How to build an online business

Build an online business from scratch

Building an online business can be both personally and financially rewarding. It takes a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck, but people all over the world build online businesses successfully every day from their bedroom or garage— sometimes even from their existing physical store. Thankfully, there are many online tools and platforms that make it easy for anyone.

Whether you’re a bricks-and-mortar store or starting from scratch, in the article below, we show you how to build an online business(opens in a new tab or window).

Clearly define your product or service

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Creating a unique offering is key to any short and long-term success when you build an online business. You don’t necessarily need to invent something new, but customers need a reason to choose you over competitors. Consider these two questions:

  • What problem are you solving for customers?

If people don’t need or want you, they won’t buy from you. So what’s the gap you’re filling? For example, Xero took the pain out of small business bookkeeping with a simple web-based platform that integrates with online bank accounts and electronic payment terminals. It even made life easier for accountants.

  • What is your point of difference from competitors?

Think of your favorite online business, what makes it unique or desirable? Competing against the likes of Google and Bing might seem overly ambitious, but Ecosia successfully found its niche as a high-quality search engine that plants trees and revitalizes natural habitats with every single search.

You will need a website

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There are few businesses of any kind today that survive without a website. Depending on your offering, you may only need a simple landing page but most online businesses need more than one page. If you’re selling tangible products then it’s likely you’ll need an online store to make buying easy for your customers.

There are many web hosting providers that help you build an online business(opens in a new tab or window) with simple plug-and-play templates for most industries. Squarespace(opens in a new tab or window) and Wix(opens in a new tab or window) are two of the most popular with both free and paid options, or Etsy(opens in a new tab or window) which is specifically an e-commerce marketplace. Wordpress can be used to create e-commerce sites like this one(opens in a new tab or window), with the use of plugins like Woocommerce.

Website tips:

  • You’ll need to register a domain (like in a new tab or window)) – you can use a domain name search(opens in a new tab or window) tool and try to make sure it’s as similar to your online business name as possible, and that it’s both memorable and as short as possible.
  • Make your contact details (address, email, phone number) easy to find. Features like click-to-call and Google Maps plug-ins are offered by most website platforms.
  • Include a page (or pages) outlining your products or services clearly. Depending on your offering, you might want to add features and options like materials, dimensions, sizes, and colors. Online shoppers have come to expect detailed information.
  • Including customer testimonials on your homepage can build trust and give your online business instant legitimacy.

A website needs eye-catching images to give it personality and entice your customers. Make it memorable with one of Canva’s website templates, like Beige and Blue Grey Kids Online Store Website(opens in a new tab or window) or Orange and Yellow Pets and Animals Business/Advertising Website(opens in a new tab or window).

Government registration

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When you build an online business, you’ll need to register with the relevant government bodies. In some locations, it’s free and easy to register yourself as a sole trader online. Other times you may need to create a company structure and fill out a lot of forms. This will depend on the size and ambition of your business, and where your online business is physically based.

Digital payment options

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Electronic payment has been universally embraced in just about every country in the world, with cash often feeling like a nostalgic backup. There are many trusted plug-and-play payment options you can integrate into your websites like PayPal or Stripe. Make yourself aware of any fees or charges, which may vary depending on the size of the amounts you’re receiving, and integrate these costs into your prices.

Delivery and distribution

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People love the convenience of online shopping and online services from their home, office or smartphone – but they’ve become used to a high standard of service.

For example, if you deliver everyday products to your customer’s location, they expect it to arrive promptly. You need to develop a relationship with your local postal service or a corporate courier, as well as processes for getting those products out the door quickly.

If you’re offering a service, you’ll need a booking system(opens in a new tab or window)so your customers know when to expect you. This could be as simple as using Google Calendar.

Moving your existing store online

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This can be very advantageous because you will have two places where customers can access your products or services. You’ll need to consider how the two will work together, for example:

  • Will your business costs change?
  • Will you match prices in-store and online?
  • Will you allow online purchases to be returned or exchanged in store?
  • What extra services can you offer online to boost sales, how can you entice customers to come in store?
  • Is your physical store just a showroom, with goods delivered as if they were ordered online?

Telling the world about your new online business

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Much like traditional advertising (billboards, print ads, commercials), customers can find your online business at any time.

Creating digital advertising and marketing strategies that help your customers to buy at the moment, leading to quick sales and often repeat business— – but you don’t need to be an advertising genius to make it happen.

Social media

Every online business needs a social media presence to attract new customers and keep them informed of new offerings. Opening an account is typically free even for business purposes.

Most businesses use a combination of platforms to connect with their audience at the right time and in the right place. Facebook, X (Twitter), Weibo, WeChat are the most common for any business, with Instagram and Pinterest more suitable for aesthetic products or services that speak to a customer’s passion or lifestyle choices like fashion or homewares.

Social media accounts need profile images, header images as well as regularly posted photo and video content to keep customers engaged – like when you have a new product or a seasonal sale. Creating slick imagery is simple with Canva’s social media templates, like Brown and White Furniture Houseware Facebook Feed Ad and Green and Orange Woman Musicians Instagram Post Set – you can even publish them straight from Canva.

Email newsletters

Whether you’re using a newsletter to collect email addresses before you launch, or you want to keep existing customers up to date, email newsletters are a reliable way to communicate regularly. There are lots of free and paid platforms that make it easy to set up and embed on your website, like Mailchimp or Hubspot. Writing one is easy, just follow these quick guidelines:

  1. Decide if your email is a regular newsletter (weekly or monthly is best), or a one-off message to share news like a new product or an upcoming sale.
  2. Write a subject line of around 60-80 characters that will entice your customer to open the email. It should summarise part or all of the email’s content.
  3. You can expand the subject line content or share other messages in the ‘preheader’ field to further encourage customers to read on.
  4. Depending on the content of your email, you want to have a clear call-to-action (CTA) so that they can easily click through and buy the offering outlined in the email.

Email marketing tip: Most emails aren’t read by every recipient. If you have an open rate of above 30%, you’re doing well!

Email newsletters need a header image to give your message personality. You can create more than one, depending on the content. Canva has several easy to use and customize templates, like Kale Plants Email Header or Bustling New York Email Header.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

Customers often find products and services through a simple Google search. They might even be searching specifically for you. Most website platforms include SEO functionality that helps tell Google about your new online business.

Search Engine Marketing is a way to pay to appear at the top of the search, typically using Google AdWords. Effectively Google places a text ad for your online business in relevant searches, helping you compete with other businesses. Prices vary by search term so it’s worth creating a budget before you start.

What are online business hours?

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Online businesses never really close, but you’re still a worker and you need to take time out to rest and play. Building your own online business from scratch is a lot of work and it can be easy to burn out. It may be that you have a particularly busy season (like Christmas or summer), or maybe you only operate on weekdays, you need to set out clear business hours for yourself to make sure the business works for you as much as you work for the business.

Think long term

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Planning is an integral part of any business. When you build an online business from scratch, make a plan that will get you to launch as well as plans to get you through the first year and the next. Then make a plan for five years, then for 10. Set clear and achievable goals every time. Even if you’re a one-person online store, planning will help you run a successful business, not just make quick cash.

Be prepared for anything

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It’s so important to be prepared for anything. This includes business resources and materials as well as your mental health. Be ready for slow days, fast days, rainy days, hot days, holidays, sick days, long days, bad days and, maybe most importantly, paydays. It’s your online business, it’s all about what you put in. Brainstorm brand name ideas with Magic Write’s business name generator(opens in a new tab or window), powered by OpenAI.

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