You can run a successful online business from your living room if you pitch the right product or service to the right market.
Conducting business online avoids expensive setup costs, provides access to global markets and allows you to work flexibly. However, these low barriers to entry mean the internet is a competitive place.
So you really need a shrewd strategy as well as being laser-focused on creating a great user experience and ranking highly on Google for relevant key terms.
Let’s look at the five must-have skills anyone buying an online business must develop to achieve these goals.
Effective copywriting is concise, easy to understand, interesting, informative and – contingent on the previous merits – persuasive. Whether you’re persuading customers to download an E-book, sign up for a newsletter or simply buy a product, your pitch must culminate in a strong ‘call to action’ – an instruction such as ‘register now’, ‘download the book’ or ‘buy this item’.
You can improve your copywriting in several ways: take time to learn about correct grammar and spelling; read the work of successful copywriters to learn the craft of matching ‘voice’ and tone to your audience; get plenty of practice; and consider a copywriting course – they’re not all prohibitively expensive.
2. Web design
Your initial design need not be complex and simplicity can go a long way towards conveying your product or business idea.
Many small businesses start off with an off-the-shelf pre-designed web template with some sound generic approaches and then tweak the details to their own requirements.
To be successful, any website should be attractive to its target audience and be user-optimized to facilitate the user’s journey to a purchase – preferably after no more than two or three clicks.
Attractive graphics will attract web traffic, but avoid gimmicks. Use audio and video, for example, only if it adds real value to your sales pitch.
SEO (search engine optimisation) is the process of ‘optimising’ your website to convince Google of its value to users.
If Google and its competitors arrive, through their algorithms, at that conclusion, they will rank your site highly in their search rankings, which will bring plenty of web traffic to your site.
SEO can seem complicated and it’s not an area where the ill-informed can hope to succeed. Google changes its search rankings several times a year, so it’s important to keep abreast of any changes to SEO best practice and what they mean for your site.
While the focus used to be on keywords – though they still play a pivotal part – search engine rankings increasingly reward sites that are user-friendly and deliver on their claims. A site’s social media footprint is also growing in importance as an SEO metric, with likes and shares reflecting happy customers.
4. Online marketing
Once your site is operational, you can use email marketing to convert visitors into potential purchasers.
One way marketers do this is by offering a free download, weekly or monthly newsletter, E-book or similar in return for an email address.
This gives you a reservoir of sales leads to which you can send marketing emails with special offers, articles and other content.
Social media is another important marketing platform where you need to establish a strong presence.
Some initial groundwork is needed to identify the particular channels your target audience uses – LinkedIn is generally favored by B2B sectors, for example, while Instagram is successful in image-led industries like fashion.
Once you’ve decided which channels warrant the greatest focus you need to communicate with your audience with several principles in mind: be entertaining, be amusing, tell them something surprising or useful.
Don’t, under any circumstances, just tweet out your latest new products or price reductions. People don’t like being sold to via social platforms.
Read more about these tools in our article on 3 instant gratification marketing techniques.
5. Customer care
Having won over your customers, you must remember to look after them. Complacency over regular customers in pursuit of new ones is an all too common failing in many sectors.
Personalized emails and other communications are increasingly popular – and this involves segmenting your data. But beware of sending too many emails to customers – a sure way to prompt them to click on the ‘unsubscribe’ button.
It’s also imperative that you handle complaints and queries promptly and to the customer’s satisfaction. Social media is becoming as popular as emails and phone calls as a medium for expressing dissatisfaction, so make sure you, or an employee, check your Twitter feed regularly.
And the negligible cost to you of giving an unhappy customer free gift vouchers will probably be eclipsed comfortably by the financial benefits – both from repeat purchases by that customer and positive word-of-mouth referrals.