Business in this day and age has been blown open and is more accessible than ever thanks to the advances of the world wide web.
There are plenty of websites, blogs, podcasts and videos that can tell you everything you need to know about starting a business in your country and how to do it right. From tax forms, to rent and lease agreements to patents – you can find all the information that you are ever going to need to know about starting a business.
If you have an idea, you can not only support that idea by running a business on the back of the cloud computing power, but you can also find funding for your idea with sites like CrowdCube and Seedrs
The best thing the internet can offer to businesses – no matter if they are based in the physical world as well as online, or simply if the business just operates solely via the internet – is a marketplace. Most businesses can find a way to sell goods whether it is supported by their own servers or a e-commerce provider like BigCartel or even services that offer the best ecommerce fulfillment . Simply put – if you’ve got a product, the internet allows you to ship it.
In the first instance, the way to master online business is to ensure that you can master e-commerce. This is something that needs to be laid down as a foundation. If you’ve got products to sell, what you need to really nail down is exactly how good you are going to be at selling your product and especially how good you are at delivering those goods to the doors of your customers. If you are in the business of selling products, you’re going to a lose a lot of money if your products turn up at the doors of your customers in a bad condition, or even broken. A good business won’t hear back about shipping; a bad business will hear about it all the time and not in a positive manner either.
Your online store is where it all begins and this needs to be a clean web presence. Shipping is the end result of a good website and if you are sending goods out worldwide, then it is seemingly obvious that people are using your web presence to purchase their goods.
If your online store is in good shape, this will lower customer frustration. What a customer wants from you is the ability to either browse your goods or easily find a good they have identified. To do this, your goods need to be visual and described with the right copy. Good copy will lead to more hits anyway, but more on that later.
Your web store needs to have information as well – information on just how your business plans to ship the products out to a customer so they can be in full knowledge of not only when they can expect their goods to arrive, but just how much it is costing them as well! Information is valuable online especially in regards to shipping. This information needs to be clear so that the customer doesn’t endure an almighty shock when additional costs are added at the checkout. There’s no good reason for hiding shipping rates as those who need to know them will be paying the costs anyway if they shop with you. Your business is global when it is on the website, so postage rates and shipping times and other delivery information can help you cater to a wide audience. When the time comes to ship your goods, ensure they are packaged in a manner that compacts the item and ensures it will be cushioned throughout its journey – especially important for fragile items, but also something that should be done anyway! How should you ship?
Well with the boxes at your disposal. However, you can win a bunch of brownie points with a greener approach to shipping. Reusing packaging from neighbors or supermarkets is an easy win – but you could even ask your customers to ship their packaging back so it can be reused by yourself for new customers! Consumers want their businesses to have a bit of respect for the environment and if you can showcase your ability to respect the world by engaging in environmentally conscious projects such as recycling your packaging, you might even gain some customers.
Your web presence needs to actually work as well, you know? If the coding of your site isn’t optimized and the layout of the site doesn’t work your customers, and site visitors are not only going to get confused, in some cases they can be directed to the wrong pages, but they are not going to be able to access your site. Old code and creaky CSS or even the dreaded Flash systems can ruin your site and destroy the user experience. A good user interface is well planned and easily navigated. Consider this before you start running wild with your web store. We also spoke briefly about what web copy can do for you earlier, but now’s the time to go a little deeper. People will find your web site through a number of ways, but none more prevalent than through a search engine.
Descriptive and unique web copy not only sells your products, but will allow people to find what they are looking for and end up at your website. Being creative, unique and efficient with the words on your website goes a long way and this is called search engine optimization. With web hits gained from search engine optimization, you can start to gain data. More numbers? More data! Data is invaluable because it tells a story that might just end in more success for your business. Data can help your business notice trends through raw numbers which can help you jump onto opportunities. A good example of this is with hits – if your business is seeing a lot of visits coming from Brazil and you’re based in Minnesota, you need to ask yourself in the first instance why that is happening! Secondly, you need to see if your business can do more to attend to the needs of Brazilian customers – can you subsidize shipping costs to get more business from them?
Social media is a huge part of online business as it allows you to personify your business in the never-ending streams of public domain communication provided by sites like Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Social media accounts allow you to spread your word to a wider audience and also act as customer service platforms. Whatever you do as a business can be shared on social media websites to boost how many people are in the know about your business. Facebook even offers tailored options for businesses through its Pages feature which serves as a directory of information about your business – opening hours, prices and contact information can be found easily, for example.
Online business centers mainly around your website – if your website works, you’ll succeed from the start – but you’ve got to make sure your entire house is in order. You need to be able to connect to audiences, you need to display your products, you need to inform your customers and you need to ship your products safely . If you can do all of that, you’ll have taken a giant step towards mastering the wide open world of business on the internet.
Maria Fonseca is the Editor and Infographic Artist for IntelligentHQ. She is also a thought leader writing about social innovation, sharing economy, social business, and the commons. Aside her work for IntelligentHQ, Maria Fonseca is a visual artist and filmmaker that has exhibited widely in international events such as Manifesta 5, Sao Paulo Biennial, Photo Espana, Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Joshibi University and many others. She concluded her PhD on essayistic filmmaking , taken at University of Westminster in London and is preparing her post doc that will explore the links between creativity and the sharing economy.