Online Business: The Easiest Way To Create An Online Business: Free Course

Online Business: The Easiest Way To Create An Online Business: Free Course

An online business allows you to create the next multi-million dollar enterprise.

This free online course will give you everything that you need to build a successful online business.

It was originally taught in the classroom as a one day workshop at $190, but has now been thoroughly updated and is available for you to study online for free. No registration is required.

You don’t need a super-cool or highly technical idea to create a successful online business.

What you do need is something that you are passionate about and something that other people will buy.

A good place to start is products or services that you have researched or which you have an interest in.

Keep your idea broad at this stage so that you can narrow it down once you’ve done some research.

The free, online, course will teach you

– Discovering what an online business really is
– Identifying opportunities for an online business
– How to find resources to support your business
– Creating a business strategy that includes a business plan, budget, and marketing plan
– Begin setting up a website, mobile presence, and storefront with e-commerce support
– Decide whether or not your online business can benefit from joining an online marketplace
– Market your online business using social media and the Internet

What Topics are Covered?

– Raising Startup Capital with Crowdfunding
– How Online Businesses Can Benefit You
– Laying the Groundwork
– Creating a Business Plan
– Breaking Down the Plan
– Social Media Strategies for Success (including Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter and Pinterest
– Building Your Online Business
– Internet Marketing Basics

How Online Businesses Can Benefit You

More businesses are looking to the Internet as a marketplace for their services and goods.

In this module, you will get a good look at the evolution of shopping and why an online business could be the right move for an entrepreneur.

Laying the Groundwork

This module enables you to study the process of developing a business idea.

Creating an Online Business Plan

Regardless of what type of online business you are considering, it needs a business plan.

You will learn here about the key components of a good business plan and resources to use. It also provides a sample business plan to help illustrate the point.

For an online business, a simple, one-page business plan is usually sufficient.

This type of plan usually includes the following elements:

– Company description

– List of products and services

– Marketing and sales strategy

– Financial projections

– High-level design for website, mobile presence, and supporting services

Breaking Down Your Online Business Plan

There are some elements in a business plan that require close attention and thought, especially in the marketing and finance sections.

This module provides you with a close look at those sections and also discusses how to make use of crowdfunding to raise money for your business.

Building Your Online Business

With your plan ready to go, the next step is putting together the basic elements of your online business.

This module gives you lessons in the elements, such as brand presence and office space, while also delving into websites, e-commerce options, mobile strategies, social media, as well as online marketplaces.

Internet Marketing

Marketing will help drive your online business to success, so don’t overlook it.

Many small business owners don’t realize how much of an impact search engine optimization (SEO) can have on their business. (businessnewsdaily.com)

Online Business Research

– What other online businesses are doing (and not doing)

– Where customers in your area of interest shop and what they are shopping for

– The culture of your area of interest

– How you can create a niche for yourself by offering something that is unique in terms of cost, customization, or use

– There are many options on social media to market your businesses and they are discussed in this module.

– These include the use of blogs, plus some tips for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube, and you will also study examples of businesses that are using these platforms successfully.

– Influencer marketing is an affordable way to reach your target audience because people tend to trust influencers more than traditional advertising. (shopify.com)

– You can hire an agency to conduct market research for you, but if you’re on a shoestring budget, you can also take the cheaper DIY approach.

Course Summary

– Get a domain name for your store.
– As long as your business model involves selling items at a price higher than what you’ll pay to the third-party retailer, you are set for success.
– 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.
– You can expand into affiliate marketing, ecommerce, courses, and essentially any other online business venture.
– Don’t let anyone tell you email marketing is outdated – it’s actually insanely powerful and effective, and one of the most profitable types of marketing that exists.
An Internet business requires just as much dedication and commitment as a traditional business.

Despite what you might see in advertisements, starting an online business does not usually mean overnight success and a huge influx into your bank account.

However, having a solid plan in place and a clear vision of where you want to go, based on this free online course, will launch you into a successful online business.

You can take this free course online at your own pace – start this course now by clicking “NEXT” below!

Module 1: Online Business Course Overview

Learning Objectives

After this course, you will be able to:

– Define what an online business is

– Identify opportunities for an online business

– Find resources to support your business

– Create a business strategy that includes a business plan, budget, and marketing plan

– Begin setting up a website, mobile presence, and storefront with e-commerce support

– Decide whether or not your online business can benefit from joining an online marketplace

– Market your online business using social media and the Internet

Module 2: How Online Businesses Can Benefit You

With the rise of the Internet, more businesses are turning to the Internet as a way to sell their products and services.

Have you bought anything over the Internet lately?

In this module, we’ll consider how the consumer shopping experience has evolved over the last few decades.

We’ll also talk about why an online business might be a good fit for new entrepreneurs.

A Brief History

Over the past several decades, the consumer shopping experience has slowly shifted from bricks-and-mortar style shopping to the Internet.

Some stores, like Amazon and Dell, are completely virtual.

As well, traditional stores like Walmart and Costco have added online shopping to their business strategy to stay competitive.

Businesses are also using technology to enhance the customer experience, such as by adding QR codes to product tags so that customers can view more information on their smartphone right in the store.

Some stores also offer apps that allow consumers to pay with their mobile device, or push information to the user’s smartphone depending on where they are in the store.

Although you may think of giant retailers when you think of online businesses, there are a large number of niche and specialty businesses on the Internet as well.

The increasing affordability and accessibility of the Internet means that just about anyone can start their own successful online business.

For some people, it’s a way to make a little bit of extra money.

For others, their online venture may eventually replace their full-time job, sometimes generating even more income than they were making by working for someone else.

Benefits of Online Businesses

Online businesses offer plenty of benefits to entrepreneurs.

In general, online businesses have a low start-up cost and a low risk.

Online businesses also offer more flexibility in terms of time commitment; many entrepreneurs run their online business during evenings and weekends.

The nature of the Internet also offers online business owners more flexibility.

For example, let’s say that you’re a freelance artist and have just purchased your first brick-and-mortar storefront.

You design a logo, put up signs, and create expensive artwork to show visitors what you can do.

A month after launching, you realize that your logo is hard to read, your samples are too high-end, and the area of town that you’re in is hard to reach.

Fixing all of these problems is going to be expensive and might mean the end of your business.

However, for an online freelance artist, location isn’t a factor, and re-designing the website and electronic samples will take far less time and money.

Words of Warning

An Internet business requires just as much dedication and commitment as a traditional business.

Despite what you might see in advertisements, starting an online business does not usually mean overnight success and a huge influx into your bank account.

However, having a solid plan in place and a clear vision of where you want to go will help you launch a successful online business.

Module 3: Laying the Groundwork of Your Online Business

Do you already have an idea for an online business? Before you say no, remember that you don’t need to be on the cutting edge of technology – you just need something unique that you are passionate about, and that you can make others passionate about.

In this module, we’ll walk you through the process of developing your business idea.

You will also have a chance to review your pre-assignment and perform some hands-on work.

Who Are You?

Identifying the Possibilities

You don’t need a super-cool or highly technical idea to create a successful online business.

What you do need is something that you are passionate about and something that other people will buy.

A good place to start is products or services that you have wished for or dreamt about.

Keep your idea broad so that you can narrow it down once you’ve done some research.

Consider the history of the Lug brand of travel bags.

In 2004, a young couple was travelling from Dallas, Texas to Toronto, Ontario.

On their 23-hour road trip they came up with an idea for a line of super-organized travel bags in fun colors.

Their idea turned into a multi-million-dollar company that has been featured on television shows like Oprah and in magazines like Vogue and Good Housekeeping.

Doing Your Research

Once you have an idea, it’s time to find out what the market needs.

Look at:

– What other online businesses are doing (and not doing)

– Where customers in your area of interest shop and what they are shopping for

– The culture of your area of interest

– How you can create a niche for yourself by offering something that is unique in terms of cost, customization, or use

Outlining Your Ideas

By now, you should have some solid business ideas.

Now it’s time to outline each idea to help you evaluate what your best option is.

Some questions that you should ask yourself include:

– What does my product or service look like?

– What problem is this product or service solving?

– How do I know that others would be interested in this product or service?

– Who would my customers be?

– Can I make a profit from this product or service?

The amount of research that you do for each question will depend on many factors, including the size and complexity of your online business.

It’s typically best to start small and build the business as sales grow.

The bigger the initial investment that you plan to make (especially if the online business will replace your full-time job), the more research you should do.

Make sure that you ask the right questions of the right people.

Asking your family and friends if they think your business might make a profit might not be appropriate, but asking them who would buy your product or service might be.

Finally, remember that opinions and advice are just that.

Evaluate each piece of information you receive, decide if it’s valid, and then decide whether it belongs in your idea outline.

Module 4: Creating a Business Plan

No matter what type of online business you are considering, you need a business plan.

Putting your ideas to paper will help you analyze and refine them further.

In this module, you will learn about the key components of a good business plan and resources that you can use.

We will also share a sample business plan to get you thinking about what elements your plan might entail.

Creating a Business Plan

Why a Business Plan?

We firmly believe that every business needs a business plan, although the size, complexity, and components of the plan will depend on your business.

The business plan requires you to take a close look at many aspects of your plan and commit to them.

This, in turn, will clarify the business for you and expose any issues that will need to be resolved before the business is launched.

A business plan is also a key element in obtaining funding should it be required.

Some people procrastinate about committing their plan to paper, but having a framework and acknowledging that the plan is going to help you out makes creating the business plan an easier task.

In fact, the business plan should not be an intimidating exercise at all.

The One-Page Plan

For an online business, a simple, one-page business plan is usually sufficient.

This type of plan usually includes the following elements:

– Company description

– List of products and services

– Marketing and sales strategy

– Financial projections

– High-level design for website, mobile presence, and supporting services

Sample Business Plan

To give you an idea of what the business plan is all about, here is a sample business plan for an online farmer’s market.

As you work through this business plan, take the time to add to it or consider what each section will look like for your business.

Company Description

FarmJam will be a 100% online service serving the greater Acmetown area.

It will link farmers and consumers to provide an accessible, easy to use, farm-to-table experience.

Products and Services

Local farmers will deliver produce as it is harvested to FarmJam’s warehouse.

All products will be inventoried using a real-time electronic system.

Customers can then order the products from a website or mobile app and choose a delivery time within the next 24 hours.

Company Structure

To begin, Norman and Sarah Miller will be the sole employees.

They will be able to handle approximately 75 orders per day plus regular business operations.

Norman will focus on business operations and marketing, while Sarah will focus on orders and liaising with vendors.

A new employee will be required for each 50 average orders per day.

Competitive Analysis

One grocery store at the north end of Acmetown currently carries local produce, but does not offer a delivery service.

It is not on a transit route and is a 45-minute trip from other parts of Acmetown.

The southern end of Acmetown offers a farmer’s market during the summer months, weather permitting.

This market is on a transit route and is more closely located to urban areas.

However, its seasonality and limited parking have caused frustration for customers.

Financial Projections

Income

FarmJam will generate most of its revenue via a 10% markup on all produce.

Based on customer surveys, local grocery sales, and a similar service in a similar-sized town, we estimate that FarmJam will sell $5,000 of produce each day.

This will provide revenue of $182,500 in the first year.

Setup Expenses

We estimate the following one-time expenses to set up the business.

These costs will be covered by a $50,000 grant from the Acmetown business association.

Online Business Setup Expenses

Operational Expenses

We estimate the following expenses for the first year.

Online Business Operational Expenses

Marketing Strategies

FarmJam will leverage word-of-mouth advertising within the community to generate interest and attract customers.

FarmJam will also put on workshops with local community groups to showcase local produce and provide cooking demonstrations.

FarmJam will use Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to advertise products and keep customers up to date on what products are currently available.

High-Level Online Design

The FarmJam website and mobile app will link directly to the inventory management system to allow customers to see what produce is in stock, place orders, and pay for orders.

(Customers can also pay cash on delivery.) Customers will also be able to view profiles of the farmers on the website, suggest products that they would like to see, and submit questions for farmers to answer.

Local technology company InDesign will create and maintain the app and website.

Future Growth

If sales reach $100,000 in the first year, FarmJam will be able to move to a bigger warehouse with increased cooling capacity.

FarmJam will also be able to add two larger, refrigerated trucks to the fleet.

These two changes will enable FarmJam to add meat and dairy products to their delivery service.

It will also enable FarmJam to pick up produce from farmers and process larger wholesale orders for local restaurants and markets.

Gathering Resources

We highly recommend getting some specialized help when setting up your online business.

A small business accountant will help you set up your finances appropriately, including taxes and insurance.

Likewise, a small-business attorney will help you complete all the necessary paperwork and ensure that your work is protected.

You may also want to consider finding a mentor with experience in your field.

Both types of resources can help you grow in the right way and make your business a success.

Some other specialists that you might consider getting help from (depending on your experience and your business model include):

– Marketing and/or social media specialists

– Website designers

– Software developers

Consider the possibility of bartering with other small companies.

For example, if you need a client tracking program, and you know of a software company that offers one and needs the products that you offer, perhaps you can trade services.

If you do the job well, this offers the added benefit of getting your name out there and establishing your reputation.

Freelancers and contractors can also offer you specialized support when you need it.

For example, you may decide to hire someone to build a mobile app to support your storefront.

Websites like eLance and Guru can help you find someone who has the skills that you need.

Be sure to ask for samples of the freelancer’s work and references before committing to the project.

As well, be very clear about what you want and check in frequently with them.

Module 5: Breaking Down the Plan of Your Online Business

The business plan has a few elements that will require some intensive research and thought, particularly the marketing and finance sections.

In this module, we’ll take a closer look at those elements to give you an idea of what’s involved in each of them.

We’ll also talk about how to use crowdfunding to raise money for your business without going to a traditional bank.

Creating a Marketing Plan

The Purpose of the Plan

Now that your business strategy is in place, it’s time to consider how you will market your online business.

Marketing processes may vary in terminology or stages depending on the material you read, and they may include more or fewer steps than this module will cover.

What is common, however, is that marketing is a cyclical process, and it uses very particular terms.

We will also use those terms here so that you can plan, speak to, and perform these functions within your business.

Your marketing plan may undergo many revisions until all stages work effectively.

This frustrates people who do not like working in a fluid state, or have trouble dealing with change.

As a result, you may need to seek help from marketing professionals who love their work and have a strong track record.

Cycle Overview

Marketing uses the following steps:

marketing cycle overview

Looking at the Steps

Let’s take a closer look at each of the steps in the marketing cycle.

Stage One: Consumer and Market Analysis

This stage involves the following elements:

– Considering who your customer is and what they need

– Grouping target customers into segments

– Outlining the buying process for your product or service

Stage Two: Analyzing the Competition and Yourself

In this stage, you will want to ask the following questions of your competition and yourself:

– What are your advantages?

– What are your core competencies (the things you do well)?

– What are your weaknesses?

– Where are your shortcomings?

– What can you do to capitalize on your strengths?

– What can you do to exploit the competition’s weaknesses and shortcomings?

A SWOT analysis can help you address each question in the list above.

SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.

It is a method of analyzing external factors (opportunities and threats) and internal factors (strengths and weaknesses) in a methodical way.

Once you have gathered this information, you can identify:

– How to position your services to play to your strengths

– Ways to lessen the impact of the competition

– What makes your services unique

– Key aspects of your brand

Stage Three: Analyzing Distribution Channels

Consider how you are going to get your product or service to your client.

Will your product or service be completely virtual or will you need warehouses and delivery services? Consider the costs at each step of the delivery process, including bandwidth and hosting fees.

Stage Four: Creating a Marketing Plan

Your marketing research gets applied in a marketing plan based on the P’s of marketing: product, price, place, promotion, and packaging.

All of these P’s influence the sixth P: the positioning of your product or service (how it compares to similar products from other companies).

Stage Five: Implement the Plan

Now it’s time to test out your marketing plan.

If possible, do a limited trial run before a full-scale launch.

Stage Six: Evaluate, Review, and Revise

You may recall that earlier we said that marketing is a cyclical process.

At any time in the cycle, the marketer can be forced to return to an earlier stage to remedy some kind of problem.

Even if things appear to be going well, take the time to closely look at what you are doing and how effective it is.

Creating Financial Projections

Choosing the Right Approach

The next piece of your business idea is the financial projections.

You need to have a fairly solid idea of what your online business is going to cost to run and how much revenue it’s likely to generate.

We recommend using a basic bottom-up method, where you generate estimates for each part of the business and then combine them to get the big picture.

Finding Data

As an entrepreneur starting a new business, you have a major disadvantage when forecasting revenue and expenses: you have no historical data to base your facts on.

This means that you will have to obtain data for similar companies in your industry.

Part One: The Sales Process

The first part of financial projections is looking at your sales process.

How long will it take for your company to see payment after someone becomes a potential customer? Typically, online customers move through the following stages:

sales process

Typically, the sales cycle is quite short for online businesses.

However, it depends on how complex and customized your product is.

You should also consider these factors when you are estimating the length of your sales process:

– What experience does the market have with this product? New products and technologies can take a while to catch on.

– What does the customer have to do in order to buy the product? Are credit terms, payment plans, proposals, tenders, or other lengthy processes required?

– Who will be involved in making the decision? For example, company employees may be allowed to purchase small amounts of office supplies, but will need approval for bigger items.

– How urgent is the purchase? A higher urgency level usually results in a shorter sales time.

To help you get an accurate picture of how long your sales process is, you can use this template.

We have included some example activities for an online computer business.

sales stages

Part Two: Sales Metrics

The next part of your financial projections is sales metrics.

You will need to determine how much money each product or service will sell for (separated into one-time and recurring revenue), as well as daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly sales estimates.

If support people will be required, account for their cost as well.

Let’s look at a website that sells several different e-books that you have already written and published.

– You estimate that each book will sell for $10.

– You will not have salespeople; all sales will be done through your website.

– You estimate that five people will purchase from the website on launch week, with the number doubling each week after that until it plateaus at 1,000 customers purchasing each week.

– Since the first month is a four-week month, this means 75 sales and $750 in revenue in the first month.

– The second month, which is also four weeks, will have 1200 sales and $12,000 in revenue.

It can be very difficult to predict sales estimates.

Always err on the conservative side.

As well, be sure to allow for seasonal variances.

As your business grows, you will be able to update end refine your forecasts with actual data.

Part Three: Expenses

The final piece of the financial projection puzzle is your expenses.

Luckily, your major expenses should be fairly easy to estimate.

Here is a list of things to consider.

One-Time Costs

– Lease deposits

– Software purchases

– Initial office setup (chairs, computers, desks, etc.)

– Website and app development

General Overhead Costs

– Rent

– Heat, lights, and water

– Communication costs (landlines, cell phones, Internet, etc.)

– Office supplies

– Website and app maintenance

Staff Costs (if applicable)

– Salaries

– Commissions

– Benefits

– Owner payouts

Advertising and Marketing Costs

– Advertising expenses (break down into appropriate channels)

Product Costs

– Labor costs

– Material costs

– Packaging

Special Costs

– Licensing and registration fees

– Professional service fees (accountants, lawyers, etc.)

– Insurance

– Outsourcing fees

– Emergency fund

Double and triple-check your expense forecasting to ensure you’ve accounted for everything.

Raising Startup Capital with Crowdfunding

What is Crowdfunding?

Crowdfunding refers to a growing trend of soliciting many small contributions from a crowd of people in order to support a new or existing business.

There are three main types of crowdfunding as of this writing.

Charitable Crowdfunding

This type of crowdfunding is like traditional fundraising, where people give money or other donations to charitable groups without expecting anything in return.

Reward-Based Crowdfunding

This type of crowdfunding gives crowdfunders a reward in return for their contribution to the funding campaign.

This might include a signed movie poster, a pre-sale copy of a video game, or gift certificates for a three-course meal.

Equity Crowdfunding

This type of crowdfunding is usually used for startup businesses.

Crowdfunders give an entrepreneur money to start a business in return for a stake in the company.

Equity crowdfunding is quite new, and the rules surrounding it differ for each jurisdiction.

Module 6: Building Your Online Business

Now that you’ve got a plan in place, it’s time to start putting together the basic elements of your online business.

These elements might look a little bit different depending on the product or service that you offer, but most online businesses incorporate them in some way.

In this module, we’ll begin by talking about the basic elements that most businesses require (like a brand presence and office space).

Then, we’ll talk about setting up your website, e-commerce options, mobile strategies, social media pages, and online marketplaces like Amazon and eBay.

The Basic Elements

Once your business plan is in place, it’s time to start getting things done.

Here is a checklist of the basic items that you will need to develop.

Creating Your Brand

Your online brand has four essential elements:

– Your company name

– Your domain name

– Your slogan

– Your logo

First, develop your company name.

It should reflect who you are, be easy to pronounce, and be easy to remember.

Be sure to do a copyright and legal search to make sure that no other businesses are incorporated under that name.

Before finalizing your company name, you should also consult a domain registrar to identify what domain names (Internet addresses) are available.

For an online business, a domain name that is easy to remember and type is especially important.

Consider using an alternative top-level domain like .biz or .info if the .com version is taken.

As of this writing, top-level domain names are becoming more diverse and experts are predicting that they will take on more importance in the coming years.

Once you’ve established your company and domain name, you can develop your slogan.

A good slogan is short, punchy, appropriate, and true to the company and/or product it represents.

It should be no more than six words.

The last piece of the brand is your logo.

We strongly recommend seeking help with this part unless you are a graphic designer.

Developing Your Business Structure

Most online entrepreneurs typically start out with themselves as the sole employee of their business.

However, depending on the type of business you are starting, you may have other full-time consultants, employees, contractors, or freelancers in your business.

This is the time to figure out how you will start out and what your targets are (if any) for staffing.

Choosing Office Space

Consider whether or not you need office space.

For most online businesses, a home office is a viable option (at least in the early stages).

Be sure to have a dedicated space in your home, as well as dedicated telephone and fax lines if necessary.

Designing Your Contact Information

Next, set up convenient ways for clients to contact you.

A smartphone with e-mail and Internet access is essential.

(So is a reliable provider.) You should have separate business and personal telephone numbers.

You should also have a fax number.

Internet faxing is easy and cheap, and can often be accessed from any computer.

Be sure to choose a service that provides you with a dedicated number.

Your website should have several e-mail addresses associated with your domain name, such as yourname@domain.com, support@domain.com, admin@domain.com, and sales@domain.com.

You might monitor all of the e-mail addresses at the beginning, but the separation is important to maintain a professional appearance and to make things easier if your business grows later on.

As well, be sure to get a professional mailing address (especially if you are using a home office).

Most postal mailbox services will allow you to use “Suite” instead of “Postal Box” in your mailing address.

Creating a Website for Your Online Business

Introduction

Usually, your website will be the home base for your online business.

This is where your social media pages, newsletters, and other marketing elements will link back to.

It may even be where your customers purchase your products from.

Luckily, creating your own website is easier and cheaper than ever.

Here is a guide to getting started.

If you feel overwhelmed by the technical aspects of website hosting, seek the help of a mentor or a consultant.

Your website will make or break your online business, so be sure that it’s done right.

Step One: Choose a hosting service.

First, you will need to choose a company to host your online business.

Begin by considering what features your website will have.

Will you need support for things like:

– Blog posts

– Newsletters

– Community features like forums, guestbooks, and comments

– Shopping cart and credit card processing services

– Images, Flash animations, audio, and/or video

– Integration with mobile apps and services

– Integration with a particular web editor

– Databases and advanced programming languages (like PHP or ASP)

– FTP or CGI access

Once you’ve got your wish list made, ask friends or fellow entrepreneurs for some recommendations on hosting companies, and do some Internet research to see what options are available.

Here are the basic features that you will need and key questions to ask.

Site Setup and Restrictions

Find out how many pages are included with a site package and what the site size limit is.

Generally the more pages you have with more complex features (like databases or videos), the more space you will need.

As well, find out what the bandwidth is and if there is a guaranteed uptime percentage.

(For example, most hosting companies will guarantee that your site will be online 99-100% of the time.) Test some sites that are currently hosted by the company that you are looking at to evaluate their speed.

E-Mail Features

Ask how many e-mail addresses are included in the hosting package and if they will use your custom domain name.

As well, find out what type of access is provided.

Some hosting providers only allow e-mail access via their website, while others will allow you to access your e-mail using third-party programs like Microsoft Outlook.

Page Creation Features

Most web hosting companies offer an easy-to-use interface for creating web pages, which is important if you do not have a technical background.

Support for integration with other web design programs or online services might also be offered.

Some of the tools that should be available include:

– Built-in website search engine

– Social media integration

– Easy-to-use contact forms

Security and Backup Protocols

Find out what security protocols are used by the hosting company and how data is backed up and stored.

This is especially important if they will be hosting your storefront and processing credit card data.

Statistics and Data

Your web host should include easy access to data about your website’s traffic.

Support Options

Finally, find out what type of support is included with the hosting package.

A good web host should have support available 24/7 via phone and e-mail.

Step Two: Create a domain name and e-mail addresses.

Now, use the tools from your hosting provider to set up your domain and e-mail addresses.

Remember to make your addresses relevant, easy to type, and easy to remember.

Step Three: Create your graphic identity.

Next, create your graphic identity based on your logo.

Decide on the site’s color scheme, fonts, overall design feel, and general layout.

For example, each page might have a header with your logo at the top and the same menu design on one side of the page.

Step Four: Design your site.

Now it’s time to design your site.

Most web hosting companies will offer a variety of themes that you can start from.

Pick one that most closely matches your design.

You can always update it later, or hire someone once your business picks up.

Remember that on the web, less is more, especially when your site is viewed on smaller screens (like a smartphone or tablet).

Use plenty of images, easy-to-read colors, and large fonts.

Make sure that each page loads as quickly as possible.

Be careful when using media and widgets – not all types of content will play on all devices.

(For example, Apple devices do not support Adobe’s Flash technology.)

As well, make sure that your site is easy to navigate.

Take the time to create a website plan and decide what your overall topic (home page), and sub topics (subpages or branches) will be.

Arrange them in a way that makes sense to the visitors of your site, not just you as a writer or designer.

Ensure that your menu or list of links is always visible in the same place on the page and that it consistently appears the same way.

You’ll want to make sure that you have pages for your products, contact information, and company information.

Having a blog on your site is a great idea, too, but make sure that you post several times a week and keep it current.

Step Five: Add your content.

Now it’s time to add your content.

Readers will usually scan articles rather than reading them, so break material up and use headlines and headers to catch their attention, or pull them toward you.

This means that instead of doing these things:

– Barraging our target market with messages

– Telling everyone our message

– Repeating the message ad nauseum

– Coercing, forcing, or tricking someone

We do these things:

– Encourage a dialogue

– Build trust by being credible and doing what we say we will do

– Show and demonstrate our message (walking the talk)

– Share the message and how our customers use our products or services

This shift in thinking means that we focus on content that people can use.

Be concise and use formatting to guide readers to key points in your content.

Give readers the most important message first, even if it is your conclusion.

You’ll word it nicely, of course, so that the flow and rhythm are there for readability, but you must approach your pages (and the top level of your website) with the most important information.

You may have heard about rich content; it’s a phrase that gets bandied about a lot.

It means that you are writing to inform, persuade, or advise about things that your readers need to know (which may not be the same as the things you want to write about).

If you have content that stimulates a discussion, encourages dialogue, and provides something people can use, then you are getting the idea of what rich content is all about.

You cannot create a website that is peppered with banner ads, messages to “buy now,” or “look at me” statements unless you are only focused on creating a digital brochure.

You don’t encourage readership and engage dialogue with a brochure.

Think about rich content, engaging readers in dialogue, and building a tribe (to channel a bit of Seth Godin), and bring readers to your site.

This type of rich content is also what will help search engines find you, and help customers find you in turn.

Search engines are moving away from pages stuffed with meaningless keywords and guiding users towards pages that are relevant.

As a final note, make sure that all your content is unique or appropriately licensed.

Usually, text, images, and videos from other sites cannot be re-used without explicit permission from the owner.

That being said, sharing relevant content via social media, recruiting guest bloggers, or featuring guest posts is a great way to build community and expand your reach.

Step Six: Test and launch.

Once you have your site set up, test it on a variety of platforms and devices.

Send it to trusted friends and mentors, too.

Ask them questions like:

– How many clicks does it take you to find our products page?

– How long did the Contact Us page take to load for you?

– How effective is our search tool?

– How long did it take you to purchase a product, from finding it to checkout?

– Were you able to find support information?

– What parts of the website worked well?

– What parts of the website did not work well?

As well, have someone who is a great speller and has a good eye for detail review your site for spelling errors, design errors, broken links, etc.

Once you have implemented the feedback from the usability tests, spell check, and design review, it’s time to make the site live.

E-Commerce Options for Your Online Business

What is E-Commerce?

The term “e-commerce” refers to conducting a transaction on the Internet.

For your online business, this is how customers will purchase your product.

Most online storefronts use the following online shopping process.

– The website is set up with a shopping cart so that customers can shop for products and choose to purchase them.

– When customers have finished shopping, they click a “Check Out” button.

– Customers may then specify additional options, such as shipping methods and gift wrapping.

– Then the customer enters their address and credit card information.

– The user may also be offered the option to save their information and/or register with the site for later purchases.

– Once the purchase is complete, the order is sent to the business, payment is processed, and a confirmation page is displayed and/or sent to the customer.

You can also offer customers the option to purchase through a Facebook app or an online marketplace, which will handle the transaction for you for a fee.

E-Commerce Payment Options

There are a number of payment options that you can offer to customers.

Which option(s) you choose will depend on how your business is set up and what your hosting company can support.

PayPal

This service acts as an intermediary between consumers and businesses.

Users register their credit card or bank account with PayPal and then provide their PayPal information when they want to purchase a product online.

Some users prefer this method since their sensitive information is only provided to one company (PayPal) rather than a number of different sites.

As well, PayPal has the resources to build and maintain a secure network and payment process.

This can provide better security and greater peace of mind for customers.

Credit Card

Another option offered by most online stores is for users to directly enter their credit card information on the site.

If you offer this option, be familiar with the fees that you will be charged as well as what security protocols are used and how data is stored.

Bitcoin

This newer form of payment is referred to as decentralized currency, since it is not controlled by a central bank or regulator.

Although few online retailers currently accept bitcoin payments, it is becoming more popular.

Telephone and Fax Orders

Some online businesses offer users the option to call or fax in their orders.

Then, a representative will call them back to get credit card information.

Some customers prefer this over entering their credit card information on the Internet.

Cash On Delivery (COD)

Although less commonly used these days, payment by cash, credit card, or check on delivery is still used by some online companies, particularly small businesses that do in-person deliveries in a small area.

Security and Privacy Considerations

Be very aware of the rules and regulations governing how you gather, use, and store data.

If you have third-party companies handling this for you, know their processes and protocols as well.

Ask how they protect customer data and respond in the event of a security breach.

Keep up with changes in legislation and make sure that your service providers are, too.

Creating a Mobile Presence for Your Online Business

Why Go Mobile?

Some studies say that not having a mobile-optimized website has the same effect as closing a brick and mortar store one day a week.

This depends on where you live and work, of course, but there is no question that Internet use is growing around the world.

Making Your Site Mobile-Friendly

It’s essential to have a mobile-friendly version of your website that can be loaded quickly and displayed effectively on a small screen.

If you’ve ever tried to use a website with complex menus and tiny buttons on your smartphone, you’ll know why this is so important.

There are a few ways to create a mobile version of your site.

Some hosting platforms will do it automatically (although the results aren’t always the best, so be sure to test the site on several devices and platforms).

There are also companies that will optimize the site for you.

If you have someone else do it for you, be clear about what you are getting and if updates and maintenance are included.

Or, you can do it yourself.

One last note: be sure to offer users the option of accessing the mobile or full site, either when they first visit or through an easy-to-find button.

Creating Apps

Apps are another way to enhance customers’ mobile experience.

They also help you establish a relationship with the customer and offer them a convenient way to purchase your product.

Here are some features that mobile apps can include:

– Deals and coupons

– Flyers

– Store locator and hours

– Product searches and inventory locators

– Detailed product information and reviews

– Payment options

Joining Online Marketplaces

About Online Marketplaces

Marketplaces are another way to boost your online presence.

They typically offer built-in payment processes, virtual stores that you can customize and manage, and a community of users that you can tap into right away.

Before you sign up for an online marketplace, ask the following questions:

– What fees are involved? The marketplace may charge a hosting fee, percentage of revenue, and/or transactional fees.

– What support is offered to businesses and customers?

– What does the customer experience look like? We highly recommend completing a purchase as a customer before you sign up with the site.

– What reputation does the site and its members have?

– How does the site protect your information and customers’ information?

– What geographic area does the site focus on?

– Does the site focus on a particular niche? Do you fit into that niche?

Module 7: Internet Marketing Basics for Your Online Business

The Internet, particularly social media sites, offers some great low-cost marketing options that you can use to help get the word out about your business and its products and/or services.

In this module, we’ll talk about using a blog to promote your online business.

We’ll also share some tips for using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube, and show you some businesses that are using these platforms successfully.

Social Media Strategies for Success

Blogging

Techniques

– Post relevant personal items from your company’s employees, their pets, or its mascot

– Share stories about how the product came to be

– Share information about what the company is working on

– Give readers a behind-the-scenes look at how the company works

– Build credibility by writing articles about what you know and giving readers information for free

– Generate revenue with ads

– Build a community by allowing readers to participate through comments and forums

– Post often and consistently

– Create a newsletter with excerpts from your blog and links to your website

Facebook

Techniques

– Give readers a place to ask questions, post reviews, and share their thoughts

– Engage customers with fun posts, questions, contests, and coupons

– Share relevant videos, pictures, and links (to your website, blog, and so on)

– Post often and consistently

– Use targeted ads and promotions to bring in new customers

– Take time to set up and optimize your page

– Like relevant business pages

Twitter

Techniques

– Take time to set up and optimize your landing page

– Try to follow everyone who follows you if they are relevant to your business

– Craft short, snappy tweets

– Tweet pictures, videos, and links to engage a wide variety of customers

– Use hashtags, search tools, and lists to find new people and businesses to follow

– Tweet often and consistently

Instagram

Techniques

– Create contests and giveaways related to product photos

– Encourage customers to share photos of how they use the product

– Use hashtags to improve your reach

– Share behind-the-scenes photos and videos of products being created

– Share photos via Facebook and Twitter

– Follow and like related companies and users, and their posts

Pinterest

Techniques

– Create themed boards that reflect your business, including behind-the-scenes information

– Include your logo on all your pins

– Include information on the product or service where appropriate

– Think outside the box – you can pin items that inspire you, your book covers, or your employees’ pets at work

– Follow related boards and repin relevant, interesting content

– Encourage customers to pin photos and ideas (you can create a board just for this)

– Recruit guest pinners to increase your reach

– Share pins via Facebook and Twitter

YouTube

Techniques

– Create free how-to videos to share your knowledge and build credibility

– Create videos showing customers how to use and care for their products

– Showcase customer testimonials

– If you’re a software company, create screencast videos to provide product walkthroughs

– Make sure all videos are relevant, high quality, and load quickly

– Focus on short, engaging videos

– Optimize the video description and keywords to improve your reach

– Create a good landing page and channels

– Share videos via Facebook and Twitter

– Embed videos into your blog and website

– Use targeted ads to extend your reach

Building Relationships

Marketing has changed over the years, becoming committed to and focusing on influence much more so than about messages that reflect an approach to direct advertising.

A part of this subtle difference is a change from messages that say “This is why you should buy from me,” to messages that say, “This is how we help people who have needs just like you do.

Look at how your neighbor/best friend/favorite uncle uses what we have.”

Consider what your products and services are.

Position your messages to tell a story about who uses your product and how it helps.

Stop yourself from just explaining features and benefits.

Marketing over the Internet, and through social media in particular, allows us to connect and share stories much more easily than print media used to.

If you think of this in terms of influence rather than selling, you can start to consider how you can share what your company does, what it stands for within the context of a community, and how to present yourself.

With the lowering costs of producing videos, we can quickly put together a video that has real people who have used our real products talking about how they benefitted.

Even better than testimonials, you can show (rather than tell) people using and benefitting from your products or services.

If you think back to the marketing cycle and the research you have done about what your consumers need, you can also create instructional videos and informational pieces that have some benefit to the viewer.

The video does not have to be directly about your products or services because you are creating them based on the ideas of influence and creating community.

You could create parody pieces, interviews with interesting people, or share a piece about a project you learned from.

The options are numerous, and really only limited by your own imagination and budget.

As Seth Godin has said in several of his books, what we really need is to be remarkable.

So go ahead and get away from your ordinary way of doing business, step out of the proverbial cubicles and boxes, and entertain something different.

Get your message out by daring to do it differently than everyone else, including yourself.

Suggested Reading About Online Business

How digital transformation enhances businesses – Minneapolis Star Tribune (startribune.com)

How to keep your business ahead online in 2020 – Latest Digital Transformation Trends | Cloud News – Wire19 (wire19.com)

There’s a $30 billion company in South Florida. It wants to take over the pet world. – Miami Herald (miamiherald.com)

How This Law Firm is Making Online Business the New Normal – Influencive (influencive.com)

Everything You Need to Know About Online Selling – Business News Daily (businessnewsdaily.com)

8 Ways to Get Your Online Store Making Money Fast – Entrepreneur (entrepreneur.com)

3 Tips for Buying an Online Business – Entrepreneur (entrepreneur.com)

5 Ways Analytics and Conversion Tracking Can Help Your Online  Business – Entrepreneur (entrepreneur.com)

Online Retail Is the New Normal – Nasdaq (nasdaq.com)

Meet the woman who’s built an online fashion business from Anchorage’s vintage and second-hand clothes – Anchorage Daily News (adn.com)

There’s a $30 billion company in South Florida. It wants to take over the pet world. – Miami Herald (miamiherald.com)

Columbia Pike Business Roundtable: How to Market Your Business Online with Google My Business – ARLnow (arlnow.com)

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