How to Start an Online Business and Succeed
Congratulations for taking the first step toward making your dream a reality…bravo!
I say this assuming you’re here to learn how to go about starting a business and find out what it really takes to do so successfully.
As a serial entrepreneur who’s started a number of different businesses since the turn of the century and have gone through inevitable ups and downs – even experienced a few failures – I feel compelled to share my entrepreneurial experience with you and ideally help you start your business much better prepared for what you’re going to encounter on your entrepreneurial journey.
I think this is super awesome and here’s why…
Growing up my father would always tell me “as you go through life, try as much as possible to learn from the mistakes of others but don’t ever shy away from taking the risk and making a mistake, as long as you learn from it.” So here’s your opportunity to do just that and learn from my mistakes instead of yours…this way is less painful. So pay attention.
As you begin your initial research and analysis why, who, what, how, where and when you’ll inevitably come across notoriously discouraging ‘starting a business’ statistics which will tell you how starting a business is close to impossible and that you’re very likely to fail in the first two years. You’ll learn that 80% of business fail within the first two years and of those that survive, a very small percentage goes on to live beyond the year five.
Don’t get discouraged though…in fact my advice to you is to stay away from all the naysayers – including the family and friends – and don’t pay much attention to statistics either, at least not the demoralizing type. Later on as you get to the more exciting stuff e.g. target audience, market size and market potential, you’ll have to rely upon fair bit of the statistics but that’s a positive kind which should ideally get you more excited about your business idea and help your business succeed.
Now, this doesn’t mean that starting a business is easy, far from it…it’s super-duper challenging and in fact, it’s not something that can be done by just about anyone and here’s why…
Entrepreneurship sucks! I don’t care what you’ve heard…it’s nothing like what you may read in Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, Inc. or Huffington Post either. Entrepreneurship is the way of life which isn’t suited for everyone…it’s the way you think, eat, sleep, breathe, walk, talk and everything in between.
To succeed in business you’ve got to be wired differently and can’t be of a faint heart as that would automatically disqualify you. So set your expectations right and be brutally honest with yourself before you take the leap of faith….this is critical.
The BIG why (why)
Now, assuming you’ve passed the ‘entrepreneurial DNA test’ and are ready to start a business. First and most important thing to do is identify the very purpose of your business or in other words, what’s your reason behind starting a business…what’s your BIG why?
As this is of paramount importance, be completely honest with yourself and for your own sake, your big and meaningful why better not be to make millions or billions of dollars and get rich for that would most certainly ruin you and your business before you know it and here’s why…
As you start a business and embark on an exciting entrepreneurial journey, you’ll encounter seemingly insurmountable obstacles, challenges and setbacks which you won’t be able to overcome unless you have something tangible to hold on to…something very meaningful and close to your heart.
Desire for money and riches in such dire situations simply won’t cut it. The only thing which will give you much needed staying power in such difficult times is your big and meaningful why…the very reason of your business existence.
So, don’t’ start a business unless you have the BIG and meaningful why.
Innate talents and learned skills (what)
Contrary to popular belief, the purpose of a business isn’t to make money – that’s its duty – but to detect and fulfill otherwise unmet needs, wants, desire and pains of its target audience, better than anyone else or at least equal to a top competitor.
As business can only excel in fulfilling unmet needs, wants and desires of its target audience with its strengths, it’s imperative for you as a founder of your business to conduct a self-SWOT analysis and clearly identify your innate talents and abilities, learned skills and qualities, which you can readily put to use. The same goes for any of your co-founders who may join you in your quest to build a successful business.
This exercise could get a bit tricky because you may not be fully aware of your innate talents and abilities simply because – like great majority of the world population – you’ve been indoctrinated by the sinister system since you were a little child. As a result, you may have travelled the path chosen for you by your parents and partly the society you grew up in along with economic conditions at the time of your childhood.
Whatever the case may be, don’t’ panic but reach out to everyone who knows you intimately and could be of help e.g. parents, siblings, friends, co-workers etc. this may even require you to go back in time all the way to your childhood and think what came to you naturally…what did you really love and excelled at as a child? Have fun with this exercise until you come up with the satisfying answers.
Remember, you can only build a business empire with your strengths, never with your weaknesses.
Target audience (who)
If you think about it, you’ll soon realize just how imperative for a business livelihood and subsequently success the target audience really is. I mean, think about it…what good is your business if you don’t’ have a captive audience who will readily consume your service or a product because it fulfills their otherwise unmet needs, wants and desires?
Hmm…can’t imagine you’d be in business for too long.
So, to ensure you stay in business for long and ultimately make a success of it, take time to clearly identify your niche target audience or the recipients of your products or services which you’re going to build on top of your strengths. Focus on those otherwise unmet needs, wants, desires and pains by being a customer-centric and market-driven…stay close to customer at all time.
This process of identifying your target audience is also known as the buyer personas which has to be done with utmost diligence. The buyer personas process entails market research and analysis of customer’s demographics, behavior patterns, motivations, goals etc. For best results, try to include in your research and analysis as many relevant factors as possible.
The ultimate objective of buyers personas exercise is to develop a deep understanding of your prospective clients so that you are able to customize your service offerings to their liking and subsequently create irresistible content as a part of your go-to-market (GTM) strategy, which we’ll talk about shortly.
By now, you should know that ‘if you build it they’ll come’ doesn’t work, it’s a myth. In other words, no matter how awesome your product or a service may be and how badly your target audience may want it, if they don’t know it’s out there, guess what? They’ll never find it and you’ll fail, guaranteed.
Therefore, raising awareness of your product or a service and letting your target audience know ahead of time is as crucial as having the captive audience, for without it your business would be destined for failure. To avoid that, build the winning go-to-market (GTM) strategy and leverage social media to your advantage.
As I already talked about how to build the winning GTM strategy for your business in my other post, here I’ll only touch on the most important points you ought to consider and keep in the back of your mind when starting a business.
For starters let’s define and agree on the definition of GTM strategy…
“GTM is a sales strategy which describes in details how a company is to roll out a product or a service into the marketplace and ultimately deliver it in the most compelling fashion to its target audience for consumption. As such, the winning GTM must encompass various key elements including the target audience, product or service portfolio, value proposition and distribution channels.”
So, assuming that you’ve already defined your target audience using techniques articulated earlier and know who they are, what their needs, wants, desires and pains are, you must then build a compelling product or a service which will ultimately fulfill their needs, wants and desires better than anybody else.
You must also come up with unique selling proposition (USP) which is in essence your major differentiator in your niche marketplace. This is very important for without it your target audience may perceive you or your company’s product or a service as one of many readily available…which is the last thing you want. You want to stand out!
The launch (where)
Finally, with all ducks in a row, you’re now ready to launch your product or a service into the marketplace. But before you do PLEASE make sure you’ve already built your SOCIAL CURRENCY e.g. web presence via blog(s), portals, communities and social media platforms.
This is critical in an online business, for otherwise you’ll most likely fail before you even know it. Build it and they’ll come doesn’t work, it’s never worked really. Don’t ever think – even for a moment – that you could get away without building your social currency.
The thing about building your social currency is that it isn’t easy, far from it in fact and it’s time consuming. So, to avoid any surprises or God forbids failure come launch time, make sure to start building your social currency way ahead of it…start building it along with the idea conceptualization…very early on.
While there isn’t any particular order which you should follow ultimately, you’ll have to build the following:
- Personal and business blog with captive audience (the more audience you have come launch time the better). This isn’t easy and like I’ve said it’s time consuming so start early. There’s a science and art to building the winning blog which is why I recommend you research the best practices i.e., tips and tricks (narrow focus, long form, long tail keywords, SEO, backlinks etc.) before you start to build your blog.
- Social media presence e.g. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ etc. the choice of social media platform will vary from one business to the next. For example, if you’re a photographer or an artist of any sort, Instagram and Pinterest would be much better suited for you and your business than LinkedIn or Twitter, since you could showcase your artwork with a lot more success and chances are, majority of you audience will be using the same platforms.
- Partner ecosystem of strategic partners e.g. influencers, bloggers, journalists, reporters and business owners. Clearly, for this to work you’ll have to come up with a very compelling offer or a proposition to each of these constituents. Remember, for any partnership to work it has to be of a win-win nature, so be prepared before reaching out to them.
Wrapping it up
Starting a business isn’t easy, far from it in fact. Due to a high risks, pain, suffering, loneliness and seemingly insurmountable obstacles entrepreneurs face on their entrepreneurial journey, entrepreneurship isn’t suited for everyone, least of all the fainthearted.
Take the leap of faith only if you’re 100% certain that you’ve got what it takes to make it. Remember, the key to longevity and having a shot at entrepreneurial success is your BIG and meaningful why – that thing you’re so passionate about, if not entirely obsessed with and NO, this must never be about the money.
In essence, you ought to know your why, who, what, how, where and when and you should be fine…if you commit fully and try real hard, you might even make it big, who knows. Bottom line…think, act, be.
Author: Dzenan Skulj, a Co-Founder and CEO at Parttimerz. He’s a serial entrepreneur and student of life. Utterly passionate about and strong proponent of entrepreneurship, startups, freelancing and self-development, which he regularly blogs about on his personal blog dzenanskulj.com. Dzenan also actively mentors entrepreneurs on their entrepreneurial journey.