Running an online business from the comfort of your own home sounds like a nice and straightforward way to make a living or boost your income. But there’s a lot more to it than you might think. A pretty website and cool products at competitive prices on their own won’t bring business flooding in. Like any company, your customers need to know you’re there and need reasons to buy from you. Thankfully, there’s a host of ways and means to get you started and here are five essential ideas and tools to help you on your way.
1. Optimise your user experience
The first thing you want to ensure is that your website is going to be a quick, clear and easy place for customers to navigate and use. In these days of fibre optic broadband, multiple platforms and mobile browsing, patience is often short and losing a sale will usually be the result of a poorly planned or designed e-store.
There are a lot of different elements within your site that can affect the load time of your website; there’s an easy way to find out the load time of your site and exactly what is causing the problem (if there is a problem at all). You can start off by trying something like the tools available from Pingdom.
No matter how thoroughly your designer claims to have tested your site, it’s worth running it through something like BrowserShots, which will show you how it looks across just about every browser and operating system likely to be in operation. Another good option is UserTesting.com which, for less than $40, will tell you any problems a visitor is likely to encounter on your site, making sure you get it right before you go live.
2. Make the most of social media
Facebook and Twitter can do more than tell your friends what you had for breakfast – they’re also powerful marketing tools. Set up a Facebook page for your business and ask your friends and family to ‘Like’ it or become fans. Attract new fans by making special offers or running competitions only available through that medium. There also other social media sites such as Tumblr, Triberr and Bizsugar, which allow you to share images and information with like-minded souls, in the process raising your profile on search engines and drawing more potential customers to your site.
3. Expand your horizons
Naturally you want to do all you can to attract potential customers to your website, but you can also take advantage of the marketing efforts of others. If you already shop on places like Amazon or Play.com, you’ll already be aware that independent traders can sell through those sites as well.
Ebay’s another high profile site that can be used for regular selling – and you don’t have to just take the highest bid! If you’re trying to sell craft items, jewellery, or anything you’ve made yourself, registering and selling through Etsy will bring you in touch with a vibrant community of 15 million buyers and sellers, where you can share knowledge, grow your brand and take advantage of some handy promotional tools.
Don’t forget to put your products on Google Shopping; just create an account in the Google Merchant Center and upload your data but remember that in the USA Google Shopping has now moved to a paid model, which is still free in the UK, so take advantage whilst you can!
4. Get blogging!
Whatever it is you’re selling, establish yourself as an expert by writing a blog about it, incorporating your keywords, ie the terms potential customers are likely to put into Google when searching for your product. Share your knowledge, include backlinks to your pages and encourage your readers to engage with you. Interesting and engaging blog content not only builds customer loyalty, it also pushes you up those all-important search engine results!
5. Show off
Any business can benefit from good word-of-mouth, and trading on the internet is no different. If your customers are saying nice things to you about your products and service, then give them the opportunity to share their thoughts with the whole world! Review sites, like Trust Pilot and Free Index, allow your customers to rate your efforts and products and let others see that you’re a reliable and trustworthy company to do business with.
Each of the above ideas can increase the chances of your new business being a success. A well-planned marketing campaign can quickly bring your site to the attention to the widest possible market, which is the best way to sell more – and that, after all, is what it’s all about! And if you’re already a successful online entrepreneur, we’d love to know what tools and media you’ve used to grow and develop your business – leave your own hints and ideas in the comments section below!