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How to Start an Online Business Built for Growth in 10 Steps

You’ve thought long and hard about your business plans, and always dreamed of becoming your own boss.

But now it’s time to stop messing around and make your online business ideas a reality and start adding many more zeros to your bank balance.

No idea where to begin? No problem. In this guide you will learn:

  • How to choose a product to sell
  • How to build a brand that sells
  • How to create an online store, fast
  • How to scale your business

Oh, and did we mention that you’re going to start making some money?

If you want to know how to start an online business then it’s time to create an online store and follow these 10 steps. 

1. Find the right product

You can have the most attractive website in the world and the most compelling marketing messaging. Yet, if your product doesn’t appeal to your core demographic, your online business is going to go nowhere –fast.

You might be able to sell ice to Eskimos, but why make life so hard for yourself?

Although every online business will arrive at its product range in its own way, there are some universal considerations you can take into account as part of your planning process for successful online business ideas.

Know what consumers are searching for

We don’t just mean what they’re searching for generally. We mean: what is in their search history, literally.

Conducting keyword research is an essential business strategy and will help you find out:

  • What products consumers are looking for
  • Which search queries are unfulfilled
  • Whether there’s a market for your product and how big it is
  • Which keywords you should target in your SEO marketing

Solve a problem

This age-old advice may sound cliche, but is actually one of the most helpful starting points for deciding upon a new product or online business idea. 

Finding a product for your online business that meets a real-world need not only means you’ll have a ready-made audience, but it also ensures that your business strategy has longevity going forward. 

Remember, you don’t need to invent a whole new product to solve an existing problem, you just need to translate your business idea to your target market

The job of online small business owners is to connect their target audience with their own products. If the problem is that potential customers aren’t currently being targeted with a product they need, as an online business owner you can solve that problem with market research. 

Fill a niche

Zyro templates in dashboard

When launching an online business, you’re always walking the line between ensuring your business idea has a big enough audience to make it profitable and standing up against other online businesses and the traditional brick and mortar business that offers similar products. 

The space right in the middle of that balance is your niche. That exact space is the place where you need to know how to start an online business. Successful online businesses spend money and time thinking deeply about their niche.

Why?

You need to know there’s enough demand for your products to be sold online to sustain your company, and as a new business, you need competition that’s small enough so you can make a name for yourself and your own products. 

Finding an online business niche is not simple.  Starting an online business requires a lot of research into what consumers want, what’s on offer elsewhere, and what’s missing on the market. It’s a long process but it is the only way to truly evaluate product viability on the market and should be a core part of your online business model.

Your niche might not be a product you sell online, but instead might be a new way of marketing a product, a new business structure, or realigning your brand identity or your own online business to introduce a product to a new audience. 

Be realistic about your limitations

If we really boil it down, the question of how to start an online business is all about smart thinking.

For example, you’ve got a new online business idea, you’ve got access to the physical products, a snazzy online business name, a business license, and your online business plan tells you it’s going to make money online.

There might even be a huge target audience for your given product or business idea, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right product for you to sell online.

Many online businesses and online business owners find out fast that not all products are created equal and you might find that something is wrong for you if:

  • There are restrictions on its sale in your target countries or states or the product requires a specific sales tax license.
  • It requires more warehouse space to store at volume than you have available. This is a common reason to start a dropshipping business. 
  • It requires specialist storage, like refrigeration or a water supply, or has a limited shelf life.
  • Its size or shape makes shipping costs excessively high.
  • It requires a specific business license or is governed by restrictive online business laws
  • You will not be able to market it effectively with your current online business plan.

Plan ahead

When selecting your products, make sure you have a plan for how to sell products, but also for how those products fit into your broader business ideas and business structure. 

Think about:

  • Who you will target the product to? How will you find customers for your new business? It could be social media accounts, online forums, or through organic search results.
  • What are the branding opportunities for your product? It could be time for a new business name or brand name to boost recognition.
  • Which accompanying products you could sell alongside? How much money you can make depends on how well you can integrate your product into your current business plan.
  • How will your choice influence your website design? If you’re switching from physical products to digital downloads, you might need to hire software developers to make changes to your e-Commerce sites.
  • How will you market the product effectively? Influencer marketing, email marketing, and social media marketing should be at the top of the list of your business model when trying to get a new business online.
  • Will you target repeat customers? In terms of business structure, retention is always cheaper than acquisition. That said, for some product-based online businesses, the best and most effective online course of action is to focus on sheer search volume and sell high amounts of products at a low margin.
  • Is there potential to scale up with your product? The best online business is a small online business with a business plan that can transform it into a big online business. That doesn’t necessarily mean you need more online business ideas, but it does mean that your product should fit into a rigorous business structure.

2. Identify your target market

You’ve got the what, now you need the who.

Central to the success of your product, your online business, and that of all online business owners is the ability to identify and target a demographic that is willing and able to purchase your goods.

Finding the right audience for your product will help you create projections for sales and revenue, as well as informing your branding decisions. It will help with everything from choosing the right business name for your company, to your logo and the product itself.

Furthermore, your target market will also inform you which marketing channels to use and how to use them effectively.

In order to discover your ideal target market, follow these steps:

  • Objectively assess your company. Break down the key features and benefits of your product, and how it may help customers. 
  • Conduct market research. Assess which potential market segments might be interested in your product and whether they’re big enough to support your business. 
  • Create consumer profiles. Many small business owners use demographic info like gender, age, location, and socioeconomic indicators to profile customers and their shopping behavior. 
  • Narrow down your market. Try to be as specific as possible when it comes to who your customers will be. You can always change this later. 
  • Conduct competitor research. If you have identified other companies offering similar products, see who they’re targeting. Do they have a similar brand or business name? You might target the same or a different demographic.
  • Get feedback. Once you have a working theory about your target market, get the perspective of those outside your company, and be open to constructive criticism. 

Remember, you can always refine your target audience after starting an online business, depending on who actually buys your product. This should be an ongoing process. 

3. Choose an eCommerce platform

Zyro editor GIF

If you’re planning to start an online business soon, you’re probably aware of how many options you have when it comes to eCommerce platforms and website builders to get your small business online.

Where you sell is almost as important as what you sell.

The big names like Wix, Squarespace, and Shopify are likely already on your radar, and you’ll be weighing up your options based on your needs. 

If that’s the case, you’re doing the right thing. Thinking carefully about what features you need, what level of experience you have, and how much you’re willing to spend will help you narrow down your choice. 

Since you’re reading this on the Zyro blog, it’ll come as no surprise that we think you should give Zyro’s website builder and eCommerce platform a try. 

All biases aside, though, here are the 5 of the most compelling reasons you should choose Zyro:

  • Single dashboard. Forget about hiring a tax professional or a webmaster. Everything, from inventory and product listings to orders, tax, shipping, and customer contact, is managed from one place and taken care of automatically. 
  • Omnichannel. Sync up and sell across platforms like Amazon and Facebook, and share your message on multiple social media, search, and other ad networks. 
  • Speed. No website builder can compete with Zyro for speed. Thanks to its professional templates and easy builder, you can create your store in hours, not days. 
  • Ease. Anyone can use Zyro, without any coding or web design experience. Its drag-and-drop editor and grid layout make website building simple. 
  • Price. While you should always be willing to pay for quality, Zyro makes starting an online business affordable for everyone. It’s eCommerce tools offer the best value for money on the market, and when you’re getting started in online business, those margins are very important.

Do your own research, though. You know your needs and customers the best, and you should select the eCommerce platform that caters to them.

4. Establish your brand

A brand isn’t one thing; it’s what you look like, what you say, how you say it, who you say it to, how you think, what people think of you, and a million other things that add up to a whole.

That said, brand building should be undertaken deliberately, with the aim of creating a compelling narrative around your company and products that strikes a chord with your target audience.

At this stage in the process, brand building for an internet business works exactly the same way as it does for a brick and mortar business. Before you’re thinking about creating marketing materials, your branding should consist of:

  • A value proposition. What problem does your product solve? What benefits does it confer to customers? Why should someone buy it? 
  • A company, brand, and product name. All three might be the same or totally different. Either way, your name should speak to your audience. 
  • A visual language. Perhaps start by designing a logo, deciding on an appropriate color scheme, and thinking about the fonts and images you might use. 
  • A voice. Your brand should have a clearly defined and recognizable way of communicating. Everything from website info to marketing copy should share a voice, if not a tone. 
  • Consistency. The key to effective branding is ensuring that every element conforms to a recognizable whole. 

Further reading
If you’re looking for more help developing your brand, check out this comprehensive guide to brand building:

5. Create a captivating online store

Design basics mockup

A blank page staring at you can be an intimidating place to start when it comes to creating your first website. This is why it’s advised to use a website builder over other options, like content management systems, or coding it from scratch. 

Web design is easier and more accessible than ever. You’ve really got no excuse for having an unattractive website.

A website builder will provide you with template options, customization functions, and tools to help you build a great online store. 

The success of online businesses hinges on their ability to convert traffic into paying customers, and the most important tool at your disposal is your website.

This is why you must make sure your website:

  • Has an appearance in keeping with your brand aesthetic throughout. 
  • Is easy to navigate, making it quick and simple to find desired pages and info. 
  • Contains strategically placed calls to action, encouraging visitors to make a purchase. 
  • Displays products or service listings in the most attractive way possible. 
  • Is designed for conversions and search engine optimization.

Creating an online store with Zyro

If you choose to use a website builder like Zyro, the process of creating your website will go something like this:

  • Create an account. Join Zyro, or sign up for the website builder of your choice. 
  • Choose a template. Find a designer-created template that suits your brand. 
  • Customize your site. Use the drag-and-drop editor to add content and get the look and feel you want.
  • Add your store. Create an eCommerce page and add your product listings. 
  • Publish. Take your website live and start inviting traffic. 

Further reading
There’s way more to building a beautiful website and online store than we have space to cover here. Here are some other resources you might find helpful when you get to this step of your journey: 

6. Start marketing and developing traffic

When deciding how to start an online business, one of the most daunting steps is sharing your product or service with the world for the first time. 

If you build it (and market it really effectively) they will come.

The best way to avoid this kind of anxiety is to approach your initial marketing efforts with a solid plan which clearly lays out:

  • Your aims for the campaign(s). What is your campaign trying to achieve? This could be impressions, brand awareness, email sign-ups, or even product sales. Your campaign should be built around those aims.
  • Your target audience. Who are you selling to? Think of your target audience as a sphere of influence in society, rather than simply an age group or a demographic.
  • The marketing channels you’ll use. Social media, email, paid ads, and more. There are endless options but the one you pick should be reflected in your product. For example, if you’re selling watches it would be a good idea to work with influencers and Instagram.
  • The core messaging you’ll communicate. This is more than just your slogan, you’ll want to communicate your major selling points and the things that make your online business stand out from the competition.
  • Your plan for converting traffic into paying customers. Layout, appearance, speed, mobile-responsive design, readability, and calls-to-action are all huge factors and that’s just design. Your copy needs to be imperative and compelling to make a sale.
  • How you’ll capture user data, and what insights you want. If you’re capturing user data, you’ll need to create a privacy policy to ensure your business is operating legally. Once you have the data, you can use analytics tools to make decisions about it (more on that later).
  • The means by which you’ll retain customers. Consider setting up email marketing campaigns to retarget customers after they have made a purchase. You can show them special offers on related products or offer them incentives to recruit new customers for you.

If you’re using an eCommerce platform like Zyro, you should be able to manage most of your marketing activity through that platform.

Social media advertising, Google Ads, and SEO tools all come built-in, making it extremely easy to run and manage campaigns.

Further reading
Since we’re completely obsessed with small business marketing, you can check out some more posts and online courses we’ve written that go into more detail about specific techniques: 

7. Capture and use analytics data

If you’re not capturing user data and using analytics to give you actionable insights, you’re basically going to keep stumbling around in the dark. You might get lucky, but chances are your business will not be successful.

Without big data analytics, companies are blind and deaf, wandering out onto the web like deer on a freeway.

Collecting rich analytics data allows you to:

  • Monitor results in real-time. Don’t wait to see when your inventory runs low; follow performance day to day, or even hour by hour. 
  • Get a solid overview of your business. Decide what your key performance metrics should be and keep track of them on a regular basis. 
  • See what’s working and what isn’t. Understand where customers are coming from, what influences their purchasing decisions, and what should be changed. 
  • Improve your marketing and user experience. Making incremental changes and tracking their effects will help create sustainable growth. 
  • Create compelling justifications for funding. If you’re looking for further investment in your company, you’ll need solid data to back up your request. 

If you’re using a website builder and eCommerce platform like Zyro, you should already have some data capture and analytics tools at your disposal. 

For instance, every eCommerce package with Zyro gives you access to real time sales reports and tools like Google Tag Manager, Google Analytics, Facebook pixel, and Pinterest tag, among others and analytics are everything.

Google Analytics is your entry point to a world of data that will drive your eCommerce store optimization. And don’t worry – setting up Google Analytics is very simple.

Zyro has a pre-existing Google Analytics plug-in, so all you have to do is log in from your Google Account to link your online store to Google Analytics. 

Once enabled, the Google Analytics dashboard will be automatically populated with data as visitors come to your website.

You can use Google Analytics to study audience behavior, revenue streams, and weigh your marketing campaigns’ effectiveness. 

Top metrics for data

Here are 5 of the most important metrics for eCommerce on Google Analytics and how to use them.

Top 5 metrics table

Once you have mastered the basics, you can move on to more complex and exciting metrics. 

Try customer acquisition cost (the average spend necessary to acquire a new customer) or customer lifetime value (the average revenue gained from a customer during their relationship with your business.)

Still, Google Analytics can only take your business so far. In plain terms, it is just a platform for collecting and displaying raw data. 

If you want to optimize your website, you will need to implement changes in those places that the analytics has shown as needing improvement.

While you might choose to use some tools more than others, collecting as much data from as many sources as possible will give you the best view of your company’s current status. 

8. Optimize your messaging and website

By this point your website is live, your store is active, and you’ve begun making your first sales. It’s now time to take those data insights you’ve been collecting, and turn them into action.

Do more of what works. Stop doing what doesn’t work.

Even if you’re hoping to make passive income from starting an online business, you will need to put in some hours making improvements when you first get started.

It’s worth noting right that, unless your initial launch has been completely disastrous, any changes you make to your marketing approach or website should be incremental and evidence-based.

Testing and optimizing (especially if you’re A/B testing) will help you:

  • Hone in on your ‘real’ audience
  • Discover which marketing channels you should be focusing on
  • Identify which messaging resonates best with your target audience
  • Remove steps and hurdles that are preventing customers from making purchases

When running A/B tests, you’re trying out two ideas to see which one performs the best. 

In practice, this means that you’ll be creating two versions of a website page. Then, 50% of visitors see version A, and 50% of visitors see version B.

The versions don’t have to be radically different; by making one change to one element on version B, you can measure your changes’ effectiveness.

Let’s say that your analytics data has shown that very few of your visitors are giving you their email addresses, and you want to improve that.

You’ve decided to create a new version of a contact form that has a reduced number of input fields to see if that entices your visitors more.

Split testing this new form against the original is a powerful way to make informed and data-driven decisions when optimizing your conversions.

Test effectively

Be aware that there are some essential rules to follow when applying A/B testing:

Test one element at a time. If you test multiple elements at once, it will obscure the data as it will be unclear which element is responsible for the change in conversions.

Use a reliable data set. Industry standards recommend testing on at least 25,000 people before data can be considered to be reliable. Of course, your numbers might be much smaller and you’ll then have to make a judgment call yourself.

Make a testing plan. A/B testing is a process of slow refinement over time. In our previous example, once an optimized form has been found in our previous example, implement the change immediately and begin testing the next logical element to improve email sign-ups, such as form placement or color.

Test continuously. A/B tests are cheap and easy to create. Use your analytics data to identify weak spots in your web design and continuously test ways to optimize them. 

Remember though, optimization isn’t just about user experience, you should also take opportunities to improve site speed by reducing the amount of content that needs to be loaded. 

Also, optimize for search engines by creating new, keyword related content. Finally, ensure more uptime by hosting your website on reliable servers. 

It’s this kind of activity that will start to grow your online small business into a thriving success 

9. Online businesses nurture return customers

It’s always cheaper to convert existing customers than it is new ones. Repeat custom should always be your goal.

There’s no single way in which every online business should approach customer retention, but some effective methods you might try include:

  • Capturing contact information. Be sure to collect customer emails, as this is the single best way to bring a customer back to your website. Get their permission to send marketing communications. 
  • Keeping customers engaged. Contact past customers on a regular (but not annoying) basis. Invite customers to connect via social media and provide incentives to stay engaged. 
  • Releasing new products regularly. Make sure customers have a reason to return by offering new products for them to purchases. These can even just be updated versions of old products. 
  • Upselling secondary products. Have a core product, but want to make extra sales? Stock a number of smaller-ticket items, and make it easy to add them to a basket at checkout. 
  • Selling subscriptions. If your product or service suits a subscription model, it can be the most effective way of fostering return customers and creating a reliable revenue stream. 

10. Scale sustainably for a successful online business

Up until now, we’ve covered how to start an online business from the ground up. Once your business is up, running, and making sales, though, you’ll want to start growing.

Growth is good. Too much growth too quickly can be counterproductive.

If you’ve followed the advice in this guide to this point, you’ll be in a position where a lot of your growth develops naturally, thanks to data insights and incremental optimization. 

However, if you want to speed up the growth of your online small business, you might consider:

  • Expand your product line. Once you know what your customers want, start introducing new products to your inventory to encourage larger purchases. 
  • Sell on new platforms. Your own online store is a great place to start, but how about selling on Amazon, Facebook, Instagram, or other platforms?
  • Increase your marketing spend. Reach more potential customers by increasing your marketing budget. Only to be done strategically. 
  • Get further investment. Bringing in new investment money can open up new avenues for exploration (including the other points in this list).  

Most of the steps laid out in this guide are made infinitely simpler to execute with the aid of a website builder with strong eCommerce functionality. 

With this in mind, we recommend you try out Zyro and see whether its features match those you need to start a business. 

Want to grow faster? Here’s how

We’ve written extensively on how to choose the right product for your eCommerce business. Check out these other Zyro blog posts for more inspiration:

Written by

Author avatar

Duncan

Duncan is obsessed with making website building and eCommerce accessible to everyone. He explains the best tools and the latest digital marketing trends in ways that are clear and engaging. His focus is on supporting the sustainable growth of small to medium-sized enterprises. When not writing, he enjoys deep sea fishing and endurance cycling.

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