Online Business – What you need to know to start an online business
There can be no doubt that the online sector is the largest growing business arena today. Almost every company, large or small, is attempting to establish a profitable and efficient online presence. For some organisations, this means the creation of an ecommerce site, for others it simply means setting up a professional website, to act as a store window. However a company decides it can best make use of the World Wide Web; there are a whole host of challenges to be overcome. Below we will take a look at some of the issues face by a business wishing to establish itself online, and discuss how these can be overcome.
The main problem faced by any organization wishing to exploit the internet as a business tool, is the fact that they will need to procure (either internally or by contracting in resources) technical expertise. For most SME, this means either employing new staff, or outsourcing their technology needs. This can be a costly endeavor, and one that is made more difficult, due to the fact that most small to medium business owners will have little technical knowledge to begin with. Quite simply, how do you know you are employing real talent, when you lack the basic understanding required to make an informed judgment?
In this case, possibly the most elegant solution, would be to take advantage of any free seminars, presentations, or even workshops, provided by local business organizations. Most towns and cities have a government funded business development advisory body, and these often run these kinds of events, either for free, or at a nominal cost. This can be a great way to not only earn the knowledge you need, but to network with others in the same situation, and learn from their experience.
For smaller organization, once the decision makers are in a position to evaluate proposals, it is likely that using the services of a professional company, which specializes in exploiting the online arena, may be the best option. Outsourcing has lost much of its vogue over recent years, yet technology remains one of the areas in which outsourcing is still entirely viable.
Any company that wishes to embrace technology, and develop an effective presence on the internet, needs to realize one thing before they start upon the venture. They need to take on board the reality that it is not going to be cheap. There are very few shortcuts that can be taken at the infant stages of a new web based marketing project. Indeed, every penny saved at this point is likely to cost many more later down the line. This is because this kind of project relies upon significant resources being applied at the early stages, to ensure everything runs smoothly throughout the project lifecycle. So how can these costs be minimized? More importantly, how can a business ensure that they extract total value from their investment?
The answer to this is simply planning. Effective project management is the key to extracting every last bit of value form the investment made. By tightly monitoring the status of a project, and establishing easily quantifiable milestones, the business can ensure that the project, and ensure that project creep is kept to a minimum.
Back Office Blunders
Many businesses, which will often spend large sums of money to establish their online business, will fail in one key area. They will overlook the necessity of ensuring that their business procedures, financial model and staffing are geared up to handle this new marketing avenue. It is vitally important to make sure that the business as a whole, is in a position to exploit this new arena. How can the business ensure that they are ready to branch out into the online marketplace?
When the initial concepts for the new online business are drawn up, the business processes that are likely to be affected need to be revisited, and adjusted to incorporate the requirements of doing business online. In a similar way, current financial systems need to be reviewed, to ensure that they are capable of processing sales, refunds and other transactions, in an automated form. Staff should also be reviewed, and those that are to be involved with the new online sector of the business, need to receive proper training beforehand.
Once a business has established itself online, and begun to reap the rewards, it is important that they maintain their online profile. Unlike a regular storefront, which will always be in the same place, on the same street, a website can and does move around. Just because somebody searched today for a widget, and the search engines, and you returned your company subsequently made a sale, does not mean this will continue to occur. A close eye needs to be kept on the ranking position of the company online store, and the quality and functionality of competitor’s websites. This means monitoring your traffic, and checking out the competition as they add new features to their sites. How does the organization protect their interests into the future?
Maintaining a good search engine ranking is an exact science, a science knows as Search Engine Optimization (SEO). It is unlikely that most small to medium businesses will have in-house staff proficient at the techniques utilized in SEO. Again, this is an area that can benefit from outsourcing. Do not stint on SEO, it is the single thing that can affect your online revenue the most. Most websites will need to be regularly updated, to take advantage of new technology and add new features. This is especially true if major competitors suddenly launch a new site, which performs far better. Web development is an ongoing project, and a steady budget will need to be allocated to it.
Exploit Every Avenue
Any company that has already established itself online will know that it is a costly process. Due the relatively high price tag attached to building an online presence, it is vitally important that every iota of value is extracted from this valuable new business asset. Traditional marketing techniques fail to extract this value, and a new set of tools need to be employed to achieve maximum revenue. How can a business ensure that it is receiving the greatest return on its investment in this situation?
Information is valuable, all data is useful, and there is no better way of gathering this data than using technology. An online store may be great at vending products or services, but it is also exceptionally well suited to gathering information about visitors, customers and products. By capturing this information, the company will be able to interrogate it, and highlight problems and improvements. Additionally, the simple technique of capturing a visitors contact information, or even just an email address, allows the business to build a database of prospective clients. These clients can then be targeted by a marketing campaign. A person who visits the company site today could well become a customer in the future, so it is important that their contact information is gathered.
Although the concept of establishing an online business is a sound one, as we can clearly see, things are not as clear-cut as they may initially appear. Any company which is considering branching out into the online marketplace, needs to make sure that it is equipped to tackle the changes it will need to make to its business model. Doing business online is far different from other forms of retail sales, and these differences need to be thoroughly understood, and action taken to incorporate them into the business, before launching a new web based business venture.
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