In many ways, launching an online business seems easy. For one thing, you can do the whole thing as a solopreneur -- especially with so many resources now available to help you do so. You don't need to pay for the overhead of a brick-and-mortar store. And you can reach a wide, geographically diverse audience.
But in reality, creating a successful online business can be just as challenging as launching a traditional store with a physical location. With so much competition, standing out from others in your niche can prove surprisingly difficult.
By following some key tips when building your online business, however, you can have confidence that things will work out the first time around.
1. Find a niche that truly leverages your expertise.
Niche communities are considered the future of social media -- and in many ways, they represent the most likely path to success for online businesses as well. With so many other brands operating in your industry, you can't expect to stand out if you try to be all things to all people.
The answer to finding a target audience that actively demands your services is to niche down. This can easily be seen in e-commerce and service brands alike. Rather than selling generic backpacks, you could focus on hiking packs. Instead of offering "marketing services," you can focus on copywriting for law firms.
Serving a smaller audience may mean you have fewer potential customers, but it also limits competition. This can enhance your visibility and make it far easier to build your platform as a true industry expert.
To niche down successfully, consider your own areas of expertise, and then look for unfilled needs within your industry as a whole. Keyword research, online forums and even the websites of potential competitors can help you identify where there are currently gaps in the market.
2. Define your brand and messaging in advance.
A well-defined brand is going to be far more memorable to your target audience, helping you stand out and form emotional connections with your customers.
The importance of branding for online businesses became especially clear during a recent conversation with Mike L. Murphy, founder of The Visionary Planner. After working on such films as "The Lord of the Rings" and "Iron Man," Murphy mentored animation students before developing a detailed system for building a stable online business. To date, he has helped build hundreds of brands with this system.
Planning branding and messaging is actually the second step in Murphy's system for growing a successful online business -- even coming before developing business processes and offers to gain customers. As he explained, compelling headlines and an apt description of the problems are important. But they must be delivered in a way that also establishes your credibility and fosters a meaningful connection with the target audience.
Defining your personal brand will influence everything from the platforms you advertise on to how you communicate with customers. Doing your due diligence here will guide the rest of your efforts in building out the brand.
3. Don't skimp on web development.
As an online brand, you need to give your website the same level of attention and care that you would give a brick-and-mortar store. Research indicates that it only takes 50 milliseconds for your website to make its first impression on potential customers. Thirty-eight percent of users will actually abandon a website if they find it unattractive.
This makes quality web development and design an essential early investment. Consistent and simple navigation makes it easy to get around your site regardless of device. Ample white space with plain fonts and minimal graphics will help draw customers' attention to the most important information.
Perhaps most importantly, you should ensure that your customers can buy from you in as few clicks as possible. The harder it is to buy, the harder it will be to gain their business. A well-designed site will get more interaction and ultimately help you rank better for SEO.
Launching a successful online business is a process that requires no small amount of preparation on your part. When you do your due diligence before you even begin trying to onboard clients, you will be far better positioned to make a positive impression and achieve the results you want.