A Guide to Running an Online Business

FT Contributor  | 

Running a business has always been a challenging task for business owners — and with good reason. Historically, approximately one out of every two businesses doesn’t survive past the five-year mark.

Owning an online-only business can help to reduce your startup costs and mitigate some of the risks, but it doesn’t change the fact that you still have to run your business well or it can fail.

If you have or are going to have an online business, here is a quick primer to help you run your company effectively as it gets off the ground.

Revisit and Revise Your Business Plan

Every startup, even an e-commerce business, should have a business plan from the start. This should:

  • Establish long-term and short-term goals.
  • Clearly define your audience through market research, trends, and potential.
  • Understand the logistics and legal requirements to operate.
  • Thoroughly break down financials.

While it’s important to have a plan in place before you launch your business, that is hardly the last time you should refer to it. On the contrary, it should be revisited on a regular basis.

Think of it as a construction project. A contractor doesn’t look at the blueprints for a house once and then go from memory over the following weeks and months while they build the structure. They regularly return to the plan to ensure that they’re on course. If things get too expensive or the project hits a snag, they may even need to revise the plan as they go along.

In the same sense, as an online business owner, it’s essential that you keep your business plan by your side as you operate — especially in the earlier years of your enterprise’s existence.

Refer to the plan regularly and use it as a compass to help guide your short- and long-term decisions. Don’t be afraid to update it often, too, as you glean more information regarding market demand, customer growth, supply chain management, cash flow, and so on.

Stay on Track of Company Finances

Money is the lifeblood of a business. Your company cannot survive, even in the cloud, without a steady infusion of cash. In addition, you must ensure that your expenses do not exceed your income.

You may have worked out your company’s finances in theory in your business plan, but as you begin to actually spend money and generate revenue, it’s critical that you track your finances as you go along.

Create an operating budget that considers all of your business’s current income and expenses as well as how much money you must generate in order to remain viable.

Then update it often. Use it to ensure that you’re operating in a manner that is financially healthy both in the short- and the long-term. By using a budget to keep track of your company financials, you’ll be able to cash in on several benefits, such as:

  • Saving money that may have been mismanaged.
  • Retaining a strong sense of control over your finances.
  • Gaining peace of mind by knowing the current state of your company.

A budget is one of the most important tools in your business arsenal and one that should always remain a priority.

Regularly Analyze Market Trends and Demand

Once again, as your business gets up and running you will likely be familiar with the current market trends. However, this information will quickly become dated.

If you want to remain relevant and profitable over time, it’s important that you regularly make an effort to keep up with the current demands and trends within your industry. You can do this by:

  • Following publications, authorities, and influencers in your industry.
  • Watching your competition and looking for successful updates, shifts, and pivots in their operational strategies.
  • Most importantly, studying, interacting with, and listening to your customers.

By keeping up with current trends and demand, you can help your company remain relevant and at the forefront of your industry.

Consistently Post High-Quality Content

If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: content is king. The modern market is driven by content, and the higher the quality of that content the better.

As an online business owner, content can be the bread and butter of your marketing efforts. Therefore, it’s important that you consistently add to your online content marketing collateral. You can do this in many ways, such as:

  • Developing a great website by creating blog posts that provide genuine value to your readers.
  • Providing quality posts and responses on your social media channels.
  • Putting together instructional how-to images and videos and then posting them online.
  • Sending out emails to regularly engage with your email list.

Along with helping you engage and interact with existing and potential customers, posting quality content will also help to boost your search engine optimization (SEO), which can have a tremendous long-term effect on your organic traffic. For instance, HubSpot found that just updating and optimizing their existing content to make it better increased organic traffic by an average of 106%.

Keep in Contact With Your Customers

When you’re operating an online business, customer engagement is essential to sustained success. If you cannot get customers to interact with your brand, your company will quickly atrophy and your competitors will step into the spotlight.

There are many ways that you can go about staying in contact with your customers, such as:

  • Using social media to provide timely customer service.
  • Using emails to send segmented, personalized messages for your customers.
  • Using on-site chat to interact with visitors when they’re in your virtual store.

While all of these can be effective, it’s wise to choose the ones that work the best with your particular scenario. Consider things like customer proclivities and the resources and manpower available and then choose the communication channels that will work best for your operation.

Continually Look for Ways to Grow Your Customer Base

Finally, it’s wise to look for ways that you can reach a new audience over time. There will always be a certain degree of turnover in your current customer base, and finding ways to promote your online business is a crucial step to remaining in the black far into the future. A few suggestions for how to market to new customers include:

  • Using local listing services.
  • Creating multimedia content.
  • Networking within your industry.
  • Posting press releases.
  • Utilizing review sites.
  • Offering free products and services.

Regardless of the specific method that you use, it’s important to create a promotional strategy and then keep it fresh over time.


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