Starting an online business

The constant evolution of technology and advances in online capabilities has meant that there is very little we can't do over the internet. A huge number of entrepreneurs are starting online businesses; and while this could be a great way of getting into business for oneself, it's by no means easy to make a success of it.

The Internet has made the world extremely small and physical location is no longer a barrier to starting a small business. The virtual world has created a whole new pool of potential customers and if you're starting an online business or think your existing business could do well online, here's a rough guide to getting started.

If you're not completely up to speed with the online world, you'll want to start small and get as much expert advice as possible. Getting a mentor, with a good track record in the industry, to guide you is also a good idea.

Building a website

A website as your business 'premises' means that anyone can see your products from anywhere in the world. And it comes without the stresses that go with buying or leasing a property. This also makes it a lot cheaper to start.

So obviously, the first thing you need to do is build a website (which is not as hard as it sounds) or shop around for someone to do it cheaply. Have a look at existing e-commerce websites for ideas and don't be intimated by the bells and whistles that may be a feature of existing sites.

If your site draws people in, shows them your products and allows them to purchase your goods, then your website is servicing its purpose. Once business is flowing and you're more confident about what you're doing, you can always upgrade the site.

Finding a Host for your website is fairly easy. Do your research, get references and make sure that reliability is a guaranteed part of the services offered.

Other things to consider

Be aware of all the potential pitfalls that come with having an online store, how to overcome or prevent these and the various costs involved.

  • For example, speak to your hosting company about what to do if your site goes down and how often they have to take it down to do maintenance. This is key to your ability to make sales.
  • What kind of payment system are you going to use? Can you guarantee the safety of such transactions and the privacy of your customer's personal information?
  • Who are you going to target? Will you limit your customer base to your province, anywhere within South Africa or are you going global?
  • Can your method of payment be used anywhere in the world or will you have to employ a few different payment methods?
  • How will you deliver your product to the customer? What are the timeframes involved and what kind of quality controls must be put in place to ensure your customers get what they have been promised?

These are the most common factors that will influence the way you run your business. Make sure you plan properly and have contingencies in place for those things you can't plan for.

Marketing your e-commerce business

When you're ready to go, you need to look at how you are going to market your business and its products or services. There are many ways you can do this, even without spending too much money on your marketing activities.

Have a comprehensive marketing strategy ready and make sure it drives traffic to your site that result in sales.

There are a number of articles on the Toolkit that explore the various aspects of e-commerce. Look them up and use the information to drive your online business. Success is not guaranteed, but it is possible.


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