in learning how to start a business online.

Step 1: Find a need and fill it

Most people who are just starting out make the mistake of looking for a product first, and a market second.

To boost your chances of success, start with a market. The trick is to find a group of people who are searching for a solution to a problem, but not finding many results. The internet makes this kind of market research easy:

  • Visit online forums to see what questions people ask and what problems they’re trying to solve.
  • Do keyword research to find keywords that a lot of people are searching, but for which not many sites are competing.
  • Check out your potential competitors by visiting their sites and taking note of what they’re doing to fill the demand. Then you can use what you’ve learned and create a product for a market that already exists–and do it better than the competition.
Step 2: Write copy that sells

There’s a proven sales copy formula that takes visitors through the selling process from the moment they arrive to the moment they make a purchase:

  1. Arouse interest with a compelling headline.
  2. Describe the problem your product solves.
  3. Establish your credibility as a solver of this problem.
  4. Add testimonials from people who have used your product.
  5. Talk about the product and how it benefits the user.
  6. Make an offer.
  7. Make a strong guarantee.
  8. Create urgency.
  9. Ask for the sale.

Throughout your copy, you need to focus on how your product or service is uniquely able solve people’s problems or make their lives better. Think like a customer and ask “What’s in it for me?”

Step 3: Design and build your website

Once you’ve got your market and product, and you’ve nailed down your selling process, now you’re ready for your small-business web design. Remember to keep it simple. You have fewer than five seconds to grab someone’s attention–otherwise they’re gone, never to be seen again. Some important tips to keep in mind:

  • Choose one or two plain fonts on a white background.
  • Make your navigation clear and simple, and the same on every page.
  • Only use graphics, audio or video if they enhance your message.
  • Include an opt-in offer so you can collect e-mail addresses.
  • Make it easy to buy–no more than two clicks between potential customer and checkout.
  • Your website is your online storefront, so make it customer-friendly.
Step 4: Use search engines to drive targeted buyers to your site

Pay-per-click advertising is the easiest way to get traffic to a brand-new site. It has two advantages over waiting for the traffic to come to you organically. First, PPC ads show up on the search pages immediately, and second, PPC ads allow you to test different keywords, as well as headlines, prices and selling approaches. Not only do you get immediate traffic, but you can also use PPC ads to discover your best, highest-converting keywords. Then you can distribute the keywords throughout your site in your copy and code, which will help your rankings in the organic search results.

Step 5: Establish an expert reputation for yourself

People use the internet to find information. Provide that information for free to other sites, and you’ll see more traffic and better search engine rankings. The secret is to always include a link to your site with each tidbit of information.

  • Give away free, expert content. Create articles, videos or any other content that people will find useful. Distribute that content through online article directories or social media sites.
  • Include “send to a friend” links on valuable content on your website.
  • Become an active expert in industry forums and social networking sites where your target market hangs out.

You’ll reach new readers. But even better, every site that posts your content will link back to yours. Search engines love links from relevant sites and will reward you in the rankings.

Step 6: Use the power of e-mail marketing to turn visitors into buyers.

When you build an opt-in list, you’re creating one of the most valuable assets of your online business. Your customers and subscribers have given you permission to send them e-mail. That means:

  • You’re giving them something they’ve asked for.
  • You’re developing lifetime relationships with them.
  • The response is 100 percent measurable.
  • E-mail marketing is cheaper and more effective than print, TV or radio because it’s highly targeted.

Anyone who visits your site and opts in to your list is a very hot lead. And there’s no better tool than e-mail for following up with those leads.

Step 7: Increase your income through back-end sales and upselling 

One of the most important internet marketing strategies is to develop every customer’s lifetime value. At least 36 percent of people who have purchased from you once will buy from you again if you follow up with them. Closing that first sale is by far the most difficult part–not to mention the most expensive. So use back-end selling and upselling to get them to buy again:

  • Offer products that complement their original purchase.
  • Send out electronic loyalty coupons they can redeem on their next visit.
  • Offer related products on your “Thank You” page after they purchase.

Reward your customers for their loyalty and they’ll become even more loyal.

The internet changes so fast that one year online equals about five years in the real world. But the principles of how to start and grow a successful online business haven’t changed at all. If you’re just starting a small business online, stick to this sequence. If you’ve been online awhile, do a quick review and see if there’s a step you’re neglecting, or never got around to doing in the first place. You can’t go wrong with the basics.

 

About The Author

Allen Moon is the founder of On Deck Marketing, an internet marketing agency that specializes in product marketing strategies, e-commerce and online marketing.

10 Easy Local SEO & Online Marketing Tips

10 Easy Local SEO & Online Marketing Tips
By TopRank Online Marketing

There are currently 29.6 million small businesses in the U.S. (SCORE). 63% of consumers and small business owners use the Internet to find information about local companies and 82% use search engines (Webvisible & Nielsen).  That means there’s a lot of opportunity for local SEO.

Recently I attended GetListed.org’s Local University in Minneapolis which focused on how to optimize web sites for local search.  Out of all the good information that came out of the event, here are 10 easy things you can do today to optimize sites and content to attract local customers.

1. Claim your profile.
It’s as simple as logging into Google PlacesBing Local and Yahoo Local and walking through the verification steps which include a phone call or post card to verify your address.

2. Upload Pictures.
The local sites listing services like to provide their users with pictures of your business. To help ensure that they see some good pictures, upload your own. They don’t have to be professional photos, but they will represent your business so make sure they are decent.

3. Control information across the internet.
A big part of local search optimization and marketing involves obtaining information from other sites. Local listing aggregation services search the internet far and wide to find pictures, reviews and any information they can on your company. Submit your info to services like Localeze & infoUSA.

The downside here is that if something is incorrect on another site, it could find its way back into your local listing. If that happens, you have to go back to the source and ask them to fix the issue and then wait while the fix makes its way into local sites.

4. Ask for reviews.
Most local sites, except for Yelp, are fine with you telling your customers to review you. So do it. On your contact form thank you page, on invoices, on email communications, make a point to say “Hey we’d love it if you gave our business a review on Google/Bing/Yahoo Local.” These reviews, good or bad, make your business more creditable to future customers.

5. Bad reviews are good.
No company is perfect, so when users see all positive reviews, something looks wrong and they may actually choose a different company. Bad reviews are a part of any business and a few bad reviews can make the good reviews that much better. Obviously, you don’t want to encourage bad reviews.

6. Add local phone number.
On your website, be sure to publish your local phone number in text vs within an image or not at all. 800 numbers may be nice, but on their own they don’t give any kind of location indication.

7. Have a full physical mailing address on all pages of your website.
Your address is important and it should be on all pages of your website to re-enforce your geographic location.

8. Think like the searcher/customer.
What would your customers put in a search box to find you and buy your products?

Lets say you own an outdoor sporting good store; like hunting, camping, hiking and fishing. If a searcher puts put ‘shoes’ into a search box, they probably aren’t a good match as it’s such a generic term. If they put ‘running shoes’ you’re still not a match as your sporting goods store doesn’t focuses on running. If they put in ‘hiking shoes’ then you want to target them.

Business owners often get caught up in popular keywords or keywords that will drive a lot of traffic and forget to focus on less popular keywords that have a higher probability of making sales.

Remember to think like the customer.

9. Multiple locations need multiple landing pages.
Local sites don’t like a business having more than one local listing, but if the business has two locations, than that’s OK. However, you should ensure that each location links back to a page on your website that is all about that location and what it has to offer. Sending both local listings back to the same page, or homepage, isn’t ideal.

10. Treat Customers ‘Righter’
Everyone knows that they need to treat the customer right, but with social media, review sites and the ability for good, or bad, news to spread like wildfire, you need to treat your customers really good or “righter”. This includes online and offline customer service.

Local search takes into account information business owners put in their local profile, information it finds on other sites and information on the business’ website. Even what happens offline can be taken into consideration as customers may bring back those experiences in the form of online reviews.

Local search is it’s own unique entity as no one can control everything that appears on their local listing, but business owners can take steps to ensure that what gets listed is a good representation of the company. For more information, here is a list of local SEO blogs that we’ve reviewed in the past for TopRank’s BIGLIST with many, many more tips.